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.