Kisshomaru Ueshiba
Second Doshu
Former Dojocho Aikikai Hombu Dojo

The Essence of Aikido: Doshu K. Ueshiba's Classes at the 1987 USAF Western Region Summer Camp

by Judy Looby, Aikido of Berkeley

Editor's Note: Tthese notes were taken during one of Doshu's visits to the United States. They originally appeared in the Fall 1987 issue of Sansho. Photos courtesy of Hombu dojo.

Doshu began his first class at summer camp by explaining that he would be sharing only four classes with us and during that time would try to explain through lecture, demonstration and practice, the essence of Aikido. I have presented the following summary in sections which correspond approximately to Doshu's four sessions.

1. The Japanese martial arts were inspired originally by the goal of victory on the battlefield. In their original form they are out of place in the modern world. The founder of Aikido dedicated himself to establishing a martial art that would meet the needs of a contemporary people but not be an anachronism.

That Aikido is a modern budo does not simply mean that it has taken on contemporary features found in modernized forms such as judo, kendo and karate. While it has inherited the spiritual aspects of the martial arts and emphasizes the training of mind and body, the others have emphasized competition, stressed their athletic nature and placed priority on winning.

In contrast, Aikido is unique in its refusal to become a competitive sport. Contests which fuel egotism, self-concern and disregard for others are detrimental to budo whose ultimate aim is to become free of the self, to attain "no-self," thus realizing what is truly human.

In our world of machines, war and disintegrating values, the realization of the perfection of humanity through Aikido is the way toward attainment of world peace and harmony.

Paralleling this spiritual uniqueness is the physical embodiment of these ideals. The single most outstanding characteristic that distinguishes Aikido as a budo form is that we evade or parry, we enter into the attack, and we handle the situation by inviting the attacker into the circle that we create.

In order to do this, we must first eliminate the "self" so as to be able to go move with absolute freedom and thus be able to respond appropriately to the moment in a rapid and self-possessed manner. In Aikido we deal. with an attack by receiving the energy in a flowing fashion that redirects and leads the attacker's energy. This is called the principle of spherical rotation and is embodied in the techniques of iriminage. The Aikido student must devote long hours and a major part of his/her training to mastering techniques of spherical rotation through the diligent repetitive practice of tai-sabaki, and various moves such as irimi otoshi, irimi tenkan and irimi issoku. This is what we hope to achieve within our bodies: to empty ourselves of the personal. self and become capable of movement in unrestricted spherical. rotation. This is mastery of the truest essence of the art.

Iriminage variations were demonstrated to emphasize and clarify this class.

2. Sitting and sitting techniques are particularly important to practice. Sitting is the source of proper etiquette, it is basic to many techniques and it is essential for good training. It is necessary to practice and try to overcome the discomfort. Discipline and diligent daily practice of Aikido's basic techniques are the way to perfection.

To emphasize these points Doshu demonstrated and we practiced ikkyo, nikkyo, sankyo, yonkyo (tachi and suwari waza) and kokyudosa in the omote and ura variations in this class.

3. Aikido is intimately connected in basic principles and movement to swordsmanship. It is fundamentally an empty-handed martial art, but the hand (called the sword-hand or tegatana) moves in a manner that follows that of a swordsman. A classic example of Aikido movement being a concrete manifestation of the principle of swordsmanship is shihonage. The principle of this technique is patterned after the basic manner of handling the sword. Using the basic Aikido movements of irimi and spherical motion, the tegatana is used to throw people in four, eight, or sixteen directions.

This technique has infinite variations according to the situation and the need which stems from the attack. Whatever the situation, shihonage essentially follows the same pattern.

First the opponent's balance is taken by irimi and spherical rotation. Then the opponent is drawn into one's own circle of movement, and finally the hands are used as the sword-raised above the head and "cut" down to execute the throw.

These points were emphasized by demonstrations and practice both with bokken and tachiwaza (empty-handed). Special attention was drawn to ma-ai awareness with and without bokken.

4. Aikido manifests the ultimate reality: The flowing spontaneous movements powered by ki. Its goal is the formation of the ideal human self, unifying body and mind, realized through vigorous mental and physical training.

In today's dehumanized world, Aikido offers a way toward personal growth and perfection as a human being.

Each person regardless of age, sex or athletic ability can realize through practice the unification of universal individual ki. This unification is the source of life energy which not only fills the spiritual vacuum, but also provides daily living with real substance and meaning.

Tenchinage was demonstrated and practiced. Free style multiple attack and futaridori were used in this class to emphasize these points.


After the conclusion of Doshu's teachings, Chiba Sensei spoke to us about Doshu's special leadership role in today's world. He emphasized that it was through Doshu's continued efforts that Aikido was brought to the general public -- to be shared as a way to improve mankind in a deteriorating world. Chiba Sensei also explained that it was Doshu's particular gift to be able to continue the line of pure and true Aikido because of the egolessness of his practice.

This special purity of technique that emerges from being able to keep himself a "non-self" in his practice distinguishes him as a great and unique teacher. The teachers who have developed under his tutelage have been unique and diverse -- their Aikido uncontaminated by their teacher's personality.