“The Founder was the proverbial ‘driven man’ who focused his energies on his own training and ventured forth on a unique voyage of inner discovery that culminated in the birth of aikido.”
Aikido Journal #105 (1995)
The other day one of our Aikido Journal staff members was speaking with a well-known senior instructor. Apparently, my name came up during the course of the conversation and the instructor confided that he thought I had become caught up in “a cult of O-Sensei.” I was certainly caught off guard by this casual remark, but after mulling over what he said I decided I was not in the least bit offended. At the same time, I must confess it did cause me to stop and think for a moment about how others might view the orientation and content of this magazine. I would be the first to admit that an occasional reader of the Aikido ]ournal might be left with the impression that we are rather “obsessed” with the subject of the Founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. Indeed, in the several thousands of pages we have published in our twenty-one years, the life and art of this one individual have clearly received a disproportionate amount of coverage.
Why such a fixation on the Founder? To be perfectly honest, this whole effort was sparked by an intense personal interest I had in the subject starting early in my aikido career. I made a trip to Japan in 1969 shortly after the death of O-Sensei to train and research the roots of aikido to satisfy my own curiosity. I had always been fascinated and inspired by the Founder and wanted to find out everything I could about this extraordinary man. However, I left Japan some ten weeks later discouraged by the scant amount of historical material available on Morihei Ueshiba. Here was one of the giants of Japanese martial arts and, at that stage, there was only one biographical study—a rather uneven one focusing predominantly on the influence of the Omoto religion on aikido—and no technical examination on the Founder’s art at all. Under such circumstances, it would not have been possible for anyone other than those who had extensive contact with O-Sensei to grasp the originality of his art and philosophy. Though there have been a number of pioneer figures in twentieth century Japanese martial arts—Jigoro Kano and Gichin Funakoshi are two names that immediately come to mind—the figure of Morihei Ueshiba stands out not only for his technical expertise, but also for his ethical vision of aikido as a means of self-defense that also assumes responsibility for the well-being of the attacker. This concept was at the heart of his message and the cornerstone on which his vision of budo as a means of achieving the peaceful resolution of conflict was built.
Although other martial artists, both classical and modern viewed the sword as an instrument that transcends killing and destruction, the Founder was particularly and uniquely influenced by the thinking of Onisaburo Deguchi of the Omoto religion. He showed a deep respect for the sanctity of life in all its manifestations in nature’s creation. It is perhaps this lofty vision which accounts for the universality of Morihei Ueshiba’s message, which transcends cultural boundaries and religious doctrines. But, Morihei Ueshiba’s broad appeal by no means ends there. He was a heroic figure in many respects who lived in exciting times and whose life was interwoven with those of many exceptional individuals of Japanese society. The Founder was the proverbial “driven man” who focused his energies on his own training and ventured forth on a unique voyage of inner discovery that culminated in the birth of aikido. On a more mundane level, Morihei was an example of the virtues of hard work, perseverance, and dedication to purpose. Although the child of a well-to-do family who enjoyed the support of his father and wealthy relatives well into adulthood, he always maintained a modest lifestvle and displaved a near total lack of interest in financial matters. Morihei developed a powerful physique while at the same time maintaining a childlike flexibility throughout his 85 years. He was essentially a vegetarian who shunned alcohol for the last half of his life. In short, he set a fine example, which drew both young and old to his side for nearly half a century and inspired them to improve themselves.
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