“Aikido’s lost book treasures and what to do about them” by Stanley Pranin


“How do we keep our precious heritage of books from being lost?”

In the past few months, I have been pondering a phenomenon that I don’t think most people in the aikido world are aware of.

If you have been around in the art as long as I have, you will remember numerous technical books on aikido from the 1960s and 70s. With the exception of “Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere”, perhaps one or two volumes of Morihiro Saito’s “Takemusu Aiki” series from the early 70s, and a couple of early volumes of Gozo Shioda on Yoshinkan Aikido, I can’t think of any aikido technical manuals from that era that remain in print. You are lucky if you can pick up copies from rare book dealers and hundreds of dollars each.

Coincidentally in recent years, we have witnessed the death of large book chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble in the USA reflecting the fact the people are reading less and less. We have seen the same trend in book publication here at Aikido Journal. We no longer offer any more print versions of our titles. They remain, however, available as digital books in pdf form.

Nonetheless, many books have survived in digital formats that are read on hand-held devices like Kindles and tablets. These are not like traditional printed books because you can adjust font sizes, add notes, etc. In fact, the number of pages of books in such formats are variable depending on how they are set up by reader. But with the transition to these digital formats, there are some special problems, especially for technical manual and books with a lot of photos that are specifically laid out. The use of photos in digital books is normally limited because their presence can play havoc with the page format.

So getting back to aikido technical manuals, I can think of no way to adapt them to modern digital formats other than to scan each page as an image and stitch together everything as a pdf book. This is precisely what we have done to keep these books in print. Our current library of ebooks can be found here. Also, go over and take a look at Clark Bateman’s wonderful bibliography resource and you’ll see the vast numbers of books on aikido that have been published, few of which remain in print.

Here is the problem I have been getting at in a nutshell:

  • People read less and less and printed books as a medium are slowly dying
  • Books consisting primarily of text and not dependent on specific layouts can be converted to digital formats
  • Books with many illustrations — like aikido technical manuals — do not lend themselves to being republished in digital formats
  • Although technical manuals can be scanned as images and “bound” together as pdf files, the small form factor of hand-held devices like cellular phones and even tablets make it cumbersome, if not impossible, to view the text and illustrations.
  • The end result is that few of the finest publications on aikido remain in print and the present generation has lost access to numerous excellent publications by many of aikido’s greatest figures.

Books are not like films and videos that can readily be adapted to digital formats. As such old moving pictures and films have flourished in the digital age.

Here is my challenge to you…  Please give me suggestions as to ways that these books filled with images can be preserved and made available one again in a format that will find a large enough market to warrant their republication.

Comments welcomed!


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  1. Have you considered something like on-demand printing? The books tend to be a bit more expensive per unit, but it would appear to solve the layout and electronic-device-limitations problems.

    As for reading itself…it’s hard to say. My experience as a relatively new student (been practicing about 6 years or so) is that few teachers seem to be keen on promoting any particular books. It could be a chicken-and-the-egg problem, in that the books they would recommend aren’t available, so they can’t really recommend them. I also wonder if some teachers worry that students will take the books as both static and literal truth; that they will say “no, the book says it is this way, so it must be this way.” Certainly, the concern about people “learning” Aikido only via YouTube videos would seem to support this concern about books.

    Personally, I’ve gotten a great deal out of my very very small Aikido library. When preparing for my 6th kyu test, I spent hours while on public transit, poring over Aikido and The Dynamic Sphere, making notes, putting in tabs. I probably studied harder for that test than any other in my life! :) I know that books are no substitute for a real teacher, and I think that they can benefit the student, as long as they remember that Aikido is a physical art, and thus must be practiced in the physical world to be truly understood.

  2. Our dojo has been building an Aikido library for years; Sensei had a pretty decent collection when I started training in 2007, and as a lifelong used-bookshop junkie I have been adding to it steadily in the years since… I think the most I have paid for a single book was $25 for a copy of the Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido. :)

    It requires dedication and a trained eye, but reasonable bargains can still be found!

    As to your challenge, my best idea is to market these books as something like the “Library of Aikido”, in attractive uniform bindings – make them look like something that a school will want to display proudly in the reception area. This won’t be cheap – clothbound would be best, probably, but paperbound can serve as well, and acid-free archival paper will be a must – but I think that going somewhat upmarket rather than down will serve you better in the long run.

    Best of luck with this project, I would love to see it come to fruition!

  3. Hi Stan,

    I agree these books are treasures worth preserving and made available to students now and in the future.

    One thought I had was to make them available in hard copy as books that are printed on demand.

    Thank you for highlighting this important issue.

    Bob Noha

  4. Jordan de la Houssaye says:

    Hi. This is indeed a big issue that can be thought in mutliple ways, some of which may be incompatible. A first way to think about it is conservation wise. A second way is distribution wise.

    Conservation wise, it can be argued that physical copies live longer than digital ones, for which professionals are yet to come with satisfactory methods of conservation. However the potential number of copies in existence in easily orders of magnitude superior to that of physical ones. It can also be argued that the safest way to conserve digital copies is to multiply them as many times as possible, providing ways to recover them if altered (I will not enter into that matter but such technologies exist). The problem comes when you consider copyrights and the will of authors/editors to free them. Many debates have and will arise on this matter, there is no clear winner. However, if we ignore for a moment these issues, the best solution seems to create multiple physical copies of those books and dispatch them in libraries and them distribute digital copies as widely as possible, for a free fee which is the best way to insure its spread (there are economical model that work this way).

    Distribution wise, apart from the precedent point which is debatable, we must use an adapted format (which is one of your main issues). As you pointed out, ebooks seem not to be adapted due to the highly graphical nature of aikido’s books. We should note however that it is mainly due to the limitations of physical devices as the kindle and its siblings, that are to little and of to low resolution. Technically, however, nothing prevents amazon and others to create big ereaders, they just don’t have the market.

    However there is another platform that we all now well that seems more suited: the web. Nowadays, access to a web browser is ubiquitous, from mobiles to computers. We have techniques to render them on any screen size, seamlessly. We can think of intelligent placement for any screen size and definition that exist, professionals do that all the time. And we are not limited to text and image, as you know well.

    My point is: the best support and format that already exists and works today is the web. A book can be adapted with some work, and in my opinion gain depth this way. It can be distributed easily, with low costs and high visibility.

    All these points can and should be developed further, as they dwell on matters not quite known and understood by the public on one hand, and on new economic models introduced by the internet on the other hand. I would be happy to discuss/debate them.

  5. dave remnant says:

    copyright issues, Stanley! :(

  6. Jack McOck says:

    iBooks Author. Create interactive ebooks with images and video.

  7. Hi,

    You could do like they have with marvel comics. When you read their comics there are two modes. A full screen mode which lets you see the entire page your reading. Great for tablets and also for see large images. Then if you double tap on the page it lets you thumb through the text. I think it would work perfectly for aikido books or indeed any material that combines text and imagery with equal importance. Check out the marvel unlimited app for how it should be done.


  8. Andrew Bedford says:

    Hi Stan,
    Another medium may be applicable here, it might go against the grain of “reading” however here goes.

    I have recently become a very big fan of the harry potter series of books, I have both digital and physical hard book copies, but the best and and by far captivating are the Audio books.
    So for example, you could start with Aikido Journal`s new Takemusu Aiki Series by Morihiro Saito Sensei as a Audio File accompanied with the Photo`s. To have them actually explained in someone elses voice instead of the individuals own voice inside their head could have a huge impact on the individual visualising the technique.
    That same individual could then go to your online course and watch a video of any technique in the book whilst hearing you describing it through the audio file from the book.

    For example listening to the Audio book say on an Ipad, phone e.t.c, whilst being able visually watch whats happening on the screen.

    Andy B

  9. Terence Bayliss says:

    i have an extensive book collection and i would like to know what other people do with collection which would help others

    I am happy to sent list for conformation of same


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