Morihei Ueshiba & Kisshomaru Ueshiba

by Stanley A. Pranin

(Aiki News #96, Summer/Fall 1993)

Kisshomaru Ueshiba was born in Ayabe in Kyoto Prefecture on June 27, 1921 as the fourth child and third son of Morihei Ueshiba. The founder was at the time living with his family near the main grounds of the Omoto-kyo Center in Ayabe where he was an active participant in the religion. Morihei also trained a few students in a small dojo, known as the Ueshiba Juku, located inside his home. It was here that the famous Daito-ryu teacher Sokaku Takeda came and spent several months in 1922. Kisshomaru Sensei has boyhood memories of this colorful period in the history of aikido. Morihei Sensei moved with his family to Tokyo in 1927 where Kisshomaru completed most of his formal education. Asked in an interview in 1983 when he began training in the martial arts, he responded, "There is a Japanese proverb which says, 'A shop boy near a temple will chant a sutra untaught.' In just the same way, I had already begun my practice when I was a boy without even realizing it... By around 1936 it had become my duty to take sword ukemi for my father when he went places to give demonstrations. I practiced a little kendo... and [also] old-style Kashima Shinto-ryu." Already, in the 1938 training manual Budo, published by Morihei, Kisshomaru appears in many of the technical photos as his uke.

After completing high school, the present Doshu enrolled in Waseda University and he graduated with a degree in economics in 1942. It was also at this time, during the early days of World War II, that the founder, who had retired to Ibaragi Prefecture, entrusted Kisshomaru with the operation of the Kobukan Dojo. By that time, the dojo was nearly empty of students and Kisshomaru's duties were largely administrative. It was, parenthetically, also in 1942 that the term "aikido" was officially adopted in compliance with the policy of name standardization then being advocated by the Butokukai. In addition to the loss of students to the war effort, the dojo building was itself in physical danger due to the bombardment of Tokyo. On one occasion while still a student of Waseda University, Kisshomaru, with the assistance of several neighbors, barely succeeded in saving the dojo from burning down in the fire-ravaged area of Shinjuku.

Immediately after the end of the war the practice of all martial arts was prohibited by the Allied Forces General Headquarters and Kisshomaru opened the doors of the dojo to some one hundred people who were left homeless in the wake of the devastating conflict. He divided his time between Tokyo and Iwama during this period. When practice did resume in Tokyo on an informal basis, few students attended since the major concern of most people was simply survival. But by 1948, the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai, the successor of the Kobukai Foundation, was established and little by little the dojo revived.

With a wife, two children, and several hungry uchideshi to feed, Doshu was at that time employed full-time at a securities company and taught aikido classes in the morning and evening. His father remained ensconced in Iwama training a few close students, among them Morihiro Saito. As practice in Tokyo gained momentum, Kisshomaru started to direct part of his efforts toward the spread of aikido to a public almost totally ignorant of the art. A major turning point was a large demonstration held in the Takashimaya Department Store in 1956, where for the first time senior instructors demonstrated along with the founder. Kisshomaru authored his first book, appropriately titled Aikido, in 1957 and more than twenty others have followed at regular intervals. The growth of aikido continued steadily and dojos sprang up in cities and schools all over Japan. The name aikido began to be familiar to the general Japanese public who could by now at least identify it as a martial art.

The next major frontier in the dissemination of aikido lay outside of Japan. Kisshomaru began sending young, talented teachers abroad to set up dojos and, though preceded by Koichi Tohei, he himself traveled to the U.S. for the first time in 1963. I remember vividly participating in a class taught by Doshu at a YMCA in Los Angeles during that initial tour.

By the mid-1960s, large numbers of trainees crowded the mats of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, together with scores of foreigners who streamed to Japan to train at the mecca of aikido. The founder, although now in Tokyo much of the time, was already in his eighties and Kisshomaru and Koichi Tohei were the major figures at the dojo. Following O-Sensei's death in 1969, a rift between the new Doshu and Tohei, who was head of the instructional staff, gradually developed, and the latter left the Hombu to establish his own school in 1974.

By the mid-1970s aikido had grown to the point that Doshu and the senior shihan of the Aikikai felt the time ripe to create an "International Aikido Federation." National federations were recognized in numerous countries and the overall organization came under the control of the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai. Doshu became busier than ever, his duties taking him to many cities in the U.S., Europe and even South America. In 1977, Doshu's long-awaited book, Aikido Kaiso: Morihei Ueshiba was published by Kodansha and is generally considered the most authoritative work on his father's life. It was, moreover, around this time that his own son, Moriteru, began to be groomed as the "Third Aikido Doshu." This process continues today as the younger Ueshiba's responsibilities increase in preparation for the day of his succession.

Doshu's approach to aikido emphasizes soft, rounded movements. He once told me that the character "maru" in his first name was symbolic of his view of the "circular" essence of aikido technique. In philosophical terms, Doshu himself eloquently summed up his thoughts regarding the art created by his father with these words, The movements of aikido are in perfect accord with the movements of the spirit. If one talks about spiritual matters or throwing his opponent without harming him after having struck and kicked him, it's not convincing. In aikido, we strengthen the body and mind through soft movements which are in harmony with nature.

Doshu remains extremely active and he gives frequent demonstrations and lectures both in Japan and abroad. He regularly teaches at the Aikikai Hombu three days a week and, word has it, is working on a major new book which will be a personal statement on his philosophy of aikido. Copyright © 1993, Aiki News, All rights reserved.

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