Open letter to Aikikai

This article was first published in Karate Busihdo nº 231 (January 1996).

Italian version available:

In 1990, an Italian journalist from Aikido magazine asked Saito sensei what kind of man was O sensei. His answer was delightfully Japanese:

In a nutshell, I would say that Morihei Ueshiba was Kisshomaru's opposite . His contrary in a way. You see, Kisshomaru's merit has been to develop AIkikai to a great extent. But if O sensei had interfered with it, the association would have been wrecked in three days.

Note: about the Aikikai
The name «Aiki-Kai», which can be translated as «Association of Aiki», is used to describe the association created in 1948 in Tokyo to promote the Art Morihei Ueshiba created : Aikido. That association was placed under the Founder's son's direction, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, . Along the years, the Aiki-Kai has developed a peculiar form of Aikido now called «Aiki-Kai style» and defined as Aikido's "official" form. In Aikido's terminology «O Sensei» means Morihei Ueshiba. «Doshu» means his son Kisshomaru and «Waka Sensei» means Moriteru Ueshiba, Kisshomaru's son, Morihei's grandson. (TN: the article was written before Kisshomaru Ueshiba sensei's passing. The current Doshu is now Moriteru Ueshiba).

Every man finds it place in the wise organization of the world. O sensei's destiny was to create Aikido, but his son was meant to efficiently manage the structure that was needed to spread Aikido beyond Japanese borders.

Everything was well that way. But the natural course of things would have been broken if O sensei had got involved with administrative matters or the Doshu with technique. Men have different qualities, which lead them to different paths. Reminding that reality means no offense to anyone.

In 1932, Kisshomaru Ueshiba was 12 years old and O sensei was wondering about his school's future, so he adopted Kiyoshi Nakakura, one of Japan's greatest kendoka and renamed him Morihiro Ueshiba. Mori in Japanese means “to protect, to guard”. In most likelihood, O sensei thought he would be the future dai of Aikido. But Nakakakura resigned after a few years, came back to Kendo, which was his path, and became an undisputed master of that discipline. Much later, in the fifties, O sensei gave his son Kisshomaru the responsibility of managing Aikikai. But at the same time, he changed Saito sensei's first name in Morihiro, awarded him with the 8th Dan and named him guardian, until his death, of Aikido' sacred sanctuary in Iwama.

Primitive and evolved Aikido

So, the school's administration was given to Kisshomaru Ueshiha and Morihiro Saito was the guardian of the technique. No doubt Kisshomaru was the right person at Aikikai's head. If the association is nowadays the international reference of Aikido, it's because of him. He dealt with his duty with talent. Tadashi Abe sensei who knew men and a man of few (French) words used to say: " Kisshomaru, good civil servant" (NT: in France the civil servant stereotype means, no offense here – roughly - being attached to routine, preferring comfort to adventure).

But in order to achieve this, he couldn't avoid imprinting his own influence on the technique. He entered a field that wasn't his. And since forty years, although Aikikai claims O sensei's legacy, it actually spreads the second Doshu's aikido. That statement may surprise but it is not fortuitous. It was even officially confirmed by Moriteru Ueshiba (the Founder's grandson) in an interview given in 1995 to Budo magazine:

What was originally hard and breaking has been smothered and rounded in more circular techniques.

And Moriteru adds:

The curriculum I teach is the one by the Doshu put together in the fifties. The direct forms O sensei used were the ones he had learned, maybe harder, more breaking, they were linked to an Aikido of a given time and his personal evolution. With time, techniques got rounder, as smooth as possible.

Aikido's credo is thus declared and one can’t be criticized for reading between the lines: there once existed a brutal, primitive and not very original Aikido - the Founder's very Aikido - and there is now an evolved Aikido with round forms, the Aikikai's Aikido, the "classical form" according to Moriteru.

The one and only Aikido: the Master's.

I would never made some truths public if Moriteru Ueshiba, Aikikai's head and an emblematic personality, hadn't officially expressed that judgment on the Founder's Aikido, his great father.

Some other public figures, my masters, would have been more entitled to react than I am. They will not. They can't because of the faith oath that ties them to the Ueshiba family, therefore to the Aikikai. Waka sensei (NT. The article was written before Kisshomaru Ueshiba sensei's passing), I’m writing to you directly. Not to the individual of course, but to the symbol, to the representative of a certain idea of Aikido which finds its way in the world, claiming that Aikido must evolve. I defend the exact opposite view: there is only one Aikido and the rest is not Aikido, purely and simply.

That unique Aikido was the creation of an exceptional man, O sensei, after a life long of efforts constantly aiming at the same goal. That Aikido is one because its founding principles are the same than those at work in the Universe. Any principle is intangible. That point must be absolutely clear. No one can say that the sum of a triangle's angles is not equal to 180º. It is so and it will remain so. That is a principle. 180º is the straight line, the straightest way and it is not random that in Aikido, irimi - which according to O sensei must possess "the energy of a ray of light" - is based on hanmi, the triangular position of the feet.

A discipline founded on immutable principles

Morihei Ueshiba' Aikido is built on such principles. That's why it is the Universe, that's why it is immutable. Of course, the Universe is dynamic. Who would argue that forms don’t change all the time? But that constant change is organized by invariable principles.

Such different beings like a man, a snail and a sunflower share the same organizing factor: the logarithmic spiral of 0,618 regulates the growth of the DNA, the shape of a snail's shell and the sunflower seeds spiral. The same applies in Aikido. There are ten thousands individuals, ten thousands different shiho nage because all beings are different. True. But each of them must respect the logarithmic spiral while applying the technique. Otherwise there is no shiho nage. That constant can’t change or vary because it is a principle. That is Aikido and this is why it can't evolve. O sensei's AIkido is Aikido forever and Aikikai can't change that fact.

Weapons work

You declare:

... The weapons work has indeed evolved. In Aikikai, the study of weapons is understood as a study of defense against a partner armed with a ken or a jo.

Allow me remind you that this study is named tachi chi dori and jo dori and that they are more related with empty hand techniques than weapons techniques. It just can't be mistaken with Aiki ken and Aiki jo teachings. The fact Aikikai understands the weapons work that way only means that Aikikai has modified the meaning of the words.

The rich technical and pedagogical weapon work has been reduced to the bare tachi dori and jo dori. It is like cutting two strings on a violin and telling the musician: " you'll play just as well with the two remaining strings". And then you go to the end of your thinking and you add :

As such the teaching of weapons has no space and it can be said it is not taken into account in Aikikai because it can be considered, for instance, that the weapon training with two partners is not Aikido anymore.

So it can be considered that, for instance, O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido, when he practiced weapon with a partner, did not practice Aikido. So what did he practice, please? Kendo, Jodo? No, Young Master, he practiced Aiki ken and Aiki jo. He practiced Aikido with or without a weapon, whether his opponent had a weapon or not. I need to confess an mistake that you allow me to understand now.

Aikikai's beliefs and lacunes

Aikikai always refused to recognize the teaching of Aikiken and Aiki jo - the way Saito sensei transmitted them - as coming from O sensei. For a long time I thought that was the consequence of a political calculation. Since nobody in Hombu dojo was able to teach them, it seemed obvious the Aikikai would have been greatly embarrassed by that acknowledgement. Well, I was wrong. I suspected some cynicism from Aikikai's part and I hereby apologize about that thought. I have now understood Aikikai was perfectly sincere. It is not because of a political cynicism, it is because Aikikai ignores everything about Aiki ken and Aiki jo and therefore has no clue about the partnered training's function in Aikido.

Aikikai is like a child living in a desert who denies the existence of the ocean just because he never saw it. Aikikai truly believes that two men with a sword can only practice Kendo and that two men with a jo practice Jodo. That's why the Hombu dojo's teachers go to learn Kendo and Jodo when they want to learn weapons. And I say nothing I can’t prove. Here are my arguments.

The evidence

During his childhood, Morihei Ueshiba learned from two major personalities. The first one was Masakatsu Nakai, master of the famous sword school “Yagyu Shingan”. Morihei studied under his supervision from 1903 to 1908 when he got his very first certificate of mastery from his master’s hands.
From 1915 to 1922, Morihei studied under Sokaku Takeda the empty hand techniques of the Daito school but also the Hozoin school of spear and the Shinkage sword school that Takeda taught. He awarded Morihei with a mastery degree in Ayabe in 1922.

That proves O sensei, during his formation years, practiced both weapons and empty hand techniques and that is a very important point. From 1919 to 1926, Morihei lived in Ayabe, in the Omoto-kyo community where he received reverend Deguchi's spiritual teaching and progressively freed himself from the previous rigid technical frame. Particularly, he broke off from Takeda sensei's Daito ryu by giving up the stance shikaku (square) to favor - for empty hand techniques - the stance sankaku (hanmi) he used with the weapon techniques he mastered. That point is crucial. The triangular stance, so specific to Aikido and which gives Aikido its whole structure, that stance directly comes from weapon practice.

Today, by eliminating weapon practice from Aikido, the Aikikai goes in the exact opposite way.

O Sensei in Iwama

From 1927 to 1941, Ueshiba sensei lived in Tokyo. But in contrast with your opinion, Young Master, the art he taught was already extremely peculiar and had little in common with "the very straight forms, as he had learned them" you seem willing to reduce it to.

The documentary shot in Osaka in Asahi newspaper's premisses is a strong testimony of that singularity. That art had no yet reached its maturity. It was called Aiki-budo and was a combination of the Art’s three pillars: Ken jutsu (sword), So jutsu, (spear) and Tai Jutsu (empty hand techniques). The crucial integration and synthesis of these three elements in a unified system was not completely achieved still. That work truly began in 1942 in Iwama.

Intellectual honesty imposes to respect the facts: from 1942 until his death in 1969, O sensei did not live in Tokyo as some say, but far from there, in Iwama, a little village, in Ibaraki district. That's where his house and his dojo were and that is where he had the Aikido shrine been built, at the bottom of Atago san, the sacred mountain. Is that truth so disturbing that most biographies conceal that fact?

The reality is harsh but here it is: Morihei Ueshiba only taught at the "Aikido world headquarter" in an occasional fashion, during a few visits to his son in the fifties. Even more, he was then a foreigner in that place. He was a passing visitor, he did not teach Aiki ken and Aiki jo but in Iwama. Kisshomaru Ueshiba and the Hombu dojo students could only have a glimpse of O sensei's Aikido. All current shihan are in reality Kisshomaru Ueshiba's students and not O sensei's. None of them could imagine what was happening in Iwama, none was involved.

Nonetheless, O sensei's message was clear. As early as 1942, he registered the word Aikido, used for the first time, at the Japanese Ministry of Education. That same year, the buildings in Iwama were baptized according to Kotatama and Sacred Architecture' s rules as Ubuya, which means: the place of birth.

I claim, on account of these two major symbolic acts, that, in 1942, Iwama was Aikido's birth place. O sensei could clearly see then what was still imprecise before: the link that had to unify empty hand techniques and weapon techniques. It was not enough that Aikido was born. And even that conception was only a first step. Like a child coming in the world, Aikido had to grow and reach its maturity.

Aikido's three pillars

Here is, Young Master, the unknown and immense work O sensei undertook in Iwama between 1942 and 1969, during four times seven years.

Aiki-ken, Aiki-jo, Tai-justsu

The harmonious dynamic balance of these elements that explain each other for they are unified by a common rational structure.

All documents of that time, all the pictures, all the movies, all the men and women who lived in Iwama next to O sensei during these twenty eight years, they all testify of the Founder's intense research and creative activity - especially with Aiki ken and Aiki jo. The truth is, Young Master, that the Founder did not limit himself to "improve a few details". The truth is that, in Iwama, the Founder was studying without rest, he was searching, modifying, developing, organizing the techniques around one Principle you are not aware of. He was creating Aikido, while your father in Tokyo was “codifying" and prematurely teaching what he thought was Aikido even if something essential was missing.

Aikido, the one and only Aikido, created by O sensei in the last 28 years of his life in Iwama, has three pillars: it is a communion, a living inter - dependency between the three parts of a same being. These three parts are Aiki ken, Aiki jo and Tai jutsu. Aikido is the harmonious dynamic balance of these three elements that explain each other for they are unified by a common rational structure. That structure is Aikido's specificity and it is much more than adding independent disciplines.

An amputated Aikido

What would you think of a land surveyor who would delete two sides of a triangle and would still call the remaining shape a triangle? Aikikai believes it can take out Aiki ken and Aiki jo and still call Aikido what's left. What's left is a worthless residue. The Aikido taught by your father, the one you teach, the Hombu dojo Aikido, the Aikido spread by Aikikai around the world is not a modern or evolved Aikido. It is a mutilated and amputated Aikido. It is not O sensei's Aikido, it is not Aikido anymore. Aikikai has moved Aikido towards sport.

Maybe that's what’s called taking reality’s requirements into account.

What is Traditional Aikido?

Aikido is not a sport, it is a martial art which laws (takemusu) are in harmony with the laws of the universe. Studying them allows the practitioner to understand his place in the universe. Aikido was born in Iwama, O sensei achieved in that village the synthesis of tai jutsu, aiki ken and aiki jo.

Where to practice Traditional Aikido?

The International Takemusu Aikido Federation (ITAF) brings to the practitioner the structure he needs in order to work as close as possible to the reality O sensei MU defined. The official national representations are the guarantee of a teaching faithful to the Founder's.

The weapons of Aikido, aiki ken and aiki jo

In modern Aikido, weapons are hardly taught, if taught at all. In O sensei's Aikido, on the contrary, aiki ken, aiki jo and tai jutsu are unified and form together a riai, a family of harmonious techniques stemming from one unique principle. Each techniques helps understand all the others.

Aikido, a martial art or an art of peace?

Peace is a balance between a human being and the world around him. The true martial art's goal is not to become stronger than one's opponent but to find in that opponent a way to realize harmony. There is no enemy anymore as such, but an opportunity offered to reach unified ki.
Copyright TAI (Takemusu Aikido Intercontinental)