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O-Sensei 1925-1945

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #42 (November 1981)

I consider the publication of these articles bearing the name of Moritaka Ueshiba (“Moritaka” and “Tsunemori” were first names used by O-Sensei at various times of his life, a practice not uncommon in Japan. -Ed.) as quite significant in that they represent some of the earliest known writings by O-Sensei. (The texts were actually written down by Mr. Bansho Ahsihara based on notes of conversations and lectures of the Founder. See AIKI NEWS No. 41.) The ideas expressed in this series of articles are likely to startle and puzzle many readers who have thus far been exposed to some of the thoughts of O-Sensei during his later years in postwar Japan. Also, I know from personal conversations with various individuals who had contact with O-Sensei that there exists a tendency to suppress or at least de-emphasize this critical period of his life (about 1925 to 1945). Especially in light of the still sensitive issue of the war. However, placed within the context of the times and considering the upbringing and vocation of the Founder, the content of this fascinating material is no longer so surprising.

Central to O-Sensei’s thought at this stage of his life were the concepts of “loyal devotion” to one’s country and the essential role of Japanese budo, martial arts, in the realization of the ideal of the “Imperial Way” wherein Japan represented the “model form for the perfect world.” This first theme of service to one’s country is a recurring one that can be found over and over again in various materials dealing with the life of the Founder. Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, repeatedly emphasizes this point in his authoritative biography of his father’s life (see the chapter summaries in each issue of AIKI NEWS) and, to this day, a portrait of the Emperor and his wife hangs in O-Sensei’s room in his home in Iwama. The concept of the “Imperial Way” and the pre-ordained mission of Japan were normal views given the political and intellectual climate of Japan in the prewar years. These beliefs were undoubtedly rein forced by the extensive contact of O-Sensei with high-ranking military officials whom he taught at that time.

Readers will recall that it was Admiral Isamu Takeshita who was chiefly responsible for bringing O-Sensei to Tokyo around 1925 after his ill-fated journey to Manchuria with Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi of the Omoto religion.

An interesting sidelight to the above is the apparent contradiction between O-Sensei’s pro-Imperial comments in these articles and the critical view held by the followers of the Omoto sect toward the divinity of the Emperor and the fact that Reverend Deguchi was at one point convicted of lese majeste and imprisoned. This is coupled with the fact that the articles appearing in this issue were first printed in the magazine entitled “Budo,” a publication of the so-called “Budo Enhancement Association (Budo Senyokai) which was in turn sponsored by the Omoto organization. I expect that further research will provide some answers to this somewhat puzzling point.

Another observation worthy of mention is the implicit criticism of Kendo and Judo as modern martial arts grouped in the same category with boxing and wrestling which have been “imported from the West.” O-Sensei would appear in his own mind to be linking the budo he taught at that time with the “native” martial arts tradition of Japan (verses the modern budo which grew out of the background of Buddhism and Confucianism”). This view became somewhat modified as the years passed and O-Sensei came to regard the art he created as something new and “modern” in character which, although having roots in the traditional budo of Japan, had a universal message for peoples of all countries.

There also appears in these articles by O-Sensei the theme of the lax attitude of young people, especially with regard to the practice and understanding of budo. This, too, stems from a lack of appreciation of the essence of Japanese culture having its roots in ancient Shinto beliefs. And, it is ironic that O-Sensei refers to dojo at that time as “factories” while this period of time is today often exalted as exemplary of the “legendary past of Aikido.”

We will be publishing more articles from the “Budo” magazine in upcoming issues and readers will have an opportunity to get a glimpse into the daily activities and views of O-Sensei during this colorful past period.