Video: Morihei Ueshiba — “Channeling the Power of the Gods,” by Stanley Pranin

I began collecting films of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba at a young age, probably about 18 or 19, when my first teacher Isao Takahashi lent me a copy of the 1953 film taken in Wakayama Preference. It was very enjoyable watching this powerful, old man throw around much younger students with ease.

More than anything else, it was a curiosity, an item of interest to be shown on special occasions. Our model at that time was Koichi Tohei Sensei, and our teachers modeled themselves after him

Over the years, I collected a few more films, and began translating articles about the Founder’s life from the Japanese. Then later, I moved to Japan and started interviewing O-Sensei’s students one by one. Little by little, I got a clearer picture of how the Founder’s aikido was, and what made it so special.

Many of the old-timers spoke of some kind of extraordinary power that O-Sensei possessed beyond the dimension of physical strength. Some said that it seemed as though the Founder were enveloped by some kind of impenetrable energy barrier. They said his body was as hard as steel, and that they were defeated before they could physically attack.

The Founder couched his explanations in religious metaphor, and stated that his extraordinary abilities sprung from a universal source. He spoke of channeling the powers of the kami, or deities.

This sort of claim mystified his students who had no idea what he was talking about. Those who dismissed the Founder’s beliefs as the source of his superhuman powers fell back on technique-based aikido, minus the spiritual dimension that O-Sensei spoke of. Thus, the influential figures in the Aikikai sphere were Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and several of the senior instructors such as Kisaburo Osawa, Seigo Yamaguchi, and Morihiro Saito.

Because of the many years we have dedicated to the research of the life and martial art of Morihei Ueshiba, and the many written, photographic, and film documents we have discovered, I feel it is now possible to reconstruct and revive the Founder’s art to a certain extent.

Obviously, we are observers far removed from the events that shaped aikido history, and approaching the subject more than four decades after the passing of Morihei Ueshiba. That being said, there are many advanced practitioners today all over the world. Such individuals have far more experience that some of the aikido greats we revere today did early in their careers. This is in large part due to their enormous contributions.

What I am suggesting is that these advanced practitioners and teachers today should take a long, hard look at the aikido of Morihei Ueshiba. Examine photos of the Founder, read his doka and dobun, analyze his films frame by frame. These are materials that are now accessible to everyone. Don’t dismiss the spiritual dimension of Morihei’s aikido out of hand as unfathomable or irrelevant. This, coupled with decades of dedicated training and meditation, gave birth to the art we practice today.

I will be revisiting this theme again and again because I’m determined not to let the Founder become relegated to the dust-bin of history!

Have a look at this brief video clip to get a glimpse of what I am referring to here.

Duration: 1:07
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  1. …There is an implication here that O Sensei never practiced technique. I was thrilled to see his pre-war style in “Budo” because the technical foundation of his art was visible, at least at the time I could just about see it. Now, O Sensei lived a spiritual life, at least in the post-war era of which we have some knowledge. If that informed his aikido, would it be a surprise? I now find aikido to be a realm of such a large number of possibilities that I am at a loss to comprehend them. Technical systems cannot capture the variety any more than a path through a forest can capture the forest. Would I feel more confident leaving the paths and exploring the forest if I first put my faith in God (or gods)? Maybe I would say that when your technical skills rise to the point that you begin to be confused by the labyrinth, perhaps God will help you on your Way…

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