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Interview with Morihei Ueshiba and Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #18 (August 1976)

Morhei Ueshiba

The following interview was translated from the Japanese by Stanley Pranin and Katsuaki Terasawa.

A: When I was a college student my philosophy professor showed us a portrait of a famous philosopher, and now I am struck by his resemblance to you, Sensei.

O-Sensei: I see. Maybe I should have entered into the field of philosophy instead. The spiritual side of me is more emphasized than the physical side.

B: It is said that aikido is quite different from karate and judo.

O-Sensei: In my opinion, it can be said to be the true martial art. The reason for this is that it is a martial art based on universal truth. This Universe is composed of many different parts, and yet the Universe as a whole is united as a family and symbolizes the ultimate state of peace. Holding such a view of the Universe, aikido cannot be anything but a martial art of love. It cannot be a martial art of violence. For this reason, aikido can be said to be another manifestation of the Creator of the Universe. In other words, aikido is like a giant (immense in nature). Therefore, in aikido, Heaven and Earth become the training grounds. The state of mind of the aikidoist must be peaceful and totally non-violent. That is to say, that special state of mind which brings violence into a state of harmony. And this I think is the true spirit of Japanese martial arts. We have been given this earth to transform into a heaven on earth. War-like activity is totally out of place.

A: It is quite different from the traditional martial arts, then.

O-Sensei: Indeed, it is quite different. If we look back over time, we see how the martial arts have been abused. During the Sengoku Period (1482-1558-Sengoku meaning “warring countries”) local lords used the martial arts as a fighting tool to serve their own private interests and to satisfy their greed. This I think was totally inappropriate. Since I myself taught martial arts to be used for the purpose of killing others to soldiers during the War, I became deeply troubled after the conflict ended. This motivated me to discover the true spirit of aikido seven years ago, at which time I came upon the idea of building a heaven on earth. The reason for this resolution was that although heaven and earth (i.e., the physical universe) have reached a state of perfection and are relatively stable in their evolution, humankind (in particular, the Japanese people) seems to be in a state of upheaval. First of all, we must change this situation. The realization of this mission is the path to the evolution of universal humanity. When I came to this realization, I concluded that the true state of aikido is love and harmony. Thus the “bu” (martial) in aikido is the expression of love. I was studying aikido in order to serve my country. Thus, the spirit of aikido can only be love and harmony. Aikido was born in accordance with the principles and workings of the Universe. Therefore, it is a budo (martial art) of absolute victory.

B: Would you talk about the principles of aikido? The general public regards aikido as something mystical like ninjutsu, since you, Sensei, fell huge opponents with lightning speed and have lifted objects weighing several hundred pounds.

O-Sensei: It only seems to be mystical. In aikido we utilize the power of the opponent completely. So the more power the opponent uses, the easier it is for you.

B: Then, in that sense, there is aiki in judo, too, since in judo you synchronize yourself with the rhythm of your opponent. If he pulls, you push; if he pushes, you pull. You move him according to this principle and make him lose his balance and then apply your technique.

O-Sensei: In aikido, there is absolutely no attack. To attack means that the spirit has already lost. We adhere to the principle of absolute non-resistance, that is to say, we do not oppose the attacker. Thus, there is no opponent in aikido. The victory in aikido is masakatsu agatsu (correct victory, self-victory); since you win over everything in accordance with the mission of heaven, you possess absolute strength.

B: Does that mean go no sen? (This term refers to a late response to an attack.)

O-Sensei: Absolutely not. It is not a question of either sensen no sen or sen no sen. If I were to try to verbalize it I would say that you control your opponent without trying to control him. That is, the state of continuous victory. There isn’t any question of winning over or losing to an opponent. In this sense, there is no opponent in aikido. Even if you have an opponent, he becomes a part of you, a partner you control only.

B: How many techniques are there in aikido?

O-Sensei: There are about 3,000 basic techniques, and each one of them has 16 variations… so there are many thousands. Depending on the situation, you create new ones.

A: When did you begin the study of martial arts?

O-Sensei: At about the age of 14 or 15. First I learned Tenshinyo-ryu Jiujitsu from Tokusaburo Tozawa Sensei, then Kito-ryu, Yagyu-ryu, Aioi-ryu, Shinkage-ryu, all of them jujutsu forms. However, I thought there might be a true form of budo elsewhere. I tried Hozoin-ryu sojitsu and kendo. But all of these arts are concerned with one-to-one combat forms and they could not satisfy me. So I visited many parts of the country seeking the Way and training, but all in vain.

A: Is that the ascetic training of the warrior?

O-Sensei: Yes, the search for the true budo. When I used to go to other schools I would never challenge the sensei of the dojo. An individual in charge of a dojo is burdened with many things, so it is very hard for him to display his true ability. I would pay him the proper respects and learn from him. If I judged myself superior, I would again pay him my respects and return home.

B: Then you did not learn aikido from the beginning. When did aikido come into being?

O-Sensei: As I said before, I went to many places seeking the true budo..Then, when I was about 30 years old, I settled in Hokkaido. On one occasion, while staying at Hisada Inn in Engaru, Kitami Province, I met a certain Sokaku Takeda Sensei of the Aizu clan. He taught Daito-ryu jujutsu. During the 30 days in which I leamed from him I felt something like an inspiration. Later, I invited this teacher to my home and together with 15 or 16 of my employees became a student seeking the essence of budo.

B: Did you discover aikido while you were learning Daito-ryu under Sokaku Takeda?

O-Sensei: No. It would be more accurate to say that Takeda Sensei opened my eyes to budo.

A: Then were there any special circumstances surrounding your discovery of aikido?

O-Sensei: Yes. It happened this way. My father became critically ill in 1919. I requested leave from Takeda Sensei and set out for my home. On my way home, I was told that if one went to Ayabe near Kyoto and dedicated a prayer then any disease would be cured. So, I went there and met Onisaburo Deguchi. Afterwards, when I arrived home, I learned that my father was already dead. Even though I had met Deguchi Sensei only once, I decided to move to Ayabe with my family and I ended up staying until the latter part of the Taisho period (around 1925). Yes… at that time I was about 40 years old. One day I was drying myself off by the well. Suddenly, a cascade of blinding golden flashes came down from the sky enveloping my body. Then immediately my body became larger and larger, attaining the size of the entire Universe. While overwhelmed by this experience I suddenly realized that one should not think of trying to win. The form of budo must be love. One should live in love. This is aikido and this is the old form of the posture in kenjutsu. After this realization I was overjoyed and could not hold back the tears.

B: Then, in budo, it is not good to be strong. Since olden times the unification of “ken” and “Zen” has been tauqht. Indeed, the essence of budo cannot be understood without emptying your mind. In that state, neither right nor wrong have meaning.

O-Sensei: As I said previously, the essence of budo is the Way of masakatsu agatsu.

B: I have heard a story about how you were involved with a fight with about 150 workers.

O-Sensei: I was? As I remember… Deguchi Sensei went to Mongolia in 1924 in order to accomplish his goal of a greater Asian community in line with the national policy. I accompanied him on his request even though I was asked to enter the army. We traveled in Mongolia and Manchuria. While in the latter country, we encountered a group of mounted bandits and heavy shooting broke out. I returned their fire with a mauser and then proceeded to run into the midst of the bandits, attacking them fiercely, and they dispersed. I succeeded in escaping danger.

A: I understand, Sensei, that you have many connections with Manchuria. Did you spend a long time there?

O-Sensei: Since that incident I have been to Manchuria quite often. I was an advisor on martial arts for the Shimbuden organization as well as for Kenkoku University in Mongolia. For this reason, I have been well received there.

B: Ashihei Hino wrote a story called “Oja no Za” in Shosetsu Shincho in which he discusses the youthful period of Tenryu Saburo, rebel of the Sumo world, and his encounter with the martial art of aikido and its true spirit. Does that involve you, Sensei?

O-Sensei: Yes.

B: Then, does that mean that you were associated with Tenryu for some period?

O-Sensei: Yes. He stayed in my house for about three months.

B: Was this in Manchuria?

O-Sensei: Yes. I met him when we were making the rounds after a celebration marking the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the government of Manchuria. There was a handsome looking man at the party and many people prodding him on with such comments as, “This Sensei has tremendous strength. How about testing yourself against him?” I asked someone at my side who this person was. It was explained to me that he was the famous Tenryu who had withdrawn from the Sumo Wrestler’s Association. I was then introduced to him. Finally, we ended up pitting our strength against each other. I sat down and said to Tenryu, “Please try to push me over. Push hard, there’s no need to hold back.” Since I knew the secret of aikido, I could not be moved an inch. Even Tenryu seemed surprised at this. As a result of that experience he became a student of aikido. He was a good man.

A: Sensei, have you also been associated with the navy?

O-Sensei: Yes, for quite a long time. Starting in about 1927 or 28, for a period of about 10 years I was a part-time professor at the Naval Academy.

B: Did you instruct soldiers at the time you were teaching at the Naval Academy?

O-Sensei: I have taught quite often for the military, beginning with the Naval Academy around 1927-28. In about 1932 or 1933 I started a martial arts class at Toyama School for the army. Then in 1941-42 I taught aikido to students of the Military Police Academy. Also, on one occasion I gave an exhibition of aikido on the invitation of General Toshie Maeda, Superintendent of the Army Academy.

B: Since you were involved in teaching soldiers, there must have been a lot of rough types and many episodes.

O-Sensei: Yes. I was even ambushed one time.

B: Was it because they considered you an overbearing teacher?

O-Sensei: No, it wasn’t that. It was to test my strength. It was at the tirne when I started to teach aikido to military police. One evening while I was walking through the training grounds, I felt something strange going on. I felt that something was up. Suddenly, from all directions, from behind bushes and depressions many soldiers appeared and surrounded me. They started to strike at me with wooden swords and wooden rifles. But since I was accustomed to that sort of thing I didn’t mind at all. As they tried to strike me I spun my body this way and that way and they fell easily as I knudged. Finally, they all became exhausted. At any rate, the world is full of surprises. The other day I met one of the men who attacked me. I am an advisor to the Military Police Alumni in Wakayama Prefecture. During a recent meeting one individual recognized my face and came up to me grinning. After we had talked for a few minutes, I learned that he was one of the men who had attacked me that day many years ago. While scratching his head he related to me the following: “I’m very sorry for that incident. That day we were talking about whether or not the new professor of aikido was really strong. A group of us, hot-blooded military police types, were discussing the matter and decided to test the new teacher. About 30 men lay in wait. We were completely amazed that we 30 self-confident men could do nothing against your strength.”

C: Were there any episodes while you were at the Toyama School?

O-Sensei: Strength contests? One incident took place, I believe, before the episode with the military police. Several captains who were instructors at the Toyama School invited me to test my strength against theirs. They all prided themselves in their abilities, saying things like: “I was able to lift such-and-such a weight,” or “I broke a log so many inches in diameter—I explained to them, “I don’t have strength like yours, but I can fell people like you with my little finger alone. I feel sorry for you if I throw you, so let’s do this instead.” I extended my right arm and rested the tip of my index finger on the end of a desk and invited them to lay across my arm on their stomachs. One, two, then three officers by themselves over my arm, and by that time everyone became wide-eyed. I continued until six men lay over my arm and then asked the officer standing near me for a glass of water. As I was drinking the water with my left hand everyone was quiet and exchanging glances.

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