Aikido: Property of the Ueshiba Family, by Stanley Pranin

Current Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba with his father Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Second Doshu, at the Aiki Taisai in Iwama, c. 1990

Current Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba with his father Kisshomaru Ueshiba,
the Second Doshu, at the Aiki Taisai in Iwama, c. 1990

In answer to a question regarding the role played by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in postwar aikido, Shizuo Imaizumi Sensei of New York City made the following comment:

“As Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei handled all daily matters both inside and outside the dojo, the role of O-Sensei seemed to me to be that of the symbol or spiritual figure of the Aikikai. He did whatever he wanted. His only concern was the future of aikido under the Ueshiba family as he was the kind of man who would follow the old ways. O-Sensei would often refer to the art as “Ueshiba-ke-no-aikido,” that is, “Ueshiba family aikido.” In the same way that the Shinkage-ryu or Itto-ryu sword schools belonged to the Yagyu and Ono family, O-Sensei believed that aikido should belong to the Ueshiba family as he himself was its founder. So O-Sensei believed that the Hombu Dojo should be controlled by the Ueshiba family. I think that Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei, as the founder’s son, and O-Sensei’s grandson Moriteru Ueshiba have firm control over the daily matters of the Aikikai in accordance with the wishes of the founder.”

Quoted from Aikido Journal #114, 1998, p. 10.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

Imaizumi Sensei first entered the Aikikai in 1959 and, several years, later in 1964, became an instructor and close follower of Koichi Tohei. He continued in this capacity through 1974.

Many years ago, I heard a comment very similar to that of Imaizumi Sensei from Mariye Takahashi who was a student at the Aikikai in the early 1960s. She, too, referred to aikido as “Ueshiba family property.”

What, in concrete terms, does it mean to aikido practitioners today if we regard the art as the property of the Ueshiba family?

First of all, I think it would be safe to say that Morihei Ueshiba’s statements imply that it was his intention that aikido continue to develop according to his vision. It further implies that he trusted his son Kisshomaru–aikido’s Second Doshu–to carry on in his stead. By extension, the Aikikai Hombu Dojo may be regarded as the physical “home” of aikido, and the administrative and technical center of the art.

If Morihei’s vision was to be understood as the basis of aikido as it continued to evolve as a martial art, then we must try to clearly understand what the art entails. For example, was aikido conceived as a martial art? The Japanese term is “bu-do,” that is, a martial way or path. If one were to poll today’s practitioners, what percentage would perceive the art in this light? Such practices as atemi (strike) and kiai (combative shout) are frowned upon in some schools.

Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba

In a technical sense, what does it mean to say that aikido is a martial art? Does it mean that its techniques may be useful in defending oneself, or intervening in the defense of others? I don’t think it is unreasonable to think in this manner. If there is a body of aikido techniques that allow these martial skills to be learned and applied, if necessary, what are they? Who will determine what the technical curriculum of aikido is? Should this body of techniques evolve over time? Should it not be the Ueshiba family as the successors and protectors of Morihei O-Sensei’s vision who determine this?

What about the ethical dimension of aikido? Morihei was very much involved in the Omoto religion and influenced by its co-founder Onisaburo Deguchi. Moreover, he had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances from religious circles with whom he interacted all of his life. This was mostly within a Shinto context, and thus Morihei and his associates had a particular world view the was aligned with Shinto, the Kojiki, and a particular set of myths and metaphors expressed using a specialized vocabulary. This world is not easily understood by modern Japanese, and much less so by foreigners. How then should we attempt to inform ourselves as to the true intent of his philosophy and apply it to our practice of aikido?

3rd Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba

As is natural in a movement that has attracted several million practitioners in the postwar era, many divisions and schisms have occurred in aikido. Some of the groups and organizations that have formed along the way look to someone other than Morihei Ueshiba as their starting point. In the case of the Aikikai in Tokyo, obviously Morihei Ueshiba as the founder is the point of departure of the art.

As a historian, my research has suggested that although Morihei Ueshiba is universally recognized as aikido’s creator, the specifics of his life and art are poorly understood by most students, even advanced practitioners. Also, in the intervening years following Morihei’s passing in 1969, there has been a gradual shift in emphasis within the Aikikai toward the viewpoint of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.

The following translation is an excerpt from an article of “Aikido Shimbun”, the official newsletter of Hombu Dojo. The article titled “To the spirit of the past Doshu” was written by Moriteru Ueshiba Dojo-cho for the January 20, 1999 edition:

“The techniques and way of Aikido that the founder O-Sensei left us, were not always easily understood by everyone. Doshu, my father, changed these so they would be easily understood, and he gave all of his life to spread this. For that reason he left behind many books that he had written. I grew up watching Doshu return from keiko to study and write for long hours and even with my child’s eyes I could see the importance of this work.”

Retrieved from martialartsplanet.com

Inevitably, there will be those who would prefer aikido to be something closer to the original vision of the Founder. That quite obviously has been the stance of Aikido Journal since its inception. The main thrust of our efforts has always been to act as a medium for the propagation of his life and art, lest his true message be obscured and he as a person relegated to a vague symbol of aikido’s distant past.


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