Jul
10

“I just looked at the Wikipedia entry on “Aikido” and here is what I found…” by Stanley Pranin

wikipedia-aikido

“It was those who came after him, especially Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei who deemphasized these areas. It’s all backwards here!”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninI was just wondering recently what the article on aikido in Wikipedia looked like these days. Many years ago when Wikipedia was just starting, I made a few contributions to their aikido entry, but stopped participating due to lack of time. These days, I try to check it occasionally to see if I think this wonderful resource does justice to the subject.

In looking at the entry today, I find that the introductory paragraphs are well done and do a good job of capturing the essence of the art in four short paragraphs.

Further down, in the discussion of the etymology of “aikido,” “Way of combining forces” is given as a literal translation of ai-ki-do. I would take issue with this and suggest “Way of energy-matching,” or something similar, if I would like to be literal. “Force” is not a good choice to translate “ki.”

Similarly, the discussion of the term “aiki” is very superficial and really attempts to describe how the word is used in an aikido context, rather than in martial arts in general as is stated in the article. The subject of aiki is very complex and the term has had different meanings in different martial traditions.

Continuing, the meaning of “Osensei” is explained using my definition of the term from the “Encyclopedia of Aikido” as a reference. You will find a lot of information on all aspects of the art if you consult this work.

In the “Initial development” subsection, the entry describes the martial influences on Morihei Ueshiba in the creation of his art. Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu is mentioned as the “core martial art” from which aikido derives. This is correct and is at odds with the view espoused by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Morihei’s son, in his many books where he portrays Daito-ryu as one of several technical influences on modern aikido. This is also the position of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. Further, a long-standing and recurring error in Kisshomaru’s books that mentions Morihei’s study of Kito-ryu jujutsu, rather than Tenjin Shinyo-ryu jujutsu, has been corrected. Good job, Wikipedia!

Next, Wikipedia states “aikido derives much of its technical structure from the art of swordsmanship.” I think that this subtly suggests that the study of the sword (ken) and other weapons has an important place in aikido training, which was certainly Morihei’s view. The Aikikai Hombu Dojo states that weapons are instead auxiliary to taijutsu training, the latter forming the core of aikido techniques. I think Aikido Journal’s research and publications have heavily influenced the discussion of this very important topic.

The section where Morihei’s training and association with Sokaku Takeda in described mentions an end date of 1937 using John Stevens’ “Aikido: The Way of Harmony” as the source. This date was taken from one of my articles and I’ll bet no one can state why this year is given. I didn’t mention the document on which I based this, but will in due course. Kisshomaru would never acknowledge such a late date.

Wikipedia states that it is unclear when Ueshiba began using the name “aikido.” This is incorrect. My Encyclopedia entry is used as a reference and clearly states that the year is 1942. Interested readers can start with my interview of Minoru Hirai for background information.

The paragraph on “Religious influences” is very superficial and needs a lot of work. It is one of the most important subjects relating to Morihei’s martial odyssey. The sentence “the connection with [Onisaburo] Deguchi gave Ueshiba entry to elite political and military circles as a martial artist” is an observation I have made for many years, and I believe Aikido Journal is the original source of this view although a difference reference is given.

The “independent organizations” section is a mess and needs to be entirely rewritten! It is clear to me that the editors whose submissions were used here did not have a good grasp of the subject. You will find accurate information on Aikido Journal if you would like to explore a particular topic in depth. I should probably do an article on this at some stage.

I found the “Training” section to be pretty well rounded. One observation I have is that the term “Shodokan Aikido” is used here and in a couple of places in the article. This term is seldom used or understood in the aikido world. “Tomiki Aikido” is most frequently employed and universally understood.

The section on “Criticisms” is very interesting to me as a historian. I could tell immediately when I read it that Professor Fumiaki Shishida was one of the sources used. The use of “Shodokan Aikido” is a dead giveaway. Prof. Shishida is a full professor at Waseda University, one of Japan’s most prestigious universities. He has written many of the texts on aikido appearing in various martial arts encyclopedias and reference works, both in Japanese and English. His research is top notch and I respect him very much, but he has a tendency to give almost equal weight to “Shodokan Aikido” (Tomiki Aikido) compared to the mainline style of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in his writings. This is misleading in the sense that the Tomiki style is one of the smaller groups existing in the aikido world and probably accounts for less than five percent of all practitioners. Keep this in mind because you will run in to this tendency from time to time.

The following paragraph references an editorial I wrote many years ago:

“Another criticism is that after the end of Ueshiba’s seclusion in Iwama from 1942 to the mid 1950s, he increasingly emphasized the spiritual and philosophical aspects of aikido. As a result, strikes to vital points by nage, entering (irimi) and initiation of techniques by nage, the distinction between omote (front side) and ura (back side) techniques, and the practice of weapons, were all deemphasized or eliminated from practice. Lack of training in these areas is thought to lead to an overall loss of effectiveness by some aikido practitioners.[45]”

The editor confused my main point which was critical of what I regard as deficiences in modern aikido practice attributing this to Morihei’s seclusion in Iwama after the war. Not so. Morihei’s aikido had and continued to have all of these “missing parts.” It was those who came after him, especially Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei who deemphasized these areas. It’s all backwards here!

I have no quibbles with the remaining sections on “ki” and “uniforms.”

I counted some 18 references to articles that I have written over the years, and several other attributions to material appearing in Aiki News / Aikido Journal. It is clear that our studies and publications have had a major impact on all areas of aikido research. If you want to understood more clearly what I mean, try to locate an early description of aikido from the 1960s or 70s and you will see how they are vastly different.

Obviously, Wikipedia is a work in progress. I really consider it one of the most important references in the world and I consult it daily. I should probably spend the time to contribute what I think are needed improvements on aikido-related entries. I hope to get around to it someday!

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October 5-6, 2013: Weekend Seminar with Stanley Pranin in Las Vegas!

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Comments

  1. …When I was starting, there was a place called The Whole Earth Access Company. It had a computer terminal attached to a data base that included information on martial arts. As I recall the aikido entry went something like, “Aikido is hard to explain, but fighting an aikido student can be frustrating…” ;-)

  2. Joe Peterson says:

    “Obviously, Wikipedia is a work in progress.” Sadly, it will always be in my opinion. As I have said before, there is a multitude of misinformation on Aikido. Aikido is probably the most misrepresented and understood art. There is so many influential people have different takes and interpretations on Aikido who make them public influencing so many people becoming seen as fact. The only thing more complicated in this sense is Christianity. Therefore, any information on Aikido true or false will always have someone taking issue with it. I have often thought the cliche of K.I.S.S (keep it simple Stan) best applies to any historical information on Aikido. Good luck!

  3. David Soroko says:

    Honestly, go and fix that article, just go and do it, provide links to whatever sources you see fit. Revisit it after a month and fix it again if needed.

    That content has more visibility than anything else including this website.

    • We’ll see…

    • I am with David – but not just you, Stanley, but every contributor to your blog and every expert practitioner. “Work in Progress” is the nature of Wikipedia, not its failing. It is up to “experts” of every stripe to contribute and to make clear the perspective from which they contribute. I am far from an expert (still a kyu grade) so exempt myself from the task for a good few years.

      But David is right, Wikipedia will be the place interested people will go to first to learn about Aikido; whether because they are researching essays, following up on curiosity, or – critically for us – because they are contemplating giving it a try. These curious souls deserve the best information to help them, including good guidance on whether Aikido is the right practice for them and how it compares with other arts, and, if it is, on how the various schools differ and what the different styles emphasise and de-emphasise.

    • David – agreed. The whole world looks at Wikipedia. A small fraction of aikido has the pleasure and privilege of enjoying Aikido Journal. Wikipedia is intended to be a work in progress. In that sense it is more like a dictionary. Therefore, like a dictionary, things can change over time. That is not a good thing when it comes to history.

  4. Dear Sensei,

    It reminded me the Isshinryu karate story. The first generation practitioners of Isshinryu karate have continued to criticize the son and son-in-law of the Isshinryu Founder. They argue that they had learned the true art of Isshinryu karate and the Founder’s son and son-in-law were young or not interested in karate at that time period. Isshinryu karate is the fairly young karate style that had been developed and formulated around 1940-1950 and like many other young martial arts it has evolved with time. Thus people practiced during a specific time were taught differently with people were taught in the later time. I watched technique execution of Sensei Saito’s son and recognized that his techniques are different from Sensei Saito. Today ukes are also different from early time ukes in terms of size, previous martial art skills and mentality.
    Thanks for posting.

    Regards,
    Nga Pham

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