A Biography of Rinjiro Shirata – Part 2, by Kozo Kaku

Rinjiro Shirata, outstanding prewar student of Morihei Ueshiba, executing a Daito-ryu pin

Rinjiro Shirata, outstanding prewar student of Morihei Ueshiba, executing a Daito-ryu pin

“The Kobukan Prodigy” Wreaks Havoc!

“Hell Dojo of the West”

Rinjiro Shirata, second from right, c. 1935

Rinjiro Shirata, second from right, c. 1935

“I want to follow Sensei’s footsteps as my life path.” Shirata Rinjiro’s words delighted the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba. At that time, the Kobukan Dojo was inseparably linked to the Omoto religion, and one would often see Omoto believers training. On the other hand, there were also many highly ranked practitioners of arts like kendo and judo and among the trainees. Rinjiro, having perceived aikido [the art was actually known as “Aiki Budo” at this time] as a true martial art, was especially promising in Morihei’s eyes. In addition, you could say that Rinjiro was blessed with good timing.

The prewar golden era had just arrived for the Kobukan, which was nicknamed the “Hell Dojo.” Yoichiro Inoue, Hisao Kamada, Minoru Mochizuki, Kaoru Funahashi, Tsutomu Yukawa, Aritoshi Murashige, Kenji Tomiki, and other eminent people were the seniors. Zenzaburo Akazawa, and Tesshin Hoshi were uchideshi similar in status to Rinjiro. Among those regularly commuting to train was Gozo Shioda, who was equal to the uchideshi. Such people were always at the dojo. It could be said that Rinjiro was trained and brought up by these shining talents of aikido history.

For the five years from 1932 to 1937 when he departed for the front, literally the period of Rinjiro’s severe training, he always put into practice the saying “every day, life is training, every day, budo is life.”

The uchideshi rose in status from washing the entrance and cleaning the toilets to looking after things around the Founder to duties like serving as a travel companion. However, for a long time, Rinjiro carried out the role of attendant who offers water, tea and salt in front of the Shinto altar every morning. This was probably unrelated to Rinjiro’s father being a believer of the Omoto religion.

Every morning, Morihei went to the altar and offered Shinto prayers. There were uchideshi who disliked this, but it’s said that without realizing it, Rinjiro spontaneously learned the prayers. In any case, he did everything wholeheartedly.

Even though he started early in the morning, he continued training morning, noon and night, without stopping. And although there was time to wash the training clothes he wore continually, there wasn’t enough free time to dry them. As a result of these efforts, Rinjiro was allowed to participate in training outside the dojo after less than a year rather than the two or three years it was usually said to take.

Specifically, around this time, it was decided that he participate in the training activities of the Dai Nippon Budo Senyokai, which might be called his greatest trial.

“The Takeda Dojo–that is, the dojo that served as the training center for the Dai Nippon Budo Senyokai–should be called the ‘Hell Dojo of the West’, along with the eastern one in Ushigome Wakamatsu-cho [Kobukan Dojo]. It was a large foundation of the growth of aikido,” reminisced the late Second Doshu Ueshiba Kisshomaru with strong feeling when he visited Takeda in later years. And no wonder, because at the time, Morihei had just settled in Ushigome Wakamatsu-cho, Tokyo, and as an increasingly prominent martial artist, started to achieve success propagating Aiki Budo.

There was a request from the honored teacher Onisaburo Deguchi that Morihei teach aikido to members of the “Showa Seinenkai” (Showa Youth Association) which was the national unifying organization of Omoto religion [at that time called “Kodo Omoto”, lit., “The Imperial Way Omoto”]. This led to the inauguration of the Takeda Dojo, which was part of the Budo Senyokai.

By 1931, Morihei’s efforts in Tokyo were succeeding and his connection to the Omoto religion was weaker than it had been previously. Aikido was already beginning to expand in military and financial circles, and there were more than a few powerful supporters in Tokyo who had misgivings about Morihei strengthening his connection to Omoto once again. However, Morihei’s feelings of reverence and loyalty toward Onisaburo didn’t waver.

Saying, “If the holy teacher needs me…,” Morihei assumed the responsibility of shihan for the provisional Showa Seinenkai dojo in Tenonkyo, Kameoka [an Ōmoto kyō center in Kameoka, built on the ruins of Kameyama Castle]. In Kameoka, Yoichiro Inoue, who later named his art Shinwa Taido, also participated as a student of the founder. [Inoue was a nephew of Morihei Ueshiba and important collaborator in the spread of Aiki Budo in the late 1920s and 30s].

As one would suspect, the scale of Omoto was very large at that time. In just the first six months, there were already 50 branches and over 1500 members. At this point, the Showa Seinenkai proposed the idea of making the martial arts section independent, and the following year, July 13, 1932, finally saw the birth of the “Dai Nippon Budo Senyokai.”

Gathering in Takeda

Like other Omoto groups such as the “Esperanto Promotion Society” and the “Romaji Promotion Society,” the Senyokai promoted the goal of world peace, but its tenor was different from the other cultural groups because, from the beginning, it was centered on “budo.”

“Genuine budo is something that comes from the kami. The meaning of the character “bu” [武] is to stop a spear, and the art of destructive killing is not genuine bu. No, genuine budo is definitely the path of crushing evil and spreading truth which causes the arts of destruction to perish and manifests the divine will of the kami on earth. Our Japanese budo is something that expresses the divine body for the purpose of implementing the rule of the kami and the Imperial Way. If it is contained, bu is the same as nothing. If it is expressed, it is something that embodies the essential points of a strategy that covers 10,000 things. The true Japanese budo, which was given to us by the kami, enhances the world and together we wish to humbly perform the work that is 1/10,000th of the completion of the great task of this (Imperial Showa Reform). True budo protects the land of the kami, pacifies the world, and is something that brings peace to mankind.”

From the “Takeda Branch Temple of Ōmoto 50th Anniversary Magazine”

The Dai Nippon Budo Senyokai was somewhat militaristic in nature, but given the tenor of the times, it was actually noble. The president was Onisaburo Deguchi, The vice president was Uchimaru Deguchi [brother-in-law of Onisaburo Deguchi]. The chairman was Morihei Ueshiba. In addition to Hidemaro Deguchi [another brother-in-law married to Naohi Deguchi, the Third Omoto Leader], Hakudo Nakayama, a leading figure in the kendo world, and Kenzo Futaki, a medical doctor, were listed as advisors on Morihei’s recommendation.

The original plan placed the head branch in the Kameoka Tenonkyo and the main section in Ayabe. The plan was to establish “doshi”, “senshi” and “joshi”[teaching positions/titles], and administer things like martial arts and teacher training focusing on male and female members 15 years and older. However, along the way, they were forced to revise the plan, and the “Dai Nippon Budo Senyokai”main branch and dojo were relocated to the town of Takeda.

Generally, it is said that this was because when Onisaburo inspected the Takeda branch temple, there were several buildings that could be used for a dojo, but the reality was different.

The Senyokai teaching staff, which was in the Kameoka temporary dojo, were mostly aikido uchideshi unrelated to Omoto. The fact was that while it was an Omoto organization, the Kameoka dojo had the appearance of being a “Kobukan” branch dojo. This invited the opposition of the Showa Seinenkai people and produced discord among Ueshiba’s disciples.

rinjiro-shirata-sankyoRinjiro was chosen as Morihei’s otomo during this highly charged state of affairs. It probably isn’t an exaggeration to say that Rinjiro was meant for the position because he certainly had an understanding of Omoto, and had come to train aikido earnestly.

In 1933, on the first day of May at five minutes after five in the evening, a peculiar group appeared at the station in Takeda. Morihei, Rinjiro, and other students alighted from a train.

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