“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!


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


“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

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“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.
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“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!


“Common Misconceptions about Aikido History,” by Stanley Pranin


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!



“Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda,” by Stanley Pranin

Sokaku Takeda & Morihei Ueshiba

“The Love-Hate Relationship between Two Martial Arts Giants”

This series of articles will focus on the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, and the development of his innovative martial art. Our approach will be to recall some of the highlights of his long career through his association with various historical persons of note. Hence this initial article will attempt to shed light on the highly significant but little understood relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda.

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

Takeda was 54 years old when Morihei Ueshiba first met him at the Hisada Inn in Engaru, Hokkaido in late February 1915. This was to be the beginning of a long, stormy yet ultimately productive association between the two lasting more than twenty years.

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“Applying aikido in real life on the train in Japan,” by Stanley Pranin

“I immediately stood up and ran to the other end of the car. Neither man saw me coming. One was in a rage and the other dazed.”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley PraninMany people who practice aikido have read the famous story titled “A Kind Word Turneth Away Wrath” written by Terry Dobson about an incident that occurred on a train in Tokyo. This tale gained fame due to its publication in “Reader’s Digest” sometime in the 1970s. It appears all over the Internet and is pointed to with pride by many aikido practitioners as an example of the lofty principles underlying the art and true conflict resolution. You can find the story here. I heartily recommend you read it.

Actually, I too have a true story to tell about a violent incident in which I was involved that took place on a train in Japan.

The incident took place in the early 1980s one morning when I was riding on a Tokyo subway. I was seated lost in thought when I noticed a commotion at the other end of the car in which I was seated. Two men had come to blows, and one was clearly dominating and had by that time thoroughly bloodied his adversary.

No one made any effort to stop the fight, or for that matter, do anything. My fellow passengers stared as if hypnotized by the violent spectacle unfolding before their eyes.

After a few seconds, something horrible was about to happen. The aggressor grabbed his hapless opponent by his collar and hair and started to bang his head against an upright steel post that people grab to steady themselves when standing. I don’t remember thinking about much of anything other than the man could be critically injured or even killed as a result of what was happening.

I immediately stood up and ran to the other end of the car. Neither man saw me coming. One was in a rage and the other dazed. As soon as I approached within a couple of feet of them, I let out probably the loudest kiai shout I had ever mustered in my life. The man who was inflicting the damage looked in my direction in a state of utter shock. He back away slightly.

Again, I don’t remember thinking about anything, but I reacted without hesitation and grabbed the arm of the victim and started quickly leading him away from the scene of the fight. He offered no resistance to what I was doing. I frankly doubt that he could even think coherently in the sad state he was in. I moved him quickly out the other end of the car and walked him down further about three cars away from the scene of the fight. I wanted to get far enough away in case the other man tried to follow.

By that time, the train was pulling into the next station, and I walked the poor man off the train and asked him if he was alright. Apart from being bloodied, he seemed to be okay. To be honest, I can’t remember much of what happened after that. The train we were on pulled away, and I waited for the next one to come to continue my journey.

I never saw either man again. I have no idea what happened to either subsequently. All I did was move unhesitatingly with full intent. I acted tactically to distract the two fighting men with a loud, unexpected shout, so that I wouldn’t have to get entangled in their fight. I chose to deal with the victim as I didn’t anticipate any resistance on his part. The attacker was as if paralyzed by the unexpected turn of circumstances.

Was this an application of aikido? I suppose so. I didn’t actually apply a technique. I personally did not feel endangered, but I was fearful of the fate that may have befallen the weaker of the two men.

That’s my story!

Please share yours…


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“Martial arts practice and the deceived mind,” by Stanley Pranin


“I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident,
so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

This blog has been brewing in my brain for a long time. I have noted what to me is an inexplicable phenomenon in the thinking of many martial artists. Allow me to lay out the scenario.

Although there are many reasons for wanting to take up the study of a martial art, certainly the most common one is the desire to learn to defend oneself usually born of fear. Nothing surprising here. That was certainly the case when I began.

So one takes up the study of a martial art and, little by little, begins to acquire a certain amount of proficiency.

The realization that one has attained some skills often leads to an aggrandized ego, and a false belief that one will be able to handle himself in a violent encounter; this notwithstanding the fact that his skills are untested.

If one reaches the level of becoming a senior student in a martial arts school, in many cases there is pressure on him to begin entering competition. If the school can turn out “champions,” it is very good publicity to attract still more students.

If our hypothetical senior-student-turned-competitor does indeed enter the ring, and fares well, we have an interesting conundrum. Here is a young person who chose to study a martial art to learn to protect himself, to avoid injury. This same person places himself in harm’s way for fame and perhaps monetary reward.

The fear of the inability to defend himself is replaced by the fear of the potential for injury during competition. The novice faced with violence may be in an unavoidable situation. The competitor in the ring is there as the result of an act of volition.

The competitive environment may be far more dangerous that a common fight against an untrained opponent. This time, the adversary is likely to be skilled in various fighting arts, and capable of dealing a deadly blow in some circumstances.

Perhaps it is the illusion of safety promised by rules that deludes the young fighter into believing he is not risking his health and well-being. Or perhaps the lure of fame and fortune clouds his thinking.

Why is there a doctor on hand, and medical equipment, and an ambulance on call? If you play golf or tennis or go bowling–all forms of competitive activity–such precautions are not necessary.

Do you see the fundamental contradiction? “I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident, so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

This is not the aikido way. This is the realm of sports and competition. It appeals to the lust for blood and violence that is instinctive in much of mankind. Those that participate and those that spectate at these events share a common mentality and morality.

What should be the goals of our aikido training?


Stanley Pranin offers you solutions to problems
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“Yoga Warmups for Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

“Incorporating Yoga Exercises into Aikido Training”

Recently, I wrote a blog titled “How I solved my chronic back problem.” It elicited a lot of comments from others with back problems, some describing their own experiences, and some asking questions. One reader requested that I explain in more detail what yoga exercises I was doing.

In thinking about it, I thought that a video would be the best way to show what yoga postures we had incorporated into our aikido training in my little garage dojo. So here is that video demonstrating the yoga routine we use as part of our aikido warmups. Please feel free to add your comments.

I would be particularly interested in getting commentary from you yoga adepts out there. What this video shows is very, very basic. There is much more that can be done if one cares to delve deeper into this ancient discipline. I find it a perfect complement to aikido training.


“Dashing Duels Fuel A Young Man’s Fancy,” by Stanley Pranin

A poster from the 1962 film starring Toshiro Mifune

I have described elsewhere the circumstances surrounding my beginning aikido in 1962. There was, at the same time, another influence that served to spark my imagination, and spur me on to attend aikido class regularly. Let me tell you what happened.

Among my mates at the aikido dojo was a man about 35 years old named Bill. Bill was among the most interesting people I’ve ever met, and he opened up new worlds to me at a time when I was very impressionable. One day, Bill invited me to drive up to Los Angeles to see a “samurai movie.” “Watch the heck is a ‘samurai movie’,” I wondered. At 17, I was game to try anything. He wouldn’t tell me very much about what we were going to see, and he purposely tried to create an aura of mystery.

So we drove up to the Toho La Brea Theater in Los Angeles one Saturday evening to see my first samurai flick. I don’t remember what movie we saw, but I certainly recall the laser-focus and emotion that engulfed me when I saw my first dueling scene! The stirrings that welled up inside me were almost overwhelming!

Bill pointed out to me how the physiognomy of the noble samurai differed from the characters from the lower caste. He stressed their self-control and discipline, and how this was essential to battle strategy. This was really a new world for me! And fortunately, I now had somewhere to go to act out the fantasies paraded before me on the big screen–the aikido dojo! It was a potent combination. I was really motivated to return to training  with a new intensity and seldom missed a practice!

Of course, before long, I began to know who Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune were. I saw all the famous samural flicks: “The 7 Samurai,” “Yojimbo,” “Sanjuro,” “Red Beard,” “Miyamoto Musashi,” and so on. Oh, and another film whose title I will never forget, “Katame no Ninja” (One-eyed Ninja), introduced me to the world of Japan’s “secret agents,” who were polar opposites of the glamorous James Bond who was so popular at the same time.

Everyone who was studying aikido seriously at the time went to watch these samurai movies. We went not just to entertain ourselves. We would enter almost a trance state with our eyes glued on the movie screen. We imagined ourselves becoming the modern equivalents of these incredible and exotic warriors of the Far East. We too would come to exude the same super-cool as the samurai heroes dashing about before us on the giant screen. And to make these dreams a reality, we had to put in our time on the mat training.

Last night, I scoured youtube for a good dueling scene for you to watch. Most of the better ones I came across from that era are too long. Then, just before retiring, I ran across this excellent sword fighting clip I think you’ll find interesting. A ronin–an itinerant samurai–shows up at a kenjutsu school to present a challenge. This is the kind of thing that Sokaku Takeda was doing in the late 19th century when he roamed about Japan honing his skills.

Click here to see the sword fight scene

And lest it be thought that nothing equivalent exists in western movies, have a look at this sword duel from “The Mark of Zorro.”

Click here to watch Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone battle to the death!


Video blog: Stanley Pranin’s lecture on “Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda”

Stanley Pranin presents a 28-minute lecture titled “Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda.” He explores the complex relationship between these two martial arts geniuses, and explains how Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu techniques form the basis for most of the techniques of modern aikido.

Among the topics covered are the following:

  • Background on Sokaku Takeda
  • Meeting of Morihei and Sokaku in Hokkaido
  • Morihei’s study of Daito-ryu under Sokaku
  • Sokaku’s 1922 visit to Ayabe to teach in Morihei’s dojo
  • Morihei’s licensing as an certified instructor of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu
  • Morihei’s connection with Sokaku after becoming a professional martial arts instructor
  • Strain in relationship between Morihei and Sokaku over money issues
  • Morihei distances himself from contact with Sokaku and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, and founds his own art called “Aikido”
  • Technical influence of Daito-ryu on modern Aikido
  • Resources for study and training in Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu

Click here for more videos and a special set offer on Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu by Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei


“Keeping up with technological innovation,” by Stanley Pranin

I usually date the start of my formal aikido research activities as April 1974. This was when I first published “Aiki News,” a very modest four-page newsletter. This little labor of love was centered around the translation of a series of biographical articles on Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba published in a Japanese sports newspaper. These early newsletters were produced on copy machines since the print runs were too small to justify offset printing. The sheets were then folded and stapled together by my “volunteer” students who didn’t manage to escape fast enough from the dojo after class!

Around the same time, I offered for sale 8mm films, mainly of O-Sensei, as a resource for those wishing to see what the Founder’s techniques actually looked like. 8mm film was and is a surprisingly durable medium. I still have the film masters which have seemingly withstood the test of time well. All of this was just a hobby, but the satisfaction of the work made me continue.

Moving forward to the early 1980s by which time I was living in Japan, videotape became ubiquitous and all of the O-Sensei films had to be transferred to this new medium. In those days, editing of videotape without employing the services of video professionals–very expensive!–was very primitive. What I could do consisted of little more than insert titles, sometimes handwritten or made by rubbing on letters from plastic sheets available at stationery stores. The newsletter had become a bilingual magazine of sorts, large enough to justify being printed on an offset press. This, too, was quite expensive and usually ate up any revenues from magazine subscriptions.
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