“My Pick of the Top 20 Core Techniques of Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

One of my students asked me to create a list of core aikido techniques that would serve as a guide for a well-rounded curriculum. In response, I have come up with a list of the techniques below which I believe embody the essential principles and techniques of aikido. This selection is, of course, a subjective one, and subject to change.

Here are the 20 techniques I have chosen:

  • Tai no henko — One of the three exercises always performed first during practice by Founder Morihei Ueshiba. This exercise teaches the basics of the ura, or “turning” movement of aikido. You step toe-to-toe with uke and pivot to the outside while curling your hand in front of your center.
  • Morotedori kokyuho — The second of the exercises always practiced by the Founder which involves a kokyunage-like response to a strong two-handed grab. This technique helps develop the ability to blend against a superior physical force, your partner’s two-hand grab against one arm.
  • Shomenuchi ikkyo omote — Ikkyo is the first of the basic ikkyo-yonkyo arm manipulation series in aikido. The ikkyo movement is performed with you moving in front of uke to apply a horizontal arm pressure, and ends with an ikkyo arm pin. The Founder would initiate this movement against shomenuchi as documented in his 1938 training manual titled “Budo.” Most modern schools practice this technique in response to uke’s striking in contrast to the Founder’s approach.
  • Shomenuchi ikkyo ura — The ura version of ikkyo teaches how to blend with uke by turning to the outside, followed by an ikkyo pin.
  • Katadori ikkyo omote — Ikkyo omote performed from the the shoulder grab is different in that you must use your shoulder to establish a blend and gain control of uke’s arm. As you enter, you crouch forward immobilizing uke’s arm against your shoulder to come to the ikkyo position. This technique is very important to learning how to use your shoulders and hips in tandem.
  • Katadori nikyo omote — Nikyo is the second of the ikkyo-yonkyo series in aikido. A potentially dangerous technique, it must be performed cautiously. I favor locking the wrist in position and inclining the torso forward to apply pressure. This method is very effective, but does not result in injury to uke’s wrist since it is immobilized. A seated pin follows.
  • Katadori nikyo ura — The ura version of nikyo involves a turning movement, followed by the nikyo seated pin.
  • Katatedori sankyo omote — Sankyo is the third of the ikkyo-yonkyo series. Performed against a single-hand grab, uke is first unbalanced and secured through a ikkyo movement which is followed by the sankyo pressure, leading to a seated sankyo pin.
  • Katatedori sankyo ura — The same sankyo with the pin being accomplished through an outward turning movement leading to the seated sankyo pin.
  • Kosadori yonkyo omote — Yonkyo is the fourth of the ikkyo-yonkyo exercises. Here it is performed from a cross-hand grab and involves a strong pressure against the nerve on the inside of the lower forearm. The yonkyo pin is performed while standing using the entire weight of the body.
  • Kosadori yonkyo ura — The ura version of yonkyo executed in the same manner with an outward turn into the standing yonkyo pin.
  • Shomenuchi iriminage — One of the crowing jewels of the aikido curriculum, the Founder initiated the movement against shomenuchi before executing the iriminage throw. This technique teaches very important lessons of footwork and pivoting. The final part of iriminage is performed with a rotational movement of the arm referred to as a “kokyu” movement. A common mistake is not to face in the same direction as uke which leads to an ineffective blend and a clash with uke.
  • Tsuki iriminage — This technique, although not often practiced, is excellent for developing a response to a rapid thrust or punch followed by iriminage. It can be used in a multiple-attack scenario. One should avoid becoming entangled with uke’s movement and be able to rapidly disengage to deal with other opponents.
  • Yokomenuchi shihonage omote — Another of the important basics of aikido, the shihonage, or “four-sided” throw, teaches how to vary the direction of the throw depending on the particular set of circumstances. The first part of shihonage should lock uke’s elbow and upper arm. This is often overlooked allowing uke to resist your movement. One then passes through raising uke’s arm as if wielding a sword. The final movement resembles a sword strike and can be secured with a standing or kneeling pin. From yokomenuchi, this technique can be performed by first entering, or alternatively, by stepping to uke’s front to blend and then applying shihonage.
  • Katatedori kokyunage — Several techniques can be referred to by this name. The variation I am thinking of involves entering to uke’s side and extending your arm across the upper body past the eyes to produce a “flinch response” which uke’s head is jerked backwards. Your forward leg enters diagonally behind your partner for the throw. This is a very important awase, or blending movement.
  • Katatedori shihonage omote — Another possible application of shihonage from a single-hand grab. The whole body should work as a unit to first unbalance uke by establishing an armbar, followed by the shihonage throw. A good exercise is to throw uke in different directions to practice turning while controling uke’s body.
  • Ryotedori tenchinage — The so-called “heaven-and-earth” throw of aikido, this is a rather complex movement requiring a great deal of coordination. It is a study in contrast as you must blend with uke using both arms simultaneously. One hand enters downward while the other hand, executing a kokyu movement, spirals upward. Step through to uke’s side to complete the throw.
  • Munadori kotegaeshi — The munadori, or chest grab, is a simple way of teaching someone the all-important kotegaeshi wrist turn technique which is ubiquitous in aikido. One avoids the grab turning outward with the feeling of cutting to the outside and rear. Having established a blend with uke, kotegaeshi can then be applied. It should not be necessary to force uke down using pain compliance. Your blending movement must unbalance uke to the point that he falls easily when his wrist is held.
  • Ushiro ryotedori ikkyo omote — This technique is performed when both your hands are grabbed from behind. Raising and extending your hands forward and up, you unbalance uke. The same basic ikkyo omote movement can be applied from there. See the Shomenuchi ikkyo technique above.
  • Suwariwaza kokyuho — The third of the three exercises performed by the Founder at the end of each class. This exercise teaches how to blend when both hands are held. You must make your body into a single unit, leading with your hips and guiding the movement through the subtle use of your hands. It is important not to tense up or resort to physical force in an attempt to push uke over.

I might suggest a very good technical book titled “Takemusu Aikido: Background & Basics” by Morihiro Saito for those who would like more information on this subject.

Finally, I would invite you to contribute your list of the core techniques of aikido. As I wrote above, this is a highly subjective thing, and will also vary from style to style. I look forward to reading your comments!


“Risking your life to help someone,” by Stanley Pranin

“I kept imagining what had transpired and tried to conceive of some alternative courses of action that would have spared him this beating.”

I attended an aikido seminar recently. I had a very interesting conversation with an attendee that I would like to relate to you.

This young man, an aikido black belt, was involved in an altercation in which he was badly beaten. He fortunately emerged without any permanent damage other than a black eye and several noticeable facial lacerations. Here is what happened as far as I can recall.

The man exited a building at night to find six attackers beating up a lone man who was on the ground and bloodied. The aikidoka immediately entered the fray to help the victim and successfully dealt with a couple of the attackers. However, the entire group stopped their attack and turned their fury toward him. The victim ran away leaving our aikidoka alone to fend for himself.

The group of six proceeded to pummel and kick the aikidoka until several people saw what was going on and intervened. Obviously injured, he was taken to the emergency room of a nearby hospital where he was treated.

Forgive me if I don’t have all of the details exactly right, but that is the gist of the story. As I lay in bed that night, it took me a while before I fell asleep. I kept imagining what had transpired and tried to conceive of some alternative courses of action that would have spared him this beating. I came up with a couple of scenarios that are, of course, pure speculation. Nonetheless, it occurs to me that it might be an excellent mental exercise to go through in case one should find himself in a similar situation that required immediate action.

Ironically, I was speaking with two other long-time friends at the same event who told me about a somewhat similar incident in which a couple of aikidoka confronted a gang to “test their skills,” and one ended up seriously injured and in the hospital.

So using this channel of the Internet where we can reach a worldwide audience, I would like to open the discussion to all of you to gather your feedback, which I highly value. Here are some relevant questions:

What are some possible alternatives that the young man had in the situation in which he found himself?

Was he right to act immediately by himself without first calling for help?

Have you ever found yourself in such a situation? What did you do and what was the result of your actions?

How can we use aikido in such situations where we feel compelled to physically intervene?

Please post your comments below.



Sokaku Takeda: “Is This Photo Faked?”, by Stanley Pranin

“A doctored photo? What do you think?”

Take a look at this highly unusual photo of Sokaku Takeda, disseminator of Daito-ryu jujutsu and teacher of Morihei Ueshiba. First, allow me to provide some background information. This photo was taken about 1939 in Osaka, probably at the Asahi News dojo, during the period when Sokaku was teaching Daito-ryu to employees of the newspaper.

The Asahi dojo had an interesting background. Its first instructor was none other than Morihei Ueshiba from 1933-1936, and then Sokaku Takeda from 1936-1939. Sokaku took over instruction duties at the Asahi dojo under rather strange circumstances which you can read more about here. Several of the few surviving photos of Sokaku were taken in Osaka because the trainees had access to the facilities and equipment of the newspaper, one of Japan’s largest.

Now let’s examine the photo itself. Sokaku has raised a student onto his shoulders prior to executing a twisting throw characteristic to Daito-ryu. The photo appears posed as Sokaku is stiff-legged and standing still. Also, notice that the body of the student appears to be supported by Sokaku’s outstretched arms. Sokaku’s extended right arm is clearly visible while his left hand seems to be supporting the student’s right leg. But perhaps the most condemning detail is the fact that the student is gazing leisurely into the camera and seems quite undistressed in this position. Believe me, if Sokaku were actually applying the technique, uke would be in extreme pain!

Aikido Journal Members Site subscribers: If you are already a subscriber, click here to login and read the entire article on this unusual photo of Sokaku Takeda.

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“I propose a compact for our mutual benefit… Onegaishimasu!

In the last six months since we opened the Aikido Journal Members Site, we have been testing different approaches to make this important part of Aikido Journal an indispensable tool for aikidoka. You may have noticed a flurry of activity, and an unending stream of new materials including videos, screencasts, historical photos, articles, PDFs, charts, and even Morihei Ueshiba’s name card!

What’s going on? Basically, I want to create a storehouse for my research legacy and an additional income stream based on digital delivery of our content. Fewer and fewer customers are opting for delivery of physical products. This is the trend all over the world. I, for one, would not shed a tear if we could minimize our trips to the post office, in favor of immediate, on-demand delivery of content over the Internet. This will allow us to reduce prices on our products, and allow you to receive your product within a few short minutes.

These days, the economy being what it is, many people are budgeting themselves very carefully, and have less discretionary income than in previous times. Even the cost of paying tuition at an aikido dojo comes under scrutiny. We know aikido training is a life-enriching activity and that we derive great benefit from it; nonetheless, it is yet another item in the budget subject to scrutiny.

So here is a short list of things I would like to propose you do that will benefit you personally and Aikido Journal as a servant of the aikido community… and doesn’t cost anything:

  • Click on the Facebook “Share” button on the upper right of this blog and any content you think worthy of being shared with your circle of friends. A trivial amount of time is required for this simple action, yet it allows us to reach many more folks with our message.
  • If you are receiving our emails, forward any interesting item to your aikido friends in case they’re unaware of our activities. Just hit the “forward” button in your email program and enter your friend’s address.
  • It is our wish to allow free subscribers to access most of our content when published. After testing out different methods, we have settled on a “free for a few days” approach to allow you to access new content. After that, the document goes into the “paid subscriber” archive for future access. So please act quickly to access new content, keeping in mind this approach and the rationale behind it.

I work seven days a week, have for years, and expect to do so for many more years, God willing. This is my life’s work, and you can expect this steady stream of content to continue until I finish the job… which will be NEVER!

In short, we’ll provide great content that is mostly free that you can’t get anywhere else. You invest a few seconds of your time to spread the word about our work. We can thus progress along the path together to our mutual benefit.

Just to give you an idea of the content we’ve been offering, have a look at the last 20 items uploaded to the Aikido Journal Members Site:

  • Video: Morihei Ueshiba, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Christian Tissier — French TV documentary, c.1983
  • Screencast: Focus on History — “Morihei and the Young Bucks of the Aikikai,” by Stanley Pranin”
  • A Biography of Rinjiro Shirata – Part 2, by Kozo Kaku
  • Do we know what Aikido truly is?, by Francis Takahashi
  • Magazine: Aiki News Number 49, 1982
  • Memoir of the Master, by Morihei Ueshiba with commentary by Stanley Pranin
  • Screencast: Focus on History — “Ueshiba Family Tree: The Line of Succession”
  • A Biography of Rinjiro Shirata – Part 1, by Kozo Kaku
  • Magazine: Aiki News Number 79, 1988
  • Video: Rinjiro Shirata — “1978 Yamagata TV Documentary — Part 1” (member video)
  • Video: Koichi Tohei teaches Ki Society Seminar in Osaka, 1983 — Part 3 (member-video)
  • Screencast: Focus on History — “The Old Aikikai Hombu Dojo: Inside and Out,” by Stanley Pranin
  • Screencast: Focus on History — “Morihei demonstrates jodori with his son, Kisshomaru”
  • Video: Koichi Tohei teaches Ki Society Seminar in Osaka, 1983 — Part 2
  • Screencast: Focus on History — “Morihei Ueshiba’s Ill-starred Mongolian Expedition,” by Stanley Pranin
  • Video: Koichi Tohei teaches Ki Society Seminar in Osaka, 1983 — Part 1
  • Screencast: Focus on History — “Morihei Ueshiba’s Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu Teaching Certification,” by Stanley Pranin
  • Historical photos: “The first person to introduce Aikido to the US revisited,” by Stanley Pranin
  • Magazine: Aikido Journal Number 108, 1996
  • Video: Tetsuzan Kuroda, Headmaster of Kuroda Family Bujutsu, at Aiki Expo 2003

I’ll be watching the counter on the Facebook “Share” button! :)

Thanks Folks… Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!


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“My Mentor, Bill Perry,” by Stanley Pranin

I have thought of writing this piece for many years now, but never got around to getting started until I recently happened upon a serendipitous discovery. More about that shortly. Let me begin my story.

Shortly after I began my study of Yoshinkan Aikido in Lomita, California in August of 1962, I met a 35-year-old man at the dojo. One day we paired up to train together during class. All I remember is that he was quite strong and was twisting my arms and wrists every which way. After class had ended, he commented, “You’re really flexible, what do you eat?” I was only 17 years old and had no idea of how to respond to such an off-the-wall-comment. He was a pleasant, well-built fellow, and we chatted briefly, and I learned his name was Bill.

Bill attended class regularly during this period as did I, and one day something quite unusual happened. After the workout, Bill stood still on the mat and suddenly threw a back flip. I thought that was pretty cool. Then without warning–again without moving–he performed a perfect front flip, which I’m told is more difficult. I stared in disbelief along with several other training mates who witnessed the scene. Needless to say, this caught my attention.

Edmond Szekely (1905-1979)

After that, Bill became quite friendly towards me and seemed to take me under his wing. It turned out he was quite an intelligent fellow, in addition to being a superb athlete. He began talking to me about things that I had never heard of before. I learned that Bill had been a gymnast in high school, served in the navy at the end or shortly after World War II, and that he moved around a lot and had experienced many things. He was a rather mysterious person in some ways, and totally unpredictable. Although the sequence of events is a bit blurry since I’m straining to recall events of more than 45 years ago, I remember him taking me to a local health foods store and introducing me to the owner. Bill spoke about the importance of diet and natural foods. I tried raw milk and carrot juice for the first time! He was of course a very healthy physical specimen himself and a vegetarian, I seem to recall.

[Read more…]


“Dan Inflation in the Early Years of Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin


“My own teacher, Morihiro Saito told me on more than one occasion that he skipped two ranks in his advancement to 9th dan”

stan-pranin-closeupThe other day I found an interesting article in the 33rd issue of the “Aikido Shimbun” published in March 1962. You may recall that the Aikikai Hombu Dojo began publishing this four-page newsletter in 1959. The newsletter has appeared continuously through today, an enviable publishing run of over 52 years!

What caught my eye was an announcement listing the dan promotions awarded on January 15 of the same year at the annual Kagami Biraki celebration. A number of famous names are mentioned in that list, some of them prewar students of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, while others began training following World War II.

I have selected certain names of people that have become prominent and added the year of their enrollment by way of reference.

8th dan
Rinjiro Shirata (1933)
Hajime Iwata (1930)
Takaaki (Shigemi) Yonekawa (1932)

7th dan
Morihiro Saito (1946: 16 years to 7th dan)
[Read more…]


Historical article: “Morihei meets Sokaku — “The Untold Story”

Morihei Ueshiba in Hokkaido c. 1918

“What is not explicitly stated here, but implied, is that Morihei had strong financial support in addition to being a talented student.”

About the age of 30 I went to Engaru in Hokkaido. There I met Professor Sokaku Takeda of Aizu, teacher of Daito Ryu who taught me for 30 dyas. While I studied I felt something like inspiration. After inviting the professor to my house, I very earnestly pursued the real truth of the martial arts with 15 or 16 of my servants and disciples. Professor Takeda had opened my eyes to the real martial arts.

We recently published a long-forgotten interview of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba that contains the above passage. Morihei’s comment contains a very important bit of information: “After inviting the professor to my house, I very earnestly pursued the real truth of the martial arts with 15 or 16 of my servants and disciples.” What exactly is going on here?

At this point in time, 1915, Morihei was one of the leaders of a group from Tanabe in southern Japan, who was working to establish a settlement in the remote village of Shirataki in northern Hokkaido. He and the group from Tanabe had relocated to Hokkaido three years earlier and had struggled to build a community in this inhospitable climate.

Also, Morihei was a martial arts enthusiast and had heard of the reputation of jujutsu expert Sokaku Takeda who was conducting jujutsu seminars in Hokkaido and elsewhere. Benefiting from an introduction from a mutual acquaintance Kotaro Yoshida, Morihei seized the opportunity to meet Sokaku in person in Engaru, a nearby town, in the winter of 1915. On this occasion, Morihei remained to study for about 30 days, impulsively leaving behind his family and leadership responsibilities in Shirataki.

Sokaku Takeda (1859-1943)

Soon thereafter, Morihei invites Sokaku to live in his house in Shirataki, and learns from him along with 15 or 16 of his “servants and disciples.” We don’t have precise information about how long Sokaku stayed in Morihei’s house, but we do know that a short time later Takeda would uproot his family and settle in Shirataki which became his residence for the rest of his life.

This rather surprising action on the part of Sokaku reveals the importance he attached to Morihei as his student of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. In fact, an unpublished interview with the Founder states clearly that Sokaku had asked him to become his successor around this time. Sokaku certainly had high regard for Morihei’s abilities as a martial artist and considered him suitable character-wise to succeed him. Surely, Morihei’s study of Daito-ryu jujutsu during this period was intense and protracted and built the martial foundation upon which his later career rested.

An interesting side note: these 15 or 16 students also included Yoichiro Inoue, Morihei’s nephew, and other young men from Tanabe. It is quite likely that some of these same members trained in the judo dojo set up five years earlier in Tanabe for the benefit of Morihei and other young men to practice. Morihei’s father, Yoroku, and Inoue’s father, Zenzo, were the instigators of this initiative to channel the excessive energy of these young people in a constructive direction. Both Yoroku and Zenzo were in Shirataki at this time, a fact that histories published thus far have glossed over.

What is not explicitly stated here, but implied, is that Morihei had strong financial support in addition to being a talented student. His support base was primarily his father who was a well-to-do man, and Zenzo Inoue who was extremely wealthy. Morihei’s invitation to Sokaku to come live with him in Shirataki also meant that Takeda would stop his normal teaching activities to concentrate on teaching Morihei and his comrades. It would have taken a strong financial incentive for Sokaku to do this as his seminars were expensive and attracted mainly well-off students.

Even after Sokaku moved out of Morihei’s house, he established residence in Shirataki and built his own home which was located physically within short walking distance of Morihei as a map from that period confirms.

I have written a great deal about the later interaction between Morihei and Sokaku in Ayabe, Tokyo and Osaka in subsequent years, but I wanted to fill in some of the lesser known details of their early interaction in this article.


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Historical photo: “Takako Kunigoshi, Aiki Budo’s First Female Instructor!,” by Stanley Pranin

This photo is a rare one indeed culled from a Shukan Asahi magazine article published in Japan about 1935. In aikido history, the two persons appearing in this photo are of great importance. Here is the story.

Illustrations of Takako Kunigoshi from "Budo Renshu"

First, the petite lady executing the “Aiki Budo” throw is a young woman named Takako Kunigoshi. A bit of history… Takako Kunigoshi entered the Kobukan Dojo in 1933, just prior to her graduation from Japan Women’s Fine Arts University. One of the few female students at the Kobukan Dojo, she trained seriously, and gained the full respect of both Ueshiba Sensei and the uchideshi. A skilled artist, Kunigoshi did the technical illustrations for the 1934 book Budo Renshu, which was given to certain students in lieu of a teaching license. Kunigoshi later trained at the private dojo of Admiral Isamu Takeshita for several years, and taught self-defense courses to various women’s groups. Following the war, Kunigoshi did not resume her aikido training. After her retirement, she taught the Japanese tea ceremony out of her home in Ikebukuro, Tokyo for many years.

I met and interviewed her on two occasions in 1981 and 1992. She was a charming elderly lady, most animated in her demeanor, and very enthusiastic in recalling the days of Morihei Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo. She is the only major female figure in prewar aikido to have a prominent role in the art’s history. Kunigoshi Sensei was highly respected by her male counterparts in the Kobukan Dojo. She will forever be remembered for the illustrations she drew for the 1934 Budo Renshu book which depicts the techniques taught in the dojo at that time, and which reveal a strong influence of the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu of Sokaku Takeda.

The person being thrown is Shigemi Yonekawa. Yonekawa Sensei entered the Kobukan Dojo as an uchideshi in 1932. He taught at various locations as an assistant to Morihei Ueshiba, both in Tokyo and Osaka. In 1936, Yonekawa was the Founder’s partner for the series of technical photographs taken at Noma Dojo, which constitute the most complete record of Ueshiba’s techniques from the prewar era. He moved to Manchuria in December of 1936, where he assisted Kenji Tomiki in the instruction of Aiki Budo. Yonekawa was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army in 1944, and saw action in Okinawa before being repatriated in 1946. No longer active in aikido after the war, he settled in Tsuchiura, Ibaragi Prefecture, where he was engaged in agriculture.

Shigemi Yonekawa as uke in Noma Dojo photo

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Yonekawa Sensei in 1979 and 1992. He was one of the nicest and most gentlemanly-like persons I have ever met. He was a bit reticent at first to talk about the old days, particularly when the conversation touched upon the private affairs of the Ueshiba family. Over time, I succeeded in gaining his confidence, and he became quite frank during our conversations. He was a storehouse of information about the period.

Yonekawa Sensei also knew a great deal about Morihei’s connection with Manchuria since he lived there for several years assisting Kenji Tomiki. In the near future, I will post my audio interviews with both Takako Kunigoshi and Shigemi Yonekawa on the Aikido Journal Members Site.


“Historical photo: Morihei Ueshiba, Aspiring Calligrapher!,” by Stanley Pranin

“During the last 15 years of his life, Morihei brushed hundreds of
calligraphies, many for his students to display in their aikido schools.”

Relatively late in his life, Morihei Ueshiba enthusiastically took up the art of calligraphy. The impetus for this was his long association with Seiseki Abe of Osaka, one of his devoted students. In addition to his passion for aikido, Abe Sensei also happened to be a renowned calligrapher. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Abe Sensei would give private lessons to Morihei when the Aikido Founder stay at his home in Osaka to teach aikido.

During the last 15 years of his life, Morihei brushed hundreds of calligraphies, many for his students to display in their aikido schools. Abe Sensei wrote this about Morihei’s calligraphy:

Ueshiba Sensei’s spirit resides in his calligraphy not in the forms or shapes of the characters, but in their resonance and light. Similarly, that spirit resides in aikido not in the techniques you can see with your eyes, but in those you cannot.

This photo shows O-Sensei preparing to brush some Japanese characters into a book as Fukiko Sunadomari assists with his brush. Fukiko Sensei was the elder sister of the late Kanshu Sunadomari, a famous aikido teacher of Kumamoto, Kyushu. Her elder half-brother was Kanemoto Sunadomari, the man who wrote the first biography of Morihei, published in 1969.
[Read more…]


Historical photo: “Noriaki Inoue, Aikido’s Forgotten Pioneer,” by Stanley Pranin

“I rang the doorbell, and a diminutive woman, perhaps in her 70s, opened the door. She look up and saw this six-foot gaijin staring her in the face, and I thought she would faint on the spot!”

Of the the areas I have explored in my long study of the life of Morihei Ueshiba and the creation of aikido, I think two in particular stand out for having caused a fundamental rethinking among the aikido community of how our art evolved. The first involves the role of Sokaku Takeda and his art, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, in providing the technical basis for what would later emerge as aikido. The second is the part played by the Inoue family of Tanabe, especially Morihei’s nephew Yoichiro, in the progression of early events that allowed the Founder to pursue his martial arts career, and eventually develop the art we practice today.

Interestingly enough, my exploration of both of these aspects of aikido’s early history resulted in many problems for me personally and professionally due to the controversies they provoked. Sokaku’s role had been greatly minimized and distorted, while Yoichiro–later known as Noriaki–had been relegated to a “bit player” in accounts of aikido history. When I wrote an article titled “Yoichiro Inoue, Aikido’s Forgotten Pioneer,” about ten years ago that was also published in Japanese, it caused an uproar behind the scenes, and an incident highly embarrassing to the Aiki News staff in Japan and myself.

Noriaki Inoue was the son of Morihei Ueshiba’s eldest sister Tame, and her husband Zenzo Inoue (Yoichiro’s father), one of Tanabe’s richest citizens. Inoue and his family were involved in virtually every important step taken by Morihei, at least through 1931 when he 47 years old. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Ueshibas and Inoues acted as a joint-family unit in many areas that set the stage for Morihei having the opportunity to launch his martial arts career. I would refer readers to the above article for a detailed study of this relationship.

By the early 1980s, fairly early into my research, I began to notice that each of the prewar students of Morihei I met would frequently mention “Yoichiro” in their recounting of the events of aikido’s early days. Their portrayals of his character and deeds were not always flattering, but it became apparent that Yoichio–at least as a senior instructor–served as Morihei’s “right arm” over a 15-year period. The fact that this “Yoichiro,” then going by the name of “Noriaki” was still active teaching in Tokyo began to really pique my curiosity. I set out to meet, and hopefully interview him, to hear his side of the story.

To say that this would prove a challenge would be somewhat of an understatement. My efforts to meet Inoue Sensei were either ignored or rebuffed over and over. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but probably due to my persistence, he finally agreed to meet me with the proviso that I bring along a couple of “old-timers” with me. This was not exactly what I had hoped for, but at least it gave me a chance to get “a foot in the door,” so to speak. Fortunately, I was able to arrange for Shigemi Yonekawa and Zenzaburo Akazawa, both of whom I had already interviewed, to accompany me. The three of us finally met Inoue Sensei in Tokyo on December 9, 1981. I was almost totally excluded from the discussion, but did manage to tape-record everything. The transcription of that meeting exists, but still remains unpublished.

Getting my “foot in the door” turned out to be getting “the door slammed on my foot.” My efforts to meet with Inoue Sensei and do a proper interview were blocked by his front office, and I finally gave up… at least for the time being.

Finally, by 1986 I could no longer stand knowing that perhaps the most important person after the Founder himself was still alive and living only a few miles away from me. I decided to act. My solution would be a diabolical scheme that only a “henna gaijin” could concoct. I took the transcription of the conversation recorded five years earlier supplemented by a polite letter and headed out to Kunitachi, a few miles west, where he lived. I rang the doorbell, and a diminutive woman, perhaps in her 70s, opened the door. She look up and saw this six-foot gaijin staring her in the face, and I thought she would faint on the spot. I gave her the envelope with my letter and the transcript, excused myself and left. The letter said that Aiki News would publish the interview in the next issue of the magazine as is, since we had been unsuccessful in getting assistance in doing a proper editing job. We regarded the role of Inoue Sensei to be too important to be ignored, and would do the best we could, etc….

Photo taken at Inoue Sensei's birthday party in 1988

Photo taken at Inoue Sensei’s birthday party in 1988

I undoubtedly caused a furor with my unorthodox action, and I’m sure someone got scolded. Still the front office refused to allow me to meet him. At my wit’s end, one day I called the office head in my serviceable Japanese such as it is, and proceeded to get mad, really mad! I told him that I was sure he was doing his job as best he saw it, but that he was preventing me from doing my job, which was to tell the truthful story of aikido’s creation. Wasn’t he aware that his teacher Inoue Sensei was being maligned and excised from aikido history? How could this unfair state of affairs be corrected without cooperation from the Inoue side? Did he think that I was being insincere in my desire to accord Inoue Sensei his rightful and prominent place in aikido history?

He fell silent, and my Japanese editor who had overheard the conversation, looked at me in disbelief! But it worked. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to Inoue Sensei’s home. Laden with old photos and historical documents, my Japanese editor and I made our way out to his home. We were greeted by Inoue Sensei, the office head, and a room full of his students. I suppose they thought that I was a “loose cannon,” and wanted to make sure that I properly behaved! Fortunately, once I got him talking about the old days and “what really happened,” he started to take a genuine liking to me, and I to him. This occurred in 1986.

Thereafter for a period of two years, I was given almost unfettered access to Inoue Sensei, and would always take a tape-recorder with me since I never knew when he would begin to talk about the old days. I never could do a proper interview with him, so I must give great credit to my staff who were able to cobble together edited manuscripts from the miscellaneous tape-recordings I presented them. I think we published four or five interviews of Inoue Sensei during this period.

Stanley Pranin with Noriaki Inoue, Kameoka, 1987

Stanley Pranin with Noriaki Inoue, Kameoka, 1987

There were several highlights of the precious times I was able to spend with Inoue Sensei. The first took place in the summer of 1987 when I was invited to attend the annual gasshuku he gave in Kameoka at the Omoto administrative headquarters. I was allowed to freely videotape his classes and take photos of the various activities surrounding the event. I have probably 5-6 hours of videotape that have never been shown stored away. Their place is in our archives on the Aikido Journal Members Site. I will eventually get to it with your support and encouragement.

The second was a large public demonstration we arranged in Yotsuya in April 1988. It was attended by a sold-out crowd of about 550 people who grabbed at the chance to see this living legend in action, perhaps for the first and only time. Everything was filmed and photographed. Inoue Sensei was 85 years old at the time and not very mobile, but he still had a strong presence and was very well received. Those who attended were quite aware of the historical significance of the event. Many martial artists showed up too, and some were able to meet and chat with Inoue Sensei at the party following the event.

I had very little interaction with Inoue Sensei and his group after the big demonstration. I had met him perhaps 15-20 times and was fortunate enough to get a lot of information, but it was difficult to get opportunities to talk with him as I always met him in a group setting. Also, I was very busy with Aiki News-related work and traveling with Morihiro Saito Sensei as his interpreter at this point in time.

Much later, in April 1994, I received news that Inoue Sensei had passed away at the ripe old age of 92, having continued teaching until very near the end of his life. I attended his funeral ceremony along with a hundred or so other mourners including his first cousin, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. There I met one of Inoues’ nephews. This happening was to lead to a whole new phase in my research of Ueshiba-Inoue family history and provided me much needed information and perspective to better establish the importance of this family relationship in Morihei’s early life.


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Historical photo: “Takuma Hisa, the bridge between Daito-ryu and Aiki Budo,” by Stanley Pranin

“I saw a small, yet sturdily built middle-aged man walk on to the screen. He had a big mustache and a strong physical presence about him. It was Morihei Ueshiba at age 51!”

Back in April 1979, I met a slight old man who had suffered a stroke and spoke in a halting, somewhat slurred voice. I am embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the circumstances of my introduction to old gentleman. I think I was told that he was an important person in the early history of aikido. I didn’t know anything about him really when I went to visit him at his home in Nakano Ward in Tokyo. The man’s name was Hisa Takuma.

I must say he was a charming person, and he kept attempting to speak to me in English. I appreciated this because my Japanese was not very strong at that time, but it made the conversation tediously slow. Little by little, I was able to piece together that he had been a student of Morihei Ueshiba first, and then Sokaku Takeda, at the Asahi News dojo in Osaka. Having learned this, I began to sense that perhaps this man might have played some important role in the early evolution of aikido. Toward the end of our conversation, he began to sing me a song. I remember the introductory words very well: “You came, you came, you really came…” He really like me, but I don’t exactly know why because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to ask very many intelligent questions at this early stage of my research. Perhaps it was simply the fact that I was a foreigner, a journalist of sorts, and had shown interest in an aspect of his younger years that was very important to him at this last stage of his life.

After our first meaning, he began to write me regularly in broken English. He sent me the newsletters that he was publishing, and one of them mentioned my name and the fact that I had visited him at his home. Soon after this, something dramatic happened.

In our conversation, Hisa Sensei mentioned an old film of Morihei Ueshiba that was shot before the war. I knew of the existence of this film and desperately wanted to see it. A friend of mine did some research and located a film from the prewar period that might possibly be the footage I was looking for. I went to a film archive facility in Tokyo where a special viewing had been arranged for me. As the projectionist prepared the film, I became very nervous in anticipation. Then the first image flashed on the screen with the title “Budo.” I felt my heart sink because there was no mention of anything related to “Aiki.” Resigned, I thought that, still it would be interesting to see this prewar “talkie” film because it might contain footage of some important martial artist. Then it happened.

I saw a small, yet sturdily built middle-aged man walk on to the screen. He had a big mustache and a strong physical presence about him. It was Morihei Ueshiba at age 51! I immediately felt tears well up in my eyes, which was very embarrassing. Fortunately, the room was dark and the fellow showing the film did not notice anything.

Takuma Hisa at age 44

Then another man, much larger and very powerful looking appeared on the screen. He was obviously the leader of the group. He sat down in seiza and opened a scroll and began reading in a loud voice. This was Takuma Hisa, the little old disabled man I had met only a few weeks before!

I was an emotional wreck but so very happy at that moment. And then the action started! My God, Morihei put on a fantastic display. Strong, but elegant technique, applied with a palpable, dynamic energy. And the finale was breath-taking! You can see the film here.

In any event, I called Hisa Sensei and told him about my discovery. He was overjoyed because he had never seen this film made way back in 1935. 44 years had elapsed. I really felt that I had to arrange a showing for him. So I contacted Shigemi Yonekawa–the man who is Morihei Ueshiba’s uke in the Noma Dojo photos–whom I had recently interviewed and who appears prominently in the 1935 film. We set up a date to travel to Hisa Sensei’s home for the private showing. Yonekawa Sensei, a very reserved man by nature, was obviously most pleased.

Fortunately, I had lugged over to Japan a heavy old 16mm movie projector when I moved there in 1977. Armed with my projector, I met Yonekawa Sensei at Tsuchiura Station on the Joban Line and we rode the train down to Tokyo, and then out to Nakano to Hisa Sensei’s house. Neither Hisa nor Yonekawa had seen each other since before the war. I was so happy to see the two of them united after so many years. I could kick myself now for not taking photos and recording the conversation, but I was young and green as a researcher, and had my hands full as the projectionist.

I finally got everything to work including the sound, and the film started. Hisa Sensei immediately started to cry tears of joy! I became emotional too, but once again, the darkened room came to my rescue. Sensei started giving a commentary on the film in a slow, but animated voice. It was altogether an unforgettable moment, and one of the highlights of my research career in Japan.

After the film showing, the steady stream of letters and documents from Hisa Sensei continued. Then one day a package showed up at my door. It contained four boxes of microfilm. I opened the boxes and–not having access to a microfilm viewer–pulled out a strip and held it up to the light. The package was from Hisa Sensei and the microfilm contained image after image of jujutsu techniques. I could tell that neither Morihei nor Hisa were in the photos, and I really had no basis to evaluate what these photos were or their importance. Much later, I Iearned that Hisa Sensei had sent me the entire Soden collection of the Takumakai, the Daito-ryu organization set up around him after the war. There are over a thousand images documenting the techniques taught by both Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda at the Asahi News dojo over a period of six years from 1933-1939. A true treasure whose significance I was only able to appreciate many years later.

Those images are still in microfilm form and need to be scanned and uploaded. They belong on the Aikido Journal Members Site and to be made available for universal access.

I saw Hisa Sensei only one time after that at the 1980 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration. He passed away in October of the same year. Only later, after researching Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu and Sokaku Takeda was I able to appreciate Takuma Hisa Sensei’s important place in aikido history. There is much more to say about the subject, but you can start here for further reading.

Forgive the rather lengthy introduction to today’s historical photo. Here you see the dynamic Takuma Hisa executing a Daito-ryu projection technique sometime in the late 1930s in Osaka. The imprint of Morihei’s instruction is readily apparent in this beautiful photo.

Scans of postcards received from Takuma Hisa Sensei



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“Historical photo: Hiroshi Tada, 9th dan, Aikido’s Mr. Dynamic!,” by Stanley Pranin

Observers of the annual All-Japan Aikido Demonstration have for decades been impressed with the performances of a tall, slim man with amazing technique. It is as though his body is filled with a pulsating electric current. His movements flow in a rippling cascade and the man seems deep in a trance. This would be Hiroshi Tada, 9th dan.

Today, Tada Sensei is a noble looking Japanese gentleman 82 years of age. The execution of his techniques appears to be that of an athlete in his prime. I have always admired his healthful lifestyle and regal bearing. He has outlived all of the senior level instructors of his generation. He is a sterling example of what is possible through a lifetime of training.

Take a look at this photo taken early in his stay in Italy about 1966. Even in this still shot, the strong connection and projection of energy in Tada Sensei’s execution of the technique is obvious.

Tada Sensei is the Aikikai’s senior representative for Italy and makes regular visits there to conduct seminars. From this base, he has taught all over Europe for many years.

In addition, Tada Sensei developed a system of breathing and meditative exercises to supplement aikido training called “Ki no Renma” (Cultivation of Ki). No doubt this regime has also contributed to his dynamic health and youthfulness.

Although this is a wonderful photo, Tada Sensei’s aikido must be seen to be appreciated. It goes without saying that we have an excellent example of this. We have archived the demonstration of Tada Sensei from the 2004 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration on the Aikido Journal Members Site. Paid subscribers may click on the link below to log in and view this mesmerizing video clip:

Video: Hiroshi Tada, 9th dan, at the 2004 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration (member video)