Historical Photo: “Morihei Ueshiba… A Model of Physical Fitness!” by Stanley Pranin

This is a most unusual photo snapped by Jean Greslé in February 1969 at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. Given the late date, this is certainly one of the last classes taught by Morihei O-Sensei. As you can see here, the Founder is performing a stretching exercise. This is one of five or six photos from the same series that shows O-Sensei executing a variety of warmup exercises.

Morihei maintained a high degree of physical fitness throughout his career. He possessed a powerful, yet flexible body as a young man. With time, his body became lighter, but even in old age, he still preserved his impressive physique. A 16mm film from 1962 survives where Morihei is seen doing excercises such as those described above. He even performs the splits at 79 years of age. How few of the aikido masters have followed his example!

Notice this particular stretch. It is not commonly done in an aikido context, and seems almost yoga-like in nature. In addition to such warmups, Morihei would perform a series of misogi exercises of esoteric Shinto origin including such movements as torifune undo and furitama undo. These movements were commonly practiced in Aikikai dojos from the era of the Founder, but have gradually fallen into disuse in contemporary aikido.

A note on the two people in the background. Most of you will recognize the Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Founder’s son, but do you know who the thick gentleman to the left is? He was a famous politician named Sunao Sonoda who was, at that time, Japan’s Minister of Health and Welfare. Sonoda later became the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Fukuda cabinet. He was one of Morihei’s staunchest supporters in the postwar era, and was on the Board of Directors of the Aikikai for many years.


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  1. Ah . . . but what do we see? Mr. Sonoda is assiduously following the example of Ueshiba Morihei in a stretch unfamiliar to many and reproduced by few. And what of Ueshiba’s son Kisshomaru? He appears to be “warming up” as well, but not following his father’s lead. He appears to be performing a “warm up stretch” that is certainly familiar to many because it has been reproduced faithfully as part of “Aikido’s standard warm ups.” And what of Ueshiba Morihei? He seems to be unaware of both Mr. Sonoda’s earnest attempt at emulation and his son’s lack of the same. Rather he seems to be in an individual space unto himself.

    They say a picture speaks a thousand words. There are 108 above . . .

    • Allen!!!, so very well said.
      Most people do not want to lear, they just want to do what is easy. Also, most instructors (and students) are not willing to put the work in that is required to be strong and flexible.

      your 108 are perfect and to the point.

  2. Well, mine is probably a case of 108 of my words making a point, and 892 other words pointing back at me! (At least that seems to be the norm of my point making practice. I struggle to make myself clear pointing out the splinter in another’s eye due to the log jamb in my own!

    As for your words:

    ” . . . most instructors (and students) are not willing to put the work in that is required to be strong and flexible.”

    Ouch! Wish THAT “shoe” didn’t seem to fit my mind/body as well is it seems to. Always feels like I should be doing more, better. Oh well, in the words of O-sensei, “This old man has to train, and train, . . .” or words to that effect.

    Thanks for the positivity.

  3. This is a wonderful photograph. It is difficult to persuade many students of the importance of working on and maintaining their flexibility so this photo is inspirational. Please may we see the others.

  4. I know that Tamura sensei was using these warm up exercises. I was surprised when Ellis Amdur talked about them and then seeing them in the list of the Jumbi-dosa. I even found in dojo of Portland,Or, a magazine dealing with them. It was showing things as furitama.
    It’s also true that in the dojo I’m training in, we do not practice them at all, even though our instructor is a former uchi deshi of Tamura. The torifune undo is practiced as part of the hitori waza of the Ki Society under the name of funekogi undo, maybe the others are also hidden in these hitori waza under different names.
    I also heard that people doing Aikitaiso still practice these exercises.

  5. On one hand there is the subject of what solo exercises (if any) are performed. (Many groups, probably the majority, perform some kind of solo exercises or “warm-ups.”) On the other hand, there is the subject of the purpose (the why) and therefore performance (the how) of those solo exercises. Then there is the question of whether, or not, the purpose and performance of those solo exercises are actually being achieved and how this is to be evaluated.

  6. Of course the photograph is just that, a photograph. As illustrated by Stan’s written framing, one’s particular background and knowledge base and experiential history influences what one “sees” upon observation.

    • Great photo and I wonder was this a session specifically for the health minister or is this what O Sensei generally did when teaching?

      Does any one know if yoga exercises were being used in Aikido warm ups or otherwise back then and even now and I wonder what the connection is?

      • This was a normal training session and how the Founder would normally lead the class. Some of O-Sensei’s warmups draw upon makko-ho exercises which were influenced by yoga.

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