Those who study the minutiae of the life of Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido, will recall the events surrounding the death of his father Yoroku. Morihei received a telegram in Hokkaido in December of 1919 notifying him of the critical condition of Yoroku back in Tanabe, his birthplace. Morihei hurriedly left Shirataki village where he had spent the prior seven years and gave his property over to his jujutsu teacher, Sokaku Takeda. However, Morihei arrived too late in Tanabe because of his sudden decision to take a detour to Ayabe, the seat of the Omoto religion. There he met Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi to seek prayers for his father’s return to health.
After his belated arrival in Tanabe, Morihei became grief-stricken over his father’s passing. He also was scorned by his family and relatives for not having appeared in time to bid farewell to Yoroku. Thereupon, Morihei entered a state of deep depression during which his family feared for his health. Several months passed before Morihei eventually emerged from his dark mental state at which time he made a surprising announcement. Morihei had unilaterally decided to uproot his family including his wife, their three children, and his mother, and move lock, stock, and barrel to Ayabe. There they would begin a life of religious devotion in the countryside among the community of Omoto believers.
What to think of the capriciousness of the 35-year-old Morihei who nearly incited a rebellion among his family members? A life of retreat and contemplation, indeed! Such a choice might be an option for a young, single man seeking his path in life, but such a decision by the head of a family with heavy responsibilities was surely unthinkable.
The above represents the gist of this incident as recorded in the biographies of Morihei Ueshiba, including the most authoritative one written by his son, Kisshomaru, the present Aikido Doshu. Until recently, I had found nothing to add or alter from the retelling of this pivotal episode in the life of the founder. However, when I became involved in the editing of our new book title The Great Onisaburo Deguchi and read over the manuscript of the life of the charismatic Onisaburo, the timing and probable import of the “Taisho junen setsu”—the 1921 Reconstruction Theory—on Morihei’s thinking struck me as highly relevant. What was this “1921 Reconstruction Theory” all about?
Among the most influential leaders of Omoto during this period was a learned English-language scholar named Wasaburo Asano. This Asano was, by the way, the younger brother of Admiral Seikyo Asano, who would later become a student and patron of Morihei. In any event, the younger Asano was second in influence only to Onisaburo and, on reading the prophecies of Nao Deguchi, the religion’s foundress, had became totally convinced that Japan was destined to undergo a series of cataclysmic events in 1921. This was to be followed by a divine “Reconstruction” which would transform a degenerate Japan into a moral society free of corruption. Despite the fact that Onisaburo warned against the assigning of a specific time frame to these upheavals prophesized by Nao, Asano gathered a great following within the religion who collectively staked their reputation on the realization of this prophecy. In 1918, a nationwide campaign was launched by Asano’s group using the vast resources of the Omoto to warn Japan of the impending dire happenings. The aggressive missionary activities and sensationalism that accompanied the Reconstruction movement divided the religion into two camps and caused no end of problems for Onisaburo. The furor surrounding the Reconstruction movement was undoubtedly one aspect of the religious ferment that the impressionable Morihei was exposed to at the time of his initial visit to Ayabe. This village nestled in the mountains to the west of Kyoto may have been a suitable spot for the contemplative life, but it was certainly not a dull place!
Whatever the mix of motives were that contributed to Morihei’s decision to abandon Tanabe—for example, his deep grief felt at the loss of his father and the displeasure shown by his family and friends over his ostensibly disrespectful conduct at the time of Yoroku’s death—it is quite probable that it was at least in part due to his concerns over what the future held in store for Japanese society. Moreover, Morihei undoubtedly had heard the story of Wasaburo Asano who had given up his career, possessions and social status to relocate to Ayabe and devote himself to the religion. Many others took the same course of action in those days, and Morihei added his voice to the chorus.
There are moments in everyone’s life when they find themselves at a crossroads. There are decisions to be made which will irrevocably determine their future and well-being as well as those of people dear to them. Such critical times engender a great deal of emotionalism and uneasiness. Yet one is compelled to choose since even indecision is a choice every bit as consequential as an action taken. In Morihei’s case, this seemingly preposterous decision led irrevocably to the creation of aikido.
I find it rather curious that we in the fall of 1998 find ourselves in a situation requiring major decision-making as did Morihei that spring in 1920. As readers are surely aware, many are predicting social and economic turmoil in the coming months to be followed by a “Reconstruction”—be it religious or secular—in the new millenium. I refer of course to the so-called “Y2K problem” or “Millenium Bug” which will have an uncertain, but dramatic impact on the world economy starting within the next fifteen months. This problem has to do with the decision made by computer programmers decades ago to represent years with only two digits instead of four. Thus, this year is stored as “98” instead of “1998,” followed by “99” and then “00” which many older software programs and millions of chips embedded in machinery will understand as “1900.” Various experiences and tests with the rollover of the year into the new millenium have demonstrated the serious problems that can result from the inability of older programs to correctly interpret the year. The Y2K threat is now common knowledge among the general populace in the more highly computerized societies.
Mankind has never faced a problem of such magnitude, one that affects the entire globe within the same narrow time frame. I am not an expert in any of the fields relevant to the Y2K situation, but I have perused hundreds of articles on the subject over the past year, mainly from Internet sources. I personally am convinced that there is a significant risk to society as we know it with the real possibility of interruptions of essential services for an unknown period of time. Whether the millenium bug will amount to merely a glitch or nuisance in the normal course of events, or whether it will signal the dawn of Armageddon, no one really knows. But if one accepts at least the possibility of chaos in society, then the next question is what will the prudent individual do to prepare himself and his loved ones for what may be in store?
Thankfully, my family has over a period of time come to share my views—brainwashed by yours truly!—and are cooperating as we make the necessary preparations for the year 2000. I have found the experience emotionally draining in many respects and it has taken me several months to come to grips with the far-reaching implications of large-scale computer failures in the near future. Disbelief and denial are the reactions of many people when first learning of the nature and scope of the Y2K computer problem. Be that as it may, the clock is ticking as the millenium approaches and there will be no extensions to this deadline!
Everyone seems to agree that it would be reasonable to prepare food, water, medical supplies, emergency items, cash, etc. for at least a few weeks in the event hard times should befall us. I would hasten to add based on personal experience that people tend to underestimate the amount of time and effort required to accomplish even the simplest task. For instance, it took me several weeks in my limited spare time to obtain a large water container and rig up a spigot and gravity filtration system that wouldn’t leak.
As devotees of aikido, we train ourselves not knowing if our skills will ever be tested or whether we will be up to the task when violence actually crosses our path. Now we are confronted with the challenge of a lifetime. All of us face it. There are no exceptions. Do we act now while time still remains to prepare for the millenium knowing that our efforts may be unnecessary, or do we continue on with our lives unchanged believing that someone else will fix the problem or that we will somehow be spared the consequences? What is your choice?