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O-Sensei’s Fame Spreads

by Kazuhiko Ikeda

Aiki News #12 (May 1975)

The following article is the twelfth in a series of seventeen articles dealing with the life of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.

Morihei Ueshiba
in Ayabe, c. 1922

Ueshiba felt a great attraction for Onisaburo Deguchi. He hoped that with Deguchi’s help he would be able to rid himself of the evil spirit of Sokaku Takeda.

Thus he sold all his possessions in Tanabe including his house and land and with his wife, Hatsu, moved to Ayabe. He built a home on the outskirts of the city of Hongu and called on Deguchi at the Omoto Headquarters everyday. At that time, Ueshiba was strongly attracted by the personality of Deguchi and deeply respected him as a spiritual guide. He became a personal follower. However, this is not to say that Ueshiba became a member of the Omoto sect. In particular, he did not identify with some of the individuals who gathered around Deguchi.

A fasting called “Okomori” was practiced in the basement of the Omoto Headquarters. In the beginning one fasted for three days, then for a week, and then for 10 days. Of course, Onisaburo practiced along with his disciples. They would sit in silence in the lotus posture and fast, drinking only water. However, they would not spend the entire period in this posture, but could lie down for prearranged periods of rest. While Onisaburo was lying along side Ueshiba during one of these such periods, he remarked, “Ueshiba, I can’t help but see you as ‘Kongosan’ who stands and guards the Buddha.”

“Sensei, Kongosan is the deity of strength, isn’t he?”

“Yes, right strength!” Onisaburo answered. These words of Onisaburo struck the heart of Ueshiba. “The martial art of right strength!”

“Sensei, please observe my martial art.”

After the fasting period was over, Ueshiba gathered together the martial arts practitioners and strong men around Ayabe in the big ball of the Omoto Headquarters and demonstrated a Daito-ryu match.

At that time, many practitioners of different martial arts pitted their strength against Ueshiba one by one, but no one was able to defeat him. Each was dispatched in turn with a Daito-ryu joint twisting technique. Word spread immediately in Kyoto and Osaka that a terribly strong martial artist was to be found at the Omoto Headquarters. He was repeatedly challenged to matches, but, of course, no one could defeat him.

“You are too strong. A sign in your face reveals that serious trouble awaits you. In order to avoid this, do the following.”

Onisaburo told Ueshiba that this was a part of his training and called it “geza” (training in humility). Ueshiba immersed himself in this training of being the caretaker of footgear. One day, a huge man weighing about 250 pounds carrying a thick bokken as a walking stick appeared at the Omoto Headquarters asking, “Is there somebody here named Ueshiba?”

“Please come in, sir.”

After Ueshiba took the huge fellow’s footgear, he led him into the guest room. Then, washing his hands he introduced himself saying, “I am Ueshiba.”

Realizing that this was the same man who had taken his shoes, he said, “Are you kidding? You are Ueshiba! I was wondering what kind of martial arts man he could be. And you are only the caretaker of shoes. Well, I’ll give you a lesson anyway.”

The large man took Ueshiba to the hall. Ueshiba stood empty-handed facing this huge man with a wooden sword. There he stood, his knees showing, the image of a shoe caretaker.

“Damn!” The giant of a man struck at Ueshiba with a shout. But his blow was deftly dodged. He lost his balance forward. At that instant his wrist was swept to the side sending the big man spiraling into the wall backwards.

Translated by Stanley A. Pranin and Katsuaki Terasawa.