Archives for May 2012


An Epic Story: “Morihei Ueshiba and the Omoto Religion,” by Stanley Pranin

“Onisaburo Deguchi publically criticized Japan’s leaders accusing them of the misuse of the imperial system to further its aims..”

Onisaburo Deguchi, c. 1920

Aikido is known internationally as one of Japan’s modern martial arts enjoying a reputation as a unique, ethically-based self-defense discipline. The Omoto sect was one of the most significant of the so-called “new religions” of Japan in the early part of the 20th century. At the height of its influence in 1935, it had nearly two million adherents before its brutal suppression at the hands of the existing military government. While Aikido and Omoto are not normally associated together in the public’s mind, there exists an inseparable link between the two due to the close personal bond between their two central figures, Morihei Ueshiba and Onisaburo Deguchi.

Morihei Ueshiba was a devoted disciple of Onisaburo Deguchi and long-time member of the Omoto Sect. Onisaburo—a towering figure in Japanese society in the first half of the 20th century—was Morihei’s spiritual mentor. His teachings and consistent support of Ueshiba were key factors in the latter’s development of aikido. The characters of these two giant figures are a study in contrasts. Moreover, it is fascinating to ponder aikido and Omoto as twin cultural phenomena and understand why aikido continues to spread worldwide while the dynamic appeal of Omoto of the prewar years has waned.

Omoto Overview

For those unfamiliar with the Omoto religious sect, I would like to provide a brief overview. The Omoto religion is a product of the combined efforts of two charismatic figures, one an illiterate peasant woman named Nao Deguchi (1837-1918), and the other, a flamboyant genius, Onisaburo Deguchi (1871-1948), under whose guidance the sect was propelled into national promience before its suppression in 1935.

Nao Deguchi led a destitute and tragic life losing her husband and several of her children at an early age. She was a devotee of the new religion of Konkokyo that worshiped a folk god named Konjin. In 1896, at the age of 56, pushed to the brink of despair by a life of unspeakable misery, Nao entered into a trance state lasting about two weeks. She was reported to have been possessed by a benevolent spirit who preceded all other gods in origin, power and universality.

Although illiterate, Nao began to take dictation from this sublime spirit in a script she herself was unable to read. Her character, especially after the initial trance experience, became extremely bizarre and she was confined to her room as a lunatic.

Nao’s writings proved full of revelations concerning the spirit world and contained a continuous stream of social criticism. Mankind was urged to mend its ways and create new structures of social justice while developing a new value system. Moreover, her vision was based on a universal God who regarded all human beings as equals. This ideal was, naturally, in conflict with state Shinto which placed the imperial family at the center of worship and revered the Emperor as the highest god.

Nao Deguchi, 1837-1918

Nao had begun to gather quite a local following in and around Kyoto, when in 1898, Onisaburo Deguchi appeared on the scene. Born Kisaburo Ueda, Onisaburo was an autodidact with a keen interest in shamanism who also had a series of trance experiences during which it was revealed that he had a spiritual mission to fulfill as a savior of mankind. Onisaburo was extremely intelligent, very eloquent and given towards flamboyant behavior.

Onisaburo married Nao’s daughter, Sumiko, in 1900, and the two joined forces in spreading the faith. They were remarkably successful in the early 1900s through their proselitizing and publishing activities and built a powerful nationwide network by the time Nao died in 1918.

Omoto’s overwhelming success proved its undoing as it became a constant source of irritation to the Japanese government. The heart of the matter was the universalist and humanistic approach of Omoto teachings which regarded all human beings as brothers and equals and which stood in stark contrast to the ultra nationalistic stance of the prevailing imperial establishment which imposed its view of Japan as the “land of the gods” on the nation. The Omoto was attacked and repressed by police troops in the so-called “Omoto Incidents” of 1921 and 1935 with Onisaburo and many sect leaders being tried and imprisoned….

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“Aiki Rehab,” by Nev Sagiba

There is no doubt that the movements of Aikido torque the joint differently and more fully than clumsy, crude movements of the unconcerned.

There can no doubt also that a little bit of something is better than a lot of nothing.

The more recent obsession with an excess of “taking ukemi,” only one way of testing efficaciousness, in this case that of kuzushi only, seems to have swamped the other benefits of Aikido training.

Another thing all but forgotten, in the wake of nonsensical excuse making philosophies, is the hard fact that the progenitors of Aikido, including the Founder himself, the main focus was on that of surviving extreme violence, above all else.

If one trains honestly on this basis, the fringe benefits are many. Dishonestly practiced these remain a mere wish which will remain unrequited and out of reach.

Practice focusing on precision, within natural limits, without invoking extreme action can trigger natural healing restoration from conditions which otherwise tend to cause the decay of mind and body sometimes referred to as ageing.

I would go as far as to suggest, that it may, over time, to some extent, influence stem cell behaviour in a beneficial way. If even in the least, but not insignificant measure.

The number of people who do not train fully as combat, but rather as a partner yoga/dance without ukemi, despite injuries, ill health and disease and show remarkable levels of recovery would indicate that the worth of Aikido, whilst superlative as combat once properly understood, in fact goes beyond this.

Many have so restored themselves as a result that over time, they became able to eventually embrace a more fuller and complete level of training.

This impressive array of recoveries and personal transformations, speaks for itself. Considered “anecdotal” only because no sufficient research has been mounted, the relevant individuals need no convincing.

Aikido is an art for healing body, mind, psyche and society. It also teaches to convert your disadvantages into advantage and maximize human potential.

Still, Aikido is more than “self-defence.” It is also an intense yoga that triggers many potentials other bodywork only does in part. Aikido’s interactional bodywork such is play fighting among friends, which when consistently practised, can contain a rather complete spectrum of physical training possibilities including; elements of free movement, can be aerobic and cardiovascular as well as anaerobic, incorporates some elements of resistance training (isotonic and isometric) and constantly deals with variable and unexpected dynamics each movement (kinetics and isokinetics), includes retro-gravity negative resistance, plyometic exercise and as well as developing muscle synergy, flexibility and muscle tone, speed of body to eye co-ordination, equilibrium and adaptivity. This must have physical health benefits. But importantly, we also work with the body-mind connection or chi/ki and thereby rediscover our innate potentials over time.

At whatever level or intensity you can practice, Aikido contributes to making a human being whole.

Nev Sagiba


Screencast: Focus on History — “Morihei Ueshiba’s Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Teaching Certification,” by Stanley Pranin

The Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu "kyoju dairi" teaching certification awarded to Morihei Ueshiba by Sokaku Takeda

“At the Center of the Rift between Morihei and Sokaku Takeda”

This is the first of a series of screencasts titled “Focus on History” by Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin. This video provides detailed information on the “kyoju dairi,” or teaching certification, awarded to Morihei Ueshiba by Sokaku Takeda in Ayabe in 1922. This award was made during a six-month long visit of Sokaku to Morihei’s “Ueshiba Juku” located near the headquarters of the Omoto religion.

The actual photo of the kyoju dairi entry in Sokaku Takeda’s eimeiroku (enrollment book) is shown and explained. The nature of the conditions imposed on Morihei as a certified Daito-ryu instructor, and the vagueness of the financial arrangement specified was a major cause of the eventual split between the two men dramatically altering the course of aikido history.

Duration: 10:47 minutes
Access: free

Click here to view the free video about the teaching certification that Morihei Ueshiba received from Sokaku Takeda


“Aikido and Injuries: Special Report,” by Fumiaki Shishida

“Brutality and death in aikido dojos in Japan”

Editor’s comment: This article was originally published in Aiki News back in 1989. On a recent trip to Japan, I had an opportunity to meet again with Professor Shishida. The subject of injuries and deaths in aikido again arose in our conversation and I was appalled to learn that the type of incident described in this article has continued unabated in subsequent years resulting in more aikido-related deaths. In one extreme case, Professor Shishida related that two deaths occurred at the same university within a relatively short time span. He also mentioned that despite the fact that parents of the victims have sued the concerned universities on various occasions, the courts have consistently found the schools blameless. I feel this situation is intolerable and would encourage readers to post their comments on the Aikido Journal bulletin board with an eye toward exposing this horrible situation in the hope that even a single life might be saved!

This section of the complete thesis was printed in the Nihon Budo Gakkai Gakujutsushi. (Scientific Journal of Japanese Martial Arts Studies) was published in Volume 21, No. 1, 1988. The bibliography has been omitted.

Professor Fumiaki Shishida

Chapter Two: Cases of Serious Accidents Resulting in Death and Serious Injury

The cases contained in the documents in Chapter 1 and other materials and testimonies offered by the individuals in question such as alumni who responded to my requests for data are listed in the table included. I chose to reproduce all information in cases where data was limited and attempted to select information for its instructional value in those cases where space limitations caused me to omit details where the data was ample. I have omitted the names of the victims and universities in consideration of the persons involved. I have assigned numbers to the cases according to the date of occurrence of the accident.

III. Proposals for Countermeasures for the Prevention of Serious Accidents

(1) Recognition of Danger—Inherent Characteristics of Kata Practice Method: In aikido in general, a training method is adopted where the uke (person taking the fall) and tori (person throwing) practice a predetermined technique. This kata method was also adopted by the Japan Aikido Association which employes the randori method in competition. The method appears to be safer than the randori method used in judo since it requires less physical contact even though methods of kata practice differ slightly depending on the school. What about the case of aikido?

First, I would like to mention the fact that out of the cases of serious accidents in the chart of Chapter 2, all except 3 and 4 occurred in sport clubs affiliated with aikido schools which do not practice the competitive randori method. The schools involved in cases 3 and 4 are not known because of a scarcity of documentation. This writer who has experience in both the Association kata and randori method considered that the randori method was much more dangerous than the kata method. Hence, I was extremely surprised by the nature of accidents cited.

Why are most of the victims physically weak such as university freshmen or sophomores or female students? Why weren’t the senior students or leaders able to prevent the accidents? Naturally, we must seek the reasons in the descriptions of the accidents. However, I believe that there is a common cause to the accidents in all 11 cases. Therefore, I wish to point out the inherent danger of the kata method of practice which is a conclusion I have arrived at as a result of an examination of the cases….

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Morihiro Saito: Takemusu Aikido, Volume 5 — Bukidori & Ninindori, now an ebook!

“Rarely taught, advanced weapons and empty-handed
techniques for the serious aikido student.”

This volume entitled Takemusu Aikido: Bukidori & Ninindori is the fifth of the comprehensive series by Morihiro Saito presenting the aikido techniques of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. Volume 5 covers the following series of techniques: tachidori, jodori, jonage, tankendori and ninindori. This work is profusely illustrated with more than 450 photos and includes detailed, step-by-step explanations and commentary on each technique.

The author, Morihiro Saito, is a 9th degree black belt and author of the highly acclaimed technical series, Traditional Aikido. Saito Sensei enrolled as a student of Founder Morihei Ueshiba in 1946. One of the art’s foremost technicians, he is the acknowledged authority on aikido weapons training. Saito Sensei operates Ueshiba’s private dojo in Iwama, Japan and serves as guardian of the Aiki Shrine. He has traveled extensively throughout the world teaching his comprehensive aikido training methods.

60 techniques: Tachidori (13 techniques), Jodori (13 techniques), Jonage (10 techniques), Tankendori (12 techniques), Ninindori (12 techniques)

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“An intimate glimpse of the Ueshiba and Saito Families in Iwama when Aikido was born”

“Morihiro Saito Celebrates 50 Years in Aikido, by Stanley Pranin.”

Prior to ceremony honoring 9th dan promotion

On May 4, 1996 a celebration was held in Iwama, Ibaragi Prefecture, to commemorate the 50 years Morihiro Saito of the Ibaragi Shuren Dojo has spent in aikido. Following opening remarks by Yoshimi Hanzawa Shihan, speeches were made by Aikikai Hombu Dojo-cho Moriteru Ueshiba, and the Mayor of Iwama who expressed thanks to Saito Shihan for his contributions to the town. After the presentation of gifts and flowers, Saito Shihan made an address (excerpts of which appear below) and donated funds for the welfare of the elderly in Iwama. A toast in which Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan of the International Aikido Federation called Saito “a modern-day Miyamoto Musashi” completed the ceremonies.

Some 400 people gathered to celebrate Saito Shihan’s half-century in aikido, including old-timers like Zenzaburo Akazawa and students from all over Japan. Numerous foreigners were also to be seen, offering a glimpse of the international character of Saito Shihan’s activities.

“One family created by the kami; one family created by aikido.”

Excerpts from Saito Sensei’s speech:

Thanks to my teacher, founder Morihei Ueshiba and his family, I have been able to come this far in aikido.

The past 50 years have included times of great enjoyment and of hardship. When I became a student of Ueshiba Sensei back in 1946 there were already several uchideshi in the dojo. Many went on to become world-class teachers. They made me work hard, to be sure, but they also took good care of me.

Uchideshi life back then consisted of rising before the sun to pray, training, and eating two meals a day of rice porridge with sweet potato or taro. The rest of the time was spent working on the farm. Many of the old-timers here today no doubt helped O-Sensei with the farm work. He was always asking people to help, so being an uchideshi was pretty hard work. I myself had a job with the National Railroad, so every other day I got to slip away.

On wedding day, January 1952

The founder would act on things as soon as he thought of them without paying much attention to the convenience of other people or their households. He would just suddenly say, “Everybody come tomorrow, there’s threshing to be done!” Of course, everyone had other business to attend to, but somehow we all ended up putting in our time anyway. Eventually, though, the sempai stopped coming during the day and there was no one left. I went to the dojo whenever I got off my shift at the railroad, but no one would be there. The founder would be in the fields already. When I greeted him he would say, “Ah, you’ve come,” and then we would train together, just the two of us. He was very good to me in that way.

One day Ueshiba Sensei said, “Saito, get yourself a wife.” Fortunately, I ended up marrying Sata. I say fortunately because I wasn’t exactly a good catch as a husband, and I can’t think why anyone would want to marry her, either. Once we had settled on one another, Sensei said, “You can have the wedding in my house,” which we did. Soon afterward, however, he said, “You’re in charge of the place now,” and promptly left on a trip to the Kansai region. Well, I didn’t know what to do, so the next day I chased after him, following him all around Kansai asking him to come back. Because of that we never did get to go on a honeymoon.

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Click here to order Morihiro Saito's Lost Seminars Video Collection in downloadable format for $49.95


Morihiro Saito: Aiki Jo — Part 2, 31 jo kata kumijo and 10 kumijo

“Aiki Jo movements are an excellent complement
to empty-handed training in aikido.”

This is the second of two videos by Morihiro Saito covering all of the basics of the Aiki Jo curriculum as practiced in Iwama, Japan. These jo forms were compiled and refined by Saito Sensei based on his weapons training directly under Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. These videos were shot specifically for the serious practitioner interested in learning the Aiki Ken and Jo and include detailed explanations and different angle shots to facilitate understanding of important details.

The incredible flexibility of the Aiki Jo

The jo, being a bladeless weapon, can be used with either end as a striking and parrying instrument. It is normally somewhat over 50 inches in length and thus has a greater reach than a sword. Strikes can be executed with one or two hands leading to many possible combinations of applications. It is an adaptable weapon against multiple opponents. Given its flexibility, and Morihiro Saito formulated many different exercises and forms for practice based on the movements he was taught directly by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

Aiki Jo movements are an excellent complement to empty-handed training in aikido. By learning to handle a weapon with an entirely different effective range, practitioners can gain a deeper understanding of combative distance, striking, parrying, hipwork, etc.

Aiki Jo — Part 2 includes:

  • 31 jo kata kumijo – paired jo forms to that illustrate the application of the component parts of the 31-kata
  • 10 kumijo – a set of 10 paired jo kata of a more advanced level based on the Founder’s jo practice in Iwama

Japanese narration, complete English subtitles

Duration: 25:03
File size: 378 mb
Frame size: 720 x 480


Listen to O-Sensei’s actual voice: “After contests, you have a bad feeling whether you win or lose.”

“I engaged in contests… Afterwards, resentment always remains.
Then, you have a bad feeling, whether you win or lose.”

This video contains a fascinating interview of the Founder conducted about 1962 during which he is questioned about aikido. As was his custom, many of the Founder’s comments reflect his spiritual views and mention Japanese kami. This recording affords a rare chance to gain an intimate glimpse of the Founder’s warmth and personality.

You will hear the actual voice of Morihei Ueshiba as he talks about the circumstances of his birth, his daily routine, his enlightenment, his views of competition and war, his principle of non-resistance, and other subjects.

Morihei Ueshiba is the founder of aikido and was born in 1883. As a young man, he practiced a number of martial arts. Of these, the Daito-ryu jujutsu he learned from Sokaku Takeda was particularly important. Ueshiba was a very religious man and considered Onisaburo Deguchi, the co-founder of the Omoto religion, as his spiritual master. Morihei retired to the seclusion of the countryside during World War II, and continued to perfect his aikido. He was active spreading the art he created until shortly before his passing in 1969.

Excerpts from the interview:

When I entered the army I found little truth/sincerity. The goal is to always be victorious. The principle is to win at all costs. You must win the war, you cannot lose. Of course, it must be that way. The spirit of honor is the soldier’s spirit. Honor is a concept such that, if you have even a few enemies, you must kill many. This becomes a meritorious deed. Because of this everything leads to conflict…

English subtitles provided. A series of beautiful close-up photos of the Founder serve as the backdrop for the interview.

Price: $4.99
Duration: 14:24
File size: 108 mb
Frame size: 720 x 480


“The Pitbulls of Aikido,” by Autrelle Holland


“When pit bulls are given status as an instructor, or even a high dan ranking, they often serve the role of the enforcer. These enforcers pit bulls do just that – enforce.”

Every martial art has their champions. Shiro Saigo, a noted jujutsuka, championed Jigoro Kano’s efforts to validate judo as a viable martial art. Mas Oyama exerted superhuman efforts in his own quests to test the limits of his abilities of karate by fighting bulls. It seems that, in every martial art, the first generation of students under a noted master are always fighters. This is an interesting phenomenon that crops up whenever a teacher of unmatched skill crops up. These students, drawn to their teacher’s ability to really do martial arts in a manner that is both effective and artistic, become what I refer to as the pit bulls of the school. They are the ones that handle the challengers that visit the dojo. They are the ones chosen to represent the ryu in competitions. Often, these pit bulls are dispatched to spread the teachings of their particular school in foreign areas, since there is no fear that they will defeated in a contest.

Aikido has such pit bulls as well. One such person was sent to Okinawa to establish a dojo. Previous attempts were met with resistance from the local martial art schools. This particular person was able to demonstrate, beyond a doubt, that aikido was a viable martial art, able to hold its own against the other schools. Other examples include the number of stories of students and teachers that regularly used their training to full effect for self defense, security, law enforcement, and the military. These aikidoka are training, more or less, the same aikido that everyone else is, but they are getting, at the very least, the goods in terms of understanding martial application. The importance of these pit bulls is that they help establish the effectiveness of the techniques of their school. Putting such people in the limelight can only help the reputation of a school. After all, if they are teaching martial arts, then the best thing to showcase would be martial effectiveness, right?
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“Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda,” by Stanley Pranin

“In modern psychological terms the association between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda might be characterized as a “love-hate” relationship.”

Few individuals have so thoroughly investigated the origins of aikido as Aiki News’ own editor-in-chief Stanley Pranin. In this new series, originally written for publication in the Japanese-language magazine Wushu, Pranin recounts some of the highlights of aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba’s long career through his association with his teachers and leading students. This first installment focuses on the extremely significant but little understood relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and his teacher, Sokaku Takeda.

Let me begin by stating categorically that the major technical influence on the development of aikido is Daito-ryu jujutsu. This art, which is said to be the continuation of a martial tradition of the Aizu Clan dating back several hundred years, was propagated in many areas of Japan during the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods by the famous martial artist, Sokaku Takeda. Known equally for his martial prowess and severity of character, Takeda had used his skills in life-and-death encounters on more than one occasion.

Takeda was fifty-four years old when Morihei Ueshiba first met him at the Hisada Inn in Engaru, Hokkaido in late February 1915. This encounter marked the beginning of a long, stormy yet ultimately productive association between the two, which lasted for more than twenty years.

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“Points of Reference,” by Nev Sagiba

Ever changed room and forgot what it was you were thinking about? Have you ever then gone back to see if you could find your thought?

Sounds crazy but many people do.

Ever gone for an intense vacation, nature excursion or been to war then come home and found you could not find the “worries” you were so sure were your own? Where did they go? Or perhaps that they had multiplied? Where were they to start with?

What about your skills? Often someone who has practiced then gone fallow for years finds the skill as good, if not better than the day its practice was stopped.

Experienced this? Sleeping over away from home and walked into a wall when middle of the night you went to go to the loo where you expected a door to be?

The difference between habit and living awareness defines a warrior. Whereas any kind of uncreative drone, a slave to daily drudge imagines he’ll find safety by following orders, preferring not to think for himself or notice outside his peculiar box of illusions, the warrior questions everything, notices, thinks and exercises best practice initiative knowing where he stands right now! The warrior is awake, seeing into the three worlds whether awake or asleep. He is constantly getting to the bottom of things, leaving no stone unturned, pressing boundaries for uplift and improvement of life. He or she knows how to recapture bearings at each moment. It makes those still sleeping uncomfortable, as they too risk waking up.

Both require points of reference, but each uses them differently. One is merely habituated and institutionalized whereas the other, knowing with clarity where he is in the moment, exercises leverage to obtain a known result.
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How I saved my back: “My favorite yoga workout,” by Stanley Pranin

I wanted to share this excellent 30-minute yoga routine by Valerie Goodman of YogaRevelation. She is an excellent teacher and has an inspiring story of how she began yoga practice. This is a beginning-level routine, and gentle, yet thorough. I usually do this practice a couple of times a week in addition to my other yoga workouts. Enjoy!


On several occasions I have written of my struggles over the years with chronic back pain. At one point, I had nearly given up on overcoming my condition, and was resigned to living in constant pain. Then, about three years ago I began practicing yoga, and slowly things started to get better.

My flexibility, which was already pretty good because of decades of aikido training, began to improve almost immediately. I was pushing myself pretty hard in the beginning, but had to back off because I need to give my back more rest since the yoga sessions were fairly intense. After about a year, I noticed a real transformation had taken place. I was not completely free of pain, but the frequency and intensity of my discomfort had greatly diminished.

Click here to view the 30-minute yoga workout video