O Sensei – Morihei Ueshiba

This is the fifteenth in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


O is for O Sensei.

At the front of every Aikido dojo is a photo – usually a formal portrait – of a man, usually old, sometimes smiling, sometimes stern. This is Morihei Ueshiba, or O Sensei, the founder of Aikido.

We learned some basic facts about him when we discussed History – How Aikido Came Into Being. I’m not going to repeat those here.

There are many books by and about him. There are some old films, and many photos. There are articles and interviews. Most – at least those few that I’ve read, seen, or heard so far – focus on his philosophy, teachings, and accomplishments. Essentially his professional side. But I often wonder what kind of person he was. I’ve seen a few glimpses in the sources I mentioned, and I’m always looking for more.

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“At Iwama, I witnessed the private life of the man named Morihei Ueshiba, a kindly aging gentleman who took naps in the sun, and planted peanuts with ease. I think the real Founder, was the one I knew at Iwama.”
~ Gaku Homma Sensei
A Day in the Life of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba, April 1968

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

O Sensei died 7 years after I was born. This leaves me with the sense of having only just missed seeing a dear friend, discovering later that our paths had nearly crossed. Although I never had the honor of meeting Ueshiba Sensei I feel a kind of kinship with him. Like a great-grandfather I’d never met, but came to know through stories told at family gatherings, photo albums, and old letters. I’ve been taught, hands-on, by teachers who learned from his touch – knowledge passed from body to body to body.

When I tested for sho-dan, the first black belt rank, instead of an essay (as we usually do in our dojo) I wrote a letter to O Sensei. I think I would have liked him. I hope he might have liked me. I imagine he must have been generous and kind, industrious, and probably demanding. A selfish, mean-spirited, lazy, or apathetic person could not have done so much for others.

Life at Home

By all accounts I’ve read so far, Morihei and and his wife, Hatsu, were dear friends. But was he cranky until he’d had his morning tea? After a long day of teaching, did he come home and lament privately that the students all seemed to have forgotten all he’d taught them just the previous day? Did they ever have a cat?

Morihei and Hatsu Ueshiba

Here Gaku Homma Sensei of Nippon Kan provides a fascinating look at O Sensei’s daily habits in A Day in the Life of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba, April 1968. Toward the end of the article is a sample menu of what the founder typically ate. Homma Sensei has several more such posts on his site, and I encourage you to explore them.

Farming, Horses, and Bears

During several parts of his life Ueshiba was a farmer. When I watch my own teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei, he reminds me of a farmer. He plants a seed and waits patiently while it grows in its own time. He waters here, prunes there, and watches again, knowing you can’t rush growth.

If you have been reading my blog for a long time you may recall that I took up Aikido to help with my horsemanship. The two pursuits dovetail so well. I was delighted to learn in 2012 that O Sensei had raised horses during his time in Hokkaikdo. How much he was personally involved with them, I don’t know. Did he ride? Did he use them farming? Or logging? He apparently also befriended wild animals, including bears.

I’ve not found much information about these things, but it doesn’t surprise me. I’d love to learn more.

O Sensei with his clothes off?

Here is a brief radio interview with O Sensei when he was about 85 or 86. Or 80. It reveals a warm sense of humor. He talks candidly about being old, and how aging changed him.

Dinner with O Sensei

Every so often one is asked “If you could have dinner with anyone, past or present, who would you choose.” I would love to have the opportunity to talk with O Sensei. He had such a powerful, positive impact on so many lives, deliberately, through Aikido. What a pleasure it would be to spend a few hours getting to know him.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Wake up calls

This is kinda funny, especially relative to the “wake-up call” quality of atemi discussed in class last night. Today I was listening to the Working Class Comedy channel on Pandora. The comedian, Archie Campbell, was being heckled by a guy in the audience, and finally hollered back “Buddy, if you don’t shut up I’m gonna have to come up there and knock you conscious.” :-)

zanshinart:

Make your own OSensei!

I’ve never “reblogged” anything, but this is too much fun to pass up. It’s a very cool little project from the Argentinian Aikido Organization, aikidoargentina.org. It was posted on a very cool blog, Zanshin Art. I can’t believe I wasn’t already following her posts. You might also want to. Enjoy.

How to go to your first big seminar

I have been around music and horses for many years. In both of cases there are festivals, seminars, workshops, and clinics. I’ve been to many local one-day workshops with touring guitarists and fiddlers, weekend-long annual festivals with hundreds of music workshops going on all day, 4-day riding clinics with world-famous horse trainers, and even one week-long live-in camp in West Virginia to work on fingerstyle blues guitar. These are always intense, worthwhile experiences. Even in cases where the workshop is above my skill level it’s fun and useful to see what could be possible at some point in the future. Workshops are a great way to learn new skills, discover new ways of looking at things, meet new friends, and reconnect with old ones.

My way of thinking about these things is if the opportunity presents itself, take it. I’m not much of a flat-picker, but when Dan Crary offered a local workshop, darned right I went. When the Mark Rashid comes to town for a horsemanship clinic, if I can manage it, I sign up. I always benefit from going, and it’s always money well spent.

So going to an Aikido seminar at some point this year seemed like the natural and obvious thing to do. But with large animals to care for (or to haul off to board), and inner ears that don’t like air travel (not to mention the expense of flying and hotels), getting to one of the big summer camps didn’t seem feasible.

I was whining about just that online back in October when someone pointed out that the Aikido Bridge Seminar, 5 days with Shihans Tissier, Doran, and Ikeda, was coming up in January, right in my own backyard. OK, not exactly in my backyard. It’s actually in a building were I used to have a business. Three world-class teachers, no travel required. How could I say no?

For the benefit of other newbies I thought I’d share my experience of how to go to your first big Aikido seminar:

  1. Learn that there is a killer seminar happening right near you, months away. Get all excited about it, but wonder if you’d be nuts, as a middle-aged 6th kyu student, to go to it.
  2. See that your sensei is on Facebook chat that moment, and ask him if you’d be nuts to go. He says you’d be OK.
  3. Sign up right then.
  4. Jump around the room all excited about getting to go to your first big seminar outside of your own dojo.
  5. Knowing that having some background and context helps you understand teachers better, order the videos of the 2007 seminar, so you can see what this is all about.
  6. Sit by the door and wait for UPS.
  7. When UPS shows up run and pop one of the videos in the DVD player. See that 90% of the participants are in hakama. Hear that the floor sounds awfully hard.
  8. Panic.
  9. Notice that several of your friends from the dojo are in the video, and one is Uke for a couple of the teachers a lot of the time.
  10. Start breathing again.
  11. Pester everyone who’s been to past Aikido Bridge Seminars for information on what it’s really like.
  12. Recruit your fellow students to join you, and experience great relief knowing that there will be several friendly faces at the seminar.
  13. Watch the DVDs again.
  14. Realize that 24 hours on the mat over 5 days might be more physically taxing than you’d considered.
  15. Start training harder. Change your work hours and sleeping habits to get to more classes.
  16. When your husband goes out of town for 2 weeks go to every available class. Notice that this doesn’t kill you, but learn a few hard lessons about eating, sleeping, and setting aside everything else in life for the duration.
  17. Request more vacation time, rather than trying to squeeze the seminar in before or after work.
  18. Keep training. Keep doing the exercises your PT recommended. Keep saying that you really ought to start doing more cardio work on the elliptical.
  19. Order another gi for the seminar, so you can change into a dry one at the lunch break each day.
  20. Watch the DVDs again. Start to see the techniques, and hear what the teachers are saying.
  21. Fall off your horse on Christmas. Get a little dinged up and worry that you might not be able to do the seminar.
  22. Come down with a cold that same night. Remember the month-long Cold From Hell last year, and and worry that you might not be able to do the seminar.
  23. Hit both problems with everything you’ve got. Vitamin C, zinc, rest, fluids, echinicia for the cold. Ice, stretching, and arnica for the bumps and bruises.
  24. Recover from the cold in only 3 days.
  25. Go to the dojo and discover that you can roll without the bruises hurting too much. Get all excited and jump around the room.
  26. Notice that the calendar says January, and that the seminar is JUST TWO WEEKS AWAY.
  27. Remember what you’ve been saying about how you ought to be doing more cardio training.
  28. Panic.
  29. Actually get on the elliptical trainer and get to work. Two weeks is better than nothing.
  30. Start a list of things to take to the seminar: Water, coffee, protein bars, bandages, tape, notebook, pens, paperwork, gi, an ice chest with ice packs in it…
  31. Order feed, catch up on chores, stock up on groceries, do laundry. Arrange life so there’s nothing else that needs to be handled during the seminar.
  32. Relax.
  33. Get all excited and jump around the room.
  34. Keep training.

Only 11 days to go. Not that I’m counting. :-)

On Saturday morning we had a really interesting class, with lots of fun exercises, including a sort of 6-uke slow/easy randori, which was really enlightening. Then there were exams – two for 6th kyu, and a 4th kyu. Dang, that 4th kyu test looks challenging (and exhausting).

After class we had a BBQ/potluck party, with inflatable Sumo suits. We often have some kind of party after exams, plus this time Jason and Karen (the two in the video, along with Sensei) were celebrating 10 years in Aikido. A fantastic time (and lunch) was had by all.

You can see more videos of all the fun on my YouTube Channel, under Aikido of San Diego: http://www.youtube.com/LindaEskin

Four Aikido Limericks

Four limericks I posted in this AikiWeb thread: “Limerick Challenge”

There once was a sensei named Dave
Who would practice all day with a glaive.
He mastered the kata
Of the naginata
‘Til his motion was just like a wave.

I have no idea if Sensei practices naginata, it was just that glaive/Dave is a convenient rhyme. The rest are all taken from real life:

There was a yudansha named Karen
Whose waza was flashy and darin’.
Her hakama flew
As her uke she slew.
And all of the white belts were starin’.

No one does ukemi like Jay,
Who rolls in his own special way.
He melds with the mat,
With nary a splat,
And pops up on the preceding day.

In his three DVDs about Entries,
Ledyard shares what’s been passed on for centuries:
If you’re already in
The attacker can’t win
Just drop, and he’ll be on his knees.

Four Aikido Limericks

Four limericks I posted in this AikiWeb thread: “Limerick Challenge”

There once was a sensei named Dave
Who would practice all day with a glaive.
He mastered the kata
Of the naginata
‘Til his motion was just like a wave.

I have no idea if Sensei practices naginata, it was just that glaive/Dave is a convenient rhyme. The rest are all taken from real life:

There was a yudansha named Karen
Whose waza was flashy and darin’.
Her hakama flew
As her uke she slew.
And all of the white belts were starin’.

No one does ukemi like Jay,
Who rolls in his own special way.
He melds with the mat,
With nary a splat,
And pops up on the preceding day.

In his three DVDs about Entries,
Ledyard shares what’s been passed on for centuries:
If you’re already in
The attacker can’t win
Just drop, and he’ll be on his knees.