Category Archives: Aikido History

…late in 1942…

“….On August 7, after consultations with the appropriate judges, [Judge Takano] released [Onasiburo, Sumiko and Isao] on bail, and they appeared in the outside world for the first time in six years and eight months….

“My cousin Yasuaki Deguchi…writes in ‘Founder of a New Religion’….’To the followers who came to see him, he would say with emphasis, “There will be no divine help in this war,” “This war is a war between devils, so do not get involved”….’

“….even now he did not hold back from his outspoken remarks. ‘On the day I left prison, Japan’s defeat in the war began,’ he said.

“On August 7, 1942, the day Onisaburo was released, American forces landed on Guadalcanal, and the first naval battle of the Solomon Islands began….

“He would say, ‘They did all this to Omoto and don’t even come to apologize. So Japan will be attacked by the foreign enemy and will be beaten.’….’God dislikes killing. Omoto will not cooperate in the war.’

“….Telling soldiers leaving for service overseas, ‘Fire your guns into the air,’ he would give them advice according to their respective destinations….To troops leaving for the front, Onisaburo issued special amulets on which were written the words, ‘Victory to the Enemy’….

– – – – from The Great Onisaburo Deguchi,  Kyotaro Deguchi,  tr. Charles Rowe, publ. Aiki News, pp. 285-9

Omoto-kyo version, Tokyo version, Iwama version…

August15CROPCOLORIZETIGHTER– – – by Kimbal Anderson Sensei

…I think we had O’Sensei’s  Omoto-kyo version and his Tokyo version and his Iwama version and we don’t understand that:  but his Omoto-kyo version was actually about penetrating the universe.  And people in Tokyo,  recovering from being utterly bombed  out by American B-29’s… well,  it’s tricky to get them interested, because they’re trying to eat. And the guys in Iwama are out in the country, going “I’m so glad we’re out here!” and most of them are high school kids…  But Omoto-kyo folks would have been ready to start setting the whole world aright, and to start raising people up…   They would have remembered what Deguchi said: “everything happens first to Omoto-kyo, then to Japan, and finally to the whole world…”   And they would have understood the aikido that O’Sensei was showing them to be a part of this…

calligraphy by Onisaburo Deguchi: “August 15th DAY” – being the date of Japan’s surrender, the character for “DAY” being drawn in the archaic style that also means “GOD”,  and,  with a variant center:  “SU” – that is: AME-NO-MINAKA-NUSHI – that is: a new beginning.SUcrop


…1942-1948 – Ubuya…

“It may be that, at the time, we [this young people’s class in Iwama] were the only existing Aikido class in Japan – perhaps even in the world.”
– – – Kazuaki Tanahashi,   Aikiweb interview

“In 1946 when I was admitted into Aikido, the site of the Iwama Dojo with an area of more than 20,000 tsubo was just a forest of Japanese oak trees, dotted with the Aiki Shrine,  Dojo,  and a farm. The location of the Dojo almost eluded detection. The local neighbors had not the foggiest idea of what was going on inside the Dojo and would not dare approach it.”
– – – Morihiro Saito Shihan,  Traditional Aikido,  vol.5,  p.20

“For seven years, Ueshiba O’Sensei hid away in the mountains, and said not a word: he was silent. But by his silence he was teaching, making something very great, by saying nothing.”
– – – André Nocquet Shihan, Maître Morihei Ueshiba: présence et message  p.97


…Iran, 3,000 BC…


Mountain learning…

Traditional Japanese culture – and learning – is not standardised… …and this, in itself, is a delight and an education to those of us raised in a heritage marked by a hundred years or more of Industrial Revolution and mass-production. One particular dynamic at play in this endless variety is the typical ‘ryu’ attitude of “well, you think you know what N means, but our version of N is different and better and we will teach it to you…over the course of several years…” Mu-to (‘no-sword’) is like this: Tsukuhara Bokuden had one version of mu-to; Yagyu Munetoshi had another; and Tesshu had a third. And, being a product of the intellectual opening and intellectual ferment post Meiji Revolution, O’Sensei knew and referred to all three of those meanings.

It is important – and surprising – to understand that this is a process of adding meaning – and not of denying meaning. And the awareness that there is always more to learn, by meeting a different wise person, from a different ryu, from another place, adds to the mystery and depth of what we already know.

And often this involves homonyms. In practice: asserting a different spelling –  adopting some different Chinese characters – for the same spoken word.

So this is what is going on when O’Sensei adopts terminology from the shugendo of the mountains above Tanabe, associated with the shrines of Kumano so important to his family and forebears – and with the ridge-trails over to the Yamato Basin, and the ancient city of Nara.

So Myou-Hou (‘miraculous method’ – but also ‘miraculous Dharma’) is actually the name of the mountain above Nachi Falls.


And Myou-Ken (‘miraculous sword’) is one of the three mountains of the celebrated Dewa Sanzan centre of Haguro Shugendo.

Doshu is the rank in Haguro Shugendo that is attained by participating in two ascetic ‘pilgrimages’ into the mountains.

More interestingly:  san-gaku 1) is the triangle in SUTRISQUsmall – and it is the three-fold  Buddhist study of kai (precepts), jo (meditation), and e (wisdom), or any ‘three studies’ – but it is also ‘mountain-knowledge’:  and the thing you gain from stepping under a freezing cold waterfall, from sleeping little and climbing far, from being dangled over a cliff-face by your ankles and ropes, is surely more integral to a good irimi than a ki-shape that is triangular.

And even ‘bu’ is an echo of ‘Bu-chu’  (to be up on the mountain peak, taking part in one of the four seasonal, ascetic Shugendo festivals) and ‘Nyu-bu’ (entering the mountain, ascending to the mountain ridge, to take part in one of these festivals). ‘Bu’ is the Chinese  reading of mine– (‘peak’ or ‘ridge’) which by metonymy refers to the entire ascetic retreat/pilgrimage experience: for instance, in the names of the four major festivals: haru-no-mine (‘spring-peak’), natsu-no-mine (‘summer-peak’),  aki-no-mine (‘fall-peak’), fuyu-no-mine (‘winter-peak’).

So that O’Sensei’s use of the word ‘bu’ always implies that enlightened martial practice is a way of accessing traditional Shugendo wisdom.

1) or ‘san-kaku

True ki, divine ki, fresh ki, essential ki …

Perhaps the most multi-faceted homonymic syllable in O’Sensei’s regular usage is “shin-“.  It can mean “upright”, “true”, “divine”, “body”, “mind”, “heart”, “ancestral”, “paternal”, “new”, “bright” – with a variety of distinct spellings (kanji, ideograms) – all of which Deguchi was happy to play with, coining a cornucopia of read-only neologisms. ‘Aiki Shinzui’ – the published collection of O’Sensei’s talks – is a perfect example of this: the dictionary spelling of “shinzui” (essence) is “true-marrow”, but in the title of the Aikikai book it is spelled  “divine-marrow”.

And of course, when you hear “shin”, with no reference to a particular ideogram, it can mean or any or all of these meanings at once.

This is the key to the puzzle of “uniting ki and true-ki”…  There are two conventional, Taoist spellings of “shin-ki”. Spelled “essence-ki” (“Jing-qi” in Chinese), it is the “refined essence that is the yang energetic aspect of the jing [the spirit], …referring to the substance associated with the kidneys, that represents the traditional matrix of the body’s vital energies.” 1) Spelled “divine-ki” (“Shen-qi” in Chinese), it is a collective term for the “three treasures” (“shin-ki-shin”, “essence”, “ki” and “divine spirit”) 2) … another word for which is “jing-shen”, spelled the same as the Japanese “sei-shin” – “vitality, spirit, mind” – a common term that O’Sensei frequently uses.

These two spellings of “shin-ki” are both Taoist technical terms, and one (or both) are what O’Sensei is referring to,   And it’s possible, of course, that he instructed his deshi in Tokyo to write it with the spelling meaning “upright/correct”, because that’s how he felt the folks in Tokyo could best understand it…

1) Tom Bisio, Ba Gua Nei Gong Twelve Posture Standing, p. 77
2) Tom Bisio, Ba Gua Nei Gong Twelve Posture Standing, p. 83

– – – SOJOBO – – –


Up till now,  aiki – as budo – has been a thing of one kata after another, BUT  now that it has fundamentally forgotten all of that,  it has become a matter of where you put your spirit.  If you don’t have,  in your own heart, a heart of love, then there is no way you can produce these magnificent waza that are about protecting the whole of creation:   in just the same way, we know, as our traditional Japanese kamae seigan, is very, very much a kamae of love. The inner truth of being without forms,  is that Japanese budo does not force the opponent into a series of moves:  it does not force him to be aite…  And the  [standard mental attitude and fundamental tactic of]  not resisting is so very much a gesture of the spirit – an act, as it were, in the spiritual world – that it has a [spiritual] name:  nenpi-Kannon-riki.  It is the innermost hidden secret [ – the gokui – ] of bu that there are no forms.  Bu arises  spontaneously from our deepest impulses, and it is fundamentally, and from the very outset, a matter of ki controlling everything.

These things were  all  revealed to me in my training by


and then on December 16th, 1942, in the time between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock in the morning, all the kami of Japan were good enough to show their presence and congratulate me on the advent of  [true]  Aiki.  [Which with] training in Yamato-damashii, and the swordsmanship of Sho-Chiku-Bai, and with the double-edged sword that unifies Heaven and Earth, using the movement of the heart, washes away the world’s impurities.  And in that regard, the very first thing [that had to happen,] was that the Great Pacific War had to be ended.  It’s a hard thing to talk about, but I had been blessed with the opportunity to make a great new beginning, and so I had retired – [after which I found] divine providence manifesting itself  from every possible direction – and  I  built in Iwama a 36 tatami Aiki-Jinja.  And soon after that, when the atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which made me all the more resolute, His Majesty, with an Imperial Proclamation, ended the war. From that time, when you look at Japan, you see that everyone has been bound together with bonds of aiki and mutual concern.

O’Sensei,  probably audio-recorded by by Masatake Fujita, transcribed by Sadateru Arikawa Shihan,  published in Aiki-Shinzui,  p.129-130

A Shinden Isshin-ryu master talks about aiki in 1911 or 1912….

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….

read more:

O’Sensei’s secret mission to China in 1942…

The fascinating thing about Ben-Ami Shillony’s Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan is that it reveals the same constellation of imperial family, military, politicians and civilians – loosely, the kodo-ha – who were behind-the-scenes patrons of the young officers’ attempted coup in 1936 – working to make peace, or at least avoid or resolve a situation where Japan was fighting on two fronts, throughout most of the Pacific War…

What’s important to understand is that, for the elites: the imperial family and samurai families who had managed to transition to a professional existence in the Meiji and post-Meiji world, the upper echelons of Japanese society were  quite open and functioned on a personal scale. It was possible for Gozo Shioda, the son of a doctor with friends in the cabinet, to – as his auto-biography, serialized in the Aikido Journal in the 1990’s, relates – go with a handful of friends to blow up the British Embassy, get caught, and simply be reprimanded for excessive enthusiasm, and being ahead of the government’s geo-political time-table, leaving O’Sensei to request him with some passion: “You must tell them I wasn’t involved in this!”

It is a world much more reminiscent of Shakespeare’s history plays than anything in our expectations of how the modern world works.

And, indeed, a major political forum was the court, and relations within the imperial family, especially those who had the emperor’s ear.

All of which creates context for the story that Nidai Doshu tells of his father in 1942: “On December 8th, 1941, Japan entered the Pacific War against the U.S…it now became obvious that Japan was in crisis, fighting a war on two fronts.

“It was at this time that O Sensei made a secret visit to the continent, in the company of his disciple Tsutomu Yukawa, to help lay the groundwork for peace negotiations with China. He undertook the task at the request of Prince Fumimaro Konoe, with whom he had a close relationship. The Japanese military [sic] 1)…hoped to reach a peace settlement with Chiang Kai-shek and to pull out of China. Every possible means to this objective was considered, and O Sensei’s visit was part of a broader effort.

“As we have seen, O Sensei had many ties with the higher echelons of the military, government, and the private sector. The same was true of their counterparts in Manchuria and Mongolia, including…some advisors of Emperor Pu Yi… When Tokuo, King of Mongolia, came to Japan, he actually paid a visit to O Sensei…Given his wide network of acquaintances and his influence, it was hoped that O Sensei might contribute to opening channels of negotiation.

“On the East Asia front, many of O Sensei’s former disciples were in key positions, whether officially or in a private capacity. In particular, he had many close associates in the secret service and in private intelligence units that were working on propaganda for the occupation and other projects behind the scenes…

“I understand that O Sensei left Japan secretly and made contact with General Shun-roku Hata 2)…By one account it was already arranged that O Sensei would meet directly with Chiang Kai-shek as a secret envoy. As it turned out, the timing was wrong, and he arrived after it was too late to affect events.” 3)

Simply the phrase: “private intelligence units that were working on propaganda for the occupation and other projects behind the scenes” should make us realize that this is not the world we know.

Now, a key player, along with two-time prime-minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoe, was Prince Higashikuni, who would probably have become prime-minister in 1936, had the coup succeeded. At that time he would probably have instituted a planned economy based round the farming economy – and rather more egalitarian than existing structures. At the end of the war, he was chosen to be the prime-minister overseeing Japan’s surrender process. Within a couple of years, land reform had happened: officially overseen by the American occupiers.

So, from Ben-Ami Shillony’s researches: “According to Higashikuni’s diary, three weeks after Pearl Harbor he recommended [to the emperor] that Japan should end the war and come to terms with the Allies, but his suggestion was not heeded….Higashikuni continued to see the emperor in his capacity as an imperial prince. Higashikuni had more contact with political and government figures who were dissatisfied with the official policy than any other prince of the blood. Thus in 1942 Foreign Minister Shigemitsu and the chief editor of the Asahi [Shimbun], Ogata, tried to persuade him that Japan should make peace with Chiang Kai-shek….

“Higashikuni’s position and his easy access to the emperor made him attractive to Tojo’s critics as well as to his supporters. On 11 April 1944 Prince [Fumimaro] Konoe asked him to help remove Tojo [from office]. On 20 June Tojo’s secretary… told him that the Prime-Minister was ready to resign if a suitable successor could be found…”  4)

So… A prime mover in the 1942 move to attempt a peace with Chiang Kai-shek was the editor of the Asahi Shimbun: the very newspaper that had requested O’Sensei to help found a dojo and improve their self-defence skills, amidst attacks on the press.  O’Sensei also had ties with – from Omoto-kyo times – the Taoist fraternities who had been made the foundational units of the local political structures on which Manchuko was based. He did indeed have ties to “private intelligence units” – such as the Sakurakai who had met at his dojo. And he also had close ties with students such as Tomiki and Shioda: who belonged to the Tojo faction.

The thought that he could have been a possible intermediary, and have been deployed as such, is very plausible – even more so for the plausible deniability afforded by his Omoto-kyo and Tosei-ha connections.  Remembering that this was an unofficial move by Kodo-ha people behind the scenes.

And after it came to nothing, this would have been yet another reason to get away from Tokyo, and hide in the mountains..

1)  of course, the Kodo-ha faction inside and outside the military.
2) per Ben-Ami Shillony “[Prime-minister] Tojo was the first among equals, but he was expected to consult his colleagues, some of whom were his seniors or previous superiors. Generals Terauchi  Hisaichi, Hata Shun’roku,  and Sugiyama Hajime preceded him in rank and had been Army ministers before him.”  Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan,  p.10
3) A Life in Aikido, Kisshomaru Ueshiba pp. 263-4
4) Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, Ben-Ami Shillony p.58