History of the Founder
“Life is growth.
If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.
The Art of Peace is a celebration of the bonding of heaven, earth, and humankind.
It is all that is true, good, and beautiful. ” –O Sensei
The story of the Founder is a long one, and the first thing that one must understand is that he grew up in a different time, a different age. He was a deeply religious man, and very spiritual. What readers and students must keep in mind is that O Sensei’s dream was that of a world united. He was not attempting to convert his students to the way of his religion, he was enlightening them by showing them the Way of Peace. His dream, his ideal was to have everyone be able to look at someone and not see race, color, or religion, just another human being, an equal.
On December 14, 1883, Morihei Ueshiba was born, in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. He was the fourth child in his family. His early life was filled with illness, and he was very sensitive. At a young age, he began studying in a private school of Buddhism. It is said that he studied very passionately for someone as young as he was, and he concentrated his studies on meditation, incantations, and prayer. His father wanted for his studies to be balanced, mind as well as body, so he enlisted him in the classes that taught the art of Sumo and swimming.
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In High School he took courses to learn how to use an abacus, and advanced so quickly that he became an assistant to the teacher. In 1901 he moved to Tokyo and opened a small stationary store, called The Ueshiba Company. It was at this time that he became very interested in Budo, and he began training in the arts of Koryu JuJutsu (a style of unarmed combat), and Kenjutsu (a style of the sword). He was to fall ill again, and after giving his business to his employees, he returned to his home at Wakayama Prefecture. When he was recovered, he married Hatsu Itokawa, someone he had known from his childhood.
He was very interested in the society around him, and he participated in many help programs, and he did much to express his opinions. When he was twenty, he joined the military, and was quickly recognized by his superiors. He was the best bayonetist in his regiment, and he displayed his techniques so smoothly and quickly that no one could tell what he was actually doing. After the Russo-Japanese war, Ueshiba left the military under the protest of his superiors, who thought he had the potential to be a general.
Returning home, he worked again in many social programs, doing anything he could for the public. In 1912 the Japanese government announced that a project in Hakkaido was to be started; they needed settlers to go prepare the land and make it suitable for farming. The Founder led people through frozen lands, vicious storms, and poor harvests. After two years of struggle, the town began prospering, with Ueshiba as their unofficial leader. People came to him with problems, or questions, and he helped them as best he could.
The Founder met a JuJutsu master, Sogaku Takeda in 1915, and joined him to further advance his training. He worked as an Uchi-Deshi, a live-in student, as well as aid to his teacher. A few years after this, Ueshiba learned that his father was ill, so he planned to return to his home. He left Hokkaido and gave everything he had to Takeda as a gesture of thanks. On his way home, he heard stories of a man named Onisaburo Deguchi, who was part of a new Shinto sect called Omoto-kyu. The Omoto-kyu was the unification of Asiatic Shamanism, Shinto, Zen Buddhism, and Christianity. Ueshiba, hoping for a miracle, went to ask for help concerning his father. When he eventually returned to his home, he learned that his father had died. This hit the Founder very hard, and he moved his entire family so they would be close to Deguchi, and he began a life dedicated to Omoto-kyu. Deguchi respected Ueshiba, and encouraged him to embrace Budo as his way of life. Acting on this advice, the Founder opened the Ueshiba School of Martial Arts. In 1923 his art was officially named Aiki-BuJutsu. Do is The Way, and Bu means warrior. Budo is the Way of the Warrior, and BuJutsu translates to The Art, or technique of the Warrior.
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In 1925 the Founder started training harder than he ever had before, and his spirit and body were strengthened more and more. It was at this time in his life that he received the enlightenment he had been searching for since he had begun practicing Budo. At this one instant, he claimed to understand the spirit and workings of the Universe, and in this understanding, he said that “Budo is the spirit of protection for all life.” Now, instead of developing his fighting style as that–a fighting style, he altered it so that it would be an art dedicated to Peace, and cooperation. He changed the name of his art to Aikido.
With much help, his training facilities were moved and enlarged, and the name was changed to the Kobukan Dojo. Kobukan is the search for truth, and Dojo is the place where the way is studied. Many masters from other arts came to study under him, and Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, watched Ueshiba’s technique and skill, and said, “This is my ideal in Budo.” Now Aikido began spreading at a phenomenal rate. As W.W.II was beginning, the Founder went into retreat and he concentrated heavily on his farming and on meditation. His level of spiritual awareness grew each day, but still he continued his search. As a result, he lived in poverty while continuing to farm. In 1942, the war was intensifying, and Ueshiba was troubled by the state of his country. He and his wife Hatsu moved to the town of Iwama, and built an open-air Dojo, as well as an Aiki Shrine to serve as a spiritual retreat.
When W.W.II ended, the General Headquarters of the American Occupation forbade the teachings of Budo, but because Aikido emphasized peace, it was allowed to be taught. The name of the Dojo was changed from Kobukan to the Aikikai Foundation, and was led by the Founders son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba. The Founder was respectfully referred to as O Sensei (Great Teacher), and he still lived as a farmer, but visited the Dojo to lecture and give demonstrations.
In 1959 the ideas and teachings of Aikido were spreading more and more through Japan. Many students traveled to other countries to teach there, a lot of them living in poverty to encourage the survival of Aikido.
On April 26, 1969, O Sensei’s life came to an end. This is just a small part of his life, but hopefully one can understand a part of how and under what circumstances Aikido was created. It is now our job as Aikidoka (students of Aikido) to continue the teachings and ensure the survival of The Art of Peace.
To practice properly the Art of Peace, you must:
Calm the spirit and return to the source,
Cleanse the body and spirit by removing all malice, selfishness, and desire.
Be ever grateful for the gifts received from the universe,
your family, Mother Nature, and your fellow human beings.–O Sensei
While Aikido is a Martial Art, I believe that it is also a lot more. Most people who know or understand little about the Martial Arts see all the styles as merely forms of self defense, with lightening quick punches and kicks that can kill an opponent with a single blow. What these people do not understand is that Aikido is something else as well.
The philosophies behind it affect not only a situation where we must defend ourselves physically, but it is also with us in our everyday lives, in any conflict that we may encounter. Aikido is the art of non-combat, where a peaceful solution is desi
red over physical conflict. There are no competitions in Aikido because to say that one person is the winner and the other the loser automatically degrades the principles of Aikido. In all sports the emphasis is placed on winning, and this is not the purpose of them. While sports do train our bodies, making them strong, they do little for the mind and the spirit. O Sensei said: “Sports nowadays are only good for physical exercise, they do not train the whole person. The practice of aiki, on the other hand, fosters valor, sincerity, fidelity, goodness, and beauty, as well as making the body strong and healthy.” Of course any physical activity you pursue will involve mental work, and if you are genuinely involved, passionate about what you do, that can be called a type of exercise for the spirit. The problem is that sports do not really players in their everyday lives, meaning that when confronted by something other than, say, a baseball, they do not deal with it in the same way, and this is because sports were never designed to be used like this. In Aikido a punch and a verbal attack are the same thing, and are dealt with similarly. I have often told people that if they are in the class to learn how to fight, then they are in the wrong class. This is not to discourage practitioners, it is simply because in our class our Sensei concentrates on the technical moves, but is more interested in, say, a Tai-sabaki (the basic body movement that begins just about every technique), than the final throw, but many people think that if the throw works, then you are good, which is not necessarily the case. In fact, most of the techniques are fairly easy to do, if they are done with strength and speed, but this may only be true if your partner is smaller than you. It is easy to pick on smaller people, and even easier to fool yourself into thinking that the technique works, but how often will someone smaller attack you? It is always the bigger, stronger guy that finds you, so we must be able to perform the techniques regardless of strength, and that is when harmony and Aikido will make your technique work. To practice Aikido one must use one’s entire body, and not, say, his arm to block or his foot to strike, acts that require using strength, and this is because there will always be someone stronger than you. Aikido techniques come from the center of the body, usually said to be about two inches below the naval, and from there the hips are used to control the extremities. This type of movement is very hard to learn, because it is contrary to what most of us have been doing for our entire lives. Therefore, in order to learn these techniques, we have to forget what we’ve already learned. When O Sensei was in his 80’s, he stood in the Dojo and held a Jo (staff) in front of him. Four huge, muscular students pushed the Jo from the side, and couldn’t budge it. This from a man who was in his 80’s and under five feet tall.
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Aikido was thought by O Sensei to be a way of life, not merely a fighting art. In fact, it would be very hard to argue that the principles of Aikido are only good for fighting. Because of this, someone who enters the class with the focused goal of learning how to fight will not even grasp the parts of the class that pertain this goal, because in order to understand the technique, one must understand the philosophies behind them. I have heard people say that the techniques are the “manifestation of the philosophy of harmony and unity,” and watching a demonstration it certainly seems like that. Attacker and defender move at the same time, and in the middle appear joined, and it is often hard to tell who is performing the technique.
Aikido offers so much in terms of life, the awareness one will have, the ability to see the life all around us as something we should live with, and not from, live for, and not against. It seems that too many people today focus on material goods, trivialities, instead of concentrating on the important aspects of life, and I honestly believe that Aikido is one of the answers to what many people are looking for. If you feel like there is something missing in your life, something that you want to give it all meaning, or at least an explanation, give Aikido a try if you haven’t yet, I know that I myself cannot even begin to describe what I have taken from it already, and this is after only four short years. “Aikido offers you yourself.”
The Harmony of Love
A Lecture by the Founder
“Aikido is none other than the manifestation of the workings of love. Love gives form to the universe and purifies all things. The universe scatters the seeds from which all things grow; it contains the infinite power which nourishes and allows them to prosper. I gave the name Aiki to the manifold laws of the universe brought forth from love which govern the destiny of the intricate tapestry of life as it is woven on this earth. To carry out the mission of universal compassion on earth, to protect and cultivate all things in nature, this is the task of Aikido.
What is the source of the materialization of life in the universe? It is the expression of the Infinite Spirit and of love. Aikido is a pure expression of that source. It is the original path to the blessed harmony of all humankind with the universe. Only if we follow the Aiki principle of unity with Kami1 and bring humanity back into balance with all things will we be a part of the infinite growth toward perfection. To bring about the end of malice and suffering is the vital mission entrusted to us by the universe.
The actual forms of the universe are revealed within the human body. We must begin to see the universe within us and awaken to the principles of balance and of love, sacred principles given to us by the universe. The universe unfolds in a never-ending mosaic of many forms; each one a different aspect of its fullness, each one in balance with all others. Just as the universe expresses love in different ways, we must express through our own lives the dynamic balance and harmony of the universe in all of our many relationships. Through this process the universe itself will enter into the human body and spirit, giving nourishment and true power.
All things in the universe come from one source, one creative energy. All things on the earth are the expression of this universal love. The heart of the universe beats in harmony within all of creation and bows in reverence to all of its glories. Each one of us must strive to understand this rhythm and experience the heart of the universe which brings about the harmony of perfect balance. The mission of Aikido follows the absolute path of universal love. Its teachings are the teachings of Kami. Its principles are the laws of harmony and balance in all the elements, in the creation of life on earth. Its function is to join with the heart of the universe and give love.”
BUDO:The Way of Chivalry and Protection
“True budo cannot be described by words or letters;
the gods will not allow you to make such explanations.”
Budo evolved with the Samurai with the notion of the spiritual self, and the path that we must take to self-realization. That path has the goal of uniting mind, body, and spirit, a phrase that has become somewhat of a cliché as martial arts gain popularity. The ideal is a strong one, however, and we cannot simply shrug this off as “just a phrase that martial arts people say”. There is much validity behind it, and we must accept this and embrace it. This self-realization occurs only through intense conditioning, physical training and mental discipline. The early forms of Japanese martial arts were named with the suffix jutsu, which is the idea of fighting, the art, or the style. Bujutsu translates as “The Art of the Warrior”. As they evolved, many began replacing the jutsu with the suffix Do. Do is the Way, or the spiritual path. Budo, “The Way of the Warrior” implies a more spiritual attitude. Styles whose name ended with D
o usually concentrated more on the Budo aspect, the mental training, and used their art to better themselves in their everyday lives, not just during a fight.
All of his life, O Sensei was trying to discover the essence of Budo. He practiced many styles of martial arts, sword, spear, staff and empty hand styles. He mastered all of the styles he trained in with amazing speed, and his masters began teaching him their deepest secrets. After much hardship, frustration, and training, O Sensei thought that secluding himself for a while would help him discover what he’d been looking for. He went into the mountains to find solace, and it was here that he found the spiritual awareness he was seeking. This was not the moment that he attained enlightenment, it was simply the time when he finally understood the essence of Budo. He realized that true Budo was not about defeat or victory, it was the protection of all life. True Budo offers “a philosophy and a practical means to end strife and resolve conflict.” O Sensei had always had a feeling that there had to be an alternative to conflict, and now he understood what that was. Instead of fighting an enemy, one should harmonize with him, show him the mistakes he was making, and then teach him the correct way that he should be acting. O Sensei was unrivaled in his time, with his skill in the martial arts, and his deep religious and philosophical beliefs, and even though he went undefeated in his lifetime, he still desired peace and an end to conflict everywhere. This idea of harmony with an opponent would be one of the key factors that led him to his realization of Aikido.
O Sensei said: “The divine path established by the gods that leads to truth, goodness, and beauty; it is a spiritual path reflecting the unlimited, absolute nature of the universe and the ultimate grand design of creation.”
Learning Aikido is about more than learning how to defend yourself, it is much more than a fighting style. In fact, many practitioners would argue that the true principles of Aikido has nothing to do with conflict, it has to do with avoiding conflict. Through Aikido, the training and concentration, one becomes more in tune with all of the life around us, can feel the miracle of life happening all around us. Aikido is the art of peace, the art of harmony, the art of love, this is what O Sensei wanted. “Reform your perception of how the universe actually looks and acts; change the martial techniques into a vehicle of purity, goodness, and beauty; and master these things.”
Principles of the Circle, Square and Triangle:
“The body should be triangular, the mind circular.
The triangle represents the generation of energy and is the most stable physical posture.
The circle symbolizes serenity and perfection, the source of unlimited techniques.
The square stands for solidity, the basis of applied control.”
O Sensei used these three principles to help his students better understand what they were learning. The Circle (marui), the Square (shikaku), and Triangle (sankaku) were used to illustrate the different concepts of movement and technique.
Triangle: O Sensei used the triangle to illustrate the idea of water flowing. He said that water always took the path of least resistance, and this is what Aikidoka should be doing as well. An example of a triangle movement would be the irimi, or entering techniques. As a sword is brought down to strike, the Aikidoka steps in and to the side in order to position him/herself for the defense. If we look at a triangle as having two angles at the bottom and one at point, we can imagine the two lower angles representing a very firm, stable base, and the lead point being the Atemi. The triangle can be compared to the irimi (entering) techniques because it gives the impression of direct movement, without a turn or a Tai-sabaki, just a quick forward technique. Sometimes the direct responses to an attack are very effective, and are excellent for unbalancing your partner.
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Circle: Depending on your position and your opponent’s balance, any technique can be executed from both the inside and outside of your partner’s body. The circle comes from the japanese word Ju, meaning soft or gentle. The concept of Ju is the principle of pulling when pushed and pushing when pulled. We commonly hear the phrase “fight fire with fire”, but I always thought that this was the opposite of the philosophy of Aikido. I think a more suitable phrase would be to fight fire with water. As circles we should never hit our opponent, no direct movements can be circles. The idea of the circle is to be like a ball, rolling with the attacks, usually by executing a Tai-sabaki to end up beside the attack. Being beside it effectively paralyzes the attack, because it is very hard to hit someone who is beside you and that close. When fighting directly, face to face, your opponent will have the opportunity to attack multiple times. After the first attack, being a circle, you should be beside him, but only for a moment, continuing his movement but still in control. Before the initial momentum of the attack has been spent, either while he’s still committed to the strike, or as he’s pulling back, recovering, this is the time to act, leading that movement into a technique. This is why many Aikido techniques look like the person receiving it is cooperating, they seem to be helping the person doing the technique, and in a sense they are. They give the opportunity and the strength, we merely guide them along the path until they are defeated, in effect by themselves. Circles are not stable in the stationary sense like the square, but they are stable in that they never fall. This is because they constantly move. Try to make a ball fall over…
An example of the circular principle would be an attack from a sword. If the swordsman is committed to the strike, then the proper movement would be to lead him forward. If the attacker is holding back or recovering from the forward momentum of the attack, than a technique to his rear would be more effective.
Square: But what if the attack is neither forward or backward? The theory behind a neutral attacker is to get him to move, possibly through an atemi (strike). This will destabilize his position and a technique may be performed. When O Sensei drew a square, he often wrote the word go, meaning strength. He said that since a square was made up of four ninety degree angles, the most effective strike would be at a ninety degree angle. The square is a very stable, very strong position, but it is unlike the triangle and circle in that it lacks movement. We often start off in a “square” frame of mind, being very calm and neutral. From here, if an attack comes, we can be very ready, and turn into a triangle and counter by entering, or by becoming a circle, to harmonize with the attack and put him down that way.
These ideas of shape are simply to give the practitioner something easy to think about, a visual aid while practicing. Understand that the three shapes should not be restricting your thinking in any way, and don’t worry if you can’t identify which shape you should be. Also know that these shapes are constantly changing, never stick to any one. We can start a conflict in a square shape, moving into a triangle for an Atemi, and then into a circle to perform the technique.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot of this imagery, and during class I try to envision these shapes in their different states. Even during the warm-up exercises I can see the different shapes, and thinking of these while performing a technique is very helpful. Like an artist who is first told to reduce everything to geometric shapes, so do we. The triangle is very easy to see, usually associated with the stance, a stable yet directioned force. I noticed recently that the point of the triangle is often at one’s center, and this makes sense, as this is the origin of all movements. The circle is also easy to see, I find it’s us
ually the movement of the body and arms. Using the circle takes away the partner’s chance to resist, because it’s impossible to resist a force that can go any way, change instantly, surround you and control you before you really know what’s happening. I have a hard time envisioning the square, as it is the most stable of the shapes, and not usually associated with the actual movements. It is the stability needed while in Kamae (ready stance), both physically and mentally. One must be physically grounded in order to produce an effective technique, and without the concentration, no matter how physically correct you are, the technique cannot work.
“Eight Forces sustain creation:
Movement and stillness,
Solidification and fluidity,
Extension and contraction,
Unification and division”