A Dilemma Deferred: An Identity Denied and Dismissed by Minoru J. Shibata

Minoru J. Shibata

In the mid 20th century, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei introduced a martial art that is unique to this day. There are many witnesses living worldwide today who were there, saw him, heard what he said, and physically touched him. There also is a significant amount of recorded and anecdotal history about him and his art, as there are practices and seminars that have been proliferating for many years that appear to be directly related to what he founded. Yet, we find little, if any, evidence of anyone, even those who were close to him, having understood his aikido with certainty and clarity, so there seems to be no acknowledged transmission of his art. Therefore, the aikido that he founded still remains unique and the legacy of what he founded exists as a redundant series of tentative, invalidated interpretations of his original idea — or some other concept and practice of “aikido.”

This other façade of a common art with a singular goal has been essentially a combination of tentative interpretations which has amounted to a repetition of monotones. The uniqueness of the art seems to have been dismissed by those who have been concentrating the chronicles of aikido on an ambiguous form of the art. Furthermore, this art is supposed to have been founded by an idiosyncratic, multifaceted, legendary person who has expanded the art(s) that he learned from others. These efforts and thoughts clearly have been a salvaging of what O-Sensei had completely discarded. The many interpretations of his art obviously have carried forth the martial arts paradigms that pre-date his aikido and they have been substituted and adjusted to the contemporary mindset. This has only further widened the separation from his aikido. This discontinuity has resulted in a travesty that has retarded further evolvement and development of O-Sensei’s martial art. References to techniques by silly notions as “soft or hard” styles or even “world class” aikido only add more spin to blur what has been vague from the beginning. Somehow, “aikido” has become a terminology for a collective diversity of wishful interpretations instead of a diversity of something original.

The frequent gathering of workshops and seminars for all groups and styles seems to support what is already there but does not address what is missing. The commendable effort of sharing information and cross training through friendship and openness is an over-simplification that does not address the real issue — as in the familiar folk tale of the emperor with no clothes; i.e., aikido with no O-Sensei. Most practices, if not all, are interpretations of an idea of “aikido” without any validation that they are O-Sensei’s aikido. There is no clarity in what integration of martial and philosophical strategy and discipline that the practices are supposed to express, satisfy or embody. Its identity is hidden or does not exist, and therefore, it could be anything. Paradoxically, without the presence of O-Sensei’s aikido, the probable potential that is sought remains limited to other than his aikido.

Many of us can only vicariously imagine from past documents and anecdotes of O-Sensei, his personality and character and his relationship with those who were very close to him, including his family. We find little evidence among practitioners of aikido, religious or not, who have accepted his spirituality as the primary essence within his aikido paradigm. We read or hear more about his idiosyncrasy than his spirituality.


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