Oct
19

Historical photo: “The amazing chameleon photo of O-Sensei from 1922,” by Stanley Pranin

As a researcher of aikido history, this photo is one of the most fascinating documents I have ever come across. First of all, a little background. This photo was shot about 1922 inside Morihei’s home situated near the Omoto precincts in Ayabe. Morihei is seated in seiza inside the “Ueshiba Juku,” his home dojo that marked the beginning of his career as a martial arts teacher.

Immediately obvious is Morihei’s powerful physique and stern expression that convey a strong impression even 90 years after the fact. You will notice to Morihei’s left a sword stand holding three blades, certainly an appropriate accessory for a martial arts dojo. Then behind the displayed swords are a placard with kanji characters. This is where the intrigue begins…

What is written? The characters read: “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu.” This, as you will recall is the precursor art to aikido that Morihei studied under Sokaku Takeda Sensei in Hokkaido beginning in 1915. If this is the dojo where Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido, taught, why is this “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu” placard on display there?

A fair question. You see Morihei was openly teaching Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu in his “Ueshiba Juku” because aikido had not yet come into being. In fact, he was a certified Daito-ryu instructor. Morihei was just beginning his transitional phase, technically speaking, that would culminate many years later with the creation of aikido. Also, Sokaku Takeda had recently visited Morihei in Ayabe, and they agreed that Ueshiba would use the name “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu” to refer to his art.


Ok, but what is this bit about a “chameleon photo”? Ah, this is the interesting part! To my knowledge, this photo has been published in books and newsletters at least five times. Here’s the kicker. The photo appears in four different versions!

Four versions? Yes, the Daito-ryu placard first disappears altogether in the first publication of the photo. Then it reappears with the “Daito-ryu” characters missing, leaving only the “Aikijujutsu” characters. What’s a poor aikido historian to do? Then, the original photo you see here appears for the first time. Next, some of the characters are again omitted, but not in the same way as the first altered photo. Finally and miraculously, the unretouched photo again resurfaces, hopefully to remain intact. Strange workings of the kamisama?

Not exactly. From a historian’s standpoint, all of these “miraculous events” can be explained. Briefly, Morihei had a falling out with his teacher Sokaku Takeda that would lead to his distancing himself from his teacher. As a result of this, there has always existed a certain tension between the aikido and Daito-ryu camps despite a surface cordiality.

This reticence to give due credit to the significant influence of Daito-ryu on modern aikido has existed for many years, and was not surprisingly inherited by the Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. These shenanigans with this famous photo took place in the period of the 1960s through the 1980s when Daito-ryu’s role in the evolution of aikido was little known. I believe this explains the psychology behind the photo tinkering. Now, I don’t believe it would be possible to do such a thing since the relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda has been well documented.

Early in my career, I published one of these altered versions of the photo perfectly innocently, and it got me into quite a pickle!

Anyway, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story!”

Oct
17

Your Top Ten: “Here’s What You Like,” by Stanley Pranin

A few months back we began using some new email software that provides us with statistics about what readers’ preferences are. I went back through some of the data for the last few weeks, and it yielded a lot of great insights about where your interests lie.

It occurred to me that you might find this information interesting as well, so here you have it, your top-ten emails from the last several months with links to these popular items in case you missed them.

Here is the countdown:

10. Free PDF: 90-page sample of Stanley Pranin’s “Aikido Pioneers – Prewar Era….

9. Yamaguchi Sensei had never had a foreign student and it seemed he didn’t particularly want one…

8. By viewing such high-level aikido, today’s practitioners can pick up important hints to speed their own progress!

7. Kisaburo Osawa was known for his light touch and smooth technical execution, punctuated by sudden bursts of speed.

6. Doshu’s presentation is highly polished and his ukes’ falls are often times acrobatic in nature.

5. New Video: “Yoga Warmups for Aikido Training,” by Stanley Pranin

4. O-Sensei, what is aikido? He responded by saying, ‘Well, let me write it down for you…’

3. When Koichi Tohei resigned from the Aikikai, the impact was traumatic…

2. The weak attacks used in aikido dojos simply are not realistic…

And the top-rated link is…

1. Early in Steven Seagal’s movie career, there was somewhat of an “aikido boom” due to the popularity of his movies

It seems you like videos a lot! Good, because we have several hundred waiting to be uploaded. You like the top aikido teachers. No surprise there. You like yoga? That is a surprise! And a significant percentage of you respond to the mention of the name “Steven Seagal,” whose video was the number one drawing email.

Tomorrow I’ll be telling you what I like!

Oct
14

“Ironing out the kinks,” by Stanley Pranin

I have spent the better part of today troubleshooting and dealing with certain idiosyncracies of the software we are using for the new Aikido Journal Member Site. While I was at it, I made substantial changes to the look and feel of the home page.

I believe I have completely solved the problem of “confused logins” that some readers reported, and that I myself have experienced on occasion. I got things to work perfectly every time and in a predictible manner. This is a big relief!

Check out the new look and functionality of the Aikido Journal Members Site

Here is a list of the enhancements and bug fixes:

  • Recent posts have been moved to the center section of the page and display the most recent six posts in reverse chronological order, the newest entry appearing on top.
  • A search widget has been added to the left sidebar
  • Login and logout functions now work as expected
  • A “Free Signup” button has been added to the sidebar
  • A paid membership button has been added to the top of the center section
  • A list of “sticky” Favorite posts has been placed below the recent posts

Please try out the website now and give us feedback about your user experience. I’m not a programmer, but given time, I can usually find a solution to technical problems.

Go to Aikido Journal Members Site
Thanks to all who have assisted us during the rollout of the new website!

Oct
13

“More on the digitization and translation of audio recordings of famous aikido teachers,” by Stanley Pranin

I would like to thank all of you who have taken the time to reply and provide your input on the project I proposed yesterday: the digitization and translation of the hundreds of hours of audio recordings of important Japanese aikido teachers in the Aikido Journal archives. Rather than give individual answers to your feedback, I will group together my comments.

Concerning the translation of audio recordings, the first step, is of course, to make a transcription of the tape. This means many Japanese will need to get involved due to the large volume of recordings to be processed. It is of utmost importance that the text be digitized as it then becomes searchable and indexable.

Also, Japanese and Japanese-speaking volunteers will be essential to the translation effort. I’m not sure to what extent this could be aided by translation software. I would like to get some more input on the state of the art at this point in time.

As to fund-raising efforts, I have given this a great deal of thought. I would rather not seek out and become dependent on an outside entity for funding. If we can sufficiently grow the Aikido Journal Members Site subscriber base, I think it is entirely possible to self-fund the project. I have some ideas on this and would like your feedback as well.

We will do all of the digitizing in-house. I hope to post the first interview later today as a sample of what sort of material we are talking about.

If good audio-processing and automatic speech recognition algorithms exist as Mikel mentions, that would be a tremendous aid. We would have to test the feasibility of available software on the sample audio file. In almost all cases, the speakers voices are clearly audible. If further processing would result in enhanced audio, it would certainly be worthwhile to undertake the effort. This is definitely an area where outside volunteers could assist.

Storage right now is being handled using Amazon S3. The idea of mirroring the audio archives on one or more servers is a good one. It can be encrypted for security purposes.

I really like Jeff’s idea of getting Japanese university students involved in the transcription-translation phases of the project. If this could be coordinated, it would give an amazing boost to the effort. Anyone having connections along these lines is encouraged to come forward to discuss how to carry this idea out.

Another great idea from Jeff: “Another possibility is to approach shihan who studied under the person interviewed and see if they would ask one of their dedicated students to work on the translation.” That thought never occurred to me. Excellent!

Keith’s idea of getting university Japanese departments is a good one. Most universities of any size will have one.

I hope my comments here have furthered the discussion. I think the two critical areas are building up the Members Site subscriber base, and enlisting the participation of many Japanese with a good knowledge of English.

What I propose now is the following:

  • I will digitize and upload the first interview today, time permitting
  • Readers, please come up with suggestions about how to grow the number of subscribers to the Aikido Journal Members Site. Here is the link to subscribe: http://www.aikidojournal.com/shop/productdetails?code=sub-mem-1-yr
  • Also, please make suggestions about how to galvanize the effort to find Japanese volunteers. Maybe those having Japanese practitioners in their dojos can approach their Japanese dojo mates and discuss the project. Let them know that we would certainly be open to the idea of providing free subscriptions and products to volunteers by way of compensation.

As a result of this next stage, I would like to come up with an action plan with specific steps to take.

Thanks all!

Yours in Aiki,

Stan Pranin

Sep
21

“Aikido’s Library of Alexandria,” by Stanley Pranin

The Alexandria Library was celebrated as the most important treasury of information in the world at the time. Its disappearance is rightly seen as a catastrophe and symbolic of the loss of respect for knowledge that followed the collapse of Classical civilization.

That’s how I conceive of the new Aikido Journal Members Site… “Aikido’s Library of Alexandria,” a repository for thousands of articles, photos, videos, audio recordings, and every sort of documentation pertaining to aikido and related subjects.

You know, I began research into aikido back in the early 1970s by translating a series of newspaper articles about Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Since that time, I’ve conducted more than 200 interviews with many of aikido’s greatest figures. A large portion of these edited conversations are housed in our indexed archives on this site.

During this long period, I have experienced the joys of many wonderful moments and research breakthroughs… meeting with scores of extraordinary people from all walks of life, the discovery of old photos, films, documents, and much more. I have also been frustrated by the realization that many of the most important aikido documents kept in private hands will never see the light of day. Far be it for me to judge the reasoning of those who have chosen to keep important materials to themselves, but the fact of the matter is that these precious documents might just as well not exist. As the years pass, the disappointment I have felt due to this state of affairs has diminished, for there is much to do. In fact, recently, I have come to the realization that I might be guilty of this same sort of neglect unless I take action. What do I mean by that?

Well, even though we’ve been active for several decades and have published thousands of pages, photos, and all manner of documents about aikido, there is much more material that remains stored away… unedited and unpublished. You see, we’re in a race against time. How many years will it take to process and publish all of the important items in our care? A long, long time, that’s for sure. The sense of urgency I feel is palpable….

Read the rest of the article on the Aikido Journal Members Site:

  • Click here to access the article.
  • If not already logged into the Members Site, please enter your email address and password at this time to get access.

Not yet a member? Click here to sign up for a free membership and enjoy access to all of the free materials available on the Aikido Journal Members Site with our compliments. All it takes is your name and an email address!

Sep
19

Living History: Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s 1974 Demonstration in Los Angeles by Stanley Pranin


On April 15, 1974, a very important aikido event occurred in Los Angeles, California. Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba headlined a well-attended demonstration held in the Scottish Rite Auditorium.

The fact that Doshu had traveled from Japan to lead this demonstration was certainly special. However, a great deal was going on behind the scenes and, in many ways, this event was truly historic. This is exactly the point in time when the resignation of Koichi Tohei from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo had become imminent. In fact, Koichi Tohei was in Los Angeles at the very same time to give a demonstration and seminar! Aikido in the USA was in a state of upheaval.

This tour to the USA by Doshu was of great importance because an impending void—the absence of the 10th dan Chief Instructor—had to be immediately filled. It was Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s son, who would step in to fill that role. The demonstration was a huge success. Yoshimitsu Yamada, Mitsunari Kanai, and Akira Tohei (no relation to Koichi Tohei) all came to town to support Doshu. Members of several Los Angeles-area aikido schools, and Bill Witt from Northern California gave a demonstration. I took ukemi for Morito Suganuma who accompanied Doshu from Japan. The event was organized through the strenuous efforts of Francis and Mariye Takahashi. I don’t recall what the seating capacity of the auditorium was, but many hundreds attended, and I think it was a full house.

The reason I can recall all of this is because I recently ran across the program of the event. I have scanned it for you. By the way, the program is autographed by Doshu. It will now have a new home on the Aikido Journal Members Site… and on your computers at home!

Subscribers to the Aikido Journal Members Site should proceed as follows to download the demonstration program:

  • First, log in to the Members Site here
  • Click this link to download the pdf file of the demonstration program.

NOTE: This rare document is available to both free and paid subscribers.

Not yet a member? Click here to sign up for a free membership and enjoy access to all of the free materials available on the Aikido Journal Members Site with our compliments. All it takes is your name and an email address!

Sep
01

“Aikido and Injuries,” by Stanley Pranin

aikido-cruncher

“In a moral world, there would exist a level of implicit trust,
an unspoken contract, between practice partners”

There is a subject of considerable importance that we have dealt with on several occasions over the years. I would like, however, to broach it again in a more systematic manner. I refer to the topic of aikido training injuries. When aikido is talked about in print, the focus seems to be more on the aspects of harmony, blending and spiritual matters and some of the more mundane areas revolving around practice in the dojo are easily neglected. These include the inevitable muscle strains, body soreness, jammed toes and fingers and the various other “occupational” hazards inherent to our art. They are forgotten, that is, until that inevitable day when we ourselves become the victims of an injury and must live with the accompanying pain.

Common Training Injuries

What are the common aikido injuries? How are they likely to occur? I’ll list some of those that immediately spring to mind along with their usual causes and readers can compare notes.

  • Wrist injuries: ikkyo pins, nikyo, sankyo, kotegaeshi, shihonage.
  • Elbow injuries: ikkyo pins, shihonage, juji garami.
  • Shoulder injuries: shihonage, nikyo pins, sankyo pins, incorrect or obstructed falls.
  • Head and neck injuries: shihonage, incorrect or obstructed falls.
  • Back injuries: the so-called “high” falls from shihonage and from koshinage.
  • Knee injuries: (structural) improper loading of partner in koshinage, poor positioning of feet while executing techniques, failure to twist hips thereby releasing strain on knee joints, outside lateral impacts; (surface) excessive practice of seated techniques.
  • Toes and fingers: toes caught on hakamas, mats (the little toe on my right foot is about twice the size of the one on my left foot, but, then again, my shoe size is eleven!), etc., and numerous situations where fingers become jammed.

This list is by no means complete and doesn’t include miscellaneous scratches and black and blue marks which are usually not of much consequence although they can be annoying.

[Read more...]

Aug
13

“Trains are dangerous in Japan… You need Aikido!”, by Stanley Pranin

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about an experience I had on a train in Japan many years ago that involved a violent altercation. Actually, I was involved in a second incident that took place a few years later that I’d like to relate.

One day, I was on the train heading to a city in Northern Japan to do a film show. It was a rainy day and many people were carrying umbrellas as is the custom–and necessity–in Japan. As I was seated relaxing on the way to my destination, I noticed a drunk man a few steps away from me disturbing other passengers.

This fellow would turn to different passengers making rude comments and trying to provoke a fight. He was a little fellow, not at all imposing, but he was certainly making a nuisance out of himself. I kept watching him carefully because he made me uncomfortable, and I was concerned he might attack someone. As in the previous episode I described, the other passengers were watching the man, but sat there doing nothing. No one dared intervene.

Shortly thereafter, the man went up to a middle-aged woman, and tried to engage her in conversation. She simply turned around hoping that the drunk would leave her alone. He then grabbed the lady’s umbrella and took it away from her. She was angry, but did not dare to try to take it back.

I could feel my body and mind kicking into a ready state. I knew that the drunk’s actions were totally unpredictable, and that he now had a weapon in his hand in the form of an umbrella.

The drunk, for his part, was angry with the woman who attempted to ignore him. Suddenly, he raised the umbrella as if to strike her. At that instant, I moved quickly from my seat because it did not take any great leap of imagination to see that he might hurt the woman. I felt no hesitation. It was almost like training in the dojo.

I moved toward him quickly and extended my arm under his chin as we do in iriminage. Having secured his head, I pushed on the small of his back and pulled him backward off balance. From there, it was an easy matter to take the umbrella away from him.

While still controlling the drunk, I gave the umbrella back to the woman, and moved him toward the sliding door. Soon, the train arrived at the next station and I ushered the drunk out of the train onto the platform. As I had all of my gear with me, I quickly reentered the train, and sat down to resume my journey.

The woman looked at me and bowed her head in thanks. I was relieved it was over, and a little upset by the fact that no one else nearby took any steps to defuse the situation.

I must say that I at no time felt any personal danger. I was huge compared to the small, drunk man. His coordination was impaired by his condition, so physically he was no match for me. Also, I was in Japan where the possession of a weapon in a public place is a rarity. In reflection, I might not have chosen to intervene in the way I did had I been in another country. If the person was large, or had companions, and possibly had a weapon, that would have changed everything. I felt that it was very important to be able to rapidly assess your surroundings and gage the probable level of danger.

I was really thankful that I had been doing aikido for a long time and could respond unhesitatingly in such a situation. Just another day in Japan!

Aug
09

“A Tribute to Sadateru Arikawa Shihan,” by Stanley Pranin

sadateru-arikawa-leg-pin

“As close as I was with Arikawa Sensei, he will always remain an enigma. He was extremely intelligent and perceptive and yet preferred to remain in the background.”

Sadateru Arikawa (1930-2003)

On October 11, 2003, the aikido world lost 9th dan Sadateru Arikawa, one of the few remaining giants of the postwar generation of instructors that played a predominant role in the dissemination of the art worldwide. I had the pleasure of knowing and associating with this enigmatic figure over a 33-year period. During that time he taught me a great deal about Japanese martial arts history, research methodology, etiquette, and the ins and outs of the aikido subculture. Arikawa Sensei was talkative, tireless, severe yet cheerful, fearsome on the mat, and fiercely loyal to the Ueshiba family. There was no one more knowledgeable than he on all things aikido-related. He was a walking dictionary and a martial arts’ historian par excellence.

In this tribute, I will endeavor to provide an insight into this colorful figure by describing some of the highlights of our long association.

I initially encountered Sadateru Arikawa on my first trip to Japan in the summer of 1969. His reputation of being ferocious on the mat had preceded him and I wasn’t disappointed when I participated in one of his classes for the first time. With a big smile on his face he would apply painful joint-locks (kansetsuwaza) and powerful throws to any and all who would knowingly or foolishly volunteer a limb. I think I only attended two or three of his classes during that summer figuring that I would be tempting the hands of fate if I trained in his class on a regular basis.

At that time, there was a series of cartoons drawn by a British aikidoka circulating at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. The drawing depicting Arikawa Sensei showed the figure of a cowering student crawling underneath the tatami in order to escape treatment at the hands of “Harry”–a pun on the first three letters of his name and a reference to his thick, black shock of hair–as Sensei was affectionately known among the foreigners at the dojo.

Cartoon by Eric George circulating at Hombu Dojo in 1969


[Read more...]

Aug
05

“Did Morihei ever injure or kill anyone? Here is what we know…,” by Stanley Pranin

Morihei Ueshiba at Kobukan Dojo c. 1936

A recent blog on Aikido Journal that touched upon the subject of competition in martial arts resulted in a rather animated discussion. One reader wrote an interesting comment from which I will quote a few of lines:

“… [O-Sensei's] art and attitudes changed over the course of a lifetime. He lived in a time when defending one’s well-being against an opponent was not a voluntary act, and he no doubt maimed and killed a number of human beings. I have no doubt that in his later years he would frown on competition just as other masters of his era did, but this is a different era. In his younger years, he joined the military and went to war; he injured human beings and took lives. Aikido philosophy is no doubt heavily influenced by that fact.”

[Excerpt slightly edited. -Ed]

I had quite a strong reaction, especially to the part of there being “no doubt” that Morihei had “maimed and killed a number of human beings.” The voice inside me protested that this was simply not true. Then I thought about it for a while and realized that some readers of Morihei’s biography might conclude that such incidences may have taken place.

So let’s take a look at what we know about Morihei on this subject during his early years. As far as injuries go, this would presumably refer to various fights that Morihei had participated in as a young man. Kisshomaru refers to various altercations in which Morihei was involved as a youth in Tanabe. The accounts are few and vague and no serious injuries, and certainly no deaths, are mentioned.
[Read more...]

Aug
02

“Ah, the many sleuths among you!”, by Stanley Pranin

As I sit down to write this, 17 of the sleuths among you took the time to write down your views on the seven points I listed as “common misconceptions about aikido.” Job well done, guys! I recommend everyone read these comments.

What do you say we have some more fun? Are you up for a little more detective work? Ok, this is what we’re after… historical exchange rate equivalencies between the Japanese Yen and the US dollar. Here’s why:

“After he returned from the scouting expedition, O-Sensei began to promote a group settlement in Hokkaido and received a tremendous response. Fifty-four heads of families applied, for a total of eighty people in all. With the exception of a few families, however, most of the prospective settlers couldn’t afford the costs of relocation. O-Sensei asked his father Yoroku to contribute ten thousand yen as financial support for these less well-off families. an amount equivalent to two or three hundred thousand dollars in present-day money.” [1912]

A Life in Aikido, by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, p. 86

“The money [the Ueshibas] needed for the move [to Ayabe], about ten thousand yen, was raised through a five-year loan using O-Sensei’s inheritance from his father as collateral.” [1920]

Ibid, p. 117

Do the two quotes above not seem somewhat at odds to you? Think through the implications. Imagine that you are imprisoned like the Count of Monte Cristo in the Château d’If, and have plenty of time on your hands to reflect and analyze!

These elusive exchange rate equivalencies will come in handy in other instances where large sums of money are mentioned at key intervals in O-Sensei’s life. Here are the questions to be answered:

How much was ¥10,000 in 1912 equivalent to in today’s money?

How much was ¥10,000 in 1920 equivalent to in today’s money?

Please come up with the approximate equivalencies and links to the sources you used to determine the amounts in today’s money.

The answers to these questions will help us solve another controversial monetary issue that would haunt Morihei for many years and place his character in question. I’ll save that story for another time.

Lend me your brain power!

Aug
01

“Common Misconceptions about Aikido History,” by Stanley Pranin

morihei-ueshiba-portrait-575

Have you heard or read any of these?

I began the publication of Aiki News in 1974 centered on translations of a series of Japanese newspaper articles on Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. From this modest beginning, I gradually came to realize that many of the notions about aikido history I began with ran contrary to actual fact.

Over the years, I have endeavored to correct what I regard as erroneous information through editorials and essays published in Aikido Journal. Rather than offer undocumented opinions, I have attempted to clearly state my sources of information and the reasons for reaching such conclusions.

Many of the common mistakes made by historians have been perpetuated in print for decades. Unfortunately, they are here to stay. This is especially true for works written in Western languages which, in almost all cases, draw on secondary sources. Although Aikido Journal has a broad readership built up over 37 years of publication, we do not represent the mainstream of thought in the aikido world on historical matters.

Below I have listed a number of oft-repeated viewpoints on historical issues relating to aikido that one frequently encounters in mainstream publications. Have a careful look at these statements purported to be historical fact and see if you have encountered any of them.

1. Morihei Ueshiba’s father, Yoroku, was a wealthy farmer and councilman in Tanabe, Morihei’s birthplace. He funded Morihei’s activities as a young man. Moreover, he lent large somes of money to Tanabe families who joined Morihei on his move to the wilderness of Hokkaido. He also provided the financing of the considerable sums paid to Sokaku Takeda for Morihei’s instruction in Daito-ryu jujutsu.

2. Morihei Ueshiba learned only a short time under Sokaku Takeda. Daito-ryu was one of several old-style martial arts that influenced aikido. Morihei drew from several technical sources when creating aikido, not mainly Daito-ryu.

3. Morihei was not a regular member of the Omoto Sect, but rather a personal follower of Onisaburo Deguchi.

4. Morihei’s son, Kisshomaru, was groomed to succeed his father from childhood.

5. Morihei Ueshiba took an active role in the postwar dissemination of aikido.

6. Postwar aikido instructors studied directly under Morihei Ueshiba for lengthy periods in the 1950s and 60s.

7. Historically speaking, aikido forms are based on taijutsu or empty-handed techniques. The study of weapons is optional, and an adjunct to empty-handed training.

Please weigh in with your opinions on these viewpoints. Have you come across any of these in your readings? In what context? Add you comments, please. We have many smart and articulate readers here, and I would love to hear your viewpoints.

After we have heard from you, I will write a follow-up article to explain what I have found to be historical fact on these subjects. I will point to my sources and how I arrived at my viewpoints.

Over to you!

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