Morihei Ueshiba and Onisaburo Deguchi by Stanley Pranin

From Aiki News #95 (Spring/Summer 1993)

If Sokaku Takeda can be said to have provided the technical basis for the later development of aikido, it was Onisaburo Deguchi, leader of the Omoto sect, who offered the key spiritual insights that struck a responsive chord in the religiously oriented Morihei. This second installment in a series of essays on Morihei Ueshiba by Aiki News Editor-in-Chief Stanley Pranin focuses on the relationship between the aikido founder and Onisaburo, which had a major bearing on the spiritual thinking of Morihei and the ethical framework of aikido.

Onisaburo Deguchi (1871-1948)

The upsurgence of the Omoto religion in the beginning of this century was the product of the efforts of two charismatic figures. The first, its foundress, was an illiterate, peasant woman named Nao Deguchi (1836-1918). The other was the eccentric and energetic Onisaburo Deguchi who masterminded the rise to prominence of this powerful and unorthodox religious sect.

Nao Deguchi was destitute throughout the first part of her life and had faced the tragedies of losing her husband and several of her children at an early age. In 1896, at the age of 56, pushed to the brink of despair, she fell into a trance and became possessed by a benevolent spirit. The unschooled Nao began taking dictation that she herself was unable to read. Her writings contained revelations concerning the spirit world and a continuous stream of social criticism. Mankind was urged to adopt a new morality and revitalize its social institutions. Her vision was based on a universal God who regarded all human beings as equals, a belief that was in direct opposition to the state Shinto religion which was centered on the divine figure of the Emperor.

Nao had already begun to gather a following when Onisaburo appeared on the scene in 1898. He was keenly interested in shamanism and had also undergone a series of trance experiences during which it was revealed that his spiritual mission was to become a savior of mankind. Onisaburo eventually married Nao’s daughter, Sumiko, adopted the family name of Deguchi, and became the dynamic force behind the explosive growth of the young Omoto religion.

Based in Ayabe near Kyoto, the Omoto sect flourished in the first two decades of the twentieth century. By the time Morihei Ueshiba made his initial visit at the age of 36 to the religion’s headquarters, the followers of the sect already numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

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