Archives for September 2011


“Relevance of Aikido Techniques in Today’s World,” by Stanley Pranin

In my last editorial I touched upon the subject of what I regard as poor training habits prevalent in many aikido dojos both in Japan and abroad. I pointed out that the execution of techniques against slow, weak attacks had disastrous consequences on their effectiveness and the quality of practice in general. I consider this subject to be of extreme importance and have some additional thoughts to express.

To review a bit, let us remind ourselves of the origin of aikido techniques and the historical rationale of their predecessor arts. As is well-known to readers of Aiki News, aikido inherited its techniques primarily from Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. Many techniques were eliminated from Daito-ryu by Morihei Ueshiba as too dangerous or complicated, and of those retained, most were simplified. This process of modification and simplification accelerated after World War II mainly due to the influence of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei Sensei and other leading students of the founder. What remain today are a few score techniques including joint-locks (kansetsuwaza) and throws (nagewaza). The traditional approach to aikido of Morihiro Saito, which still retains hundreds of techniques and an elaborate weapons system, is the exception.

Daito-ryu techniques themselves, like the curricula of other classical jujutsu and weapons schools, came into being as a process of gradual refinement based on the actual combat experience of the Japanese military caste. In a military context, unarmed techniques were designed for soldiers who were deprived of their weapons or unable to use them. Hence the existence of unarmed versus unarmed techniques and unarmed techniques versus weapons.

As late as the beginning of the 20th century, the Japanese fighting systems did not include karate-like punching and kicking techniques. Karate originated in China and took root first in Okinawa before being transplanted to the rest of Japan due in large measure to the efforts of Gichin Funakoshi. Jujutsu and judo were taken beyond the shores of Japan prior to World War II but were not widely practiced. However, after the end of the global conflict and the occupation of Japan by the U.S. Military, many servicemen joined judo and karate schools which subsequently led to the large-scale export of these arts to America and later Europe. Karate eventually achieved a greater degree of popularity in the west than did judo and has been glamorized in film and by the mass media to the extent that it and its Chinese cousin, kung-fu, have become the stereotypes of oriental fighting arts….

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Living History: Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s 1974 Demonstration in Los Angeles by Stanley Pranin

On April 15, 1974, a very important aikido event occurred in Los Angeles, California. Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba headlined a well-attended demonstration held in the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

The fact that Doshu had traveled from Japan to lead this demonstration was certainly special. However, a great deal was going on behind the scenes and, in many ways, this event was truly historic. This is exactly the point in time when the resignation of Koichi Tohei from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo had become imminent. In fact, Koichi Tohei was in Los Angeles at the very same time to give a demonstration and seminar! Aikido in the USA was in a state of upheaval.

This tour to the USA by Doshu was of great importance because an impending void—the absence of the 10th dan Chief Instructor—had to be immediately filled. It was Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s son, who would step in to fill that role. The demonstration was a huge success. Yoshimitsu Yamada, Mitsunari Kanai, and Akira Tohei (no relation to Koichi Tohei) all came to town to support Doshu. Members of several Los Angeles-area aikido schools, and Bill Witt from Northern California gave a demonstration. I took ukemi for Morito Suganuma who accompanied Doshu from Japan. The event was organized through the strenuous efforts of Francis and Mariye Takahashi. I don’t recall what the seating capacity of the auditorium was, but many hundreds attended, and I think it was a full house.

The reason I can recall all of this is because I recently ran across the program of the event. I have scanned it for you. By the way, the program is autographed by Doshu. It will now have a new home on the Aikido Journal Members Site… and on your computers at home!

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Aikikai Foundation and Legacy — 1 by Francis Takahashi

The fact that Aikido is not a democracy is a given. Neither is it a fresher version of an anachronistic return to feudal thinking, where there needs to be superior people over inferior people for the system to function.

The Aikikai model of shihan, shidoin, fukushidoin, etc. including the stale and irrational notion of sempai – kohai relationships as being necessary trappings for Aikido organizations , is a major reason for the ever widening disconnect with Aikikai and its Shihan driven identities, versus the remainder of legitimate Aikido organizations, dojos and genuine Aikido leaders throughout the world.

How often have I had to endure listening to a Japanese person tell me that I would never understand the Founder’s Aikido, simply because I “was not Japanese”. The Founder never told me that. Nidai Doshu never told me that. Kisaburo Osawa Sensei never told me that, Senseis Kobayashi, Masuda, Kanai, Chiba etc. never told me that. In fact, they treated me the very opposite, in that they led me to believe that I could and would eventually understand.

Even within the greater identity of world wide Aikikai affiliated dojos and organizations, that continually maintain direct or indirect ties to Aikikai Foundation, there is no formal or de facto recognition of any pre-eminent position that Aikikai Foundatiom has over the conduct of training, qualification for instruction, or even for ranking. Their position is that certain individuals have been granted authority to recommend dan ranks, and that they must trust these individuals to perform the job correctly without oversight or review.

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“Gaijin Complex,” by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #99 (1994)

The other day I received an anonymous letter that was critical of the grading practices of certain Japanese shihan teaching abroad. The writer lamented that the shihan in question had chosen favorites among their foreign students for rapid promotion while overlooking other more deserving senior students. The overlooked foreign teachers “need the recognition of rank” states the writer, because their competitors in other martial arts have higher ranks that they use “to sell their art to prospective students.”

First of all, I would advise people who agree with this viewpoint not to worry so much about high dan rankings as a prerequisite for succeeding as a martial arts instructor. Prospective students will be much more impressed by skilled and articulate instructors operating clean, professional facilities than by those who merely claim high ranks to attract students or who bill themselves as “Oriental experts.”

But my main purpose here is really to bring up the subject of a mentality prevalent abroad concerning Oriental martial arts instructors. For want of a better term, I will call it a “gaijin”–the Japanese term for foreigner–complex. I think this is clearly a factor in the mind of the letter-writer, who though critical of the Japanese teachers, still seeks their recognition. This mindset clings to the idea that Japanese, and Orientals in general, possess some sort of innate affinity for martial arts which enables them to achieve superior skill levels compared to Westerners. Naturally coupled with this way of thinking is the assumption that Oriental teachers have a deep understanding of the esoteric aspects of their arts to which foreigners may only aspire with great difficulty.

In the case of aikido, it was of course Japanese instructors who were the major forces in the popularization of the art in the West starting in the 1950s through the 70s. It goes without saying that, in addition to their superior technical abilities, the early Japanese shihan were the most qualified to articulate the spiritual side of the art since they had trained directly under the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba. Those of us practicing back in the 1960s, I think, automatically assumed that the few Japanese we encountered–even when they held the same rank as we did–were more highly skilled…

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Budo and Reconciling The Triune Brain (reprint)

Budo and Reconciling The Triune Brain by Nev Sagiba

Here it is again. Valid at the time of writing, this article was originally published on Aikido Journal Online in four part installments during June and July of 2007. Since that time further advances have been made in the relevant fields of study.



Part 1 – Taming The Reptilian

Part 2 – How It All Works

Part 3 – Vital Biology

Part 4 – What Has Budo Got To Do With It?

Budo and Reconciling The Triune Brain

Part 1 – Taming The Reptilian (Introduction)

There is a passage that goes: “Behold how wondrously thou art made…” I can’t recall where it’s from and couldn’t find it. If somebody recognizes it, I would appreciate if you would help refresh my memory.

That ideal condition we tend to blithely throw about, wrapped in the word ‘peace’, takes courage and maintenance to bring about and is often, especially under provocation, more hard work than simply joining the fray and letting vent to anger or running away and hiding somewhere at the expense of other victims. Dressing failure up in justifiable sounding platitudes, talking incessantly about ‘peace’ but being unable to stop war, is nothing more than voluble soliloquy, not conversation. Maintaining real and lasting conditions for inner peace and outer harmony requires sincere and skilled work. As with anything, that’s the price we pay for the gain. In the long term, it is obviously a more rewarding path than the chaos of either violence or cowardice.

But where does it all begin? Does violence mysteriously drop on us from outer space? Can we really relegate blame on a mythical devil? Or is it all in the way we are made?

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“A Consideration of Aikido Practice within the Context of Internal Training,” by Ellis Amdur

Ellis Amdur

Then he said, “Before you go, is there anything you want to ask me?” So I said simply, “O-Sensei, what is aikido?” He responded by saying, “Well, let me write it down for you and someday you can read it and understand.” What he wrote were the words: “intellectual training, physical training, virtue training, ki training-these produce practical wisdom.” He added that it wouldn’t do for even one of these to be missing, that lacking any one of them would render everything for naught and inevitably slow one’s overall development. One must, he told me, always maintain a harmonious balance among these.

Interview with Mariye Takahashi, Aikido Journal #120

My First Encounters with the Subject of Internal Power Training

Morihei Ueshiba

As I have written elsewhere,1 my first view of aikido smacked me between the eyes like a bolt from the great beyond: first, because it seemed to offer a moral vision, appearing to be an embodiment of the resolution of conflict; secondly, it seemed possible that through the practice of aikido, one could possibly acquire almost superhuman power. Both of these “promises” seemed to be proven by accounts of the life and translated sayings, as well as photos and films, of the warrior-sage, Ueshiba Morihei. This led me to five years of training an average of six hours a day, including a stint living on the mat of the Bond Street Dojo. However, although I encountered some superlative martial artists, both in America and among the aikido shihan in Japan, none whom I personally met displayed the kind of power, referred to in Japanese by such terms as nairiki or aiki, and in English as “internal strength,” that was attributed to Ueshiba. Although many of these shihan were far more highly skilled than I would ever be, all of their techniques were “physically understandable;” they simply were better athletes and in some cases, better fighters than I was, the same as high level judoka and kickboxers among whom I later met and trained.

I did encounter the teachings of Tohei Koichi, and trained at his dojo in Honolulu. However, the four basic principles seemed, at the time, to merely be ways to relax the body to allow the flow of “ki” which, in every discussion I heard, was a kind of etheric “substance,” like some sort of electricity that one directed at will through one’s body. I never did meet Tohei (perhaps my loss), but at any rate, I found nothing exceptionally different from other aikido teachers among the leading lights among his disciples whom I did meet, nor did anyone seem to offer training which provided an avenue to the acquisition of that kind of power, even at aikido’s headquarters dojo. Eventually, I met with Osawa Kisaburo and formally resigned my training in aikido and concentrated on other martial arts. 2

Wang Shujin (1904-1981)

I was later fortunate to meet several teachers among Chinese martial artists who had very high levels of internal training. I didn’t know if what they were doing was the same as that of Ueshiba, but I did know that it was remarkable. Internal strength was not merely a matter of legend or fantastic stories: it was real. Among the first was Wang Shujin. I saw Wang, then terminally ill with cancer, drop a Kyokushinkai karate champion to the ground by stepping inside his attack and hugging him. The man fell, boneless, wheezing for breath. (Now, looking at films of Wang, I can see the wave of force travelling through his relaxed body from his feet, amplified with his spine. In addition, close observation of his legs shows that this “belly punch” was just another version of what is regarded as xingyi ch’uan’s most powerful technique, called beng ch’uan, his belly replacing the fist we usually see in this technique).3 All he seemed to teach, however, was a t’ai chi form where, without any instruction, we tried to follow along as best we could. Unfortunately, I did not realize that the simple “warm-up” exercises with which we started each class were actually the heart of his skill and power, something I later found out he did many hours a day. I missed several other similar opportunities in subsequent years. None of those teachers explicitly stated that “internal power training is done ‘this’ way,” but in retrospect, they presented their personal training methods right in front of me. I didn’t realize that they were throwing down a gauntlet, and had I picked it up, I might have been invited “inside the door” a long time ago. I, too, have experienced the phenomenon of overlooking something “hidden in plain sight.”

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Koichi Tohei’s 1974 Letter of Resignation from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo

Finally after 37 years!

In May, 1974, an event occurred that shook the roots of the aikido world to its very foundations. It was then that Koichi Tohei, the chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, resigned from his post and left the headquarters organization to form his own school. Many aikido associations, dojos, instructors, and students, particularly in Japan and the U.S.A., were compelled to make a choice of whether to stay within the Aikikai system or join Tohei’s newly-created Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido organization.

Here is the background to the story. In 1969, Morihei Ueshiba officially awarded 10th dan rank—the first ever—to Koichi Tohei. Following Ueshiba’s death, Tohei’s attempts to have the Aikikai Hombu Dojo instructors’ staff adopt his teaching methods which emphasized the principle of Ki were unsuccessful. He proceeded to set up the Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Research Society) on his own in September 1971. On 1 May 1974, Tohei finally resigned from the Aikikai after several years of strained relations with Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and other Aikikai teachers. At the same time, he founded the Shin Shin Toitsu Aikidokai (Society for Aikido with Mind and Body Coordinated).

On May 15, 1974, he sent a widely-distributed letter in Japanese and English versions to hundreds of dojo heads in Japan and abroad explaining the reasons for his severance of ties with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. This letter, in which Tohei details his reasons for leaving the Aikikai, has only been seen by a few people over the years and has largely been forgotten. Anyone attempting to understand these pivotal events in aikido history will find this document to be invaluable as Tohei expresses in his own words his version of the events that transpired.

After preserving this letter for the past 37 years in our archives, we have now decided to release it to the general public.

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“Interview with Hitohiro Saito,” by Sonoko Tanaka

Hitohiro Saito Sensei
Photo credit: Gaku Homma Sensei

Hitohiro Sensei, what are your earliest memories of the dojo?

I used to share meals with O-Sensei and to be given what was left on his plate. I also remember crying in the mornings in my childhood because I could not find my mother beside me when I woke up. She was always away at the dojo helping O-Sensei.
They say O-Sensei used to be very severe?

O-Sensei generally only demonstrated his techniques in other places, but he truly instructed in Iwama and was very strict. He would shout, “What kind of kiai is that! Go outside and see if you can down a sparrow with your kiai.” Or, to someone applying a sloppy yonkyo, “Go out and try it on a tree! Keep at it till you peel off the bark!”
Even as a child, I realized from the atmosphere around him that he was a great man. We all used to bow our heads from the moment Saito Sensei, my father, went to fetch O-Sensei, and remained prostrate until O-Sensei arrived with Saito Sensei following along behind. We finally raised our faces in order to bow with O-Sensei before the dojo shrine. Then we started training with tai no henko.

If I was sitting next to Saito Sensei while O-Sensei was explaining a shomenuchi technique I would be sent up to execute a shomenuchi strike against O-Sensei. One day my older sister was told to go and attack O-Sensei, but she started to cry and left the dojo, as it was not easy for a child to go and interrupt O-Sensei this way. I was told to go instead and I struck with a kiai shout, at which O-Sensei said, “So, you came, did you?” He threw me, but used his hand to stop my head hitting the mat, and said, “Careful now.” O-Sensei was such a kind person.

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Founder of Aikido: “First Encounter with Sokaku Takeda,” by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

“This was the start of the long and fateful bond between the two men.”
Takeda Sokaku is recorded in modern budo history as the transmitter of Daito-ryu Jujutsu. He was an awe-inspiring person with a formidable appearance and, although he was about 2 inches shorter than O-Sensei, he always seemed to stare down at things with a mysteriously piercing gaze, made all the more so by a tight-lipped frown due to his lack of front teeth. It is said that Onisaburo Deguchi, who had a reputation for being able to tell people’s fortunes, once told Takeda that even though he had mastered one “Way,” he was a man with the smell of blood and a hapless or evil fate. Master Deguchi often wondered why Ueshiba was so humble towards Takeda, and this attitude was a point of irritation to the religious leader. But Ueshiba was always true to etiquette and was grateful to his teacher, so he always tried to meet Takeda Sensei’s demands.

It was in February of 1915 while visiting Engaru in Kitami that O-Sensei met Takeda. They were both staying at the same inn and they met in the halls of the inn. Ueshiba, who was about 30 then, studied with him at the inn for only a month, but while he was being taught he felt some kind of inspiration that spiritually he didn’t quite understand, so he invited Takeda to come to the Shirataki area where about 15 of Ueshiba’s deshi and servants received instruction from Takeda in Daito-ryu. Later, when asked if it was then, while studying Daito-ryu, that he came to the realization of aikido, O-Sensei shook his head, “No,” and said, “I would say that Takeda Sensei opened my eyes to budo.”

When they first met, Sokaku introduced himself by saying, “I am Sokaku Takeda.” O-Sensei recognized the name because earlier he had fought and defeated a huge Sumo wrestler from Kitami Ridge, and at that time he had been asked if he were Takeda. According to the Sumo Ozeki (the 2nd highest rank in Sumo) whom he had defeated, Takeda was a budo man of samurai rank who had come to Hokkaido at the invitation of one of his students. It was this incident that had familiarized O-Sensei with Takeda’s name and although he thought, “How surprising it is to find such an important teacher so far north,” he felt close to him from the beginning.

This was the start of the long and fateful bond between the two men. Upon meeting, Takeda invited Morihei to his room where they talked the night away. It was then that Morihei realized the great budo knowledge possessed by this formidable character. When Ueshiba requested to be instructed in Daito-ryu jujutsu, something completely new to him, Takeda immediately invited him to stay on at the inn. It seems that he realized that Ueshiba had trained hard and had great potential.

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A word on subscriptions to the new Aikido Journal Members Site

As many of you know, we have recently launched a new Members Site as a repository for the vast materials in our aikido archives. You will be able to access the thousands of documents we have available in a more efficient way and quickly find answers to your questions.

Since the main Aikido Journal site and the new Members Sites are separate entities, the log on credentials are also separate. So if you are a current subscriber to the main site, and would like to access the new Members Site and have your subscription transferred over free of charge, here is the procedure:

  • Re-register at the new Members Site, by going here. You will immediately be sent a confirmation link by email. Click on the “Activation Link” to confirm your subscription. You will now be able to enter the new site as a “free subscriber.”
  • Go here to request the transfer of your original subscription to the new Member Site as a “paid subscriber.”
  • Click on the “topic” field and choose “Transfer subscription” from the drop-down list.
  • Enter your full name, email address, and any message and press “Submit.”

That’s it! We will retrieve your original subscription and transfer your credentials to the Aikido Journal Members Site and notify you. Please allow 24 hours for us to complete the task.

We appreciate your cooperation during this transition period.

Stanley Pranin


“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)


“Yukiyoshi Sagawa: Daito-ryu Master,” by Kiyokazu Maebayashi

Yukiyoshi Sagawa (1902-1998)

“… I felt instinctively that I had finally encountered a true martial artist for the first and probably last time and knew immediately what I must do…” “What was even more mysterious was that in the beginning, I didn’t even notice that my balance had been broken because I didn’t feel him use any power…” These are the reactions of a high-ranking Kendoka at meeting Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei for the first time. This article by K. Maebayashi lends a new dimension to the martial art genius of Sagawa, one of the top students of Sokaku Takeda.


I wonder how many times we encounter a scene which makes such a deep impression on us that we remember it for the rest of our lives? We surely experience such feelings in our childhood, but for a man over 30 years old, like myself, the feeling that something is of any value comes only once in a rare while.

However, I am now experiencing this inexpressible feeling daily in my relationship with Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei of Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu.

What I am going to record here are indisputable facts which I have experienced myself, although some may find my account hard to believe because it seems far beyond the realm of ordinary reality.

Encounter With Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujutsu

It was in March of 1987 that I first saw Daito-ryu. I had never imagined that I would be what I am now when I first experienced the art. I was brought to the dojo in the Tsukuba University gymnasium by Mr. Susumu Nagao, a research assistant at Tsukuba University, who is now training Daito-ryu with me.

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