Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Chinese Influence on Aikido?

Below is an excerpt from an article by Stanley Pranin, the owner of the Aikido Journal. The full article may be read here.

Personally, I don't think there is any evidence of direct influence. Aikido practice includes neither the baguazhang circle walking or single changing palms which are fundamental exercises.

“The Elusive Chinese Influence on Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

 “Proponents of the theory of Aikido’s Chinese origin must provide proof.”

I received an email this morning asking my opinion of the remarks of a gentleman who states that he trained with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in the late 1960s. He makes the claim that Morihei’s aikido was directly influenced by “bagua zhang,” a Chinese internal art. Here is a quote from his article:

“The entering, turning and leading of one’s opponent, as well as the hundreds of subtle energy projections of aikido are fundamental bagua techniques that existed long before Ueshiba’s birth. Because of this, I believe that Ueshiba learned bagua while he was in Manchuria, China.”
This author’s thesis is based on his personal observation of Morihei’s art at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo during the late 1960s, the author’s analysis of “old films” of Morihei and the perceived similiarities in Ueshiba’s technique to various Chinese martial arts, and the fact that O-Sensei spent time in Manchuria during his lifetime.

I have heard this and similar theories about an “obvious” and unacknowledged Chinese connection that influenced the development of aikido repeatedly for the last 30 years or so. You will notice that that above-mentioned author provides no specifics to support his claim. In my experience, this is always the case when such a theory is advanced. Let’s take a closer look at this subject using our knowledge of Morihei’s life to consider the feasibility of such a theory.

Morihei Ueshiba did indeed spent time in Manchuria on three occasions during his life: as an infantryman during the Russo-Japanese in the 1904-1905 period; as a bodyguard to Onisaburo Deguchi on an ill-fated expedition through Manchuria and possibly Mongolia over a half-year period in 1924; as a visiting martial arts instructor during short stays in Japanese-controlled Manchukuo in 1939, 1940, and 1942.


Is it possible that Morihei may have witnessed some Chinese martial arts during his time in Manchuria? Certainly, it is possible. Could he have grasped some of the “inner secrets” of Chinese martial arts merely through observation? I will admit that being possible as well. But that is not what proponents of this Chinese theory are asserting. Their hypothesis is that Morihei had extensive training in Manchuria under Chinese masters and that the subtle ki manifestations of the founder’s aikido originate from Chinese sources. In a nutshell, their argument is this: “The subtle aspects of aikido resemble Chinese internal martial arts. Chinese martial arts predate Japanese martial arts. Morihei Ueshiba spent time in China. Therefore, aikido was heavily influenced by Chinese sources.” Where is the proof?

A further thought. Most of these theorists seem to discount the level and sophistication of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu that Morihei learned from Japanese jujutsu master Sokaku Takeda during a 15-year period starting in 1915. Sokaku taught primarily jujutsu but possessed much higher inner skills that he showed only to a few of his most talented students, Morihei being one of them. Another point worthy of mention is that Morihei was heavily involved in the Omoto religious sect co-founded by Onisaburo Deguchi. He learned many meditation and breathing techniques that he practiced assiduously and that he credited with having been responsible for much of his progress as a martial artist.



Jonathan Bluestein said...

I have dedicated a whole chapter to this issue in my book, Research of Martial Arts.

j said...

The article below declares that O Sensei was in China repeatedly as a "visiting martial arts instructor during short stays in Japanese-controlled Manchukuo in 1939, 1940, and 1942"

As described in Pranin's "Aikido Masters" book, Ueshiba's student Takeda and others were military officers and instructors in Northern China for much of WWII. Ueshiba traveled there many times from 1939-42. I don't know how short his stays were but clearly he spent months in China during the war for no other purpose than martial arts activity.

Reading between the lines if he felt like researching Chinese martial arts during his time there, as a high-ranking military official with life and death control over millions of Chinese citizens, it's quite possible that he might have done so.

CMA history records many instances of fights and challenge matches between Japanese soldiers and Chinese martial artists. Behind the scenes there may have been many more and higher level interactions among elites on both sides.

Considering his lifetime commitment to research and unquenchable curiosity about martial arts, putting two and two together would lead to at least the possibility of influence.

Aikido training doesn't include anything from IMA but it does contain all the throws of Ba Gua and the basic attacks of Hsing-I. Many aspects of the techniques look very similar.

But it's true, there is no "PROOF" that he studied Chinese martial arts.

It's simply a matter of looking at the facts of his time in China. And aside from the frequent visits over the years 1939-42 we don't know much about what he was doing there.

Nobody loved to study, exchange, fight and discover new things in the martial arts than O Sensei. He was at his prime of life and considered an invincible warrior in 1939.

Another factor was that he clearly changed pst-WWII and openly declared that Aikido was a departure from Daito Ryu and the other root sources after the war. He said straight up that he had completely changed his art after the war, and pretty much everyone agreed that it indeed was quite different after the epiphany he had during the war.For better or worse.

Again, there is no proof. But it's possible that Chinese martial arts could have influenced him.

-Jess O'Brien

Rick Matz said...

Jess O'Brien is a noted martial arts researcher and I recommend that everyone take a look at his books.

Many of you are already familiar with Jonathan Bluestein, who is a frequent contributor to Cook Ding's Kitchen.

DrPaul DOM said...

I can't impune Mr. O'Brien's credentials as a researcher. However, jumping from "Ueshiba visited China on several occasions" to "Ueshiba internalized BGZ and/or XYQ and utilized it to formulate Aikido is an unsubstantiated extrapolation. Stanley Pranin researched Aikido history extensively, was a long time student of Saito Sensei, and interviewed many of Ueshiba's pre and post war students. Although the title of Pranin's article was seeking "proof", I think he (and others) would be interested even in some reasonable evidence to substantiate this claim. Evidence which no one has really been able to provide. In all this time, none of his students or historians has provided anything like a story or account of Ueshiba observing, practicing, or really even talking about BGZ or XYQ. Just a lot of "what if" and imagined conjecture.

Mike Sigman said...

I'm surprised this old chestnut hasn't died and been buried, long ago. The throws and locks in Aikido, which are the same as in jujitsu styles are also standard throws and locks in a number of Chinese martial-arts. There has long been exchange and communication of martial techniques, largely from China (the dominant culture of the region) to Japan. So the similarities of techniques, locks, etc., is not in the least surprising.

On the other hand, Chinese teachers would have been loathe to teach a Japanese much of anything, although they might possible teach some "forms" as a means of diplomacy. Assuming for the sake of discussion that Ueshiba met a competent teacher who would agree to teach a Japanese, at least superficially, the amount of information the teacher would give a Japanese would have been minimal, over any period of time. It's the same thing they do to western students, nowadays. ;)

Rick Matz said...

Nope. Not dead. It makes the rounds from time to time as someone, somewhere, wants to preach a "grand unified theory" of internal martial arts.

The most frequent implausible scenario I've seen goes like this: We KNOW Ueshiba was in Mongolia, and we KNOW his party was locked up in a local jail for a little while. Somehow, some jail guards were baguazhang adepts which Ueshiba happened to watch practicing. Being the genius that we was, Ueshiba reverse engineered what he saw and created aikido.