Oct
31

Review of “The Heart of Aikido, The Philosophy of Takemusu Aiki,” by Robert Noha

“Among many Aikido books that exist today, Takemusu Aiki has a special place. It focuses on the spiritual message of the founder, a message that needs to be appreciated and understood wherever Aikido is found.”

Review of “The Heart of Aikido, The Philosophy of Takemusu Aiki”
By Morihei Ueshiba
Foreword by Moriteru Ueshiba
Originally Edited by Hideo Takasahi
Compiled and Translated by John Stevens
Published by Kodansha International
ISBN 978-4-7700-3114-3
144 Pages
Publication Date March 10th, 2010

Introduction

This is the newest installment in a series of recent books about the life and teaching of Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei, Founder of Aikido.  These books include the “Secret Teachings of Aikido,” “A Life in Aikido” (both published by Kodansha) and “Aikido Pioneers” published by Aiki News. “The Heart of Aikido” is compiled from a series of lectures O-Sensei gave to a spiritual group called Byakko Shinko Kai (White Light Association).  The group was founded in 1955 by Masahisa Goi (1916-1980), a close friend of O-Sensei.

“It is an organization dedicated to world peace and to raising the consciousness of everyone and every living being on earth.  Its activities are rooted in the universal prayer for world peace, ‘May Peace Prevail on the Earth’ as advocated by the late founder, Masahisa Goi, as well as other powerful forms of easy to practice spiritual techniques.”  (Quoted from the Byakko website, www.byakko.org).
For those interested, the practices are described on the website under the Education and Learning Center Tabs.

The Byakko Shinko Kai was an outgrowth of the Omoto-kyo movement, which heavily influenced Morihei Ueshiba and the philosophy of Aikido.  Goi Sensei was a member of two groups that grew out of Omoto-kyo.  The first, Sekai Kyusei Kyo (Church of World Messianity) was founded by Mokichi Okada (1882-1955) in 1935.  The second, Seicho-No-Ie (The Home of Infinite Life, Wisdom and Abundance) was founded by Dr. Masaharu Taniguchi (1893-1985) in 1930.

Goi Sensei was a dedicated member of both these groups prior to starting Byakko Shinko Kai.  He details his experiences with  them, as well as the founding of his own group, in his autobiography, “One Who Unites Heaven and Earth” (Byakko Press 2005).

Goi Sensei’s group stressed many of the same principles from Omoto-kyo as are found in Aikido, such as the importance of world peace, the brotherhood of humanity and the need for gratitude and a positive attitude in life.  Their focus is more on mind and spirit rather than the body and perhaps Goi Sensei thought O-Sensei might add a grounded body element to his teachings.

The lectures were transcribed and edited by Hideo Takahashi (born 1932) a student of Goi Sensei and Vice President, Director of Publications for Byakko Shinko Kai.  The edited lectures were published in book form, in Japanese, under the title “Takemusu Aiki” in 1976.  They were originally published in the Hakko Shinkokai Magazine from June 1958 to March 1961 in 32 installments.   Mr. Takahashi is also the author of two books in English on the teachings of Goi Sensei and Byakko Shinko Kai.

An example of how close and long lasting the relationship between the founder and Goi Sensei was is an introduction by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, O-Sensei’s son, to a book (“The Golden Key to Happiness”) by Goi Sensei’s successor Masami Saionji.  She says in the introduction:  “This is a must book for everyone who is training in Aikido. The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, and the founder of the World Peace Prayer Society, Masahisa Goi, shared the same high ideals. Mrs. Saionji, whose heart and spirit are one with Mr. Goi, expresses the spirit of Aikido perfectly.”

For more information on the relationship between O-Sensei and Goi Sensei read the interview with Hideo Takahashi in Aikido Journal # 115, 1998, pages 6-14.

“Takemusu Aiki” was partially translated by the Aikido Journal in a four part series (Aikido Journal Issues 116-119, 1999-2000).

These lectures have a somewhat different focus than those appearing in “The Secret Teachings of Aikido” (published in 2007) in that the audience for those lectures were Aikido students at the Hombu (headquarters) Dojo.  The audience for the Takemusu Aiki lectures was interested in more overtly spiritual matters.

One example of the difference is a detailed discussion in Takemusu Aiki of O-Sensei’s cosmology in terms of how the universe was born and functions on a cosmic scale.

Chapter Summary

Preface by Moriteru Ueshiba, grandson of the founder and current Aikido Doshu.

In the preface he describes the focus of the book:  “Among many Aikido books that exist today, Takemusu Aiki has a special place.  It focuses on the spiritual message of the founder, a message that needs to be appreciated and understood wherever Aikido is found.” (pages 16 and 17)

The Divine Incarnate-In Praise of Morihei Ueshiba-a poem written by Goi Sensei paying tribute to O-Sensei is after the preface.

Last three lines;

“This man is truly the divine incarnate.
He is a messenger of Great and Absolute Love.
I know the greatness of the man from the bottom of my heart.”
(page 19)

Introduction by Compiler and translator, Prof. John Stevens, Shihan, Aikido 7th dan.

Prof. Stevens begins with an interesting comparison of O-Sensei and the Dalai Lama.  It provides a context for the scope and depth of his teaching.  Towards the end, he explains the focus of the book:  “Almost all of the Shinto/Omoto-kyo terminology and references have been eliminated…The focus of this book is upon the universal human values as expressed in Aikido, that O-Sensei wanted to convey and impart in his talks.”  (page 24)

Chapter I-What is Aikido?

This chapter defines Aikido as “the eternal principle of the universe” (page 29) rather than as a martial art comprised of a set of techniques.  O-Sensei describes in some detail the workings of this eternal principle of creation. He talks, for example, about triangle, circle and square in this universal context.  “Triangle, circle and square are universal patterns”. (page 35)

He also describes what makes Aikido distinct:  “Aikido is different from all previous martial arts.  Its sole purpose is to experience universal truth in one’s own body and spirit.”  (page 35)

He stresses repeatedly in this chapter and throughout the book that these truths must be experienced in the body so they can be manifested in the here and now.

Chapter II-Aikido is a Universal Principle

This chapter describes the workings of the principle described in chapter one:  “Aikido…reveals to us the subtle and complex nature of existence, how heaven and earth breathe, and how that breath is actualized in matter.”  (page 46)

As a manifestation of matter, the human body is a key vehicle in experiencing the workings of the universal principle: “Our body is a transformation of the spirit, and it is a vehicle that allows us to conduct our work.  Our body ties us to the spirit, and provides us with a physical form that we can refine and polish.”  (page 50)

Chapter III-Aikido is the Truth of the Universe and the Function of Takemusu Aiki

Here O-Sensei talks about the role of human beings in the larger process of creation and how this relates to Aikido techniques:  “A human being is a mirror of the cosmos. A human being is where the universal drama is being played out…The entire body of a human being is breath, a cosmic breath that seeks to transform this world.”  (page 67)

He also relates his teachings to modern physics:  “Today there is a lot of talk about various threads or strings that tie the universe together…These strings of the spirit are our lifeline to the divine source of all things.” (page 65)

Chapter IV-Aikido is the Way of Harmony Within the Universal Scheme

Having provided a universal scope for Aikido, O-Sensei explains how to be in harmony with this universal context:  “The purpose of Aikido is to bring out the best in people.  It is to walk the divine path.”  (page 78)

At the end of this chapter, he again emphasizes the importance of manifesting the teachings experientially through the body:  “Religious leaders talk about calming the soul…but too much emphasis on the spiritual side of things is no good.  Your body is the temple of the spirit, it is the medium in which your true nature is housed.”  (page 91)

Chapter V-Perfecting Oneself in Aikido

Here O-Sensei talks about the way to manifest the teaching in your life:  “We need to work together, and not rely on the aggressive attitudes and violent methods of the past.  Each person needs to first work alone, work to improve himself or herself …Stand at the center of heaven and earth…Then all of your actions will become an offering of the divine.”  (page 95)

He emphasizes again that Aikido is more than a philosophy, it is an art of personal transformation:  “The mission of Aikido is to make the world a better place…but first of all you must set yourself aright.”  (page 107)

Chapter VI-The Essence of Technique

This final short chapter provides advice on the practice of  techniques:  “Regarding technique, develop a strategy that utilizes all the elements directly at hand.  Don’t rely on abstract concepts…Do not chase after many techniques; practice one technique at a time and make it your own.”  (page 111)

Chapter VII-Doka, Songs of the Spirit

This closing section provides a selection of poems that O-Sensei composed about Aikido.

Here is an example.

True harmony
Is much more
Than a written term or spoken phrase
Don’t endlessly discuss it-
Learn how to make it really happen!
(page 114)

Glossary of Key Terms

This section offers a very helpful explanation of terms used in the book. John Steven recommends reading it first.

Applications to Daily Aikido Training

The primary application of the material to daily on-the-mat training and off-the-mat applications is that it provides a larger context for training and living.  The movements of Aikido techniques are compared to the movements of the entire universe and even to the forces that created the universe and everything in it.

Harmony with these ancient universal forces can transform the practice of Aikido into a doorway that leads to a lifetime of personal growth and fulfillment.  It also provides a way of assessing progress.  As your experiences in training and daily life deepen, we can refer back to the book and appreciate a teaching of O-Sensei we perhaps did not understand or relate to before.

Literal Versus Interpretive Translation

The approach that John Stevens took was not to attempt a literal translate of the lectures, which would have included numerous footnotes to explain the Shinto/Omoto-kyo terminology.

This certainly makes the book more accessible by not asking the reader to “translate” O-Sensei’s teachings from a spiritual culture that is not well known even in today’s Japan.  In addition, O-Sensei had his own unique interpretations of some of the classic texts such as the “Kojiki.”

Readers interested in a more literal translation should consult the partial translation in the Aikido Journal Issues 116-119, 1999-2000.

Conclusion

Students of Aikido interested in a larger spiritual context for their on the mat training and daily life applications will greatly benefit from regular and in-depth study of The Heart of Aikido.

This book is wholeheartedly recommended.

Review by Robert Noha

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Comments

  1. It’s amazing to read about books which cover Ueshiba’s spirituality on its own and without the martial context. I think people, including John Stevens, have taken this spirituality to a higher degree because no one can argue with them. Spirituality is personal and unique. Even Ueshiba Morihei stated you didn’t have to be religious or follow his exact footsteps.

    But, the thing is, when you talk about Ueshiba Morihei, you *must* intertwine both his spirituality and his martial skills. If you do not, you are just as lost as many of the students were during those early morning lectures.

    For instance, in Black Belt 1984 Vol 22 No 10, there is an article by Gaku Homma regarding Ueshiba.

    Start:
    In the dojo, after greeting a few students, he would lecture on the essence of aikido in Omotokyo teachings, which few students could understand completely. After a short, puzzling moment, he would continue by saying, “What I meant was …” or “For example …” In one class, he called the instructor to the front and placed the teacher’s hands on his hip, commanding the man to push him over. “My body is joined with the universe and nobody can move me,” the founder said. The young instructor tried to push him but couldn’t.
    Finish.

    As you can read, Ueshiba’s entire spiritual ideology was intertwined with his martial ability. Without aiki, the body skill (that which made his martial abilities), one cannot grasp Ueshiba Morihei’s spiritual aiki (the different meaning of the same word that the Japanese love to do).

    In regards to your conclusion, if you mean students of Modern Aikido (the worldwide aikido of today as handed down from Kisshomaru and Tohei), then I can agree.

    If you mean people who would like to train in some semblance of Ueshiba Morihei’s aikido, then, no, I would wholeheartedly disagree. This aikido is a very fundamentally different one than Modern Aikido.

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