Feb
09

“Memoir of the Master,” by Morihei Ueshiba with commentary by Stanley Pranin

“I want considerate people to listen to the voice of Aikido. It is
not for correcting others; it is for correcting your own mind”

One of the first aikido books published in English appeared in 1963. It was authored by Morihei Ueshiba’s son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, who later became the Second Doshu. This book contained a short section titled “Memoir of the Master.” It is a collection of aphorisms attributed to Morihei that encapsulates the essence and principles of Aikido.

The text of “Memoir of the Master” was very influential among early aikidoka, being widely disseminated in the aikido community, and translated into many different languages. I recall a small printed booklet available in some aikido dojos that contained the “Memoir of the Master” text. Like my fellow practitioners, I read these maxims over and over again. They formed the basis of my early understanding of the philosophical principles underlying aikido.

I ran across the text again recently and slowly re-read the passages. Now, nearly 50 years later, I find that the impact of “Memoir of the Master” has not been diminished with time. With a lifetime of experiences behind me, I have a different level of understanding, but remain in total awe of the innovative thinking of the Founder.

I would like to share these wonderful passages to readers who may be encountering them for the first time. I have added some thoughts of my own which appear italicized in the text.


As ai (harmony) is common with ai (love), I decided to name my unique budo “Aikido,” although the word “aiki” is an old one. The word which was used by the warriors in the past is fundamentally different from that of mine.

Although Morihei did not actually choose the name “Aikido,” he embraced its use after the name was selected. He would refer to his art mostly as “Aiki” in conversation. The key distinction here is that Morihei was using the term in a different sense than that employed historically in a martial arts context. The older meaning of “aiki” relates to tactical matters of neutralizing and controling an opponent. Morihei expands the meaning of “aiki” to include a loving and harmonious mindset in applying Aikido’s techniques. This is an innovative concept.

Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.

This speaks to the deeper ethical dimension of aikido as much more than a martial art. It has a higher purpose that goes beyond physical training, and seeks to instill a higher purpose in aikido practitioners. In this sense, Morihei was surely influenced by the thinking of Onisaburo Deguchi who had visions of the Omoto religion having a grandiose role on the world stage as a unifying and transformational movement.

The secret of Aikido is to harmonize ourselves with the movement of the universe and bring ourselves into accord with the universe itself. He who has gained the secret of Aikido has the universe in himself and can say, “I am the universe.” I am never defeated, however fast the enemy may attack. It is not because my technique is faster than that of the enemy. It is not a question of speed. The fight is finished before it is begun.

A powerful concept. The fight is finished before it begins! How often do we entertain this idea while training on the mat? Nor is it a matter of speed; rather, it is a matter of harmonizing one’s spirit with that of the opponent to eliminate the possibility of dissension.

When an enemy tries to fight with me, the universe itself, he has to break the harmony of the universe. Hence at the moment he has the mind to fight with me, he is already defeated. There exists no measure of time — fast or slow.

A fighting mind leads to the destruction of the perpetrator. The reason is that one opposes universal ki energy and nature herself.

Aikido is non-resistance. As it is non-resistant, it is always victorious.

So simple, and yet so profound! One who does not resist, or compete, cannot be defeated as he refuses to enter the realm of contention.

Those who have a warped mind, a mind of discord, have been defeated from the beginning.

Those with a “fighting mind” have doomed themselves to defeat through their discordant minds. This is true in a physical and spiritual sense.

Then, how can you straighten your warped mind, purify your heart, and be harmonized with the activities of all things in Nature? You should first make the kami’s heart yours. It is a Great love, omnipresent in all quarters and in all times of the universe.

We should “straighten out” our thinking, seek out harmony in our lives. The ki of the Universe is filled with a great love, a feeling of compassion.

There is no discord in love. There is no enemy of love. A mind of discord, thinking of the existence of an enemy is no more consistent with the will of the kami.

Those who do not agree with this cannot be in harmony with the universe. Their budo is that of destruction. It is not constructive budo.

Martial techniques used to oppose an enemy will invariably lead to destruction. One suspects that these statements are an allusion to the prewar thinking of Japan that led the nation on a path to destruction through warfare.

Therefore to compete in techniques, winning and losing, is not true budo. True budo knows no defeat. “Never defeated” means “never fighting.”

This can be regarded as a commentary on the attempt to convert Aikido into a competitive sport as a distortion of the art’s true purpose. Those who use Aikido’s physical techniques in competitive displays are overlooking the true goals of the art as envisioned by Morihei.

Winning means winning over the mind of discord in yourself. It is to accomplish your bestowed mission.

The true challenge in Aikido training is an internal battle with one’s self to surmount dualistic thinking. This is a hurdle that must be overcome to attain the higher levels of Aikido.

This is not mere theory. You practice it. Then you will accept the great power of oneness with Nature.

Training in the dojo and living one’s life actively as a seeker of truth are required.

Don’t look at the opponent’s eyes, or your mind will be drawn into his eyes. Don’t look at his sword, or you will be slain with his sword. Don’t look at him, or your spirit will be distracted. True budo is the cultivation of attraction with which to draw the whole opponent to you. All I have to do is keep standing this way.

These comments allude to the proper mental state when practicing techniques and when living life. “Cultivation of attraction” refers to the ability to harmonize with one’s opponent on a psychic level so as to not to be captured by his discordant mind.

Even standing with my back toward the opponent is enough. When he attacks, hitting, he will injure himself with his own intention to hit. I am one with the universe and I am nothing else. When I stand, he will be drawn to me. There is no time and space before Ueshiba of Aikido — only the universe as it is.

A viewing of some of Morihei’s early films suggests that he was capable of enveloping himself in an energy field that protected his body. The attacker’s injurious intent rebounds against him causing self-harm.

There is no enemy for Ueshiba of Aikido. You are mistaken if you think that budo means to have opponents and enemies and to be strong and fell them. There are neither opponents nor enemies for true budo. True budo is to be one with the universe; that is to be united with the Center of the universe.

In Morihei’s thinking, it is mistaken to use Aikido techniques to overcome opponents, be it in a sporting venue, or on the field of battle. The essence of Aikido involves not thinking or acting to compete with or overcome an opponent, but to go beyond such actions which result in discord and destruction.

A mind to serve for the peace of all human beings in the world is needed in Aikido, and not the mind of one who wishes to be strong or who practices only to fell an opponent.

This speaks to Morihei’s exhortation to all practitioners to become conscious of the art’s higher purpose, and use the discipline and skills of Aikido in a socially beneficial manner.

When anybody asks is my Aiki budo principles are taken from religion, I say “No.” My true budo principles enlighten religions and lead them to completion.

Though himself a life-long practitioner of the Omoto religion who had wide contacts among religionists and spiritual seekers, Morihei took pains to separate the practice of Aikido from organized religion.


I am calm however and whenever I am attacked. I have no attachment to life or death. I leave everything as it is to the kami. Be apart from attachment to life and death and have a mind which leaves everything to Him, not only when you are being attacked but also in your daily lives.

Remaining calm under attack means not succumbing to fight or flight reflexes or conscious thinking processes. This serene mental and physical state also serves one well in one’s daily life.

True budo is a work of love. It is a work of giving life to all beings, and not killing or struggling with each other. Love is the guardian deity of everything. Nothing can exist without it. Aikido is the realization of love.

How is Aikido translated to this “work of love” in a practical, everyday sense? This is the path of discovery that we follow throughout our lifetime of training.

I do not make a companion of men. Whom, then, do I make a companion of? The kami. This world is not going well because people make companions of each other, saying and doing foolish things. Good and evil beings are all one united family in the world. Aikido leaves out any attachment. Aikido does not call relative affairs good or evil. Aikido keeps all beings in constant growth and development and serves for the completion of the universe.

Morihei was deeply religious. He put tremendous time and energy into prayerful activity on a daily basis. Even Aikido practice itself was a form of purification and prayer. He could at times be heard in conversation with Shinto deities when no one was present.

In Aikido we control the opponent’s mind before we face him. That is how we draw him into ourselves. We go forward in life with this attraction of our spirit, and attempt to command a whole view of the world. We ceaselessly pray that fights do not occur. For this reason we strictly prohibit matches in Aikido. Aikido’s spirit is that of loving attack and that of peaceful reconciliation. In this aim we bring and unite the opponents with the will power of love. By love we are able to purify others.

A very important passage… We “control the opponent’s mind” prior to physical contact. This concept is key to avoiding succumbing to a mind of dissension. We do not compete nor allow our opponent to do so. This is achieved through control of his mind before the encounter. This is a very high level of thinking. For this reason, matches are strictly prohibited. If one adheres to the principles espoused by Morihei, then competition is not part of aikido training.

Understand Aikido first as budo and then as the way of service to construct the World Family. Aikido is not for a single country or anyone in particular. Its only purpose is to perform the work of the kami.

First, we must develop ourselves in a martial sense. We must develop a strong body, steely mind, excellent technique, and strategic thinking. Then we may use Aikido as a way of service. Aikido, though born in Japan, is meant for peoples everywhere and does not belong to anyone or organization.

True budo is the loving protection of all beings with a spirit of reconciliation. Reconciliation means to allow the completion of everyone’s mission.

Again, very deep thinking here. Reconciliation allows those in our orbit to complete their mission. One is reminded of Shoji Nishio’s concept of “Yurusu Budo,” that is, Aikido as a martial art of forgiveness.

The “Way” means to be one with the will of the kami and practice it. If we are even slightly apart from it, it is no longer the Way.

We must be ever conscious of our link with universal ki.

We can say that Aikido is a way to sweep away devils with the sincerity of our breath instead of a sword. That is to say, to turn the devil-minded world into the World of Spirit. This is the mission of Aikido.

The devil-mind will go down in defeat and the Spirit rise up in victory. Then Aikido will bear fruit in this world.

Aikido is a tool to sweep aside destructive forces through reshaping the “devil mind.” Aikido develops persons capable of achieving actual results through the power of their training.

Without budo a nation goes to ruin, because budo is the life of loving protection and is the source of the activities of science.

All nations must cultivate an enlightened citizenry capable of defending liberty and property by neutralizing an enemy’s intent and actions. This is a true act of love.

Those who seek to study Aikido should open their minds, listen to the sincerity of the kami through Aikido, and practice it. You should understand the great ablution of Aiki, practice it and improve without hinderance. Willingly begin the cultivation of your spirit.

Aikido training itself is misogi, or purification, of the self, and a lifelong pursuit.

I want considerate people to listen to the voice of Aikido. It is not for correcting others; it is for correcting your own mind. This is Aikido. This is the mission of Aikido and should be your mission.

Words of admonition to the low-level, discordant thinkers that lead nations, command armies, and manipulate our economies.

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Comments

  1. Many thanks!

    • These sentences have being here and there always present in Aiki News(aikido Journal), contents along the years.
      .
      I would like to add that each interpretation varies according to the individual and the time.

      That is how I read your comments, Stanley.

      They express your own evolution in the Aiki vision of Morihei Ueshiba.

      Interpretations of ideas follows the same pattern with what happens with techniques.
      Each one has his own truth.

      Probably if O Sensei would be alive he would be say things a little different now.

      That is why it is ok to argue with others with those that accepts the debate , as a mutual improvement and not a duel to see who has the truth and be superior.

      That is why it is also a mistake to judge others about what they think in terms of right or wrong and it is so important to respect and reflect about.

      Making enemies is really a stupid thing after all, in Budo terms, they are they are our partners in the mat of Life. It is all a matter of Love, not of hate.

      Respecting the individual own moment and share the differences as a tool for mutual polishing is the strategy of the Way..

      Who really has the Truth??

      One can imagine that a ideal being would have, so they are called Kami.

      But even in the Japanese mind, kami also make mistakes according to personal judgements.

      The Kojiki is full of stories to check this reality starting from Amaterasu when she was so curious about Ame No Usume no Kami kagura dance that did not noticed that the rock would close to avoid her returning to the cave and let the sun shine the world. If she was distracted….she was not seeing the whole truth.

      Now if the Kami , make mistakes in the interpretation of the reality what it is left for us poor mortals……?????
      Just doing exercises to evolute toward the reality…this is my present view about Aikido training reason.

      Thank you for publishing this matter once more, it made me recall that that my own past interpretations of those sayings also changed along the years and think about many stupid things I did because of that.

      But at the same time, I see that there was not other way, when one heart is not pure, he only can learn getting envolved in conflicts that will after polishes one impurities.

      Maybe that is why to practice Aikido one must attack as uke, even when the principles of the art states that those that attack are immidiatelly defeated.

      It is attacking that the blind man experiences suffering and recovers time by time his lost vision

      Go, on..go on…Stanley

      Wagner Bull

  2. Tom Collings says:

    Thank you Stan for taking the time to share your study of the Founder’s wonderful words. These words are rich with meaning, so many shades and levels of meaning can be seen. Recently I have been struck by how often here and in other talks O’Sensei refers to the “cultivation of attraction”….”drawing him to me”….”drawing him into me.” While his words convey spiritual and philosophical ideas I believe the tactical teaching in his comments is less obvious and often ignored.

    When a predator attacks – the time, place, and (planned) method of the attack is chosen by the attacker.
    All three dimensions of the encounter are under his control. This leaves the defender at a significant disadvantage, regardless of skill or training. In real world violence things often happen suddenly and can go from bad to worse fast. By moving left, or right or forward with atemi – rather than waiting (passively) to see what is going to happen we alter the interaction unexpectedly for the attacker, even if slightly, to a time and place of OUR choosing. When the aggressor must alter his attack to react to us, his timing and balance is compromised, and aikido techniques seem to work more easily.

    This feeling is one of taking control early rather than a feeling of “defending” against something. While it sounds aggressive, it does not feel violent to me when practiced or on the few occasions when performed outside the dojo. Can aikido be assertive, yet not violent, I think the Founder is saying it can. By taking control of the situation early, can greater violence be prevented? Perhaps it can.

    Moving early, or first, is also the only way I have found (outside the choreography of the dojo) to avoid relying on speed, which the Founder implores us not to rely on.

  3. RE: A viewing of some of Morihei’s early films suggests that he was capable of enveloping himself in an energy field that protected his body. The attacker’s injurious intent rebounds against him causing self-harm.

    I did see a video on line of O Sensei at a demo where a strong young attacker was smashed in mid attack and thrown back several feet. It appeared that O Sensei defended himself with some kind of whole body wave movement I’ve only in cartoons or fantasy movies.

  4. Jesse Kozlowski says:

    Stan,

    Thanks very much for sharing this.

    Jesse

  5. Anthony Wilkes says:

    Really loved reading the above passages! Just wondering if these words have been reprinted in any books since the original 1963 release? I’d love to get my hands on a copy of this book. Any help would be appreciated.

  6. With the overwhelming amount of school age kids hurting themselves due to bullying it is sad that Terry Dobson is no longer with us. As a veteran teacher I see the bully experts come in and perform at a assembly. Many of them are charismatic public speakers for 50 minutes. As the adult left behind, I see how they make no significant changes. in a time when so many kids are hurting and killing themselves the founders words are as important as ever.