Morihei’s Prewar Budo: Transmission, Inheritance, Emulation 4, by Peter Goldsbury

Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei and Nobuyoshi Tamura demonstrating sword kata c. 1960


“Morihei was unique: a martial arts genius, and therefore in the nature
of things, this unique quality cannot be quantified or reproduced.”

The previous column ended with a brief discussion of the third proposition relating to transmission:

(c) Morihei Ueshiba appears to have made no attempt to check whether they had understood what they had learned from him.

As I stated earlier, I think the truth of this proposition is a consequence of the Teacher as Living Model and the Learner as Mirror paradigm. In Aikido Masters many of the uchi-deshi at the Kobukan stated that Morihei Ueshiba rarely showed the same waza twice and would not stop to give any technical explanations. The explanations given at the beginning of Budo Renshu are exclusively concerned with how to attack and how to move when so attacked. Of course, there are brief explanations of the drawings in the book, but these are of little value to those who do not already know how to practice the waza and Zenzaburo Akazawa suggested this in Aikido Masters.

(Akazawa actually stated that, “The only trouble is that things rarely work out as neatly as in those drawings because your partner is a living person. There’s always the danger of people coming to rely too much on this one book. Even though, those illustrations [NB. Not the explanations, which Akazawa never mentions] may well serve as guidelines or as a kind of yardstick. The sort of thing that helps you realize, ‘Oh, sure, in that situation that would be a possibility.’Aikido Masters, p.263.).

Gozo Shioda from a 1958 film

There is a passage in Aikido Shugyou, where Gozo Shioda discusses his grading test for 9th dan. Shioda visited Morihei Ueshiba in Iwama after the war ended. He gives the date as Showa 26, which would be 1951. The test involved attacking O Sensei, successively with a bokken and without any weapon, in any way possible. Shioda could not attack Ueshiba with the bokken because he could not find any openings in his stance. He noted that it was as if his hands and feet had been bound together. He almost landed an empty-handed attack, but O Sensei appears to have stopped him dead. Shioda was given his 9th dan and told to do more sword training. So it was indeed a test, and limited acknowledgement, of what Shioda himself had learned from Ueshiba, but it was all about suki, or openings, and did not involve any waza at all. (The discussion appears on pp.207-210 of 合気道修行.)


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