by Walther von Krenner
When I first met the founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei (O-Sensei), he was 84 years old and he did not teach in Tokyo every day. I remember entering his office, which has a small door reminiscent of those found on traditional teahouses, and speaking with him. His voice was high-pitched, and he spoke about such things as Aikido, Omoto-kyo ideas, and even the Chinese Classics. He was difficult to understand, as many of his students would later say, but I was honored to be there and train with him for the last two years of his life.
Typically, one of the senior students would begin each class with warm-ups; then they demonstrated a basic technique, after which everyone practiced for a bit. O-Sensei would show up after this. He would do some stretches with us, and then he would do the funa-kogi undo technique (which is completely explained in my new book, Following the Martial Path). After, we would all sit down in a circle around him, and he would either demonstrate a technique, always using Shimizu Kenji as uke, or lecture us about spiritual concepts. One of the lectures that I remember was the following:
O-Sensei said, “Aikido is not for beating others or winning battles. Aikido is based on non-resistance, where there is neither conflict nor victory. Aikido assists all of us to succeed in our respective missions, [ which have been ] granted to us all by heaven. From the Masakatsu, Agatsu, Katsu Hayabi, at the beginning of this spiritual training process, we progress toward the natural state of universal motions.”
“Training must be continued until right and good are known, until the right and the good of the self are realized. Because they are heaven itself, the people of heaven do not understand that they are in heaven. The purpose of shugyo training is the unification of man and the divine. Man and God are of the same essence, yet vary in magnitude. Man cannot thus supersede his limits. The spirit of Bu is nevertheless capable of producing fully beautiful results when working in accordance with both heaven and earth. Bu is the way of infinite physical change. Holding onto one, it reaches ten thousand. Opening not one but ten thousand laws, it refines the sword of Kusanagi while completing its work. Capable of withstanding any hardship, the heart remains as clear as the sky, as broad as the ocean, and as grand as the mountains.”
“The spirit of Bu gives life to all that are alive, both large and small. You should devote yourself to practice. Experience light and heat and complete yourself as a manifestation of the truth. Further training will strengthen your body and soul and produce an individual in harmony with the laws of nature. Spread Aiki so we can see the full light of the spirit of Aikido shine forth. It goes without saying that the essence of what I have said is that you should strive toward this end. Do that, while at the same time paying close attention to the times in which you live and contribute to the making of a beautiful, pure land.”
I thought this one was interesting, but many of his other lectures were equally enlightening. Some of them appear alongside some great, previously unpublished photos of him in the book Following the Martial Path, in which I describe my experiences training with Ueshiba and other great teachers over the course of more than 50 years. I hope such tales help you in your training!
Learn more about Following the Martial Path by Clicking here.
Dr. Mark Wiley’s “Publisher’s Foreword”
in Admiration of Walther von Krenner’s Book
I believe that one of the greatest endeavors one can pursue is the journey of self-knowledge. And for me, and millions of others, the martial path is the journey of choice. The irony is that many martial artists who stay on their martial path for decades, even lifetimes, do not gain true self-knowledge; instead, they merely feed the ego. I have personally traveled the world many times in search of masters of martial, healing and spiritual practices, in the hope of becoming their apprentice and deepening my own self-understanding. But what I often encountered were masters and life-long students caught in the martial trap. That is, being so engrossed in the techniques of martial arts that all else is lost, ignored or underdeveloped. And so, it seems as if their path was not vertical but horizontal.
I find this not to be the case with Mr. Walther von Krenner, a man who began his martial journey a half-century ago in Germany, then traveled to the United States and then sold his house and moved to Japan to deepen his study and lengthen his journey. Von Krenner and I share many similarities on our paths of self-discovery, although he is much senior to me in the arts, having begun his journey before my birth. And while my journey led me to study indigenous practices of several countries, von Krenner’s pursuits are wholly (and fully) within the arts of Japan.
Having lived in Japan, and having met some of the people von Krenner writes about in this book, it was a pleasure to read his moving accounts of living in Japan and, as an outsider, studying in martial and cultural arts. His accounts of what a class was like with Aikido founder Ueshiba and learning Ki development under Tohei sensei are remarkable. Not many were able to do this. I, for one, was refused an audience with Koichi Tohei when I wished to interview him at length about Ki development in Budo for a paper I was writing while at University.
Walther von Krenner has spent a lifetime in pursuit of self-knowledge through the practice and study of Budo, Zen, flower arranging, calligraphy, and more. A martial artist must be an artist in the broadest sense, he says, even including tea ceremony and sword appreciation and spiritual practices. I agree, especially when one wants to master the esoteric arts of an Asian country. One must immerse himself or herself in those studies, the country and its people and
culture, and not merely show up twice a week at a local strip-mall dojo.
Von Krenner is unique today in that his time and place was such that he was able to be among the first Westerners to study under many of the 20th Century’s greatest Japanese masters, including: Mori Terao (Kendo), Hideteka Nishiyama (Shotokan), Koichi Tohei (Ki), and Morihei Ueshiba, the founder and O-sensei of Aikido. (von krenner Sensei also wrong a detailed book on Atemi, the striking art hidden within Aikido’s locks and throws.)
Some of my favorite books are those wherein we experience, as if directly, the teachings of masters we may never meet through the eyes of men who met and trained with them. Robert Smith’s Chinese Boxing: Masters and Methods, Nigel Sutton’s Searching for the Way, and Garry Parker’s Chanpuru: Lessons and Reflections from the Dojo, are a few such books. And now we have Walther von Krenner’s Following the Martial Path, wherein the reader is treated to his personal tales, vignettes, insights and reflections on all things relating to Budo and the Japanese classical traditions. I am honored to publish this book.
Circling back to my opening statement that many who follow the martial path do not gain depth of self-knowledge begs the question of why this may be the case. Well, von Krenner’s opening paragraphs of this book’s Introduction gives rhyme and reason in its analogy of colors and their many shades. So please read on, immerse yourself in this wonderful book. Experience the vast, almost endless “shades of gray” that present on the path of martial arts and personal excellence. Let Walther von Krenner show you a way forward by allowing you a rare keyhole into what it is like to learn at the hands of so many of the world’s most famous Japanese masters; many of whom are no longer with us.
Grab your copy of Following the Martial Path today!