Where do you see your current direction in martial arts and
"If we reckon O'Sensei as the Father, and his direct disciples as
the Children, we are the Grandchildren of the Art, and it is
typically the third generation that puts the art in an established
form, for better or worse. In my view, Aikido is a vision, and that
vision must never be lost. That is why, I have devoted my life to
providing, through my publications, access to the teachings of Ueshiba
"It is fine to be innovative, indeed necessary, but in
order to create something original one needs a firm grounding in the
basics. Every great calligrapher in Japan, typically spends years and
years copying the classical texts prior to developing his or her own
style. The same should be true for Aikido. Every Aikido student should
have a thorough acquaintance with Morihei's biography, and his writings
BUDO and the ESSENCE of AIKIDO."
What are current Aikido's strengths?
"I truly believe that Aikido is the martial art for the 21st
century, emphasizing cooperation over competition, life over death,
the equality of all human beings. We just must keep to the original
Is the Sempai / Kohai relationship still alive in Japan? Is it
still a cultural aspect of Aikido in Japan? Where is it going? Is
it disappearing from Aikido classes? What do you convey to your
students as proper behavior, as an Aikidoist of high caliber? Do you
ask them to strive for this?
"Yes, the Sempai/Kohai system is disappearing from Japan. As an
American, I never emphasized it much anyway and I am not sorry to see
it go--the system was too often abused."
Aikido "hard" or "soft"? Is this a bad term to
describe one's Aikido practice? (I know this is a general question,
but maybe you can elaborate on this in your own terms.)
"Every Aikido technique has a diamond (hard), willow
(soft), water (flowing), and air (ki) dimension and it takes a great
deal of experience to develop the proper intuition for applying the
"Also, every Aikido technique has an educational,
historical, practical, and Philosophical
aspect. The techniques are a repository of human (and divine) wisdom
that is difficult to discern but undeniably present."
Is Aikido is
becoming cultist? Three months ago, I was having dinner with a few
Aikido friends, and I mentioned that I was reviewing your book. This
"cultist" subject suddenly came up. It wasn't directed to
your book, but it was a subject that was born from the subject matter
I brought up.
"Aikido is not a religion but it is more than a martial
art. Aikido is based on a vision, a spiritual vision, that Morihei
expressed in terms that are usually construed as 'religious'
because of his background -- Shingon Tantric Buddhism and Omoto-kyo
esoteric Shinto. Aikido is a 'Way,' a vehicle of
transformation and in that sense it is more
akin to Tantra than any formal religious system. However, as I
mentioned before, one meaning of Aikido is 'appropriate response'.
"If I am trying to explain Aikido to a group of Catholic
nuns, I employ Christian terminology. If I am explaining Aikido to a
conference of scientists, I will talk about quantum physics. If I want
to impress a bunch of lawyers I will define Aikido as a "win-win
philosophy." To put it simply, "spiritual" can be
defined very broadly. I am an essentially religious person in the most
eclectic sense, so the way I practice and present Aikido seemscloser to religion than a martial art but that is my style, and if I
may be bold enough to say so, the style of the Founder. I am aware
that some have criticized my book INVINCIBLE WARRIOR as hagiography
rather than objective biography -- as if there can be such a thing as
an objective standpoint-- but in fact all that I am doing is to
present the Founder in the best possible light. All of us want to be
remembered at our best."
John Stevens demonstrating kaiten.
Was there a particular audience you had in mind for this
"First of all, it is addressed
to dedicated Aikidoka (and other serious martial artists) who want to
see Aikido presented as a total system. Too much modern Aikido is
presented piecemeal. That is why Aikido people are always combining
Aikido and other martial arts like karate, iaido, or tai-chi, Aikido
and some other kind of meditation such as zazen, Aikido and other
health systems such as shiatsu and yoga. Aikido, as conceived by
Morihei Ueshiba, is a fully integrated system that includes complete
utilization of the body (waza, physical techniques), mind (chinkon-kishin,
meditation techniques), and speech (kototama, sacred sounds, including
kiai). Aikido has its own rich cosmology and profound philosophy that
is in danger of being lost, or worse, ignored.
And since any good philosophy contains universal truths I hope
the book will also inspire readers who cannot actually practice Aikido
in a dojo for some reason.
"In my talks, I often point out that while Aikido is a
particular path that will only be practiced by a small number of
people, Aiki Okami—the all-encompassing spirit of Aiki-- is the
universal application of Aikido principles that anyone can try to do."
What prompted you to write this one?
"I felt compelled to write a book that presented Aikido and its
philosophy as an essential element of the emerging world culture, not
as a "Japanese martial art consisting of throws, locks, and
pins." Somewhere I saw a list of the most important discoveries
of the 20th century and Aikido was one of the entries. I agree and
believe that Aikido has a real role to play in the 21st century."
beliefs of the late Onisaburo Deguchi still have a profound influence
in Aikido today? Will this change?
"Morihei Ueshiba always maintained that Onisaburo
Deguchi was his root guru.
"Aikido philosophy is not abstract. As with all Asian
systems, the experience comes first then the philosophy. Both
Onisaburo and Morihei had extraordinary exposure to a vast variety of
teachings--Shinto, Taoism, esoteric Buddhism, Christianity, western
science --- and incorporated many different elements into their own
mature philosophies. Both men were extremely eccentric visionaries,
however, so a lot of stuff they said is hard to swallow, but the core
of their teachings is sound. I believe that all Aikido students should
know something about Onisaburo, especially his art (calligraphy,
paintings, and pottery) which is out of this world."
What do you see as being major influences in Aikido
philosophy in the future to come?
"While I constantly stress the universal aspects of Aikido, I
believe that there will be more integration of Aikido theory and
practice with the local cultures. That is, the philosophy will be
presented less in Japanese terminology and concepts and more in terms
of the individual culture. Whenever I conduct a seminar outside of
Japan I always encourage the students to express key Aikido concepts
such as misogi and masakatsu agatsu katsu-hayabi in their
own idiom. One meaning of Aikido is 'appropriate response',
and it is not appropriate to build a pure Japanese-style Shinto dojo
in the wilds of North America. Local culture must be respected and
represented. That is why I am very pleased when I see old church
buildings transformed into Aikido dojo."
What would you recommend to the serious intermediate Aikidoka,
for good groundwork for Aikido study. (Personally, I would recommend a
formal education, with a major in Eastern studies, philosophy,
languages and maybe a minor in business management - finance, etc., if
they are looking to make Aikido a career.)
"Nothing specific, just an open mind and the desire to read as
much as possible about Aikido (including all my books). Both Onisaburo
and Morihei, incidentally, had little formal education but Morihei (and
my teacher Shirata Sensei) never stopped studying."
Do you have
advice for everyone on good practice habits?
"Masakatsu Agatsu Katsu-hayabi."
What type of
behavior do you disallow in your dojo? (i.e.. such as bullish,
negative, obnoxious or outright physical abuse). What do you do to
discourage it? (Surprisingly, I get many letters detailing physical
abuses on the mat. Students want to know if this is usual and
permitted by the instructor. Sometimes, the instructor has been
detailed as performing these abuses.)
"O'Sensei maintained that "No one should get hurt practicing
Aikido." Abuse by anyone, especially instructors, should never be
What would you like to see from your Aikido students?
begins with a good warm-up based on the exercises used by O'sensei and
Shirata Sensei. This followed by breath-mediation (as described in the
book AIKIDO: THE WAY OF HARMONY). Then there is kototama
chanting. Prior to actual training one needs to calm down and cleanse
the body, mind, and voice.
"During seminars, I always talk a bit about Aikido
philosophy, following the example of O'Sensei and Shirata Sensei.
During training we try to cover all of the technical pillars--
shiho-nage, irimi-nage, kaiten, kokyu, osae-waza, ushiro-waza, and
tenchi-chi. We practice aiki-ken and aiki-jo everyday."
If you could ask O'Sensei a question, what would it be?
"I have been asking him questions everyday for 20 years."
I am very grateful to John and his
editor Ms. Elizabeth Floyd of Kodansha International Ltd. for this interview! Thank you both very much.
Please note that John Stevens is the author of many other
publications, that are available in many other languages:
AIKIDO: THE WAY OF HARMONY
THE SECRETS OF AIKIDO
THE PHILOSOPHY OF AIKIDO
THE SHAMBHALA GUIDE TO AIKIDO
THE ESSENCE OF AIKIDO
THE ART OF PEACE
INVINCIBLE WARRIOR: BIOGRAPHY OF MORIHEI UESHIBA
TRAINING WITH THE MASTER
THREE BUDO MASTERS: KANO, FUNAKOSHI, UESHIBA
Photographs displayed with permission from
Thank you Scott for allowing us to
use your photographs for this interview!
© 2001 photos by Scott Aitken, www.ScottPix.com
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and other literary materials from these web pages without the direct
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