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Interview with Rinjiro Shirata (2)

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #63 (September 1984)

The following text is the second and final part of an interview of Rinjiro Shirata Sensei, 9th dan of Yamagata Prefecture which took place on June 4, 1983 in Shirata Sensei’s home.

I was demobilized in July of 1946. Ueshiba Sensei was foremost in my memory so I visited him. Since I had a wife and children I wasn’t in a position to do Aikido with him at that time. I had to do Aikido in my free time while holding down a job. I’m really glad that I could make some contribution to the spreading of the Aiki of Ueshiba Sensei out here in the country. People who used to be uchideshi of Ueshiba Sensei before the war and who continue to practice Aikido are: Iwata Sensei, myself and Mr. Shioda …. He separated from the Aikikai and is independent. There were people like Yonekawa Sensei, Akazawa Sensei and Kamata Sensei … but they are not practicing at the moment. There are only two of us (from the Aikikai) who continue to practice enthusiastically in the dojo.

Have you practiced any other martial arts?

We had to practice arts such as Judo and Kendo at that time so I have some experience.

From your viewpoint, what is the role of the Aikido Federation?

The role of the Federation is “wa,” a circle (=”wa”, harmony). It is solidarity. Doshu is connected to the shihan who are connected to the members. This is a vertical line, a line of family succession (doto), in other words, a vertical line which leads to the way. However, with a line of family succession only, there will be fragmentation like other old arts. That’s why the Federation has the role of horizontal “wa” (circle, harmony). One of the functions of the Federation is to cultivate friendship and harmony among shihan and members. That is why the line of family succession is the center of the way, the vertical line while the Federation is responsible for the horizontal line. Another role of the Federation is to accomplish its social mission through the activities which combine the overlapping area of the horizontal and vertical lines. Ueshiba Sensei always said that the one hundredth anniversary would be the turning point. At this turning point, while giving a “war cry” with the hope of a world united in Aiki, the shihan should work toward this end. Then, the world will become united. The Founder called this “ki musubi”. This means that with ki connected to ki, that is, Aiki no musubi, the world will become at peace. The sole purpose of the expression of the Founder’s budo of Aiki for society was to achieve peace. The Founder asked: “What are we human beings born for?” He explained in various words that it is human beings who demonstrate and realize the love of the kamisama (deities) and the form of love in this world. This is what we call Ueshiba’s “loving protection of all creation”. He wrote in his Dobun (“Writings of the Way”, see AN #52) that the world of Aiki is one of the ways which leads to this goal. Ueshiba Sensei did misogi (“purification exercises”) and chinkon (“repose of soul” exercise and studied Daito-ryu, spearsmanship and swordmanship. Thus, he reached the highest level of developtnent. After he achieved unity with the universe, he systematized the techniques of Aikido giving birth to new techniques. This is Takemusu Aiki. Shihan should explain these things in the dojo demonstrating Takemusu Aiki in their techniques and behavior.

Ueshiba Sensei often talked about “Kotodama” and spiritual matters and also the stories of the Kojiki (legendary stories of old Japan). However, foreigners might not be able to understand this cultural aspect. Japanese today might not understand this religious aspect. To do true Aikido, to what extent do we need to study these matters?

I think everybody is different depending on the degree of training. You can’t say that since you have done a certain amount of training you are at such and such a level. I think that the rate of development is very different depending on the degree of training. Ueshiba Sensei read all sorts of books because he wanted to perfect his budo. In this sense, I think that like Buddha and Christ and Confucius, Ueshiba Sensei was what we call a “divine messenger” (tenshi) which the universe sent to the earth. Goi Sensei captured the thought exactly when saying: “He (0-Sensei) is not doing this out of his own desire. He is the messenger of the absolute being who is made to do these things based on his divine mission.” Ueshiba Sensei taught us the way. He expressed it is the form of budo.

Did Ueshiba Sensei use to read many kinds of philosophical books?

Of course, I think he probably did. There are many stories of the spiritual world in Iwama. There are many poems concerning the Kotodama. The “Way of the Mountain Echo” means kotodama and of course it also means Aikido. If you say, “Ya-ho” (a mountain call used to produce an echo) and you hear “ya-ho” echoing back, this is called “Yamabiko”. This is kotodama. There are a great many poems entitled “Yamabiko no Michi” which means that your mind and your partner’s mind are in mutual communication. I am proposing to Doshu that he proceed one step further in conjunction with this one hundredth anniversary of the Founder’s birth as the turning point and write about the state of mind of the Founder. Otherwise, the essence of Aikido cannot be understood. When we demonstrate techniques in the dojo we should explain that this is kotodoma… We have to show ki in realistic terms. We have to show that this is not a budo for competition.

Does kotodama refer to the sounds of words?

Kotodama is not sounds. It is the echo of ki which preceeds the emergence of sounds. Sounds are the next stage. Kotodama comes first and preceding it there is ki. Ki changes into many forms. It becomes sound, light and kokyu (breath). When two sources of ki combine, this results in kokyu. While breathing it becomes sound, light, kotodama and many things. Then it becomes “hibiki” (echos), in other words, the seventy-five sounds. Subtle changes of hibiki become the mystery of creation. First, there was the word and the word was God, this is kotodama and also Aiki.

How can people who are interested study these things?

People who want to study these matters should practice Aikido first. Then, they should carefully read things Ueshiba Sensei wrote such as the Dobun and Doka and the “Writings of the Way” (see AIKI NEWS Nos. 46 and 52). At the same time, they should practice the ascetic exercises (misogi and chinkon) performed by the Founder. 0-Sensei reached an understanding of kotodama through prayer and realized the unity of kotodama and the origin of Aikido.

Are you still connected with the Omoto religion?

No, I’m not. I was involved in Omoto as an amateur. I became involved because my father was involved. Although Ueshiba Sensei was a believer he was completely separate from Omoto and he devoted his life to budo. It is true that Ueshiba Sensei believed in the kamisama (deities) in an Omoto way. However, he practiced the Omoto religion and the secret principles which he learned from Master Deguchi served as the path for the pursuit of his studies of budo.

There is a portrait of Ueshiba Sensei which was drawn by Miss Takako Kunigoshi. It is a scroll and Doshu has it at present (p. 43 of the 0-Sensei Memorial Photo Album). It is really a fine work. Through an involved series of events, either last year or the year before, it finally arrived in the hands of Doshu. This has something to do with the second Omoto incident in 1935. At that time Sensei was in Osaka. Kyoto Police Headquarters issued an order to the Osaka Police Headquarters for his arrest because he was a leading member of Omoto. It was a sudden thing but it was known in advance. There was a person named (Kenji) Tomita who was Chief of the Osaka Police Department. He was a ardent admirer of 0-Sensei. He believed that it was impossible for 0-Sensei to be accused of lese majeste, that although he was a member of Omoto, he was devoting his life to budo. However, the Kyoto police said that if the Osaka police were not going to arrest Ueshiba Sensei they would send their own officers to Osaka to arrest him. Ueshiba Sensei was told about this immediately. There was a man named Morita who was head of the Sonezaki Police Station. He also was a strong admirer of 0-Sensei. He sheltered Ueshiba Sensei in his own house until the storm blew over. They came to look for him from Kyoto, but since he was in the police chief’s house they couldn’t find him anywhere, not in Tokyo, Osaka or Wakayama! Then gradually the crisis subsided. Ueshiba Sensei gave the portrait drawn by Ms. Kunigoshi to Mr. Morita by way of thanks.

About how long did the danger last?

About 10 days. The Omoto religion was struck a disastrous blow…. The scroll wandered from place to place. There was a man named Mr. Kiyoshi Sakuma of Sumitomo who practiced Aikido in Osaka. He was entrusted with the portrait by Mr. Morita who said: “It is meaningless for me to keep it.” Sakuma Sensei also thought it was pointless for him to keep it and thought it would be best to return it to Doshu which he did. Sakuma Sensei died this year (1983) at the age of 80. Tomita Sensei became the Chief Managing Director of the Aikikai in 1948.

Do you remember any episodes in particular from your younger years of training involving 0-Sensei?

There are many people who talk about how strong Ueshiba Sensei was. There was the time when he taught at the naval academy - I also would accompany him - at that time His Imperial Highness Prince Takamatsu was a student of the academy. Ueshiba Sensei took great care in instructing the class. Other officers came saying they would like to see his strength since they heard that he was very strong. At that time we had already finished training and Ueshiba Sensei and I had finished dressing and were about to go home. Sensei stood at the very edge of the tatami of the dojo and told us to push against him using our whole bodies. First, one, then two and then three of us pushed against him but he didn’t move at all. Then, the officers said they wanted to try pushing him. Even though they were students they were about 30 years old. About ten of them pushed against us from behind with all their might but Ueshiba Sensei didn’t move at all. The tatami on which we were standing on started to slip backwards, but the tatami on which Ueshiba Sensei was standing didn’t move. Usually, if you push both the person and the tatami will move, but that wasn’t the case with Ueshiba Sensei. We were standing on the inside tatami pushing but they started slipping backwards. As usual, when he gave a kiai (shout) they all fell flat. It was unbelievable! It was a very profound mystery! It was completely different from the normal case where someone is strong at budo or good at techniques. It was a completely different dimension. Mind and body unification, kokyu, ki spirit-body unification and the unification of the universe and humankind - these states exist just on the verge of becoming real.

From the photos of Ueshiba Sensei at that time, one can tell that his body was very muscular.

From the photo we just saw (cover photo of Aiki News No. 49), you can see that his body was covered with lumps of muscle. He had huge pectoral muscles… His stomach was triangular-shaped and very tight. (Looking at the memorial photo album) This is the original of that photo. Another photo shows Ueshiba Sensei with Doshu training under a waterfall. Look at how his stomach protrudes. He was already 70 years old. My stomach is completely flat! (Laughter) He had a natural physique and underwent exceptional training. As I told you before I think he was sent to the earth on a divine mission.

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