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Interview With Mr. Bansho Ashihara

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #41 (October 1981)

The following is an interview with Mr. Bansho Ashihara which took place at the General Headquarters of the Omotokyo religion in Ayabe, near Kyoto, on August 11, 1980.

To begin with, please tell us about when it was that you first met Ueshiba Sensei.

Bansho Ashihara

That was in 1932. There was at that time an organization called the Showa Seinen Kai (Showa Youth Federation.) That was prior to the start of the Second World War, and in that atmosphere a martial art like Aikido was viewed as something rather important. At that time, I was acting as both the head of the general affairs section and treasurer of the Federation. There were those who felt the need to have a martial arts section, so I approached Ueshiba Sensei and asked if he’d accept the position of head of such a department. Our organization still was not very big, but when I asked him, he replied, "By all means, please let me do so." He came to the dojo and taught directly, then later he gradually had his deshi instruct. This was the starting point of the relationship between Ueshiba Sensei and myself. The Showa Youth Federation had about 600 branches around the country and I think there were about 50 or 60 dojos affiliated with them. I’m not too good at remembering numbers, though. The dojo of the martial arts section of the Showa Youth Federation in that pre-war atmosphere became so popular that we thought it would be a good idea to broaden our range of activities rather than remain simply a part of the Showa Youth Federation. At that time in Kameoka there was a building called the Kotenkaku where Ueshiba Sensei and I, just the two of us, went to visit Rev. Onisaburo Deguchi. When we explained that we had this idea and asked how he felt about it, he answered, "That’s a fine idea. Organizing a group and becoming an independent body is fine with me." And when we asked him, "What do you think we should call this organization?" Without a moment’s hesitation he said, "Dai Nihon Budo Senyo Kai" (Greater Japan Budo Promotion Federation), and we had our name. After that, since Kendo and Judo have a ranking system, we said, "We think we ought to adopt some sort of similar method. What do you think of this?" From the top, we had Doshi, then Senshi and then Yoshi. These were names taken from 3 of the characters in the Dai Nihon Budo Senyo Kai name (added to the character "shi" which means teacher or gentleman or nobleman), you see. We were told to "Educate our children well." At first we had our headquarters at Kameoka. I was working in the Kameoka Youth Federation and so I was chosen to be assistant head of the office of the Budo Senyo Kai. Rev. Deguchi became governor (Sosai) and we had Ueshiba Sensei as president (Kaicho). Below him, as office chief, I’m almost sure was a man from Kumamoto named Matsumura, I think. Anyway, all the people who came were really fanatics for Aikido, so most could not have cared less about administrative details. There was no such thing as any fiscal policy. Since I was in the office at the Showa Youth Federation, they all said, "We11 leave all the office business to you, so please do it £or us." I was in charge of the branches and dispatched deshi, and all the other necessary things.

At that time were you using the name "Aikido"?

We used the name "Aikido. Though the name of the organization was Budo Senyo Kai…

Aikido? Weren’t you using the name Aiki Budo or Aikijujutsu?

Generally we would say Aikido, but I can’t say in detail what was official. On that point, at that time someone said, "Why don’t you visit the Tokyo dojo once?" So I went up to the Wakamatsucho Dojo in Shinjuku and stayed for about four or five<days. At that time there were many military people. Duke Maeda was then a colonel in the army, and there was also Mr. Shozaburo Kudo who was the director of the Tokyo Citizen’s Bank. In addition, like shining stars, there were admirals, army colonels and captains everywhere. Among the group there was also the son of a famous family in Kanazawa who used to train especially hard. Even so, Ueshiba Sensei said of him, "He won’t get better." The fellow wouldn’t take a fall himself, he would only throw people. There’s an old Japanese saying, "Shimoza no Gyo," which implies the kind of training one gets by sitting in the lowest seat, that is, by humbling oneself. You have to take falls. By doing so, you start training from the ground up. That’s the way it should be, I think. But because he was an army colonel, a duke and from an illustrious family, he was all puffed up. He would get angry if he was told something like that directly, so I suppose that’s why Ueshiba Sensei made that comment.

Did you know General Takeshita from that period? (General Isami Takeshita was an early patron of O-Sensei and instrumental in bringing him to Tokyo to teach in the mid 1920’s.)

Yes, I knew him. Mr. Takeshita also visited here. The Omoto Affair occurred on November 8, 1935, and as a result, I was imprisoned in Kyoto for about 800 days. In 1945 after a ten year trail, I was finally found innocent, but even so, all the Omotokyo buildings had been mercilessly destroyed. Around the time we started rebuilding, Ueshiba Sensei came to worship at the shrine. At that time he said, "I will tell you everything, so please memorize it." That’s the way he always started his stories.

I’ll show it to you later, but there is a pond in the garden called the "Kinryukai" In the old days before the suppression of the religion, it was 2 1/2 times larger than now, but it was buried during the Omoto Affair. Later we rebuilt the pond by removing trees and earth, giving our effort as a labor offering. Ueshiba Sensei, of course, joined up, and as early as then he had tremendous, super-human strength, even though he wasn’t built very heavily. He said at the time that although he had physical strength he still didn’t quite understand true budo.

Let me tell you about a certain event. We had to move earth from place to place, so we would shovel it into a kind of bucket, hang it from a shoulder beam and one person would take each end and carry it away. Well, when Ueshiba Sensei was on the front of one of these heavy things, the person at the back found it impossible to keep up with him because he moved so fast. He’d just pick it up and take off running, and when he’d look back, the person on the other end was holding on being dragged along with the load. He just couldn’t do it the same way other people did and being the kind of person who had to do things by himself, the next time he got in the middle of the bar and had two loads put on, one on each end, and whoosh, off he’d go at top speed.

Here’s another thing that seems to be a fact. About the same time as the previous story, Rev. Deguchi would give various talks, not just to Ueshiba Sensei, but to all of us. He’d tell us about "Kotodama" (the spirit of the word or the intrinsic power of the spoken word). This was just at the time that Ueshiba Sensei was struggling with his inability to perfect real Aikido; he felt he was only using strength. Anyway, by chance, he was taught something, you see. He had some sort of enlightenment. There was a willow tree beside the Kinryukai pond, I think it’s still there. Ueshiba Sensei was passing beside that tree one day when he tripped on something, and naturally he tried to catch himself by grabbing onto a branch of that willow. He fell down anyway. Had it been a tree with stiff strong branches, he could have prevented his fall, but as you know, a willow is flexible and offers no resistance, and so over he went. "Ah, that’s it," he thought and he had an enlightenment experience. I can’t say for sure that this was the essence of Aikido, but it was one way of approaching the teaching; "Don’t resist." It was, if you are pulled, then follow, if you are pushed, then adapt to that action. He learned that unless one becomes like that willow, one could never achieve this thing called true budo. This was the story which I heard.

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