“O-Sensei was asked to give a special demonstration in the presence of
the imperial family, but initially refused saying he couldn’t ‘show a lie’…”
The scene is the annual All-Japan Aikido Demonstration held at the Budokan one fine spring day several years ago. A high-ranking shihan commits a slight error of timing during his performance and fails to unbalance or even touch his uke. The uke, obviously at a loss at what to do, looks to the left and then the right, and after an interminably long one or two seconds, falls down.
All of us have witnessed similar incidents at one time or another. Clearly, in aikido there is an unspoken agreement between tori and uke to the effect that the latter will execute a controlled attack, not offer any significant resistance, and take the fall regardless of whether he is thrown. This is especially true for demonstrations, but the situation is common in dojo practice as well.
What is it we are trying to show by our demonstrations? Is our purpose merely to display the beauty and softness of aikido movements? Is it our intention to exhibit a spirit of cooperation with a martial veneer? Idealistic, abstract words such as “harmony,” “peace,” “love,” and similar terms are often used glibly in connection with aikido. However, the meaning of such labels can be misleading since they are often used in everyday conversation in association with notions such as meekness, passivity, or lack of action in the face of violence. The founder used these lofty concepts in a particular spiritual context and the element of martial strength was always implicit in his vision of budo. We do a disservice to Morihei Ueshiba if we turn our public demonstrations into “dance displays.”
I am reminded of a famous episode involving the founder recounted by Gozo Shioda Sensei of Yoshinkan Aikido. O-Sensei was asked to give a special demonstration around 1941 at the Imperial Saineikan Dojo in the presence of the imperial family but initially refused the invitation saying he couldn’t “show a lie.” By “showing a lie,” he was referring to the fact that real martial techniques are so devastating to the attacker they cannot be shown for demonstration purposes. He finally consented to “show the lie” and in that demonstration his uke, Tsutomu Yukawa, failed to attack strongly enough out of deference to Ueshiba Sensei’s weakened physical condition (he was then suffering from jaundice), and ended up getting his collar bone broken.
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