“I rang the doorbell, and a diminutive woman, perhaps in her 70s, opened the door. She look up and saw this six-foot gaijin staring her in the face, and I thought she would faint on the spot!”
Of the the areas I have explored in my long study of the life of Morihei Ueshiba and the creation of aikido, I think two in particular stand out for having caused a fundamental rethinking among the aikido community of how our art evolved. The first involves the role of Sokaku Takeda and his art, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, in providing the technical basis for what would later emerge as aikido. The second is the part played by the Inoue family of Tanabe, especially Morihei’s nephew Yoichiro, in the progression of early events that allowed the Founder to pursue his martial arts career, and eventually develop the art we practice today.
Interestingly enough, my exploration of both of these aspects of aikido’s early history resulted in many problems for me personally and professionally due to the controversies they provoked. Sokaku’s role had been greatly minimized and distorted, while Yoichiro–later known as Noriaki–had been relegated to a “bit player” in accounts of aikido history. When I wrote an article titled “Yoichiro Inoue, Aikido’s Forgotten Pioneer,” about ten years ago that was also published in Japanese, it caused an uproar behind the scenes, and an incident highly embarrassing to the Aiki News staff in Japan and myself.
Noriaki Inoue was the son of Morihei Ueshiba’s eldest sister Tame, and her husband Zenzo Inoue (Yoichiro’s father), one of Tanabe’s richest citizens. Inoue and his family were involved in virtually every important step taken by Morihei, at least through 1931 when he 47 years old. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Ueshibas and Inoues acted as a joint-family unit in many areas that set the stage for Morihei having the opportunity to launch his martial arts career. I would refer readers to the above article for a detailed study of this relationship.
By the early 1980s, fairly early into my research, I began to notice that each of the prewar students of Morihei I met would frequently mention “Yoichiro” in their recounting of the events of aikido’s early days. Their portrayals of his character and deeds were not always flattering, but it became apparent that Yoichio–at least as a senior instructor–served as Morihei’s “right arm” over a 15-year period. The fact that this “Yoichiro,” then going by the name of “Noriaki” was still active teaching in Tokyo began to really pique my curiosity. I set out to meet, and hopefully interview him, to hear his side of the story.
To say that this would prove a challenge would be somewhat of an understatement. My efforts to meet Inoue Sensei were either ignored or rebuffed over and over. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but probably due to my persistence, he finally agreed to meet me with the proviso that I bring along a couple of “old-timers” with me. This was not exactly what I had hoped for, but at least it gave me a chance to get “a foot in the door,” so to speak. Fortunately, I was able to arrange for Shigemi Yonekawa and Zenzaburo Akazawa, both of whom I had already interviewed, to accompany me. The three of us finally met Inoue Sensei in Tokyo on December 9, 1981. I was almost totally excluded from the discussion, but did manage to tape-record everything. The transcription of that meeting exists, but still remains unpublished.
Getting my “foot in the door” turned out to be getting “the door slammed on my foot.” My efforts to meet with Inoue Sensei and do a proper interview were blocked by his front office, and I finally gave up… at least for the time being.
Finally, by 1986 I could no longer stand knowing that perhaps the most important person after the Founder himself was still alive and living only a few miles away from me. I decided to act. My solution would be a diabolical scheme that only a “henna gaijin” could concoct. I took the transcription of the conversation recorded five years earlier supplemented by a polite letter and headed out to Kunitachi, a few miles west, where he lived. I rang the doorbell, and a diminutive woman, perhaps in her 70s, opened the door. She look up and saw this six-foot gaijin staring her in the face, and I thought she would faint on the spot. I gave her the envelope with my letter and the transcript, excused myself and left. The letter said that Aiki News would publish the interview in the next issue of the magazine as is, since we had been unsuccessful in getting assistance in doing a proper editing job. We regarded the role of Inoue Sensei to be too important to be ignored, and would do the best we could, etc….
I undoubtedly caused a furor with my unorthodox action, and I’m sure someone got scolded. Still the front office refused to allow me to meet him. At my wit’s end, one day I called the office head in my serviceable Japanese such as it is, and proceeded to get mad, really mad! I told him that I was sure he was doing his job as best he saw it, but that he was preventing me from doing my job, which was to tell the truthful story of aikido’s creation. Wasn’t he aware that his teacher Inoue Sensei was being maligned and excised from aikido history? How could this unfair state of affairs be corrected without cooperation from the Inoue side? Did he think that I was being insincere in my desire to accord Inoue Sensei his rightful and prominent place in aikido history?
He fell silent, and my Japanese editor who had overheard the conversation, looked at me in disbelief! But it worked. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to Inoue Sensei’s home. Laden with old photos and historical documents, my Japanese editor and I made our way out to his home. We were greeted by Inoue Sensei, the office head, and a room full of his students. I suppose they thought that I was a “loose cannon,” and wanted to make sure that I properly behaved! Fortunately, once I got him talking about the old days and “what really happened,” he started to take a genuine liking to me, and I to him. This occurred in 1986.
Thereafter for a period of two years, I was given almost unfettered access to Inoue Sensei, and would always take a tape-recorder with me since I never knew when he would begin to talk about the old days. I never could do a proper interview with him, so I must give great credit to my staff who were able to cobble together edited manuscripts from the miscellaneous tape-recordings I presented them. I think we published four or five interviews of Inoue Sensei during this period.
There were several highlights of the precious times I was able to spend with Inoue Sensei. The first took place in the summer of 1987 when I was invited to attend the annual gasshuku he gave in Kameoka at the Omoto administrative headquarters. I was allowed to freely videotape his classes and take photos of the various activities surrounding the event. I have probably 5-6 hours of videotape that have never been shown stored away. Their place is in our archives on the Aikido Journal Members Site. I will eventually get to it with your support and encouragement.
The second was a large public demonstration we arranged in Yotsuya in April 1988. It was attended by a sold-out crowd of about 550 people who grabbed at the chance to see this living legend in action, perhaps for the first and only time. Everything was filmed and photographed. Inoue Sensei was 85 years old at the time and not very mobile, but he still had a strong presence and was very well received. Those who attended were quite aware of the historical significance of the event. Many martial artists showed up too, and some were able to meet and chat with Inoue Sensei at the party following the event.
I had very little interaction with Inoue Sensei and his group after the big demonstration. I had met him perhaps 15-20 times and was fortunate enough to get a lot of information, but it was difficult to get opportunities to talk with him as I always met him in a group setting. Also, I was very busy with Aiki News-related work and traveling with Morihiro Saito Sensei as his interpreter at this point in time.
Much later, in April 1994, I received news that Inoue Sensei had passed away at the ripe old age of 92, having continued teaching until very near the end of his life. I attended his funeral ceremony along with a hundred or so other mourners including his first cousin, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. There I met one of Inoues’ nephews. This happening was to lead to a whole new phase in my research of Ueshiba-Inoue family history and provided me much needed information and perspective to better establish the importance of this family relationship in Morihei’s early life.