“The Day Minoru Hirai Cut Me Down to Size!”, by Stanley Pranin

Minoru Hirai executes atemi to Stanley Pranin in 1994 demonstration

“The whole implausibility of the scenario, and the realization of who
this great man was, made for a totally exhilarating experience…”

Back in 1994, I had a breakthrough in my aikido research. An opportunity to meet a reclusive martial arts genius named Minoru Hirai presented itself after much failed effort.

Who was Minoru Hirai? He was the General Affairs Director of Morihei Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo during World War II and later founded Korindo Aikido. Hirai was the man who represented the Kobukan within the framework of the Butokukai during this time frame. What’s so important about this? Well, it was due to the actions of a Butotkukai committee of which Hirai was a member that aikido was given its name in 1942. The edited transcript of this historic interview was published in Aikido Journal #100 and is a fascinating read.

This was truly an exciting development because we had contacted Hirai Sensei’s office on several occasions, but all of our efforts to meet him were rebuffed. I had spoken to quite a few martial arts journalists and researchers who had tried to contact Hirai for an interview, but none of them had succeeded either to my knowledge. Our opportunity presented due to the introduction of an American martial artist named John Goss who had practiced at the Hirai Dojo in Tokyo on several occasions.

We met Minoru Hirai Sensei at his Shizuoka home in 1994. His son and another senior student were present. As Hirai Sensei was 91 years old at that time and hard of hearing, his son had to repeat our questions in a loud voice for Sensei to understand. He seemed to be very pleased to reminisce about his interaction with Morihei Ueshiba and his own martial arts career and theories. At this stage of his life, most of his activities were directed by his son who headed the Korindo organization.

During the interview, Hirai Sensei motioned for me to come and sit by him, and he proceeded to demonstrate some of the key principles of his martial arts theory. He grabbed me, twisted my hand, and expertly executed a number of well-placed atemi to my face to illustrate. I have several photos of our interaction.

Shortly after this publication of this interview, we were able to meet Hirai Sensei a second time, and we were taken to his private dojo, also in Shizuoka. This was an incredible experience for me! Hirai Sensei and his senior students prepared a private demonstration for me and my assistant, and we were both shooting photos as fast as we could!

Then something amazing happened! As I was looking through my camera lens trying to capture a shot, I could see him motioning to me to come toward him through the view finder. I was so surprised, and confused at the same time, because I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do.

Well, he wanted me to attack him! I’m six feet tall, and Hirai Sensei by that time was about four feet, ten inches in height. What a contrast! So I quickly set down my camera, stretched my longs legs and lumbered towards him. I couldn’t launch any kind of attack at all. He was all over me! His fist in my face, his hand controlling my shoulder… I was falling all over the dojo, and Hirai Sensei would throw me instantly as soon as I got up!

I don’t know how many times this happened, but it seemed like a long time. The whole implausibility of the scenario, and the realization of who this great man was, made for a totally exhilarating experience which I’ll never forget. I’ll let the photos tell the story. And be sure to read the interview on our new Members Site! (Click to access the site, and log on–or register for free if you have not already done so–to view the article)


  1. What an opportunity!

  2. Hey Stan,

    You state that you and your partner were taking photos as fast as you can. At the end of the article you say the photos should tell the story. I see all of three photos. Where are the perhaps 100 you may have taken. That would tell much more of the story. This sounds very interesting, but I don’t understand. I would like to see more.

    Tom Huffman
    Gainesville, FL.

    • One of the reasons that we set up the new Members Site is to create a repository for such documents. You’re going to get a lot of material–an overwhelming amount–so please be patient. There are somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 photos in our archives. It takes time.

  3. Morihei Uyeshiba’s discovery and utilization of the inherent universal energy is the first practical means ever discovered by which Pacifism can manifest power. This is a more relevant and fundamental truth than any of the touted mechanical inventions that created the industrial age, or the revelations of 20th century physics. It means that peaceful people can now defend themselves from criminality without engaging in violence – and, of infinite greater importance, demonstrates the benign nature of existence. It puts the lie to Machiavellianism for all to see, and definitively ends the false claim that survival mandates amorality. It brings into clear focus the relevance of the spiritual path we all must trod to bring Heaven to Earth. By bringing power to goodness, Morihei Uyeshiba excels attributes associated with Christianity and Buddhism. Without ever acclaiming himself or seeking to be so, he is never-the-less the Prophet of The New Age.

    Though my statement might make a declarative opening paragraph, it would require a great deal of research to define the ‘energy’ and abilities that Master Ueshiba developed. Although nominally the Ki that Master Tohei expounds, and the result of decades of harsh training, it is inherently difficult to determine exactly what it is because of the mystic-religious inspiration that catapulted him into a new sensibility and creativity. We know his description, but how do we make this credible & reproducible? It may be so innate to his personality that the practice of Aikido is only an elementary explication.
    Then we have the embarrassment of Steven Seagal, a 7th Dan ?! – who mortifies us with his egotism. So clearly, Aikido ability is, like other martial arts, a matter of training that does not necessarily prompt spiritual effulgence.

    So it seems that we are left with something other than Aikido, which you might gain through Aikido, but is not an inclusive ability through Aikido training alone. Could this be the practice of Misogi? Could Master Ueshiba’s indoctrination into the Omoto-Kyo religion, or perhaps as a student of Onisaburo Deguchi who may have inspired him, combined with his persevering training and Misogi, have led to a sacred interface with a Kami that finally prompted this revelation: “A Golden Spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body, and changed my body into a Golden One”.

    This is more profound to me than St. Paul’s experience on the way to Damascus. Consider the book “Cosmic Consciousness” by Maurice Bucke. It is a compendium of disparate individuals who acquired, some despite a life of dissolution, a Christ-like affirmation that gave them a publicly recognized charisma which affected all who knew them. Yet they could not have saved a damsel in distress! This is why Morihei Ueshiba deserves a particular investigation.

    He bridges the gap between the mystical and the practical. He would not have merely defended the Right as King Arthurs’ Knights, but done it without doing harm! Gandhi with POWER!

    So what was his particular discovery and ability, apart from the development of Saintliness, that allows the pacifistically inclined to interfere with and defeat aggression?

    It is the psychic ability to intuit an action before it is activated. His mind saw beyond Time as we know it. It is not mental prediction. He put himself into a State of Consciousness that precluded the normal personality from interfering. A kind of “Super-Position” as it is understood in Quantum Physics. He then just reacted along the lines of his improved Daito-Ryu, as the economy of movement dictated most efficient.
    Consequently, can Morihei Ueshiba be credited with a practical means of developing through a martial art a superior consciousness – spiritual in its moral ascendancy, and practical in its ability to defeat violence? YES! And that is why he deserves study and acclaim.

    Of course, it is presumptuous of me to digress on this, as you are a Master of the Art, and perhaps knew the personality’s involved and the precepts illuminated through constant practice. I don’t know anything about Aikido Sensei. I’m just a guy who reads, and I’ve never written anything in my life for publication.

    Thank you.

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