Video: Rinjiro Shirata — “A Catalog of Prewar Aiki Budo Techniques — Part 1”

This videoclip is the first of a three-part series made in commemoration of Rinjiro Shirata Sensei’s 70th birthday celebration. Here Shirata Sensei demonstrates scores of prewar Aiki Budo techniques including literally hundreds of techniques, some basic, some advanced, from the following technical groupings: iriminage, shihonage, kaitennage, kotegaeshi, and tenchinage. This video, nearly 30 years old and virtually unknown, will help aikido instructors and practitioners bridge the gap between the prewar curriculum of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba and modern aikido. It is a landmark resource in our efforts to understand the evolution of aikido technique over the years.

Born on March 29, 1912 in Yamagata Prefecture to a family of Omoto believers, Rinjiro Shirata was accepted into the Kobukan Dojo of aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba as an uchideshi in 1933. Known for his modest character and great physical strength, he quickly became one of the star pupils of the “Hell Dojo,” as the founder’s early school was called. Shirata later spent a short period teaching aiki budo in Osaka before being drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army. He spent the war years stationed in Burma until his repatriation.

Shirata’s training was interrupted for several years due to the war, but he began actively teaching again in Aomori in 1959. In 1962, he received the 8th dan rank from the founder. At this time, his teaching activities were concentrated in his native Yamagata. Shirata was awarded 9th dan in 1972 by Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and is one of only a handful of people ever to have achieved this rank. Shirata was also active in the International Aikido Federation following its establishment in 1976. He occupied several high posts and served on the technical council. He traveled to Honolulu in 1978 in connection with the IAF and to Chicago in 1984 at the invitation of Akira Tohei Sensei. On both occasions foreign practitioners responded enthusiastically to his skillful, yet gentle approach to teaching.

Devoted to the spread of aikido and one of the staunchest supporters of the Ueshiba family, Shirata was a regular participant over the years in major Aikikai-sponsored events such as the All-Japan Aikido Demonstration, the Iwama Taisai, and the Kagami Biraki New Year Celebration at the Tokyo Hombu Dojo.

Duration: 40:47 minutes

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  1. Jennifer Paige Smith says:

    You’re really outdoing yourself AJ! Amazing!

    • As the Japanese say, there are a lot of “sleeping” documents out there, that we will work at “waking up” so that the aikido community can access them. The alternative is that they slip out of existence.

  2. Allen Beebe says:

    Just because it bugs me:

    Stan: Are you personally an Omoto believer?
    Shirata: Yes, my father was also a believer. Ueshiba Sensei and my father met through their involvement in Omoto. This led to my father wishing me to train in Aikido. I entered the dojo during the Kobukan period. It was either the end of 1931 or the beginning of 1932.

    Stan: How old were you at that time?
    Shirata: Since it was the beginning of the Kobukan period I must have been 18 or 19.

    Stan: I believe you said you entered the dojo at the age of 19.

    In Memoriam: Rinjiro Shirata, 1912-1993

    and a little math . . .

    1912 + 19 = 1931

    I believe that Shirata sensei (as he stated) entered the Kobukan in December of 1931 “the end of 1931”, which might as well be “the beginning of 1932” I suppose. But sensei never mentions 1933 as an entry date, he gives end of ’31 or beginning of ’32, and then he gives his age 18 or 19 which both come in below 1933. Also, if he joined in 1933, I believe that would make him Kohai to individuals that recognized him as sempai until both of their deaths.

    I’m happy to see the video with proper video titles at the beginning and ending posted. It will be interesting to see what you do with the Goi Masahisa poem recitation. Personally, I hope you don’t edit a thing and just put the tapes up “as is.” Clearly this was how they were originally intended for distribution.

    There is a ’70’s television special (locally produced) that you might find interesting. Sensei does a bit of batto, and what not with one of his shinken. (Obviously not the one he had sealed.) There is an interview, a demonstration in the dojo, and a seperately filmed demo from the dojo complete with shakuhachi music!

    And then again . . . this too was tip of the iceberg, and the public face of all that sensei knew and taught.

    ~ Allen

    • Allen,

      You may be right on this. The year may be 1932, but I doubt it’s 1931. I believe people like Yonekawa, Yukawa, and Funahashi were his seniors. Here are some notes I have compiled on the subject and you can see the contradiction in the memories of the old timers:

      “Gozo Shioda says that he enrolled on May 23, 1932. He says that this when Takako Kunigoshi was already practicing at the Kobukan Dojo. She says she started in January 1933.

      The Budo Senyokai was launched on August 13, 1932. Shigemi Yonekawa states he entered the Kobukan Dojo in August 1932 after having attended a Budo Senyokai seminar in Iwama. I believe he is senior to Rinjiro Shirata.

      It may be the Kunigoshi actually entered in January, 1932. Then the dates would work out better, but I’m not sure at this time.”

  3. Allen Beebe says:

    Here is a question for you Stan. Shirata sensei was awarded 10th dan by Ueshiba Kisshomaru. Yet he is referred to as 9th dan by you and others. What is the protocol on this? Is one referred to by their “living rank” because their “posthumous rank” is only recognized as an honorific?

    When I refer to Shirata sensei by rank what is proper? The “final” rank awarded posthumously or his rank before death?


    • I suppose this is a matter of personal preference. Kisaburo Osawa was another person promoted to 10th dan posthumously. Personally, I prefer to mention the highest rank the person had while still living. One just needs to state what standard is being used. Beyond that, I don’t suppose it matters very much.

  4. wayne gorski says:

    Amazing w/out a doubt one of the finest demonstrations of Prewar Aikido…thanks for all the New Years free gifts.

  5. This is great to see. I would have been 12 when Shirata Sensei made this. His “Way of Harmony” is one of my favourite books, and the first I ever bought on Aikido.

    I don’t recall his book having a chapter on Tenchinage. A huge number of techniques in this video are called Tenchinage, but don’t get called Tenchinage in other Aikido schools. I thought the Way of Harmony called some of these Yonkyonage instead, another I thought he wrote was called Iriminage. The book showed he had three distinct types of Iriminage which were not referred to and I don’t remember seeing any of them referred to as Omote or Ura.

    My question is was the organization, subtitling and the narration of the video added posthumously? The movements and the demonstration are still very inspirational and he was fantastic, but I found the editorial aspects a little confusing.

    I can see Shirata Sensei had an enormous technical breadth and depth that I can’t begin to categorize from a book or two, or a tiny amount of time on YouTube. I hope my confusion doesn’t offend anyone.

    • John,

      The only editing done to this video was the addition of the introductory and ending titles. I received this archival copy from one of Shirata Sensei’s students shortly after it was released. Nothing was edited or changed at all.

  6. Charles Warren says:

    These are pretty familiar to Saito students. The speed is higher than kihon practice, of course. Thus the throws sometimes release sooner and nage’s finishing stance is opposite what I would usually expect. I’m sorry to see that the shihonage pin from Daito-ryu is equally lost here. The ushiro style of some techniques has a similarity to Inoue sensei and was surprising to me the first time I saw it. Some of the naming is different, but that is rarely a surprise. There’s a nice pin from what I would call sumi-otoshi. I’d “discovered” it before. This validates it. There seems to be a “prewar” flavor to the knee on the neck/shoulder in the seated pin…

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