Historical photo: “Morihei Ueshiba captivates budo aficionados among Tokyo’s elite” by Stanley Pranin

morihei-ueshiba-c1927

“Here in a single image that tells a story with many threads, we see a 43-year-old martial arts phenomenon at the outset of his illustrious career.”

In 1927, Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba moved his family to Tokyo from Ayabe, near Kyoto. They had spent the previous seven years living among the community of followers of the Omoto religion under the guidance of religious leader Onisaburo Deguchi. During his stay in Ayabe, with Onisaburo’s encouragement, Morihei honed his martial skills and began teaching privately out of his home dojo dubbed the “Ueshiba Juku.”

What led to Morihei’s decision to leave Ayabe was the increasing recognition of his exceptional abilities as a martial artist along with his charismatic personality that amazed and charmed many of those who came into contact with him. Beginning in 1925, Morihei, then in his early 40s, was invited by various influential persons to give demonstrations and seminars in Tokyo. Though somewhat tainted by his association with the controversial Omoto religion, Morihei made a strong impression among many of Tokyo’s elite who were admirers of the martial arts. Invitations and inducements to relocate to Japan’s capitol and largest city began to flow in. After consulting with Onisaburo whom Morihei considered his spiritual advisor, Ueshiba made the decision to move his family and start his martial arts teaching career in earnest.

The photo below is one of only a few that survive from Morihei Ueshiba’s early years in Tokyo. Here in a single image that tells a story with many threads, we see a 43-year-old martial arts phenomenon at the outset of his illustrious career. Some names you will recognize, others are essentially lost to history, but several of the individuals appearing here played important roles in Morihei’s early success in Tokyo.

Here I identify the known figures in this photo and provide basic information about their roles in early aikido history.

1 – Isamu Takeshita (1869-1949): An admiral in the Japanese Imperial Navy who was a true martial arts aficiionado here at the point of retirement. Over the next 15 years, Takeshita was a student and benefactor of Morihei whose collaboration was essential in introducing Ueshiba in important circles and promoting his professional career. Takeshita led a colorful life that included a personal friendship with Theodore Roosevelt with whom he practiced jujutsu. Takeshita was a member of Japan’s elite and a confidant of Emperor Hirohito.

2 – Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969): The future founder of aikido at the time in his career that he was a certified instructor of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu teaching as a representative of jujutsu expert Sokaku Takeda.

3 – Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1921-1999): Third son and successor of Morihei who would take over management of Morihei’s Tokyo dojo in 1942, and spearhead the dissemination of aikido in the postwar era.

4 – Kosaburo Gejo (?-?): An Imperial Navy commander and contemporary of Admiral Isamu Takeshita who studied under Morihei beginning c. 1925 through the early 1930s. Gejo was reputed to have been an expert in the Yagyu Shinkage-ryu sword. Anecdotal evidence indicates that Gejo would demonstrate and share his swordmanship expertise with Morihei during this period. [If any of our readers have additional information on this little known figure, we would be grateful if they would bring it to our attention.]

5 – Wasaburo Asano (1874-1937): Asano was the younger brother of Seikyo Asano, an early influential student of Morihei from the Ueshiba Juku period. It was Seikyo who introduced Morihei to Admiral Takeshita. Wasaburo was a famous English scholar known for translating the works of William Shakespeare. He joined the Omoto religion in 1916 and became one of the sect’s top leaders. He was also a well-known psychic and founded the Japanese Society for Psychical Research which stills exists today.

6 – Kiyoshi Yamamoto: A son of Gombei Yamamoto (1852-1933), an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy and two-time prime minister of Japan in the early twentieth century. Kiyoshi was an early student and patron of Morihei. His daughter also practiced with Ueshiba.

7 – Noriaki (Yoichiro) Inoue (1902-1994): Yoichiro Inoue was a nephew and early collaborator of Morihei. Inoue’s close family ties with the Ueshiba family, and his role as a teaching assistant of Morihei have all but been obliterated from officially sanctioned works on aikido history. Inoue was one of the most important teachers from this era, second only to his uncle.

8 – Kinya Fujita (1889-1970): Fujita was a wealthy businessman and golf course designer. He studied with Morihei Ueshiba starting in the mid-1920s and was one of the Founder’s most active benefactors. He also conducted fund raising activities on behalf of Morihei’s Kobukan Dojo in the late 1930s when the school was under financial strain due to the advent of the war. Fujita was instrumental in setting up both the Kobukai Foundation (1939) and the Aikikai Foundation (1948), and was a member of the board of directors of the latter until his death.

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The Morihei Ueshiba Founder’s Course is O-Sensei’s video legacy starting in 1935 and covering a span of 34 years until just before his passing in 1969. Besides the more than 30 films of the Founder, the course includes three rare audio interviews of O-Sensei with complete subtitles. These are wonderfully intimate conversations with the Founder that convey his bright personality, playfulness and sincerity. In addition, the course includes a series of video documentaries by Stanley Pranin on the life of the Founder and the spread of his art worldwide.


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