Historical photo: “Kisaburo Osawa, 9th dan — Aikido’s éminence grise,” by Stanley Pranin

“Osawa Sensei was heavily involved out of public view in an attempt to assuage many key figures in the aikido world who were affected by this cataclysmic event.”

Our photo today is an action shot I took at the 1989 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration held at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. The grey-haired gentleman executing the technique is Kisaburo Osawa Sensei (1910-1991), a 9th dan and one of aikido’s most important figures of the postwar era.

Osawa Sensei entered Morihei Ueshiba’s old Kobukan Dojo in 1941, when war was raging in Asia. He rejoined the Aikikai Hombu Dojo shortly after World War II, and soon came to be one of the major decision-makers of the headquarters. Osawa Sensei’s role in an organizational sense was that of one of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s closest advisors, his right-hand man, so to speak. He held various positions such as “Dojo-cho” and “Doshu Hosa” (Advisor to Doshu) over the years.

Beginning from the time when Morihei was still alive up until shortly before his death, Osawa Sensei was called in to solve problems of a delicate nature behind the scenes. Over the years, I again and again heard first-hand accounts of Osawa Sensei’s unseen role in “putting out fires” that Kisshomaru Ueshiba as Doshu preferred not to become publicly involved in.

For example, when the Yoshinkan became operationally independent from the Aikikai around 1955, the functional status of the two organizations vis-a-vis each other had to be worked out. Osawa Sensei was right in the middle of the informal talks between the Aikikai and the Yoshinkan, and met with Gozo Shioda Sensei to discuss the issue.

When Koichi Tohei Sensei resigned from the Aikikai in 1974, Osawa Sensei was heavily involved out of public view in an attempt to assuage many key figures in the aikido world who were affected by this cataclysmic event.

On one occasion in the 1980s, I had a difficult problem to solve involving my research that was tied to some of the publishing activities of the Hombu Dojo. The person requesting historical documents from me was a top European martial artist and a higher-up in the police system of his country. I could not ignore his request, but neither could I comply with it for reasons I don’t wish to go into now.

The long and short of it is that I requested and was granted a meeting with Osawa Sensei to discuss my problem and decide how to proceed. It was the only time I was ever to have a conversation of any consequence with Osawa Sensei. His handling of the situation was utterly amazing and highly comical at the same time. My problem placed him in an impossible situation, but he managed to stay centered and unwavering while representing the position of the Hombu Dojo. Someday I will tell the whole story, but it was indeed a delicate matter.

Osawa Sensei was a fine aikido technician and highly respected for his skills. Many famous teachers who were his junior were heavily influenced by his outwardly “soft” style. Although diminutive in stature being only five-foot two or three, he was actually quite strong and wiry. During the 10 weeks I spent in Japan in the summer of 1969, I saw him in the shower room on several occasions. He was around 59 years old at the time, and had a very compact physique and was quite muscular.

Osawa Sensei’s technique appeared gentle and not at all martial much of the time. However, he would suddenly execute an explosive movement when least expected, belying his generally soft technique.

Click here to view a video of Kisaburo Osawa, 9th dan, at the All-Japan Aikido Demonstration



  1. Saw Osawa Sensei once (San Francisco, Turk St, 1975?). Have attempted to achieve his posture ever since.

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