A Biography of Rinjiro Shirata – Part 3, by Kozo Kaku

“When I faced O-Sensei, his eyes appeared large and his ‘ki’ came towards me with great energy. When facing him, all my ‘ki’ would be absorbed and my power ended up amounting to nothing.”

Dreamlike Days

A scroll hung smooth and quiet in the altar of the Kobukan Dojo. There were kamisama there and a bamboo blind neatly screened it off. Every morning the uchideshi, Rinjiro Shirata, thought, “Ueshiba Sensei’s being is exactly the same!” But when facing his teacher in the dojo, it wasn’t like that at all.

Morihei Ueshiba started advancing slowly from a long distance, yet there was still a separation of two mats. While Morihei moved another step forward, he slowly raised the arms that had been hanging down naturally to in front of his chest.

Thinking, “He’s driving into me,” Rinjiro let out a shout, “Ii eh ii!”, from the bottom of his core, readied his hand blade and shortening the distance himself, moved to strike preemptively. Mind, spirit and body were unified. Certain victory with a single stroke… He expected his hand to strike the top of Morihei’s head, but instantly Morihei moved his body and slipped behind him. He earnestly launched another cut and a fist, but all of them cut the air as if it had been prearranged. Morihei, who was weaving his way around, wasn’t hit at all; Rinjiro couldn’t even lay a hand on him.

“It’s… it’s no good!”

Even though he was the “Kobukan Prodigy,” this teacher was the only one with whom he could do nothing.

In later years, Rinjiro recalled what it was like to face Morihei, in the following way.

“When I faced O-Sensei, his eyes appeared large and his “ki” came towards me with great energy. When facing him, all my “ki” would be absorbed and my power ended up amounting to nothing. The more earnestly you faced him, the greater the effect of the “ki” from Ueshiba Sensei. It isn’t comprehensible, if one hasn’t experienced this kind of confrontation.”

Morihei was reading Rinjiro’s intentions as if they were an open book. As soon as Morihei felt the faint signals, he immediately stopped those movements, and in the next moment, he bent Rinjiro’s body like a large bow, immobilizing him. Afterwards, the finish was said to be like yonkyo, but Rinjiro didn’t even have a chance to confirm that; all he could do was endure the intense pain and struggle to somehow slip out of the technique even though he knew it was useless. Contrary to the struggle in his mind, his body didn’t even twitch.

“What terribly amazing breath power!”

Proud of the strength that could lift two bales of rice, Rinjiro shook his head as he answered an interview question, “Was (the Founder’s technique) painful?”

“Yes, really sharp. I couldn’t move. That’s the kind of thing I couldn’t understand! I still don’t understand. Even though I had confidence in my physical strength, whenever I faced Sensei, inevitably my body would end up floating in empty air, and I couldn’t do a thing. No matter what, he took everything away. Everything was completely absorbed by Sensei. That sort of ability isn’t comprehended by the practice of technique alone.”

Similarly, Rinjiro was completely puzzled by joint techniques.

“Having joint techniques applied was really painful. Sometimes nikyo was applied, and you couldn’t hold chopsticks! When it comes to something like yonkyo, it would swell up purple, over and over again, it would swell up purple. By doing that, you would reach the point where it wouldn’t swell and you wouldn’t feel the pain. Being in pain means that you have not yet had enough severe training. (ha ha ha) Well, it was that kind of time, wasn’t it!”

Rinjiro said that, not only was he captured by Morihei’s techniques, every single time he experienced intense pain.

He wondered if he’d become really strong. He was doubtful, but when Morihei went to places like the Military Staff College, the Military Police Corps, the Torpedo School and the Gunnery School to conduct training, he was always chosen as Morihei’s assistant. He never once experienced defeat in challenge matches, either. He could almost always defeat an opponent with his first strike.

With good reason, even at the Kobukan of that time, atemi was not actually used during training.

“Atemi was only explained to a certain point and we never really included it. But after all, being hit in the face and stopping a fist in front of the eyes are different, aren’t they? So suddenly when a fist comes, that thing called awareness goes in a different direction, doesn’t it! Power falls away immediately! That is the point.”

Reading poem in praise of Morihei Ueshiba
at All-Japan Aikido Demonstration, c. 1990

Time and again, Rinjiro was blessed with opportunities for “actual fighting” through activities like “taryujiai” (matches between practitioners of different styles), and serving as an assistant for training outside the dojo. These advantages were probably the biggest reason he came to be called “The Kobukan Prodigy.”

In nearly six years of training at the Kobukan from the end of 1931 to the end of 1937–with only about a year and a half spent on foundation training–Rinjiro began the Okayama branch of the Budo Senyokai [c. 1934] discussed previously, traveled throughout the country for outside training and when in Tokyo, went around serving as Morihei’s assistant.

“The last two years, I was residing in Osaka”

According to what Rinjiro said after the war, he took charge of the dojo, replacing Tsutomu Yukawa who was the senior student in Osaka. Yukawa came from Wakayama and is a hero of aikido history. At any rate, he had tremendous physical strength. Not only could he casually bend and straighten a long six inch nail, but he was also known to grab a bale of rice in each hand, lift them up, and hit them together like wooden clappers.

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