Interview with Morihei Ueshiba and Kisshomaru Ueshiba

“True budo means to win over yourself and eliminate the fighting heart of the enemy.”

A: When I was a college student my philosophy professor showed us a portrait of a famous philosopher, and now I am struck by his resemblance to you, Sensei.

O-Sensei: I see. Maybe I should have entered into the field of philosophy instead. The spiritual side of me is more emphasized than the physical side.

B: It is said that aikido is quite different from karate and judo.

O-Sensei: In my opinion, it can be said to be the true martial art. The reason for this is that it is a martial art based on universal truth. This Universe is composed of many different parts, and yet the Universe as a whole is united as a family and symbolizes the ultimate state of peace. Holding such a view of the Universe, aikido cannot be anything but a martial art of love. It cannot be a martial art of violence. For this reason, aikido can be said to be another manifestation of the Creator of the Universe. In other words, aikido is like a giant (immense in nature). Therefore, in aikido, Heaven and Earth become the training grounds. The state of mind of the aikidoist must be peaceful and totally non-violent. That is to say, that special state of mind which brings violence into a state of harmony. And this I think is the true spirit of Japanese martial arts. We have been given this earth to transform into a heaven on earth. War-like activity is totally out of place.

A: It is quite different from the traditional martial arts, then.

O-Sensei: Indeed, it is quite different. If we look back over time, we see how the martial arts have been abused. During the Sengoku Period (1482-1558-Sengoku meaning “warring countries”) local lords used the martial arts as a fighting tool to serve their own private interests and to satisfy their greed. This I think was totally inappropriate. Since I myself taught martial arts to be used for the purpose of killing others to soldiers during the War, I became deeply troubled after the conflict ended. This motivated me to discover the true spirit of aikido seven years ago, at which time I came upon the idea of building a heaven on earth. The reason for this resolution was that although heaven and earth (i.e., the physical universe) have reached a state of perfection and are relatively stable in their evolution, humankind (in particular, the Japanese people) seems to be in a state of upheaval. First of all, we must change this situation. The realization of this mission is the path to the evolution of universal humanity. When I came to this realization, I concluded that the true state of aikido is love and harmony. Thus the “bu” (martial) in aikido is the expression of love. I was studying aikido in order to serve my country. Thus, the spirit of aikido can only be love and harmony. Aikido was born in accordance with the principles and workings of the Universe. Therefore, it is a budo (martial art) of absolute victory.

B: Would you talk about the principles of aikido? The general public regards aikido as something mystical like ninjutsu, since you, Sensei, fell huge opponents with lightning speed and have lifted objects weighing several hundred pounds.

O-Sensei: It only seems to be mystical. In aikido we utilize the power of the opponent completely. So the more power the opponent uses, the easier it is for you.

B: Then, in that sense, there is aiki in judo, too, since in judo you synchronize yourself with the rhythm of your opponent. If he pulls, you push; if he pushes, you pull. You move him according to this principle and make him lose his balance and then apply your technique.

O-Sensei: In aikido, there is absolutely no attack. To attack means that the spirit has already lost. We adhere to the principle of absolute non-resistance, that is to say, we do not oppose the attacker. Thus, there is no opponent in aikido. The victory in aikido is masakatsu agatsu (correct victory, self-victory); since you win over everything in accordance with the mission of heaven, you possess absolute strength.

B: Does that mean go no sen? (This term refers to a late response to an attack.)

O-Sensei: Absolutely not. It is not a question of either sensen no sen or sen no sen. If I were to try to verbalize it I would say that you control your opponent without trying to control him. That is, the state of continuous victory. There isn’t any question of winning over or losing to an opponent. In this sense, there is no opponent in aikido. Even if you have an opponent, he becomes a part of you, a partner you control only.

B: How many techniques are there in aikido?

O-Sensei: There are about 3,000 basic techniques, and each one of them has 16 variations… so there are many thousands. Depending on the situation, you create new ones.

A: When did you begin the study of martial arts?

O-Sensei: At about the age of 14 or 15. First I learned Tenshinyo-ryu Jiujitsu from Tokusaburo Tozawa Sensei, then Kito-ryu, Yagyu-ryu, Aioi-ryu, Shinkage-ryu, all of them jujutsu forms. However, I thought there might be a true form of budo elsewhere. I tried Hozoin-ryu sojitsu and kendo. But all of these arts are concerned with one-to-one combat forms and they could not satisfy me. So I visited many parts of the country seeking the Way and training, but all in vain.

A: Is that the ascetic training of the warrior?

O-Sensei: Yes, the search for the true budo. When I used to go to other schools I would never challenge the sensei of the dojo. An individual in charge of a dojo is burdened with many things, so it is very hard for him to display his true ability. I would pay him the proper respects and learn from him. If I judged myself superior, I would again pay him my respects and return home.

B: Then you did not learn aikido from the beginning. When did aikido come into being?

O-Sensei: As I said before, I went to many places seeking the true budo..Then, when I was about 30 years old, I settled in Hokkaido. On one occasion, while staying at Hisada Inn in Engaru, Kitami Province, I met a certain Sokaku Takeda Sensei of the Aizu clan. He taught Daito-ryu jujutsu. During the 30 days in which I leamed from him I felt something like an inspiration. Later, I invited this teacher to my home and together with 15 or 16 of my employees became a student seeking the essence of budo.

B: Did you discover aikido while you were learning Daito-ryu under Sokaku Takeda?

O-Sensei: No. It would be more accurate to say that Takeda Sensei opened my eyes to budo.

A: Then were there any special circumstances surrounding your discovery of aikido?

The cover of “Aikido” published by Kowada in 1957 that contains the Japanese-language text of this interview.

O-Sensei: Yes. It happened this way. My father became critically ill in 1919. I requested leave from Takeda Sensei and set out for my home. On my way home, I was told that if one went to Ayabe near Kyoto and dedicated a prayer then any disease would be cured. So, I went there and met Onisaburo Deguchi. Afterwards, when I arrived home, I learned that my father was already dead. Even though I had met Deguchi Sensei only once, I decided to move to Ayabe with my family and I ended up staying until the latter part of the Taisho period (around 1925). Yes… at that time I was about 40 years old. One day I was drying myself off by the well. Suddenly, a cascade of blinding golden flashes came down from the sky enveloping my body. Then immediately my body became larger and larger, attaining the size of the entire Universe. While overwhelmed by this experience I suddenly realized that one should not think of trying to win. The form of budo must be love. One should live in love. This is aikido and this is the old form of the posture in kenjutsu. After this realization I was overjoyed and could not hold back the tears.

B: Then, in budo, it is not good to be strong. Since olden times the unification of “ken” and “Zen” has been tauqht. Indeed, the essence of budo cannot be understood without emptying your mind. In that state, neither right nor wrong have meaning.

O-Sensei: As I said previously, the essence of budo is the Way of masakatsu agatsu.


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