Nidai Doshu writes, in A Life in Aikido, “There is a scroll I treasure recording a shufutsu conducted by O’Sensei, with Koun Nakanishi 1) leading the ceremony and Yuiun Akiyama assisting, on December 14th, 1940. Shufutsu is one of the most important Shinto ceremonies, in which those participating conduct misogi… in order to enter into communication with guardian deities.
“This shufutsu lists the forty-three guardian deities of Aikido: Sarutakiko Omikami; Kunitsu Ryuo; Kuzuryu Daigongen; Tachikara no Mikoto; Ameno-murakumo-kuki-samuhara-ryuo-no-omikami and others; various names of Ryuo; Daigongen; Daitengu; and Daibosatsu….they are connected with the chronology of O’Sensei’s training and development… This ceremony commemorated those moments when his human mind rose above its limits to touch something greater and more enlightened.” 2)
We know from O’Sensei’s accounts that the shufutsu involved an hour of late night misogi, started around two in the morning… which rather suggests that late night misogi was part of O’Sensei’s regular routine: along with late night training.
The ceremony marked a new beginning for O’Sensei, but it was also a response to a personal crisis. At a time when he was at the height of his powers, when sword moves and empty-handed moves felt to him as if he was channeling the divine, he was nevertheless aware that not only was the promise of the Omoto-kyo years – of his Omoto-kyo years – largely unfulfilled, but far, far worse: the entire nation – including his many friends and sponsors in leadership positions – was being dragged into war on all fronts by the most bellicose factions of the Army. O’Sensei undoubtedly could see that his long-time Navy sponsors, and the civilian government which he advised 3) were time and again being out- manoeuvred in the complex politics arising from the constitutional independence of Army and Navy.
So in performing the shufutsu, O’Sensei was requesting divine advice, and support going forward. He got both. The Dragon King
– installed in O’Sensei’s hara by a Shingon priest before he went off to fight in the Russo-Japanese War – and whom he regarded as an avatar of
– affirmed to him the Omoto-kyo world-view, and instructed him to get back to work, purifying the world and setting everything aright.
Then going forward from that time, the head of the Earthly kami
– whose avatar, the Tengu king
trains on Mount Kumara ascetic warriors going back to Minamoto no Yoshitsune – the reputed founder of Daito-Ryu – started coming to help O’Sensei in his daily training – especially, one might imagine, his late-night training, including his misogi practice.
And in the course of all this, O’Sensei tells us, he had one – or more (no singular/plural in Japanese) – enlightenment experience(s).
And he continued adding to the land he had purchased in the auspiciously named and located Iwama.
All of this, O’Sensei narrates in one of the talks he gave to the Byakko-kai in the late 1950’s, collected and published as Takemusu Aiki 4). It is difficult language to translate, in part because Japanese makes no distinction between perfect and plu-perfect tense – so that the listener – and the translator – often has to deduce the chronology of events from context, phraseology and intonation.
But we can assume that – in his late night misogi practice – he marked the anniversary of the shufutsu of December 1940: particularly as the first anniversary would have been right after Pearl Harbor (following on from the resignation of the Prime Minister O’Sensei was working for), and the second anniversary would have been shortly after his sudden – as Nidai Doshu recalls it – relocation to Iwama. Indeed, Shufutsu – to the very same forty-three kami – is still part of the annual ireisai for O’Sensei held at the Aiki Jinja he built in Iwama. 5)
It is in this context that we should understand the account of his evolving training practice, and of events after the move to Iwama, which O’Sensei presented to an Aiki-no-Tsudoi audience in the late 1950’s:
“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.” 6)
The forty-three guardian deities were, of course, solemnly enshrined in the Aiki Jinja. And shortly after the end of the war, O’Sensei had the late night visions of training with a phantom swordsman that he talks about in that same talk to the Byakko-kai.
And he concludes:
“I understood that that was the deep meaning of religion. And I knew that the deep meaning of budo was one with religion. And I cried tears of religious ecstasy. My heart was bursting with pious gratitude towards all things and all beings in the universe down to the very humblest of creatures – all of them manifestations of the working of the Unique Origin of the universe. And I began to sob.
“At that moment I stopped training in aiki. There was left only the sword method of Sho-Chiku-Bai – which I had acquired at that time.
“This aiki is the misogi of the universe. The duty of the Way of the human-being.
“It gives rise to the great heart manifested by the Emperor Meiji who said: ‘consider as friends the peoples of the seas of all four directions’.” 7)
1) An important kotodama scholar, and friend of O’Sensei’s. The concept of ‘takemusu aiki‘ derives from Koun Nakanishi’s thinking.
2) p. 268
3) The second administration of Prime-minister Fujimaro Konoe. Born into the ancient and prestigious Fujiwara clan, Prince Fujimaro Konoe studied Marxist economics at Kyoto Imperial University, and in 1925 was instrumental in passing the bill for Universal Male Suffrage in Japan. Twice prime-minister, he was consistently out-manoeuvred by the
army – which was an independent branch of government under the Meiji constitution. Shortly after failing to achieve peace with China, he was replaced by Hideki Tojo. Two months later, the navy – also an independent branch of government – bombed Pearl Harbor, and Japan was at war “higashi ni, nishi ni“: to the East and to the West. Fujimaro is also remembered for refashioning wartime Japan as a one-party state – but this, too, can be seen as an – unsuccessful – attempt to curb the political power of the Army.
4) Partially translated in A Life In Aikido, pp. 40-43, and by Peter Goldsbury here . A complete French translation is in Takemusu Aiki vol. III, pp.83-92.
5) “On April 29th at 11 a.m. the “Aiki Shrine Festival” and the “Founder / Kisshomaru II Doshu Memorial Service”, were held at the Aiki Shrine in Kasama city (former Iwama town),Ibaraki Prefecture. Around one thousand four hundred people gathered for this event.
“The Aiki Shrine Festival began with Shufutsu (purification rite), follow by a festival Norito (festival chant). The Ueshiba family and various circles representatives offered Tamagushihouten (reverentially offering to God branch of sacred tree) in honor of the Founder / Kisshomaru II Doshu Memorial Service.
“After the festival chant dedicated for the ancestral spirits of the Founder / Kisshomaru II Doshu Memorial Service, the Ueshiba family, visitors related to Kisshomaru II Doshu and visitors representatives, offered Tamagushihoutei (reverentially offering to people branch of sacred tree). At the end, all participants recited the Amatsu Norito (heavenly festival chant).”
– – – from the website of the Aikikai’s Ibaraki Branch Dojo,
retrieved January 23, 2016
6) Aiki Shinzui, pp.129-130
7) French edition of Takemusu Aiki vol. III, pp.91-92