Original Question

This is an excerpt of an interview with Takako Kunigoshi, a direct student of Ueshiba, in THelper's answer to Who were the first female aikidoka?.

Editor: During Ueshiba Sensei’s training sessions in what way did he explain the techniques of Aikido?

No matter what it was that we asked him I think we always got the same answer. Anyway, there wasn’t a soul there who could understand any of the things that he said. I guess he was talking about spiritual subjects but the meaning of his words was just beyond us. Later we would stand around and ask each other, “Just what was it Sensei was talking about anyway?” (laughter).

Did Ueshiba's students' understanding of his explanations improve at a later time? Or did Ueshiba have an understanding that was not passed down to his students?

Restated Question

The current answers are considerably more complicated than the more basic question I am trying to ask.

Define the logical boolean proposition understands_explanations(X, Y, t) as: At time t, Person X believes that Person Y understands Ueshiba's current explanations.

Did there exist a student S and times t_1 and t_2, such that these three conditions are true:

  1. understands_explanations(Ueshiba, S, t_1)
  2. understands_explanations(S, S, t_2)
  3. t_1 and t_2 are after 1933, when Kunigoshi's experience with Ueshiba begins

The situation described by Kunigoshi is very unusual. Did this situation persist? Or did students simply catch on later? If necessary, you can relax the "understands" to "partially understands".

Note that I do not care whether the student can manifest Ueshiba's skills, or whether the time that Ueshiba thinks the student understands matches when the student thinks they understand. The question is about whether Ueshiba and his students ever thought the students understood.

Based solely on the quotation from Kunigoshi, the answer to this question is simply: "no". The students agree they do not understand what the teacher is saying. Thus, there would not exist a student S and time t_2 such that understands_explanations(S, S, t_2) is true. Although a student may be able to pass on what they have learned (as in Kunigoshi's case), it is expected that information missing in the transmission from the original teacher will still be missing in later generations unless they are rediscovered.

  • 4
    Love this question. Actually, a negative answer would explain a lot about the current status of the art. Feb 28 '18 at 19:13




無 (mu)2

It depends on what you mean really.

First, Aikido is not a static thing. It evolved over time due to Ueshiba's own interpretation, ageing body, and mysticism evolution. Clearly the Aikido of Hell Dojo was utterly different from the one practices in Iwama: decades separate the two, and Ueshiba moved from a fit young man to an old one.

Thus, a specific Aikido could be understood just fine at certain points by certain students. I think that this matches the three understands_explanations(X, Y, t) assertions. Clearly, it is difficult to judge unless we can ask any of the students and Ueshiba -- unless necromancy is involved, we can definitely say that this is impossible.

However, there is a method by which we can judge that: Tomiki was given a Meyko Kaiden (later translated to 8th dan) which in the shu-ha-ri (守破離) concept is the equivalent of saying "go away and do your own things, I have nothing to teach you any more". Thus, Tomiki could be said to have been the first person beside Ueshiba to grok Hell Dojo Aikido. Ueshiba told him so by giving him the Meyko Kaiden. Of course, the same could be said of Shioda, Tohei, and countless others too numerous to mention here. Basically, any time Ueshiba gave an 8th dan to a student of his.

Second, Ueshiba was notoriously terrible at explaining things. He would practice a technique a few times, ask his students to do the same, then yell at them when they got it wrong. Even the Aikikai has stories of Ueshiba coming to visit from Iwama and being asked politely (view his wife!) to leave as he was telling everyone they were a disgrace. Was it because he was insane or because he just did not know how to teach is open to debate. If the former, then Aikido was never a static thing in his own head. If the latter, then no one ever grok it at.

Lastly, no one should care about Ueshiba's Aikido unless they are Ueshiba. Aikido of the same style and tough correctly will look utterly different on a 150cm lithe women and a 230cm quarter a ton bench pressing giant. A truly skilled instructor will teach the same technique so that both can make it work. This will become two techniques, both different from the one that works for the instructor. There is no point in understanding someone else's Aikido as it will be utterly useless to you. Understanding your Aikido should be your goal.

As to the splintering of the art, it is another vast topic. However, differences in understanding and Aikido evolutions can explain a lot of it. Adding some massive egos and desire to be the "one true path from Ueshiba" and you get the unhealthy attitude of some Aikidoka. Way of harmony indeed⸮1

1: in case ⸮ does not show for you, it is the irony mark

2: Thanks to Mark C. Wallace for reminding me of this concept in his answer.

  • Awarding an 8th dan is a good indication Ueshiba thought the awardee understood, but I think there is still a hole with students affirmatively stating they understood explanations in light of Kunigoshi's statement.
    – mattm
    Mar 2 '18 at 19:51


I'm not sure this question can be answered. How do you compare Ueshiba's art to his student's art? The process is subjective. Did he transmit 99.999%? 95%? 25%?

One could answer "no" and @Sardathrion's answer is good, and summarizes well my understanding of the what I believe to be the consensus answer (and the answer given in the interview). I believe the question is of the "Is water truly wet?" category.

One could answer "Yes" because whatever Aikido we have today is a result of the transmission.

Ultimately though, it is a question without definitions and an answer without implications.

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