“Geniuses Among You… Help Me Solve This Problem!,” by Stanley Pranin

I’ve got a problem to solve. It’s a multi-faceted problem involving the best way to store, classify and disseminate a treasure trove of audio recordings locked away in our archives. And there is a deadline… it must be done in my active lifetime!

Here’s the challenge. I have somewhere in the vicinity of 700 hours of interviews–mostly with famous Japanese instructors–in audio cassette tape format. The earliest tape dates from 1973 when I interviewed Kenji Tomiki Sensei. The last “official” interview I recall doing was about 2004 when I spoke with Shigenobu Okumura Sensei of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Offhand, I probably conducted about 200 interviews with the most notable Japanese aikido teachers. I spoke with quite a few of them multiple times.

Here is a short list of some of the interviewees: Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Minoru Mochizuki, Gozo Shioda, Koichi Tohei, Morihiro Saito, Rinjiro Shirata, Noriaki Inoue, Kanshu Sunadomari, Kiyoshi Nakakura, Shigemi Yonekawa, Tenryu, and many more. Recognize any names? To this can be added several hours of audio of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

These materials are historically important because most of the instructors I captured on tape tell the true story of aikido’s birth and evolution, but now have since passed on. Their testimonies are waiting to be heard by new generations of aikidoka. Fortunately, many of these interviews were published in Japanese and English in Aiki News / Aikido Journal over the years. Still, many hours remain on cassette tapes completely unedited and unpublished.

Think about it. If there were a way to upload the majority of these materials to the new Aikido Journal Members Site, the content of the tape recordings and the voices of these famous figures could be made accessible to the entire aikido community via the Internet.

Let me try to breakdown the project into bite-size chunks.


  • The Aikido Journal staff has all of the hardware, software and expertise to digitize and edit these audio tapes.
  • A location to host the hundreds of hours of materials–the Aikido Journal Members Site–is already operational and has been thoroughly tested.
  • Likewise, the delivery system–audio streaming–is in place and tested.
  • The international aikido community is huge, and a certain percentage of practitioners would consider these historical materials worth preserving.


  • Most of the tape recordings are in Japanese while our target audience consists primarily of English speakers. Would they actively support this project in sufficient numbers?
  • The sheer volume of material presents logistic and financial hurdles to be overcome.
  • At least one native Japanese working on a part or full-time basis would be needed to edit and prepare recordings for uploading to the Internet.

This, in a nutshell, is the scope of the project I have been mulling over for some time. Now, here are my questions for you. Please put your thinking caps on…

Do you think enough interest exists among the Aikido Journal readership to warrant the huge effort required to undertake this project?

Would you as English speakers find access to all of these Japanese-language recordings of value? (Remember we would include the English translations together with the audio where available.)

Would it be possible to energize Aikido Journal fans by using social media to magnify our presence and get enough people involved to realize the project?

Is all of this just a pipedream on my part, or is it within the realm of possibility?

I guess what I’m looking for are new ideas, and different ways of looking at the problems to be overcome. There are a lot of smart people out there, and even though I think about this stuff all the time, I’m sure there are any number of solutions I have overlooked.

Please share your input with me!



  1. Mr Pranin,

    I personally am not studying Japanese, so unless there are translations, it would be difficult for me to get value out of the project, but I think it is definitely worth the effort although it might not be turned into profit easily. If philosophical, pedagogical and conceptual teaching material could somehow be conceived of, I think it would get even more valuable, meaningful and attractive for many practitioners and other people would be willing to help. I think your idea of crowdsourcing the intellectual power is a good idea, and If people were to get membership access in exchange of their efforts than you would probably have an easier time to find volunteers amongst Japanese and English practitioners.

    There maybe an app or one soon to be coming that could help make the translation work easier from audio as a source. Google translate is basically the only good tool that I know of which could help make it easier for translation based on texts. I regularly read text in spanish and some japanese using it.

    Using social media more is also quite a nice idea, and pushing quality content out in this manner certainly must be a good way to draw in serious thoughtful people’s attention so as to invite them to collaborate.

    Finally, I know of titanpad to help make the crunching of textual work easier.

    Hopefully this will help.

    • Dear Simon,

      Thank you very much for your valuable feedback. I also had thought of offering free subscriptions and products to those who have been kind enough to volunteer. I have done it several times in the past for translators.

      Please share any other ideas you may have.

      • Kip Kiener says:

        Hello Mr Pranin
        The digital translators are around, but I still don’t know if they are able to put the meaning into the spoken word of Sensei. I might suggest that you create a digital copy of everything in categories and allow people to translate to a web based cloud. That way many people could participate and even enumerate on the meaning or implications of what has been said. It would also allow people from around the world to translate it into their language. I would suggest administrators to follow and approve before being posted. That way these can be downloaded at a fee, to those of us who would like to hear O Sensei’s voice and read the transcription. I wish I spoke Japanese to help you with this project.

      • Jeff Dowdy says:

        If it is possible utilize the English speakers to do the digital transfer and web posting that would be a start. I wonder if there may be university students studying here or Japan that could do some translation as a project. This could be in the language programs or in a college aikido course.

        Summer internships come to mind

        Another possibility is to approach shihan who studied under the person interviewed and see if they would ask one of their dedicated students to work on the translation.

  2. Duncan Robert Mark says:

    Of course you must transcribe and digitize all of these recordings, and translate them into English in the first instance and perhaps at some stage into other languages. As you said, this is a historical resource second to none.
    Whether there is a market for this material and whether that market is commercially viable is of secondary concern. I however believe that there is such a market particularly if you view it as a long term investment. The resources you make available today will remain with us for a very long period of time; decades, centuries, perhaps longer. Interest in this material will remain on an amateur level at least until an international university (i.e. outside Japan) recognizes this as an academic field worthy of study and the commitment of resources.
    I am willing to assist in the transcription and translation process, time allowing.

    • My Gibeaut says:

      Not a genius… and pretty new to Aikido, but I agree whole heartedly that these recordings are treasures that you must endeavor to preserve. If you can make some money that’s good, but the important thing is to first preserve and then hopefully translate the recordings.

      I’m sure most readers of Aikido Journal will have an enthusiastic response, recognizing the value of what you propose. And I am sure that combined with social media, the project will attract additional members. Also it seems that you have thought out very well the technologies and resources necessary to complete the project.

      But what if it takes more? It seems that outside of the Aikido world, what you need are people interested in preserving Japanese Culture and Language. On a local level, in Las Vegas and Honbu, and if necessary on a nationwide and international level. For example, perhaps it would be good to start building a relationship with the Japanese American Society of Las Vegas, the Japanese American Citizen’s League, or maybe the Las Vegas Gakuen (Language School). Also, as there are Japanese companies present in the US, there are also American companies present in Japan. Would a University inside Japan be interested in this project?

  3. I can’t speak for other readers, but this certainly interests me! Have you considered using Kickstarter.com to fundraise for this project?

    • Gregor Erdmann says:

      I second Matt’s suggestion. Kickstarter will allow you to garner some funds to start this project.

      You might try to get some support from people within Japan. There is an upcoming movement of Japanese pride, there may be some nationals who would see the benefit in this.

      I think there must be some people who are good at subtitling… new episodes for anime come out so rapidly there must be a big pool of people who are capable.

  4. I have participated in some translation teams (English–>Spanish, I don’t speak Japanese (yet)), and I have come to assume that few people will have the knowledge, the time and the willingness to make really good translations.

    So, my bet would go to: first of all, digitize everything and store it in at least three different places/media-types (these are really unique interviews). Then, put it online, so they will act as “bait” for potential collaborators; many times, there’s people only interested in one particular video/text.

    On the digitize side, physical access to the tapes is required; so that means that work is up to you.

    For the transcription side, in my experience, automatic English transcription of interviews is quite bad, but Japanese seems like a easier language in that matter. If you could put a sample online (audio and transcription), I would be glad to try to find a good audio-processing and automatic speech recognition algorithm.

    For storage and online space, I would gladly donate web space in my own server to mirror any aikidojournal material you want, although it seems like that’s already been taken care of.

    I hope lots of Japanese speaking people shows up (that would be great).
    Anything computer-related I can help, I’ll be glad to help out.

    Best regards

  5. This is an invaluable project, and I hope it will happen. Everyone in the Aikido community stands to gain from it!

    I like Kip Kiener’s suggestion that digitized audio be available online for translation and commentary by knowledgeable devotees. We don’t need some “expert’s” final word on an interpretation; we need discussion of hard-to-discern ideas.

    I’ve only just begun my study of Japanese language, so I don’t know if this suggestion makes sense, but when the correct kanji cannot be agreed upon for representing a speaker’s words, cannot they be represented instead in kana — then let the discussion center on that?

    Rick Triplett

    • Keith E. McInnis says:

      The collaborative translation idea is terrific in theory. Needs a test run. The volunteer translators not only have to get the meaning right they have to narrate well…high skill level.

  6. Keith E. McInnis says:

    This is a valuable and truly timeless project and a lifetime work of love for the art. Your persistent efforts deserve to remain alive. Were you in the US I’d say you have a valid case for a graduate degree in your body of work and that might lead to a grant. The US Library of Congress has an ongoing oral history project as does National Public Radio. Funding is the key here, IMO. You will have to do the translations and only you know how time consuming that will be. Also the translations need to be done so that the voices and original Japanese words are clear for future listeners (telling you something you already know…brainstorming). Like many Universities the one where I live has a Japanese Language program (University of Florida). I believe it is literature emphasis though oral history is becoming a ‘hot item.’ My young sons and I have been slowly working on ‘the next generation’ of Aikido teachers telling their stories and benefit from the work of yours we have accessed. They are young enough to learn Japanese (11 & 13) and have a good start with our Sensei. I have done a similar project on “Rocket Men” with my interviews of space program pioneers. Little market interest…much to my surprise. So the money needs to come from angels, the hearts of Aikidoka, dojo(s) and teachers the world over. Your material is too precious to let stagnate. Other Aikido forums such as Aiki-Web, LinkedIn etc. should be involved along with FaceBook. For grants an organization is needed. In the US this is a “501c3” non-profit structure. Many aikido schools here are incorporated in that way. Perhaps an existing school can serve as a conduit or the incorporation can be made fresh and is not too difficult. I have a bad experience to relate unfortunately. I lost nearly 200 hrs of interviews when I sent tapes to a trusted writer and they were mis-shipped. Digitize fast! There, said it…still hurts. The cataloging of the material into a media database, the translation and offering are a lot of work. My sons and I would be honored to help however we can.

  7. …as usual, would be happy to help smooth out English translations, but otherwise…

  8. Dear Mr.Pranin,

    You have made an enormous effort in gathering all this material in the past. Thank you for that..

    I believe this project of keeping the legacy should be supported by the entire Aikido family.

    Maybe a wild thought but why not open up to the entire Aikido world community?

    1. Japanese-English translation is first needed. Put a selection of interviews available and let people apply for the opportunity to translate 1 interview . In return they get the interview they translate + credits for an already translated interview

    2. Also open up to other languages, I am certain by now there are people that can translate from Japanese into their native language (French, german, italian, an so on… ) ; Same method..

    3. After this , open up to translators from one language into another language (e.g. French to Dutch) , same method

    4. After that , you will have all interviews translated into practically all languages and you can put these available for purchase to the world

    5. That way the legacy is prevailed and the investments can be returned ..


    • Dear Alain,

      Your thinking and mine are very close. Actually, several years ago we did have a translation project and volunteers did over 100 translations from English to many other languages. This particular project has additional challenges because we first have to digitize and transcribe Japanese-language audio recordings. This necessitates the involvement of Japanese speakers. You’re right, we can also do translations to other languages after the English version exists.

      Please continue providing your input!

  9. What is to be gained: these interviews, in their entirety give context which is missing from documents like, for example, the Art of Peace.

    You have documented the huge problems surrounding translating O Sensei, even using Aikido students who were expert translators. Are O Sensei’s students easier works for translators to tackle? Or, do they also use the difficult language that stymied earlier efforts?

    I regularly read the Five Rings. I have five English translations that all read differently. A friend reads the I Ching and has 65 translations in a variety of languages. Again, there is difficulty finding an official translation with the difficulty of the task. I have heard the same thing is true for the Art of War.
    Can a true official translation be done in your opinion? Or would more eyes lead only to more interpretations and confusion?

    I would be first in line for the translations whatever my misgivings, and I am grateful for your efforts. I suspect even if I dropped out of lice to study Japanese now, this piece of history might still be lost to me and so many others. Many Aikido practitioners are, I think, in the dark about many aspects of our art.

    You implied in your blog on O Sensei’s spiritual writings that translations might not be allowed or accepted by the Aikikai? And, a translation effort that covers several styles and associations sounds like a huge political quagmire.

    Good Luck. I think a lot depends on your efforts.

    • John,

      Thanks for your input. The translation of the audio recordings are, for the most part, not so difficult. Nothing like translating O-Sensei. The hard part is digitizing and transcribing the Japanese text, not the translation per se. In this case, I conducted almost all of the interviews myself so no one’s permission is needed.

    • I hate auto correct. “If I dropped out of LIFE, not Lice.”

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