did you enter the Ueshiba Dojo?
Tohei Sensei: I think it was in 1940. Kisaburo Osawa came
in about a week later. I had been thinking what a poor state of
affairs it was that I could train on my own for a couple of weeks
and come back and throw everyone in the judo dojo. "Why bother
with a martial art like that?" I thought. It was then that I met
Ueshiba Sensei. Shohei Mori, one of my seniors at the judo club
who had worked on the Manchurian Railway, told me about a teacher
with phenomenal strength and asked if Iíd like to meet him. He
gave me a letter of introduction and off I went.
with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in 1953
in Hawaii, circa 1953
Sensei was out when I arrived at the dojo and I was met by an
uchideshi named Matsumoto. I asked him what aikido was all about.
He replied, "Give me your hand and Iíll show you." I knew he was
going to do some move on me, so I stuck out my left hand instead
of my right. Being right handed, I wanted to keep my strongest
hand in reserve. He grabbed my wrist and applied a sharp nikyo
technique. I hadnít strengthened that part of my body at all,
so it was agonizing. Iím sure my face went pale, but I wasnít
about to let him to get the best of me, so I endured the pain
as long as I could. Then I threw a punch at him with my right
hand and he got flustered and let go.
was just starting to think that if this was aikido I might as
well forget it and go home. Just then Ueshiba Sensei returned.
I produced my letter of introduction and he said "Ah yes, from
Mr. Mori..." Then as a demonstration, he began tossing one of
the larger uchideshi around the dojo.
thought it looked kind of fake until Ueshiba Sensei told me to
take off my coat and come at him. I got into a judo stance and
moved in to grab him. To my great surprise, he threw me so smoothly
and swiftly that I couldnít even figure out what had happened.
I knew right then that this was what I wanted to do. I asked permission
to enroll immediately and began going to the dojo every day from
the following morning.
found the training very strange and mysterious, and I was dying
to know how the techniques were done. When someone uses power
to throw you, thereís always something you can do to react or
counter. But itís a different story when the person isnít doing
anything in particular and youíre still getting thrown. I thought,
"Wow, this is the real thing!"
the beginning I had no idea what was going on. Even high school
students could throw me without any trouble. Finding that rather
odd, I tried grabbing even more strongly, but of course then I
was only thrown that much more easily.
the same time I was continuing my training at the Ichikukai [see
the interview with Hiroshi Tada in AJ101 for more information].
I used to stay there overnight and practice zazen and misogi.
The training focused on achieving a kind of enlightened state
in which both body and mind become entirely free from restraint.
It was exhausting, and afterwards I would rush to aikido practice,
already dead tired. To my surprise, I found that in that state
people who could always throw me before were completely unable
to do so! It didnít take me much effort to throw them, either.
Everybody thought it was strange and kept saying things like,
"Whatís with Tohei?! He skips practice and comes back stronger
a lot more difficult for someone to throw you if you let go of
power, and it also becomes much easier to throw your opponent.
I thought about Ueshiba Sensei and realized that he was indeed
relaxed when he did his aikido. It was then that I suddenly understood
the real meaning of "relax."
aikido continued to progress as I continued with my misogi and
zazen. After six months or so I was even sent to teach at places
like the military police academy in Nakano and the private school
(juku) of Shumei Okawa. No one except Sensei could throw me. It
took me only half a year to be able to achieve that degree of
ability, so I think taking five or ten years is too slow.
now most people are trying as hard as they can to learn techniques,
but I was learning about ki from the beginning.
When do you think Ueshiba Sensei mastered that "art of
Tohei Sensei: I think it was probably when he was living in
Ayabe and heavily involved with the Omoto religion. Ueshiba Sensei
often told a story about one day when he was standing by a well
wiping himself off after training and he suddenly realized that
his body had become perfect and invincible. He understood with
remarkable clarity the meaning of the sounds of the birds and
insects and everything else around him. Apparently that state
lasted only for about five minutes, but I think it was then that
he mastered the art of relaxing.
he always talked about that experience using religious-sounding
expressions that were more or less incomprehensible to others.
the war Sensei taught at the Naval Staff College, where he had
Prince Takamatsu (a younger brother of the Showa emperor) as one
of his students. On one occasion the prince pointed at Ueshiba
Sensei and said, "Try to lift up that old man." Four strong sailors
tried their best to lift him but they couldnít do it.
said of that time, "All the many divine spirits of Heaven and
Earth entered my body and I became as immovable as a heavy rock."
Everybody took him literally and believed it. I heard him say
that kind of thing hundreds of times.
my part, I have never had divine beings enter my body. Iíve never
put much stock in that kind of illogical explanation.
when I was with Sensei in Hawaii, there was a demonstration in
which two of the strong Hawaiian students were supposed to try
to lift me up. They already knew they couldnít do it, so they
didnít think much of it. But Sensei, who was off to the side watching,
kept standing up and saying, "Stop, you can lift Tohei, you can
lift him! Stop, make them stop! This demonstrationís no good!"
demonstrating in Hawaii shortly after his arrival
see, I had been out drinking until three oíclock in the morning
the previous evening, and Sensei knew what condition I had come
home in. He said, "Of course the gods arenít going to enter into
a drunken sot like you! If they did theyíd all get tipsy!" Thatís
why he thought they would be able to lift me.
reality that sort of thing has nothing to do with any gods or
spirits. Itís just a matter of having a low center of gravity.
I know this and itís what I teach all my students. It wouldnít
mean anything if only certain special people could do it. Things
like that have to be accessible to everyone if theyíre to have
with so-called "supernatural powers" are usually the only ones
who can do whatever it is they claim. Others canít do what they
do and they canít teach what they do, because what they do is
not real; itís fake. Anybody can do the things I teach. Theyíre
alive in aikido techniques just as they are. All you have to know
is how to do them correctly, and viewing them as supernatural
powers requiring the presence of some god or what have you is
a big mistake. I regard it as my responsibility to teach correctly.
Personality of Morihei Ueshiba
A.J: Were there any notable personalities in the dojo back
in 1940 or 1941óany who would later make a name for themselves?
Tohei Sensei: There was no one like that when I first went.
There were no students and hardly any uchideshi.
What were your strongest impressions of Ueshiba Sensei?
Tohei Sensei: He seemed to me like a nice old man.
Smiling, you know. In many ways he had a very child-like personality.
We have quite a few documents about O-Sensei, but it is
still difficult for us to get a picture of him in his day-to-day
life. Did he talk about ordinary, everyday subjects? From the
recordings we have of him speaking, he seems almost like he came
from another planet.
Tohei Sensei: Yes, I know what you mean. He certainly did
talk that way.
Iíve heard that sometimes he would suddenly explode in
Tohei Sensei: Yes, that happened often. He was kind
to women, though. I never saw him get angry at a woman. Curiously,
his anger was never specifically directed at the person he was
supposedly angry at. It was like he was just furious by himself,
unable or unwilling to direct his anger at its object.
a young student named Kurita happened to notice that Sensei had
shifted in his chair a bit and moved to adjust it for him. Sensei
exploded at him, and demanded to know what he was doing. The poor
fellow had no idea what was going on until I explained that Sensei
had mistaken his action for some kind of mischief.
What was O-Senseiís attitude when you started basing your
teaching around the principles of ki?
Tohei Sensei: He was jealous and told people not to listen
to me. He would say, "Aikido is mine, not Toheiís. Donít listen
to what Tohei says." He would peer into the dojo and say things
like that, especially when I was teaching a group of women. In
that respect he was quite child-like in his directness and lack
of sophisticationóvery spontaneous and innocent.
connected with various religions would come to the dojo and get
money out of him by flattering him with names like "Morihei Ueshiba,
the kami of aikido." He hardly ever spent money on himself, but
he always seemed to be strapped for cash because he kept giving
it away to people like that.
What were your strongest impressions of Ueshiba Sensei?
Tohei Sensei: He seemed to me like a nice old man. Smiling,
you know. In many ways he had a very child-like personality.
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