Archives for November 2011


Interview with Morihei Ueshiba: “The Great Giant Aikido” (1958)

Many martial arts magazines have come and gone over the years. A few of them contain articles that are especially worth preserving. This interview with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba from the short-lived Self-Defense World certainly qualifies as one of them. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

In the old days, the martial arts were used in deplorable ways, especially during the Japanese Era of the Warring States when they were used to benefit the private interests of daimyos. That’s not all to be admired. I myself taught martial arts to solders during the war, instructing them in killing or wounding people. After the war, I became much agonized about it. But seven years ago [1951], I began to understand the real way of aiki.

Heaven and earth are complete, but mankind is wavering and undecided. Man’s purpose is to set things straight, and I began to look upon aikido as an expression of love and harmony. Since then I have studied aikido for the benefit of all people. The spirit of aikido is of harmony to be sure, but even more it is a princple of nature, heaven and earth. It is a martial art derived from all of the phenomena of the cosmos, a surpasssing martial art.

Click here to access the pdf file containing the interview with Morihei on the Aikido Journal Members Site.

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“Remembering Takuma Hisa,” by Stanley Pranin

Takuma Hisa (1895-1980)

It is a daunting task to attempt to define the role of Takuma Hisa within the context of the overlapping histories of aikido and Daito-ryu aikijujutsu. The dynamics of Hisa’s associations with Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda, two giants of modern Japanese martial arts history, are little understood. This is because Hisa was caught in an awkward situation resulting from the sometimes bizarre relationship between Ueshiba and Takeda. Hence, a principal aim of this essay will be to clarify Hisa’s relationships with his two teachers and stimulate a reevaluation of his great contribution to the aiki arts.

Background and early career

Hisa was born November 3, 1895 in Sakihama village in Kochi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. In 1915, he entered Kobe Business School (present-day Kobe University) where he majored in business. Hisa was the captain of his college sumo club and one year won the All-Kansai Student Sumo Championship.

Upon graduation, Hisa first joined a business firm that soon went bankrupt. In 1927, he entered the general affairs department of the Tokyo home office of the Asahi News with an introduction from a university senior named Mitsujiro Ishii who was also employed by the newspaper. Ishii (1889-1981) was first a journalist, then a department head with the Asahi News, and later rose to prominence in the field of politics and was one of the founders of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Hisa as university sumo champion

The Asahi News had come under attack by lobbyists and right-wing activists due to an editorial mistake in March 1928 concerning the death of an imperial prince. Hisa assumed responsibility for the security operations of the General Affairs office by special order of bureau chief Ishii. This was surely due in no small part to Hisa’s background in sumo and love for the martial arts. Hisa performed the task of tightening security at the Tokyo office well and, in 1932, he was rewarded with a promotion and transferred to the Osaka office of the Asahi News.

Meeting Morihei Ueshiba

[Read more…]


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
Access: Free and paid subscribers

Click here to login to the Aikido Journal Members Site to view the video clip of Morihei Ueshiba performing in the 1954 tv documentary

Not yet a member? Click here to sign up for a free membership and enjoy access to all of the free materials available on the Aikido Journal Members Site with our compliments. All it takes is your name and an email address!


Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei: “Secrets of the Founder’s Superlative Technique”


“The subtleties of distancing and positioning, capture of the attacker’s ki, deft blending, soft touch movements concealing tremendous power, and the spirit of love and protection enveloping the Founder’s partner!”

Are you able to “steal” techniques through careful observation? This is the mark of a skilled martial artist. Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba passed over four decades ago, so our link to him are a few writings, audio recordings, and several hours of film footage. The films of O-Sensei, in particular, offer a treasure house of information to the careful observer. This does not refer to step-by-step, how-to instruction.

In the surviving films of the Founder’s aikido, you will see the consummate master in action. You will notice the subtleties of distancing and positioning, capture of the attacker’s ki, deft blending, soft touch movements concealing tremendous power, and the spirit of love and protection enveloping the Founder’s partner.

All of this and much more await motivated aikido practitioners determined to understand the roots of the art, and “steal” the Founder’s techniques. Have a look at the video below to get a glimpse of that which we speak.



Video: Morihiro Saito demonstrates the Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo at the Aiki Shrine in 1979

This video is a rare film treasure that was shot in Iwama in front of the Aiki Shrine in 1979. Morihiro Saito Sensei is in spectacular form as he demonstrates Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo suburi and kata exercises. His movements are incredibly precise and powerful as Saito Sensei personifies the spirit and concentration that should enliven practice of the ken and jo. Saito Sensei’s uke in this film are Bernice Tom and Ryuji Inagaki, younger brother of Shigemi Inagaki, present head of the Iwama Dojo.

Here are the contents:

Ken suburi
Ken awase

Jo suburi
31-jo kata
13-jo kata
31-jo awase

Videos such as this are part of the on-going effort at Aikido Journal to amass a huge catalog of visual documents on all manner of subjects related to aikido for the edification and enjoyment of the aikido community.

Duration: 9:49
Access: Paid subscribers

Click here to login to the Aikido Journal Members Site to view the video clip of Morihiro Saito demonstrating the Aiki Ken and Jo in 1979

Not yet a member? Click here to sign up for a free membership and enjoy access to all of the free materials available on the Aikido Journal Members Site with our compliments. All it takes is your name and an email address!


Historical photo: “Takako Kunigoshi, Aiki Budo’s First Female Instructor!,” by Stanley Pranin

This photo is a rare one indeed culled from a Shukan Asahi magazine article published in Japan about 1935. In aikido history, the two persons appearing in this photo are of great importance. Here is the story.

Illustrations of Takako Kunigoshi from "Budo Renshu"

First, the petite lady executing the “Aiki Budo” throw is a young woman named Takako Kunigoshi. A bit of history… Takako Kunigoshi entered the Kobukan Dojo in 1933, just prior to her graduation from Japan Women’s Fine Arts University. One of the few female students at the Kobukan Dojo, she trained seriously, and gained the full respect of both Ueshiba Sensei and the uchideshi. A skilled artist, Kunigoshi did the technical illustrations for the 1934 book Budo Renshu, which was given to certain students in lieu of a teaching license. Kunigoshi later trained at the private dojo of Admiral Isamu Takeshita for several years, and taught self-defense courses to various women’s groups. Following the war, Kunigoshi did not resume her aikido training. After her retirement, she taught the Japanese tea ceremony out of her home in Ikebukuro, Tokyo for many years.

I met and interviewed her on two occasions in 1981 and 1992. She was a charming elderly lady, most animated in her demeanor, and very enthusiastic in recalling the days of Morihei Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo. She is the only major female figure in prewar aikido to have a prominent role in the art’s history. Kunigoshi Sensei was highly respected by her male counterparts in the Kobukan Dojo. She will forever be remembered for the illustrations she drew for the 1934 Budo Renshu book which depicts the techniques taught in the dojo at that time, and which reveal a strong influence of the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu of Sokaku Takeda.

The person being thrown is Shigemi Yonekawa. Yonekawa Sensei entered the Kobukan Dojo as an uchideshi in 1932. He taught at various locations as an assistant to Morihei Ueshiba, both in Tokyo and Osaka. In 1936, Yonekawa was the Founder’s partner for the series of technical photographs taken at Noma Dojo, which constitute the most complete record of Ueshiba’s techniques from the prewar era. He moved to Manchuria in December of 1936, where he assisted Kenji Tomiki in the instruction of Aiki Budo. Yonekawa was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army in 1944, and saw action in Okinawa before being repatriated in 1946. No longer active in aikido after the war, he settled in Tsuchiura, Ibaragi Prefecture, where he was engaged in agriculture.

Shigemi Yonekawa as uke in Noma Dojo photo

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Yonekawa Sensei in 1979 and 1992. He was one of the nicest and most gentlemanly-like persons I have ever met. He was a bit reticent at first to talk about the old days, particularly when the conversation touched upon the private affairs of the Ueshiba family. Over time, I succeeded in gaining his confidence, and he became quite frank during our conversations. He was a storehouse of information about the period.

Yonekawa Sensei also knew a great deal about Morihei’s connection with Manchuria since he lived there for several years assisting Kenji Tomiki. In the near future, I will post my audio interviews with both Takako Kunigoshi and Shigemi Yonekawa on the Aikido Journal Members Site.


“Get Free Audio Lecture on Aikido History by Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin!!”

We are now offering Aikido Journal readers the ability to download a fascinating early lecture on aikido history by Editor Stanley Pranin. This lecture was presented back in September, 1983 in Tokyo before the Japan Martial Arts Society.

Do you know about the activities of the prestigious Japan Martial Arts Society? You should. It was a group of foreigners–you will immediately recognize many of their names–who practiced martial arts in Japan who got together for regular presentations and demonstrations about Japanese martial arts. They also published newsletters for many years that contained well-researched articles on these arts. On the aikido side of things, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Yoshinkan Aikido Founder Gozo Shioda both lectured and demonstrated before the JMAS group.

Aikido Journal readers wishing to gain free access to this lecture and hundreds of other aikido-related documents can sign up by clicking here.

Do yourself a favor and get up-to-speed on the background and outstanding figures in the world of aikido by exploring the Aikido Journal Members Site!


Video: Don Angier demonstrates at Aiki Expo 2002 in Las Vegas!

This video captures an outstanding demonstration by one the unique martial artists of our time, Don Angier Sensei, Soke of Yanagi-ryu Aiki Jiu Jitsu. The tale of how he came to learn his incredible martial arts skills is really something out of a storybook. You can read all about it here on the Aikido Journal Members Site. This is a rare video by an outstanding budoka.

Yanagi-ryu is influenced by Daito-ryu Jujutsu and the Yoshida family arts. Angier Sensei was trained as a teenager by Kenji Yoshida, son of Kotaro Yoshida, who was, incidentally, the person who introduced Morihei Ueshiba to Sokaku Takeda way back in 1915.

This demonstration of Angier Sensei took place at Aiki Expo 2002 held in Las Vegas, Nevada. He performs a number of knife disarming techniques, multiple-attacker throws, and soft-touch aiki techniques. His poise and execution are superlative.

Duration: 4:32
Access: Paid subscribers

Click here to login to the Aikido Journal Members Site to view the video clip of Don Angier Sensei at Aiki Expo 2002

Not yet a member? Click here to sign up for a free membership and enjoy access to all of the free materials available on the Aikido Journal Members Site with our compliments. All it takes is your name and an email address!


Video: “One of the world’s truly unique Aikido dojos!”

It was a gamble building a dojo two and a half hours from the nearest city and 15 minutes from the nearest town. A gamble that would have made a real-estate agent with his ‘location, location, location’ rule shake his head.

But I thought there must be others sharing my enthusiasm for the spiritual affinity of aikido and Nature, who would appreciate being able to practice in one of the most beautiful places in the world and who would, therefore, find their way here if we waited patiently.

Three years on, the naivete of this view is all too apparent.

But the dojo is slowly catching on and I have been encouraged by the enthusiasm of those who have come to train with us, like the young man from the Czech Republic, which is about as far from New Zealand as you can get, who stayed for two months, trained every day and explored the region’s unspoiled beaches and bush in between sessions.
[Read more…]


Video: Christian Tissier, 7th dan Aikikai, at Aiki Expo 2005 in Los Angeles

This video captures an outstanding demonstration by one of Aikido’s preeminent masters, Christian Tissier at Aiki Expo 2005 held in Los Angeles, California.

Tissier Sensei, 7th dan Aikikai, began aikido as a boy in France in 1962, He spent eight years in Japan at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo training with many of the art’s top masters. On his return to his native France, Tissier Sensei brought back a new kind of aikido that soon captured the imagination of the aikido world in his country and practitioners throughout Europe. Tissier is at present the leading figure in the FFAAA organization, one of France’s two large aikido associations. He is the sole foreign instructor to have taught at the International Aikido World Congress.

In this demonstration, Tissier first offers a series of exciting Kashima Shin-ryu kata. This classical style descends through the lineage of Zenya Kunii and Minoru Inaba, taught at the Meiji Grand Shrine in Tokyo. This school also influenced the aikido of Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei, one of Tissier’s mentors.

Following the sword demonstration, Tissier Sensei demonstrates many elegant and dynamic taijutsu forms in his own inimitable style. He reveals a very high level of aikido that has attracted literally tens of thousands of students the world over.

Aikido Journal offers a wonderful DVD in its catalog featuring Christian Tissier.

Christian Tissier has supported Aikido Journal behind the scenes for many years. His participation in the Aiki Expo 2005 was one of the highlights of this unforgettable weekend. Christian has enjoyed a tremendous success built on his arduous experience in Japan and discipline. He is a model to us all of the potential of a lifetime of dedication to aikido practice.

Duration: 8:39
Access: Paid subscribers

Click here to login to the Aikido Journal Members Site to view the video clip of Christian Tissier Sensei at Aiki Expo 2005

Not yet a member? Click here to sign up for a free membership and enjoy access to all of the free materials available on the Aikido Journal Members Site with our compliments. All it takes is your name and an email address!


Competitive martial arts training: “What you get, what it costs,” by Robert


“The more dangerous kinds of sparring can be done for a while, until those particular lessons are learned, and then one can move on.”

We just received this well-thought out comment in response to an article we published a few months ago titled “Martial arts practice and the deceived mind,” by Stanley Pranin. It is a succinct description of the various categories of training for competition and their applicability in real street encounters.

Sparring is a form of training like any other form of training. Even the most brutal MMA matches are not fights. They are sparring.

As with any form of training, the questions are: What does it get you? What does it cost you?

Every kind of sparring, from light to no contact “tag” to MMA matches serves a purpose.

Tag type sparring (light to no contact)
What you get: You learn control. You learn to put your fist or foot or elbow where you want it to go.
What it costs: Very little.
The non-physical dangers: But the student has to be certain they understand this is far, far from any kind of actual fight. So don’t get cocky because you’re the school “tag” champion.

What you get: You improve your stamina and strength. You learn range, speed, combinations, positioning and…you learn to take a heavy hit (or several) without stopping.
What it costs: You can expect to always get bruised up, and occasionally there will be more serious injuries.
The non-physical dangers: For safety reasons there are lots of rules with kickboxing. These limitations on what you (and your opponent) can do make this EXERCISE a very unrealistic imitation of a fight. As before, don’t get cocky because you can do this well.
[Read more…]


“Morihiro Saito on the classification of Aikido techniques,” by Stanley Pranin

“There are about 600 techniques in aikido. There are basics,
ki no nagare, oyowaza and henkawaza.” — Morihiro Saito

Over the past several years Aikido Journal has released a series of DVDs titled “The Lost Seminars” featuring Morihiro Saito Sensei based on seminars he conducted abroad during the 1980s and 90s. In preparing the videotapes for publication, we have added over 10,000 subtitles that record Saito Sensei’s comments during these events. In the many hours of seminar footage, Saito Sensei explains and demonstrates hundreds of techniques that he learned from the Founder in the postwar period through O-Sensei’s death in 1969.

It is interesting to note that Saito Sensei would often provide more detailed technical sequences and unusual techniques during these foreign seminars that he would seldom have time to demonstrate in Iwama. Thus these DVDs taken as a whole constitute an invaluable catalog of aikido techniques from O-Sensei’s Iwama years. In addition, Saito Sensei periodically makes comments that contain pearls of wisdom that unlock a deeper understanding of the art. Here is a gem from one of the videos where Saito Sensei describe aikido’s vast repertoire of techniques:

There are about 600 techniques in aikido. There are basics, ki no nagare, oyowaza and henkawaza. Oyowaza are basic techniques applied to different circumstances. Henkawaza are techniques that are modified midstream to suit changed circumstances. If the technique is going smoothly, and you then change to something else, it is not a henkawaza.

I find this an elegant way of classifying the huge body of aikido techniques. While the differences between basic and ki no nagare techniques are normally easy to comprehend, many people have found it difficult to grasp the distinction between oyowaza and henkawaza. According to Saito Sensei’s explanation, oyowaza are aikido basics applied to circumstances outside the scope of the basic curriculum. They can therefore be understood as “applied” or “advanced” techniques. Henkawaza, literally, “changed techniques,” are modified methods used when it becomes necessary to adapt the execution of a technique to changed circumstances. Stated in more plain terms, henkawaza are what you do when you flub a technique!

There are many more of Saito Sensei’s comments worthy of close scrutiny on the “Lost Seminars” DVDs. If I had access to such materials early in my aikido career, it would have been a tremendous boon. Do check out the descriptions of these wonderful visual materials in our catalog. Several of the DVDs include sample video footage that will give you a good idea of their contents.