Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, 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 ~


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Aikido Founder Solo Short Staff Practice

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at the excellent Kogen Budo blog by Ellis Amdur. It has to do with the solo practices of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.

The full post may be read here.

Because of some recent discussions on Ueshiba Morihei’s solo weapon’s practice, I would like to add some thoughts of my own. I am going to excerpt a relevant passage from my second edition of Hidden in Plain Sight, to set some context as to what Ueshiba was actually doing, followed by some recent observations I made during a trip to Japan, followed by another passage from HIPS.
From Hidden in Plain SightChapter 13: Is The Heart Of Aikidō The Sword?
Passage #1
I was absolutely stunned by his use of a sharpened staff in a film from his trip to Hawaii in 1961. Ueshiba starts by repeating a number of movements, sometimes two or three times, and then his whole body is relaxed and at the moment of the simulated deflection his whole body snaps into an ‘implosive/explosive’ channeling of body power. The power emerges from his root and center, and out through the staff—downwards, upwards, sideways, and at angles. Imagine the moment when a bullwhip snaps—the relaxed coil unfurls, and then at its length, it pops—in this case, not only at the tip, but throughout its length. Ueshiba goes from relaxation to a ‘snap’ with all his muscles coordinated, so all the power goes through the weapon. Were he using a long spear, it would have flexed like a tree in a high wind. He is not doing it in the snappy manner of jūkenjutsu nor is it the movement used in the powerful clacking together of staffs that we can observe in Goto-ha Yagyu Shingan-ryū. This is an essential technique of Hōzōin-ryū. To be sure, he could have studied it elsewhere. He could have figured it out on his own. But the dates add up—around the time Takeda lived for months with the Ueshiba family in Ayabe, Ueshiba was out in the garden working on spear technique.
Recent Observations- 2019
I was recently walking on a beach near Kamakura and happened upon a yearly Matsuri, in honor of Benzaiten. She is a goddess of health, wisdom and music, but most importantly in this context, associated with the sea. Once a year, devotees go to the sea, pray for fortune and also thank Benzaiten for offering them the bounty of the sea rather than its destructive power. Various kannushi enacted ritual dances, prominent among them versions of Ameno Torifune no gyo, Norito no Sojo, and Otakebi okorobi.  These three practices are central practices within Shinto, and through his adoption of the practices of the Misogikai, central practices of Ueshiba Morihei.

At this point, another priest stood up, donned a tengu mask and picked up a small replica of a hoko.

This is the socketed spear, brought over from China, used in war from the Yayoi through the early Heian Periods. Long abandoned as a weapon, it was retained in replica, and used in ritual dance: bugaku, the court dances that have roots going all the way back to Persia and China through transmission along the Silk Road,  and in Shinto rites. The wooden hoko that the priest picked up was about four shaku in length, the same of that of an aikijo. The tengu – for properly done, this is no longer a priest with a mask – he should becometengu – then enacted a number of movements. In slow, stilted form, he enacted a number of movements, albeit stylized, that were simulacrums of those of Ueshiba Morihei in his solo jo practice.

I wish to be clear that I do not believe that the tengu dance I witnessed was unique to that particular shrine. Rather, there is a largely unstudied substrate of ritual martial dance among Shinto practices.

These weapons-dances tell various stories of the acts of the kami, and embody the dynamic interplay of forces within an ordered (by the kami) cosmos.  Please remember that Ueshiba frequently used a small sharpened spear and he referred to it as a nuboko (“Heavenly Jeweled Spear”), the generative instrument used by Izanagi and Izanami to create the Japanese archipelago. Ueshiba, absolutely obsessed by Shinto (and not only the Omotokyo neo-Shinto version) would have been as influenced by such practices as he was by the ‘empty-handed’ Shinto rites of the Misogikai that were part of his daily practice in the last decades of his life.

What Ueshiba didn’t do (unlike some of his successors) was make a numbered choreography – the 24 jo kata, the 31 jo kata, etc. However, his practice was not impulsive, disorderly improvisation either. I believe that Ueshiba took as his base the movements of Shinto rites. Then, influenced by his spear practice, jukendo training, observations (or perhaps study) of such ryuha as Kukishin-ryu, he imbued these ritual movements with martial virtue.  As I write in the second passage from HIPS that follows, without having to worry about the well-being of a training partner, he could, thereby, unleash full power in his technique. For one example, the upward sweep to the eyebrows and thrust forward into a thrust is an embodiment of ikkyo. Done with the power that Ueshiba exerts, it is training that would turn ikkyo into an upward and downward snap of the opponents arm. [NOTE: by snap, I do not mean a ‘snappy movement.’ I mean to break the arm like a rotten tree limb]. What Ueshiba is doing is quite far from the mannered, almost prissy solo jo forms so many do. Nor is it the enactment of a fantasy of weapon’s techniques against a fantasy opponent. It’s a chain of power detonations.


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