Morihei Ueshiba
Founder of Aikido

The Life of O-Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba - Part 3

by Kissomaru Ueshiba, Second Doshu

Editor's Note: Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the founder’s son, recounted O-Sensei's life story, in his book Aikido, which was one of the first books on Aikido translated into English. This is the second installment. We will continue to serialize this biography in future issues of Aikido Online. Photos courtesy of the Aikikai Foundation from the book, The 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Ueshiba Morihei, Founder of Aikido Memorial Photo Collection.

Development of Aikido

Busy Days at Ayabe

When the Founder was living at Ayabe, Wanishaburo Deguchi would announce to everyone he met, "There is a hell of a great warrior at my place." Probably because of this, various people visited his house.

Vice Admiral Seikyo Asano was one of them. Admiral Asano arranged important contacts with the navy for the Founder and later served as his guide when the Founder moved to Tokyo.

Hidetaro Kubota, Yutaka Otsuki, Sogetsu Inagaki, Gunzo Oshikawa, Yoichiro Inoue, were all his students. Kubota (present name, Nishimura; a sixth grade holder of judo) was a student of Waseda University at the time. He was a leading figure in the student judo field, and influenced many people to study Aikido, including Kenji Tomiki and Nobubumi Abe.

He recalls:

"When I was a student at Waseda Higher School, I heard of Prof. Ueshiba from Rev. Deguchi of the Omotokyo religion. Not expecting he could handle himself well, I attacked him. It was the carefree spirit of my youth that drove me to do it. I was amazed that he was so strong. After that time I occasionally served as a private secretary to the Founder."

The Founder's activities became very widespread. After returning from Tokyo, he went to Osaka and Kyushu. He was constantly on the run with his many invitations. However there was no permanent training place (dojo) at that time.

The Master Meets Admiral Takeshita

There was a man named Wasaburo Asano who had an influential position on Deguchi's religious board. Admiral Asano was his brother. He met the Founder and wished to introduce the true value of his art to many others. He consulted with Admiral Isamu Takeshita, who was his classmate at the Naval Academy. The admiral, being fond of budo, requested the Founder to come to Tokyo. The two met at the mansion of businessman Kiyoshi Umeda. He had the same temperament as the Founder and became one of his earnest sponsors. After that time he often requested the Founder to come to Tokyo. Through the introduction of Admiral Takeshita, Count Gonnohyoe Yamamoto had an opportunity to see the Founder in action. He was astonished with his art of using the spear.

This event was followed by others, which brought more noble people into his classes. A twenty-one day course of training was offered at the Aoyama Palace for those members of the Emperor's guard who were fifth-grade holders or above in judo or kendo. A temporary dojo was set up at the mansion of Ichizaemon Morimura. Groups of selected people from various fields began to visit the dojo.

Move to Tokyo: Training at a Rented House

The Founder's family moved from Ayabe to Tokyo during early 1927. They rented a two-storied house of five rooms at Sarumachi, Shiba Shirogane for 55 yen a month. Kiyoshi Yamamoto, a son of Count Gonnohyoe, and Admiral Takeshita helped them.

The billiards room of Prince Shimazu's mansion was remodeled and offered as a dojo. About that time, the daughters of Takeshita, Shimazu, Yamamoto and other nobles earnestly began to train.

In the first part of 1928 the Founder moved again. Among the students during that time, there were such admirals and generals as Takeshita, Eisuke Yamamoto, Sankichi Takahashi, Gengo Momotake, Ban Hasunuma, Nobutake Kondo and well-known people in financial and political circles. Iwao Kasahara, the student judo champion, entered the Founder's classes about then, too. Aiki captured public attention as a new budo just then appearing in the city of Tokyo.

The Founder was invited to be a budo teacher at the Naval Academy, and most of the teachers and students of the Academy studied under him. First class actors and dancers, including the late Kikugoro, came to learn the body movements of Aiki.

The applicants were many. Among them were Yoichiro Inoue, who had been raised by the Founder since he was small; Takeshi Nishimi, a sixth- grade holder of judo, who was the first deshi in Tokyo; Hisao Kamata, Kikuo Kaneko, and others.

The number of followers increased. It became impossible to receive any more of them. He moved again to Shiba Takanawa Kurumamachi in 1929, but this house also became too small within six months. At last the construction of a formal dojo and residence was discussed and an executive committee was quickly appointed.

A fairly large house situated on a hill in Mejiro was selected as a temporary residence to be used during the time the Headquarters Dojo was being constructed.

A Visit by Professor Kano

It was a memorable event when Professor Jigoro Kano, founder of judo, visited this temporary house with his assistant, Professor Nagaoka and others. A good many high grader holders of judo had personally visited Master Ueshiba, but no one had been officially dispatched from the Kodokan, Kano's dojo and the headquarters of the judo movement. After seeing the Founder's Aikido in action, Mr. Kano is said to have remarked, "This is my ideal budo." He later revealed his feelings to his staff in this way.

"To tell the truth, I would like to engage Ueshiba here at the Kodokan, but since he is a master in his own right, that will be impossible. Therefore I'd like to dispatch some able men from our art to study with Ueshiba."

It was not long after when Nagaoka came to study along with Minoru Mochizuki and Jiro Takeda. Nagaoka began to slack off after a brief period of study for various reasons, one of which was his age. Mochizuki, however, has continued to concentrate on the study of Aikido.

Completion of Kobukan Dojo

As the roll of new students gradually increased the training became so intense that the owner of the Mejiro property complained that even the beams of the house had begun to learn Aikido.

The new 80-mat dojo located at the present site in Ushigome (presently Shinjuku) Wakamatsu-cho was finally completed in April of 1931. It was named the Kobukan.

The Founder set up strict precautions to prevent the misuse of Aiki and would accept as new students only those whose character was vouched for. He was not interested in advertising Aiki; even so, the dojo grew rapidly.

"Hell Dojo of Ushigome" and the Uchideshi

There were thirty or forty live-in students, uchideshi, at that time. Most of them were high-grade holders of judo or kendo, many weighing more than 80 kilograms. These men, quite full of vitality, would exercise so much and train so hard that the place became known as the "Hell Dojo of Ushigome."

The young apprentices were concentrating on their studies in the microcosm of the dojo, separated from worldly affairs. They were ambitious. They had an intense desire to learn the secrets of Aiki under the guidance of the Founder and gain insight into a higher way of life.

The seniors were Inoue and Kamata. The new leading figures were Hajime Iwata of Waseda University, Minoru Mochizuki and Aritoshi Murashige. They had been dispatched from Kodokan. They made an earnest effort, day and night, to make a good atmosphere in the new dojo. However late they sat up, even till two or three in the morning, they would jump up at five and begin cleaning the floor.

Among the uchideshi living with the busy Founder and taking care of him, Kaoru Furiabashi and Tsutomu Yukawa distinguished themselves. Warm natured Funabashi could take breakfalls freely while holding a spear in his hands. Yukawa felt an abiding power in himself after ten years of Aikido study and could easily clap together two bales of rice. They had extremely opposite characters. These two men, now having since died, were always publicly and privately assisting the Founder.

About the period from 1933 to 1935, Shigemi Yonekawa, Rinjiro Shirata, Zensaburo Akazawa, and Gozo Shioda joined the "Aiki Budo" group. There were also Kenji Tomiki and Tesshin Hoshi, who came from judo.

Tomiki studied under the Founder from the time he had been famed as "the Tomiki of the Waseda University Judo Club." He entered the teaching profession in his hometown for a while after his graduation. However his attachment to Aikido was irresistible; he resigned his position and joined the students of Aikido again. His manner of studying was very sincere, and continued until he was appointed to a new post as a professor of the Manchukuo National Foundation University.

Tesshin Hoshi was a judo teacher at a high school in Kii Province. He was easily handled with one hand by Aiki man Tsutomu Yukawa, one of his former students at the high school. He fell in love with Aiki, and studied intensively for two years. The exceedingly self-confident Hoshi reflected on his two-year's hard study and deplored the fact that he could never be a match for the Founder, no matter what he might do.

Rinjiro Shirata, full of talent, was considered a prodigy and admired as the pride of Kobukan. A few episodes from his life may show the temperament of the deshi of that time. He knocked on the gate of the Master in 1933 and studied for five years, until he departed for the front lines with the army. Those were the most gallant days of the Kobukan.

In 1934, one year after entering, he was dispatched to the Okayama Branch of the Budo Enhancement Association with fellow deshi Mr. Hashimoto. They were challenged to a match by two locals who were boastful of their abilities. Shirata declined solidly saying, "There is no competition in Aikido. A match means killing each other. Moreover it is the principle of 'Aiki Budo' not to fight." They wouldn't listen to him. So he stood up from necessity and threw one of them and pinned his hands. He then joked, "You see? Can you resist the world of non-resistance?"

There was another uchideshi who was more than six feet tall. He had experience in professional sumo, the traditional Japanese-style wrestling. He boasted about his abilities and talked in a grandiose style. He was quickly and easily pinned by Shirata. After that he never spoke about budo in front of Shirata.

There are many others to write about, including the vigorous Gozo Shiota. The burning will and effort of all founded a tradition of fortitude at the Kobukan.

Establishment of Dojo and Branches

There was a lively old man named Kyugoro Kuroyanagi living at Ushigome Kagurazaka. He was deeply impressed with the Founder and rebuilt one of his houses at Fujimidai, making it into a dojo. He rented it as a branch dojo. People could take advantage of its favorable location.

Seiji Noma, leading publisher and moralist, respected the Founder's way of living and training as a warrior. He rebuilt his house and offered to lend it to the Founder. His son Kiyoshi, the first to become a student, devoted himself to hard training. He had vigorous energy because he had recently won a kendo championship in a contest held for the Emperor. Meanwhile earnest applicants and potential association members appeared in the Osaka Area. Soon a branch dojo was set up there. Other dojos were then set up in various places. The Founder was kept busy visiting them. Occasionally, he stayed for only 10 to 12 days a month in the Tokyo Headquarters.

Budo Enhancement Association

On October 13, 1932 the Budo Enhancement Association (Budo-Sen'yokai) was born. The Founder took office as president. A 150-mat dojo was set up at Takeda, Tamba Province, to receive energetic young students. The Founder bought an old house at Takeda and made it into the headquarters of the association. It was traditionally said that a party of Loyalists of the Restoration Period, pursued by Shogunate officials, had killed themselves by hara-kiri in the house. People used to call it the "Ghost House".

The efforts of the members finally yielded fruit, and branches of the association were set up in various areas of Japan. The Headquarters enrollment of students greatly increased as well.

The Headquarters at Takeda were always crowded with 70 or 80 students and many episodes are related about them. Fujisawa handled an iron staff of 110 pounds with ease and skill. Ryosuke Suzuki carried a stone which weighed about 650 pounds to a riverbed. Tsutomu Yuasa could bend back a six-inch nail. People of this caliber went back and forth, assembled and departed. They made the scene look like the center of the stock market.

Though many visited the Aiki dojo, they all knew the Founder engaged in extremely severe training. It was not a few times that the Founder immediately rejected demonstrating his art if he did not agree with the manners of the sponsors, or approve of those people gathered to watch. Those who entered the dojo in informal dress, or watched the training while standing, or folded their arms, were ordered out of the room.