Morihei Ueshiba
Founder of Aikido

Words of the Founder: “Learning from Failure”

by Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei

Editor’s Note: This writing of O-Sensei was originally published in The Aikido, Volume 25, No. 4, 1988 and reprinted in The USAF Eastern Region Newsletter in 1989.

The principle components of Aiki Keiko training are Ki-form exercises and the Principle of Tanren (Tanren- ho).

The most extreme type of Ki-form training is a true life-or-death duel. Budo are originally devoid of the contests that are common to most sports. This is because in Budo, a contest invariably involves risking serious injury or death. It is, moreover, a great mistake to seek out contests, as to inflict a lethal injury on anyone is the greatest crime a man can commit.

From ancient times in Japan the guiding principle of Budo has been to avoid injury or taking the life of one’s opponent. True Budo is the Way of Great Harmony and the purification of body and soul (Misogi). Budo is in other words, governed by the principle that, in order for man to practice the order of heaven on earth, it is first necessary for him to correct the self and bend to the Ten Thousand Things. It is for this reason that I am particularly saddened by the teachings of those who know little of the true Budo of which I speak and who have fallen, instead, in the militaristic-forms of martial arts that developed later in our country’s history.

Many people seem to be under the impression that I have never lost or encountered any failures. This is not true: I have, in fact, many failures in my past, most of which were caused by weak-heartedness.

On one occasion I traveled to Kanagawa Prefecture to give a demonstration of Aiki together with instruction at the local police department. I was greeted there by my partner, who turned out to be a tall Judo instructor. At one point during the session when I was trying to explain a certain point my partner resisted and I damaged his wrist.

As a result of this experience, however, I was given an important spiritual lesson of not acting contrary to the Way, and of maintaining love for one’s partner at all times. It was after this that I determined to completely adopt a position of true benevolent love.

Another failure in my past came during a visit to a small fishing village while traveling around the countryside. There I encountered a stout amateur sumo wrestler who was a good six 6 feet in height weighing well over 200 pounds. He quickly challenged me to a fight and I accepted. I was not defeated yet was unable to grab hold of him owing to the sweat that made his body extremely slippery. In time, we both began to tire, at which point I then discovered the mysterious way of controlling someone with a single fingertip by manipulating their Ki. In this way, the Aiki Principle of Tanren training was born.

Looking back over the past this way, you will note that I experienced many failures. And yet, with each failure came a new lesson or technique, the cumulative result of which was the completion of the Way of Aiki. There are, in addition to these stories, numerous others about life-or-death situations in which I was attacked by people with wooden Bokken swords or, in some cases, live blades.

It was through these various experiences that I was able to enter into the Way of Shugyo training that I continue to practice today.