Ellis Amdur’s latest book, Hidden in Plain Sight: Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei’s Power is an insightful look at the culture and history, not only of Aikido, but of Japanese budo and aiki arts in a more general sense. If you know Ellis Amdur or have read much of his previous work, such as Old School or Dueling with O’Sensei, then you know that he is a diligent student and scholar of the ways of classical budo, and that he is also not given to the “mystical” nature often attributed to martial arts, but instead is driven to explore the tangible scientific and technical basis for its development and application. I have found his analytical approach to be very useful and revealing, as I myself struggle to reconcile in my own mind the substantial from the mythical.
This new book is a revised and re-edited compilation of an essay series that Amdur Sensei published online in the pages of Aikido Journal. He put in the research, formulated his story, and then put it out there in comfortably-sized chunks for people to read and comment on. His circle of input includes a wide assortment of other longtime budo practitioners and scholars who have no doubt given his thoughts a good dose of his own critical medicine. The resulting feedback and additional reflection brought the completion of the book.
Let me say that, if you read this book to learn technical Aikido, or with thoughts of somehow reincarnating the larger-than-life O’Sensei within yourself, you will likely be frustrated. This is not O’Sensei for Dummies. But it is a painstakingly researched primer on the way budo was practiced in times past, and what those budoka put themselves through in the cause of furthering their skills and understanding of the arts that would literally save or kill many of them. This is a revealing glimpse at the “internal” aspects of budo. These are the principles that put O’Sensei on his “enlightened” path.
Much of what O’Sensei did, wrote or said was cryptic. Many people that read the same writings, or attended the same training, came away with differing interpretations of what they experienced. I do not see this book as an attempt to unravel that puzzle, but rather to shed light on the influences that he encountered in his own training, so that we may try to understand what events and influences led to the foundation of Aikido.
Among the topics discussed in this volume are weapons, the influences of Daito-ryu and Chinese arts, ideology vs. technique, and a brief glossary of the individuals named in the book.
I am too much of a neophyte to be judgmental of how others view or practice Aikido. I think we each have our own way. Many are satisfied to embrace only the modern, technical aspects of the art, and that is fine. But, if you seek a better understanding of the climate and culture from which Aikido was born, and wish to look closer at the ancient principles behind the internal side of the art, then you want to have this book. If you want to look from a vantage point you might not get from your local dojo; one that many would say is withering in the present, you want to have this book. It is thought-provoking, to be sure, and a worthy addition to the library of any serious devotee of Japanese budo.
The quality of paper and printing used in this book is good. Binding is typical of modern softcover volumes. The type is comfortable to read. There are a few photos, but this material is not about pictures. Distribution is limited at this early stage to Ellis Amdur’s site, www.ellisamdur.com, but wider availability may be coming in the future. The cost is reasonable. The initial distribution of 500 copies were numbered and signed. Great work, Amdur Sensei… What’s next?