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Interview with Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1983), Part 1

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #56 (July 1983)

The following is the first of an interview in two instalments of Mr. Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Aikido Doshu in Hombu Dojo on May 23, 1983. Present were staff members Stanley Pranin, Ikuko Kimura and Mayumi Kudo.

Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Would you tell us about when you first began your study of Aikido prior to the war?

It would be more appropriate to say that I had already started studying Aikido by the time I was born than before the war. There is a Japanese proverb which says, "A shop boy near a temple will chant a sutra untaught." In just the same way, I had already begun my practice when I was a boy without even realizing it. You could even say that I started while my mother was carrying me. It was 1921 that my father started using the term "Aiki". This is very clear in the records. In 1919, he moved to Ayabe and the following year I was born. In the same year, 1919, my father built a small 18-mat dojo which went by the name of "Ueshiba Juku" in Ayabe. There, with students who were mainly Omoto followers, they began to do some training. This was nothing but a "shugyo" (ascetic training) dojo mainly for the Founder’s personal training. There around 1921, Sokaku Takeda Sensei appeared. He stayed with us for three or four months. Then he talked to my father and they decided to add "Aiki" to the name of his school (ryuha), that is, it became "Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu". Up until that time there were some "Aiki" techniques here and there, but they didn’t exist as schools. At that point in time Daito-Ryu was called "Daito-Ryu Jujutsu". It doesn’t seem that were any Daito-Ryu Jujustu schools before Sokaku Takeda Sensei. People talk about the origin and history of Daito-Ryu, but it seems those names mentioned are wrong.

To continue, we moved to Tokyo in 1927. At that time, "Daito-Ryu" had already disappeared from the name of my father’s budo. Starting in 1926 through the beginning of the Showa period (end of 1926- ), people had already started calling the art by such names as "Ueshiba-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu", "Alki Ju-jutsu" and "Aiki Budo". The reason we had occasion to come to Tokyo was that we had a connection with a number of naval officers when my father was with Omoto. A person who made tremendous efforts to insure my father’s success after coming to Tokyo was Admiral Isamu Takeshita. Without him, we cannot talk about the development of the art at that time. Isamu Takeshita was always with Morihei Ueshiba. During that period, Japanese admirals or Commanders-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of Japan had great power, more so that the present Prime Ministers. Also, Admiral Takeshita was from the Satsuma Clan. People used to say that the Satsuma Clan produced naval officers while the Choshu Clan produced army material. That trend still continued up through that time. Admiral Takeshita introduced my father to Admiral Gombei Yamamoto. One can’t speak of Japanese naval history without mentioning his name. Admiral Yamamoto was greatly impressed by my father’s demonstration and brought him to the Aoyama Imperial Palace. There, my father taught those close to the Emperor. But this was for a very short period.

When my father came to Tokyo in 1927, he taught various people. At that time, there were only a few students. So, as far as quality is concerned, they were diamonds not stones. Nobility and army and naval officers and famous figures in the financial world comprised most of the students. There were few members of the general public among the students at that time.

Although I was born in 1920, it was in 1927 that my father called my mother and me to Tokyo. There was Admiral Yamamoto’s son, Kiyoshi Yamamoto in Shirogane Saru-machi in Shiba. My father rented a house on his introduction. They trained in the morning on the first floor of the rented house where the doors to adjoining 8- and 10-mat rooms were removed. A number of different people trained at that time but, there were only two rooms so only about three and five persons could train in the two rooms, respectively. Also, they trained in a remodelled billiard parlor formerly owned by Mr. Shimazu. There many young ladies such as university students who trained. Among them was Miss Makiko Yamamoto whose name became very famous in relation to Cuba. At one time in Cuba people used to say that there could be no link between Japan and Cuba without her. She was the grand-daughter of Admiral Gombei Yama-rnoto. Anyway, such unusual people trained at that time.

Although, I didn’t train much at that time I had already done techniques like ikkyo and nikyo. It was at the end of 1930 that this dojo was built. We used to live in a corner where there were only pillars and no rooms. Then, in 1931, the dojo was completed and we held the opening ceremony. An eighty-mat dojo in those times was an extraordinary thing. Our residence was even larger, more than 80 tsubo of floor space. Those who were present at the opening ceremony and are still living are Hajime Iwata, a present shihan, Mr. Hisao Kamata and Mr. Hoken Inoue. Mr. Inoue is my cousin and an old-timer. I understand that he came to live with our family at the age of thirteen and was brought up by my mother. I think that he was an uchideshi until he was 45 or 46. Then, he left. Now he runs the Shinwa Taido School. I think it’s all very well that he is head of his own art under another name. Mr. Mochizuki is one other person who was present at the dojo opening ceremony. He was an uchideshi for a while, too. I, myself, little by little, began to practice. I mainly took ukemi for sword techniques rather than taijutsu (body techniques). By around 1936 it had become my duty to take sword ukemi for my father when he went places to give demonstrations. I had practiced a little kendo. I practiced old style Kashima Shinto-ryu. These various ken styles are the parents of the present Aiki sword. I don’t take too much to the sword. The Founder seemed to prefer that beginners not practice sword movements. It is better to master basics first, then, if you learn to swing the sword with the body, it becomes good practice. But I grew up with a sword. I have many old acquaintances in the kendo world, so perhaps in that sense, I am the only one who has consistently linked kendo and Aikido together. I received most of my instruction in the sword from my father.

The dojo was entrusted to me around 1942. That is because my father left for ibaraki with the rest of the family. My advisor was the present chief instructor of the dojo, Osawa Sensei in his younger years. Mr. Hirai was also present. He was as ready to talk as to work. His tendency was to view the martial arts in a comprehensive manner. He was a liaison when we included Aikido in the Butokukai (a martial arts organization). I don’t think anyone other than myself knows the circumstances of those years including both the pre- and post-war periods. There are others who are familiar only with certain times. No one has been more involved than me. My father left details to other people and taught Aikido only to a few people rather than the general public. Of course, the few I mentioned are of high caliber. I don’t think there is anyone other than myself who knows the sequence of events up through 1938. After the war, I began to practice seriously because I thought it was my duty. In my opinion, if Aikido is publicized and many people are afforded the opportunity of practicing, there will always be a certain number of persons who are very good at the art. Yet, at the same time, we must spread Aikido. Although it might be a good idea to develop only a few expert practitioners, if they disappear then the art will cease to exist. That would be a problem. So we must seek ways to publicize Aikido. I have come to hold the belief that the most important task for Aikido since the war has been to conform our way of thinking, teaching and philosophy to the trends of the time. It was around 1937 or 1938 that I began to practice Aikido seriously. I had already learned techniques by then. One can learn techniques in two or three years, in 1940 I began to suffer from ill health. This latter for one or two years and I had to recuperate for a while. Then the war ended.

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