Moriteru Uyeshiba Aikido Visit

I visited the Aikido Hombu dojo in the Ikebukuro section of Tokyo as a guest to watch the 6:30 am class taught by 3rd generation Doshu (“Master of the Way” – title of the headmaster of Aikido) Moriteru Ueshiba, grandson of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba was kind and welcoming to me personally, and several times came over to where I was sitting to speak with me. Some of the 50 or more students also greeted me pleasantly, which says a lot about the quality of the dojo and its people.

Instruction consisted of absolutely wordless demonstration of multiple movement techniques, and then the students stood up and tried to imitate what the headmaster had done. This form of teaching is very much the Japanese cultural norm, and is found in all areas of cultural training as well – karate, kendo, flower arranging, bamboo flute. The wordless “watching only” educational standard of Japan was one of the first things that we had to change when I decided to make our own To-Shin martial art something valuable for more Western students. Practitioners of our martial art know that we teach with a method of engaging the student with simultaneous word, sight, and action. This is of course not a criticism of the Japanese Aikido teaching method – it is obviously appropriate for Japanese students used to such things – but merely an observation as to why we needed to westernize teaching if To-Shin Do were to become an important influence in the Western world.

Moriteru Ueshiba moved about the dojo trading techniques with the students, conversing and perhaps giving suggestions to them as they trained. He smiled a lot and seemed to be enjoying what he was doing. These informal training moments gave me a chance to watch how Doshu created the effects he did. I could see the subtlety of his technique, and how he led his attacker by pressing him in a specific direction in order to create a natural reactive resistance that Doshu then captured to take down the uke effortlessly.

I was highly impressed with the logic of Doshu’s technique and why it worked. If your enemy pushes you down, the conventional immediate response is to resist up, because we instinctively resist doing what our enemy seems to want us to do. Therefore, if I press down on my attacker’s shoulder, I can usually count on him to push back instinctively, if only for a moment, and I can use the adversary’s energy and momentum to defeat him. This logic of knowing how an aggressor’s mind works is what I teach as advanced To-Shin Do, and likewise seems to be the logic behind Moriteru Ueshiba’s Aikido. Impressive.

It was clear to me that many of the students did not grasp the logic of body and emotion that made Doshu Ueshiba’s techniques so remarkable. Many did a good job of imitating the movements, and a few were admirable in their skill, but most were clearly beneath the material and could have used some helpful instruction (or so my Western educational bias sees it…).

Please note that this observation of the students’ inability to grasp the genius of the headmaster is strictly an observation, and not intended to be a criticism at all. Indeed, a high level martial artist visitor to one of my own classes might say the same thing about many of my own students who are struggling to keep up.

Why go to another martial art master’s class on a day when my own teacher was not teaching? I hope the obvious value of intelligence gathering would not need to be explained to people who are studying a martial art founded on roots from the historical ninja families of Japan. We can never know too much about the area of expertise that we have claimed as our life work.

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