Aikido Journal #114 (1998)
This interview with Seiseki Abe Sensei is an important source for those fascinated by Morihei Ueshiba’s internal exercises and misogi training. In addition, this interview explains how it was that the Aikido Founder took an interest in calligraphy, and how his martial training translated into his command of the brush.
You will learn of the significant role played by Bonji Kawatsura and Kenji Futaki, and how their approach to misogi purification training compares with the practices of the Omoto religion to which O-Sensei was exposed during his years in Ayabe in the 1920s.
In short, this is one of those seminal articles that will reveal yet another dimension of Morihei’s character and spiritual vision of aikido.
his experiences as both student and teacher of Morihei Ueshiba”.
1 – THE PATH OF BRUSH
Sensei, you are well known as a master calligrapher. How was it that you started down “the path of the brush?”
I used to be a school teacher, first at the elementary school level, then at a girls’ school, and then at the junior and senior high school and university levels. During that time, I often asked myself, “What is the most important thing I can impart to my students?” One of the answers I arrived at was “to appreciate, value, and honor one’s parents.” This conclusion was probably influenced, at least in part, by the general Japanese cultural value of taking one’s household and ancestors into consideration before thinking about oneself.
In my case, my father happened to be a skilled calligrapher, so I thought the best way to “honor” him, as it were, would be to take up the brush myself. Doing so became one of my goals in life. By coincidence my mother’s name happened to be “Fude,” which is also the Japanese word for “brush!” Anyway, it seemed apparent to me that part of my destiny lay in trying to make something of myself as a calligrapher.
My father had studied calligraphy under a well-known Osaka calligrapher by the name of Ekido Teranishi and therefore his style bore Teranishi’s influence to some extent and he became quite skilled. It occurred to me that I was probably the successor, and that is how I came to take up calligraphy myself.
Has calligraphy been a tradition in your family over the generations?
Yes, for quite a while it seems. Ever since I can remember practically every room in our house has always been decorated by the framed calligraphic works of previous generations.
2 – ENCOUNTER WITH MISOGI
I’ve heard that at one point in your calligraphy career you found yourself at something of a deadlock —a period of stagnation, if you will— and it was then that you discovered a group called the “Misogikai” that helped you break through that barrier. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
One’s growth as a calligrapher comes in a number of stages. To begin with, you learn how to work with the “form” or “shape” of the characters. Fortunately, there are so many examples of beautiful form —going all the way back to the Han Dynasty in China even— that there’s not much chance of stagnation when it comes to exploring form. Where I started to run into trouble was in my exploration of “line” (although “line” may be too simplistic a term), which is what you work on after you’ve mastered form to a certain degree. When it comes to line, concepts like “thickness” and “thinness” are easy enough to understand, but in addition to these you also have to work with “depth” and “shallowness.” Shallowness is easy enough to understand as well, so what I was having trouble with had to do with adding depth to my brushstrokes. Such depth is more or less invisible to the eye, yet it is still one of the qualities that gives life to a calligraphic work. So much so, in fact, that it may be considered the very heart and soul of Japanese calligraphy. The degree of thickness or thinness is a relatively visible quality that determines whether a line conveys the intended degree of energy or vigor, but qualities like depth (and also “height”) are invisible to the eye and therefore much more elusive.
It was there that I found my growth as a calligrapher moving toward to an impasse. It was about that time that I first encountered Kenzo Futaki’s Misogi no Renseikai (Misogi Training Society). Kenzo Futaki was a Doctor of Medicine and a prewar student of Morihei Ueshiba. This Misogikai was a group dedicated to exploring and teaching methods that could be used to draw on a kind of “psychological” or “spiritual” strength beyond mere physical strength —what we might now call misogi (purification) to draw out”ki“. It sounded like exactly what I needed. The application date had already passed, but they made an exception for me, and I was able to join the first session, which was conducted as kind of “training camp” consisting of about a week’s worth of seminars.