By Walther von Krenner with Ken Jeremiah
In 1967, O-Sensei did not have a scheduled class at Hombu Dojo. He showed up when he wanted and taught what he wished. I was lucky that when I showed up at the dojo for the morning class, he happened to be there. After the class had ended, Bob Frager brought me to his office and introduced me. O-Sensei was kind. He smiled, welcomed me, and then proceeded to talk for about a half hour about things I could not understand. I was not alone; it turns out that few people could understand him, because his talks were seemingly a nonsensical combination of esoteric Shinto ideas, Omoto-kyo ideology, and practical martial art methods. He even quoted from the Chinese Classics frequently. Many of the senior students did not even try to understand what he was talking about; that is how difficult it was to comprehend.
“The only thing of true value [O-Sensei] taught was how to relax. But that is all right, because a person only really needs to have one thing of value to teach for you to make them your teacher. The only thing I learned from Tempu Nakamura, for example, was that “the mind leads the body.” On all other matters, he used to ask me questions! He was very modest and humble in that respect. When I said that I did not know the answer, he would then say, “Well, let us study it together then.” Ueshiba Sensei, on the other hand, would say things like, “There is nothing that I do not understand; the things I say even scholars and saints are incapable of understanding, and even I, though I am saying them, do not understand…” It is impossible to understand this kind of talk.”
Nishio Shoji said, “No one listened to what O-Sensei was saying… Because he spoke like a kami-sama (god) they thought that nothing he said could be understood, and didn’t even try to pay attention when they were listening.” It was not that people did not care, but his speeches were just that difficult to understand.
Languages contain unique words. Lithuanian, for example, has terms for multiple shades of gray, and the Japanese language has numerous words for a fish called the gray mullet, differentiated by the age and size of the fish. Other Japanese terms have no direct equivalent in other languages, terms like wabi and sabi. The former means something like “refined elegance” or “unpolished beauty.” The latter is similar, but conveys a sense of loneliness. Such words cannot be easily understood by speakers of different languages and from diverse cultures. When trying to understand such concepts, listeners might be confused, or they might believe that they understand even though they are mistaken. Thinking of these examples might help to understand the problems that students had when trying to understand O-Sensei’s speeches. He seemed to have his own terminology, which does not directly translate into other known languages. This made comprehension difficult. Upon meeting him for the first time, I too had the same difficulty. O-Sensei was a complicated individual, and he created the martial art Aikido based upon two paths: Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu was the marital side of the equation, while Omoto-kyo was the spiritual side.
According to legend, Daito-ryu was handed down by a legendary warrior named Shinra Saburo Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (1045-1127). He lived in a mansion called Daito (Great Eastern Palace) in Omi province, modern Shiga prefecture, which is from where the art’s name stems. Yoshimitsu supposedly studied the Chinese Classics and other books about military strategy, and he learned about the human body and how to control joints by dissecting corpses. Aiki is said to have originated in the art of tegoi and been passed down as a secret martial principle of the Minamoto clan. However, this history cannot be verified, and it is therefore much more likely that the art was developed by Ueshiba Sensei’s teacher, Takeda Sokaku.
Takeda Sensei was an interesting person. Highly distrustful of others, he always carried weapons. He killed numerous people, and he almost killed his own son in an episode that is informative when trying to determine the type of person that Takeda was:
One day Takeda Sokaku was sleeping, and Soke (Tokimune) wanted to put a cover on him to keep him warm. Sokaku, always being in a state of awareness, even when sleeping, grabbed his dagger and went to stab Soke in the heart just as Soke was about to put the cover over Sokaku. Soke was barely quick enough to move to the side, got off the line, and the dagger that was going for his heart stabbed him in the shoulder. Afterwards, Takeda Sokaku scolded his son severely saying, “What kind of fool are you?! You should never carelessly come up on someone by surprise! It is your own fault that you were stabbed. If you would have been aware I would not have cut you!” That’s the kind of man Takeda Sokaku was.
**Read more of this insightful and compelling chapter, as well as many others, in Sensei von Krenner’s book, Following the Martial Path.