A change of optic:

Aikido is a gem of many facets – sometimes it seems that every one of O’Sensei’s students remembered a different teacher, and of course, many, many different styles have been preserved and developed – but here is one facet that clicked into focus for me recently:

what if O’Sensei spent his time away from Iwama and Tokyo coherently pursuing what he felt to be his “mission in life”?…

what if he spent his time away from Iwama and Tokyo creating and nurturing a network of dojos run by Omoto-Kyo, ex-Omoto-Kyo and Ko-Shinto believers ( hand-picked deshi,  some of them raised, almost, as members of his family) – – – and ex-Kamikaze pilots, too (!) – often with his own name on the sign –  in places – and close to shrines – that had been important to the  Omoto-kyo,  and to his own life, and that were a continuation of his activities in the late twenties and early thirties (which is to say:  the projects of his first enlightenment experiences) ?…

what if he made several of these dojo-cho tenth dan, and told them “there is no iemoto system in aikido”?…

asked one of them to write a book on kokyu?… and asked said dojo-cho’s brother to write his (O’Sensei’s) biography?…

and told one of them “you are a [/the ?] true successor to me”…

and to another – who studied with him from age 14 to age 45 – gave transmission scrolls…

what if O’Sensei was more relaxed with, and spoke more deeply and openly to these dojo-cho than to other aikido-ka, and was such a powerful influence on them that frequently their thoughts echo his own?…

…such as the thought, expressed by Seiseki Abe, that the doka are O’Sensei’s writings that most reliably survive transmission – because you cannot edit a very strict poetic structure (waka) without that being immediately obvious?…

and, of course,  what if he felt the CENTER of this network – old school – to be his spiritual practice in Iwama, where he build a dojo that looked very much like a Temple or a Shrine…

and what if Omoto-kyo was in many ways not what we would call “a new religion” (that’s a government label) – but rather preserved a body of traditional (pre-Meiji) Japanese thinking (harmoniously blended Shinto, Esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Idealist Neo-Confucianism) and practices in a transformation that was both competitive with and influenced by Christianity, and adequate to the wider world – and wider religious perspective –  beyond Japan, opened up by the Meiji restoration?…

and what if O’Sensei’s very personal blend of Omoto-kyo and Ko-Shinto thinking preserves a body of traditional Japanese thought (harmoniously blended Shinto, Esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Idealist Neo-Confucianism) and practices in a certain rapprochement with Christianity that is – just as he believed –  entirely adequate to the global culture and the realities and challenges we now all face?…

and what if O’Sensei’s synthesis of Omoto-kyo and traditional thinking  was integral to his understanding and work with ki and kokyu?  – –  –  a continuation and development,  in fact,  of  traditional higher-level budo thinking – or rather: practice, just as Jigoro Kano noted 1)…

and what if O’Sensei remained loyal his entire life to his family’s Ujigami – the gods of the three Kumano mountain shrines, in both their kami and buddha aspects – their shrine still visible in the garden of O’Sensei’s birthplace when Nidai Doshu went to gather biographical material – and what if O’Sensei returned to those three mountains for guidance in times of crisis, was friends with the Guji of the head shrine, privy to that family’s esoteric, Ko-Shinto philosophy, and attempted to bring said Guji into the network that he considered his “life mission”?…

indeed, what if O’Sensei created the shrine(s), farm, and dojo at Iwama as an improved version of what he had had at Ayabe – and later at the Budo-Senyo-Kai’s Hombu Dojo at Takeda?… and if, post-war, for real, and for more than half a decade, that  farm and dojo – his Aiki-En –  were operating largely outside the money economy,  feeding and housing his dojo “family” – and were, in fact, at that time, the “hombu” dojo  –  and sending rice to feed the dojo in Tokyo? …

and what if his opinion of Tokyo – and all things Tokyo – was colored by, for instance, the interrogations that attended his attempts to move there in 1925 and 1926 2) – not to mention subsequent events affecting the Omoto-kyo?…

…so that, after the war, rather than promote an “Ueshiba” dojo in Tokyo, he encouraged a long-time deshi with family ties to the army and the wartime cabinet to open a dojo there?

and what if O’Sensei saw cultural affinities between, out of all the western nations,  France and Japan, and worked on having the Hombu – and other – deshi with most affinity to his “life mission” sent to France?…

and what if he chose out foreign uchideshi and deshi for their perceived affinity to his “life mission”?…

and what if his “life mission”,  given to him in a vision in 1940, was not so different, after all,  from the one bestowed on him by  Onisaburo  Deguchi?…

…and so what if we stay aware, at the least, when we hear the stories about O’Sensei – and read the writings and quotes that have come down to us – of which dojo, which city or town (and look at the map!), which deshi 3), which shrine and what year? …

…the eccentric, inexplicable old man in one place; the serious, sometimes severe, farmer and budo master with a rigorous spiritual routine in another; and elsewhere the relaxed and wise old sage, talking religion, philosophy, and old times with his favorite long-time students, and practising calligraphy….

– – – – FastSlow   (August 2013)

1) “We have to leave techniques like those of Mr. Ueshiba to future generations. The old traditional jujutsu was the same as his style, but it is difficult to find out how to practice them systematically” Jigoro Kano to Kenji Tomiki Shihan in March 1936, cited in Aikido Tradition and the Competetive Edge, by Fumiaki Shishida and Tetsuro Nariyama, p.29
2) Remembering, too, that this was a man whose family had spirited him off to Tokyo after he agitated against the Fishery Acts of 1901, and to Hokkaido after he joined Minakata Kumagusa’s movement to oppose the 1906 Shrine Consolidation regulations.
3) …and pay attention, too, to which deshi got to eat their meals with the Ueshiba family…

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