These days, most people understand that the word “aiki” has been used many different ways, in many different traditions, and has been for centuries 1). But here is a Shinden Isshin-ryu master, in 1911 or 1912, talking about aiki in – at times – strikingly familiar terms: the “wonderful aiki-no-jutsu“, “acquired only by long and patient study” that allows one to “place another under one’s influence,” “see in the dark, bring walking men to a full stop, or break the sword brandished to slay [one].”
The passages below are extracted from a talk given at his dojo, to help E. J. Harrison write his wonderful book on the esoteric aspects of bujutsu, as the reporter learned and observed them between 1903 and 1913. This is a fascinating look into the world of bujutsu as it was during O’Sensei’s formative years – amongst other things, you may notice the casual interchangeability of the words “judo” and “ju-jutsu” – and the tension an old-style ju-jutsu master lives between upholding the values and knowledge entrusted to him from previous generations and on the other hand integrating his teaching practice into the homogenizing world of “judo”.
The Fighting Spirit of Japan is is a book everyone should buy…
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The Japanese teacher to whom I am most indebted for inspiration on the esoteric aspects of judo and jujutsu was not a member of the Kodokan but a Mr. Nobuyuki Kunishige, a veteran then [immediately prior to 1913] well over sixty years of age belonging to the Shinden Isshin-ryu school of the art. Mr. Kunishige was in those days the proprietor and director of a fifty-mat dojo called the Shidokan, situated in the Shimbashi quarter of the capital of Japan…I should say that Mr. Kunishige taught fencing as well as judo, and was besides an expert in the use of the spear and the iron fan, in archery, swimming and horsemanship; in a word, he was a worthy representative of the old samurai class which did not limit specialization to a single subject….
Mr. Kunoshige received us in an upper room of the Shidokan, where he delivered his address to an audience composed not only of Mr. Umozawa and myself, but of a dozen or so of his Japanese disciples….a report of which I append, as far as possible translated literally from the original Japanese.
“…First of all I deem it necessary to draw a clear line of demarcation between judo (or jujutsu) as it is aometimes called) and taijutsu. The latter is a branch of judo and is, I regret to say, too often regarded as synonymous with the latter. It is this taijutsu that is generally taught in judo schools of the present day under the style of judo. Taijutsu is a part but not the whole of judo, for otherwise judo would lose is essential value and become an art hardly worth learning. The distinction between the two arts is this, that whereas taijutsu aims more particularly at physical culture, in which its main value lies, judo seeks to invest its exponents with power over life and death, within certain limits, its secret lying in the wonderful aiki-no-jutsu. Taijutsu, on the contrary, having for its primary object physical culture, does not include in its curriculum ate…while the…methods of resuscitation…are also of the most simple description….
….The masters of some schools are inclined to separate judo and seikotsu (the art of bone-setting), but in my school seikotsu is treated as an integral part of judo for obvious reasons.
….A rib is especially liable to break when hit with force. Katsu is effective in repairing broken bones when administered within two hours after the infliction of the injury. With the help of aiki the art of seikotsu proves particularly effective in cases where the victim is being treated for ate applied to any of the nine organs [immediately below the nose…under the ears…brain…occiput…solar plexus…under the breasts…under the armpits…the sides, both front and back]….
….If the student learns judo at all he should learn it thoroughly, i.e. until he has fully mastered ate and katsu together with seikotsu and aiki (the secret of judo.)….
….the student of the martial arts should lay stress upon the shitahara.…By shitahara is meant the cultivation of mental immobility (kokoro wo ugokasanu)….But in addition…students must bear in mind the necessity for shinki (shin is “soul”, “mind”…), for the training of the shitahara. Shin and ki at times separate from each other and at times are joined.”
At this point the speaker gave a somewhat metaphysical explanation of the manner in which shinki may be controlled in order to eliminate the subject’s consciousness of physical pain…. When you have reached this stage in your [secret] training you may be said to have finished a preliminary course of aiki and, according to Mr. Kunishige, this undertaking offers no insuperable difficulty.
“When you are really proficient in the martial arts,” the lecturer went on, “you will arrive at the stage described by the old masters as Furai muitsu which may be likened to the facility with which the wind comes and goes without leaving any sign of motion. Still higher stages in aiki may be reached. I myself can practise only a small portion of the last named. But a man who has thoroughly acquired the art of aiki verges on the divine. The clairvoyance so much talked about nowadays [webmaster: a reference to Omoto-kyo and other New Religions?] is nothing but a part of aiki. But aiki can be acquired only by long and patient study, after one has attained the highest degree of proficiency in practical judo feats.
“In order to study the art of aiki one must learn the method of shinki kiitsu…[mind and ki as unified ki] . The old masters of my school have sayings to the effect that one with full knowledge of aiki can see in the dark, bring walking men to a full stop, or break the sword brandished to slay him….But one who has not learned shinki kiitsu cannot grasp aiki even if taught. The student will do well to train his shitahara until he has learnt to place his ki at his disposal without moving his kokoro…By mesmerism one can place another under one’s influence and compel him to act as one suggests; but the art of aiki is even more certain in its effect….”
– – – The Fighting Spirit of Japan, E. J. Harrison, Overlook Press edition, 1982, pp. 108 – 116