Morihei Ueshiba: “Martial Arts Trainer
to Japan’s Elite” by Stanley Pranin
“Morihei’s admirers consisted of many of the elite of Japanese society of the era; prime ministers and politicians, admirals and generals, intellectuals, businessmen, martial artists, and religious leaders were among them.”
Those familiar with the prewar era will know that Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba had a wide circle of contacts consisting of supporters and students who considered him an extraordinary martial artist and a fine gentlemen. Most of the names of these individuals who played greater or lesser roles in their support of Morihei and the development of aikido are unknown to present-day practitioners of the art. Our ignorance of the identities and activities of Morihei’s social contacts is mainly due to the time and cultural differences that separate us from the actual events.
Morihei’s admirers consisted of many of the elite of Japanese society of the era: prime ministers and politicians, admirals and generals, intellectuals, businessmen, martial artists, and religious leaders were among them. How one of them–among the most illustrious persons of the day–is barely recorded in aikido history is somewhat of an enigma. I refer to a certain Prince Kaya.
Prince Kaya who full title was “Kaya no miya Tsunenori ō,” was the head of one of the collateral royal families of Japan, the Kaya no miya branch. He was a first cousin of the wife of the Showa Emperor Hirohito. Prince Kaya pursued a military career as was the custom of males of his family status, and he knew Morihei Ueshiba in this connection.
Morihei was long associated with high-ranked military officers–both army and navy–as he taught at various military institutions over a period of some 15 years. The Prince was a martial arts enthusiast, and sometime around 1937, studied Aiki Budo under Morihei. Given his lofty social status, Prince Kaya received “royal” treatment at Morihei’s Kobukan Dojo. Presumably at Kaya’s suggestion, Morihei agreed to be photographed performing his techniques and the Prince brought in a camera crew to shoot photos.
The result was the private publication in 1938 of a training manual titled simply “Budo,” that includes 50 techniques, including both beginning and advanced material, that reflected Morihei’s art of that time frame. “Budo” bears the distinction of being the only book Morihei ever published in which he personally demonstrates techniques. A few technical sequences from the postwar era and a number of films have survived, but this is the only book.
During my research in Japan, I unearthed a copy of the book totally by chance during a 1981 interview with Zenzaburo Akazawa who happened to possess one. My teacher, Morihiro Saito Sensei, had never seen “Budo,” and was delighted to read it as it was a missing link between Morihei’s “Takemusu Aikido” of the 1940s and 50s and the prewar form of the art. Saito Sensei always carried a copy of the book when he instructed, and would pull it out to prove that Morihei executed techniques in a certain way or elaborate on a technical point.
In the magazines I edited, both Aiki News and Aikido Journal, “Budo” and its contents were often mentioned, and in 1991, Kodansha published an English translation of the book by John Stevens with the backing of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo.
Morihei Ueshiba maintained his connection with Prince Kaya after the war. As mentioned above, the Prince was fond of Japanese martial arts, and served as the honorary chairmain of the Kokusai Budo Renmei (International Martial Arts Federation) during the 1950s. He was also an avid baseball fan and met Babe Ruth in 1934 during a tour of the USA. There is even a photo of the Prince with the “Bambino” that has survived. The Prince was a strong supporter of Japanese baseball throughout his lifetime.
In the late 1980s, Morihiro Saito read and demonstrated the techniques of “Budo” for a video produced by Aiki News. That video was republished as a DVD with an added documentary and historical films. Saito Sensei later published a book of the same title that covered all 50 techniques of “Budo” along with detailed descriptions and numerous historical photos of Morihei Ueshiba. I wrote a lengthy introduction that describes the provenance, contents, and significance of Morihei’s technical manual to modern aikido.
In summary, this manual is the only published volume in which O-Sensei personally demonstrates the techniques presented. The contents of “Budo” reveal the emergence of martial techniques that bear Morihei’s personal stamp having already changed considerably from their Daito-ryu precursor forms. Many of the techniques closely resemble those of modern aikido. This training manual is thus an invaluable resource for those interested in researching Morihei’s technical evolution. Saito Sensei comments in his book and DVD on various changes made by the Founder in later years and the rationale for these refinements.
Aikido Journal has created a definitive set of 3 downloadable source materials that thoroughly document Morihei Ueshiba’s 1938 Training Manual titled “Budo.” This set includes (1) Morihiro Saito’s 43-minute video recreating all of the 50 techniques of “Budo” in high resolution, (2) Saito Sensei’s illustrated textbook titled “Budo: Commentary on Morihei Ueshiba’s 1938 Training Manual” in PDF format, and (3) a PDF facsimilie copy of the original Japanese book.
Readers will be able to access their downloadable products within minutes of purchase. No more paying for shipping, no more customs charges, or lost packages, no more waiting! This special offer is available only through Sunday, February 24, for the special price of $24.95.