This is a book read more than any other book in Aikido classes. This writer can attest to that. Bob Noha Sensei, 6th dan and dojo cho at Aikido of Petaluma reads from the book regularly in the beginning at the end of classes. Betsy Hill Sensei, 5th dan and dojo cho at Tenchi Aikido, also regularly reads from this tome.
The book begins with a Preface by Moriteru Ueshiba, the current Doshu or head of Aikido world-wide. In his Preface, the Doshu states very clearly that this book is different from other Aikido books. He writes, “It focuses on the spiritual message of the Founder, a message that needs to be appreciated and understood wherever.”
A dedication to O Sensei follows, written by Masahisa Goi, the founder of Byakko Shinko Kai, a religious group . The poem, “The Divine Incarnate – In praise of Morihei Ueshiba,” may seem flowery to the Western reader but for those who had a first hand experience of O Sensei, words bordering of hyperbole were often the only way those who encountered him could describe their experiences. For example, the last paragraph reads: “This man is truly the divine incarnate. He is a messenger of Great and Absolute Love. I know the greatness of this man from the bottom of my heart.”
John Stevens, 7th dan and Shihan, in his Introduction, that the contents of the book were taken from lecture O Sensei gave to Byakko Shinko Kai. As Stevens notes, most of the esoteric parts of the talks were edited out. The purpose of the book was spiritual, not cosmological (meaning specifically that the Shinto/Omoto-kyo references were deleted). These can be found in other titles Stevens has authored or translated and are listed in pp. 25-6.
Stevens brilliantly draws a powerful comparison between the Dalai Lama and O Sensei. The Dalai Lama stated that “a monk is a soldier engaged in conflict but in this case the enemies are internal- ignorance, anger, attachment, and price.” Most of my readers will be familiar with this famous quote by O Sensei. “The greatest victory a warior can achieve is victory over oneself.
Both are, Stevens notes, “Warriors for Peace.” The Dalai Lama is now waging his war outside his country promoting world peace and reconciliation. O Sensei stayed in Japan during WWII, knowing that Japan would be defeated. He said, “Instead of foolishly waging war, hereafter we will wage peace, the true purpose of Aikido. We will train to present war, to abolish nuclear weapons, to protect the environment, and to serve society.”
This is the same message that Pope Francis has been preaching and one he delivered to the US Congress today. All three of these leaders realized that the environment, social justice, economic parity, educational opportunity and so much more should not be at the whim of the 1% but should be shared by all. Stevens notes that both the Dalai Lama and O Sensei were manifestations of the Divine. O Sensei and many of his followers saw him as a incarnation of the Shinto god while the Dalai Lama is considered by his flowers as a Living Buddha. And of course, Pope Francis is seen by his followers as the Vicar of Christ, and in a direct lineage from Jesus to the Apostle Peter.
The truth of the matter is all three are wearing or have worn this mantle with humility. Stevens notes that O Sensei liked to be called “Grandpa Ueshiba.” The Dalai Lama sees himself as “a simple Buddhist monk.” And Pope Francis, who has chosen not to live in the Papal residence in Apostolic Palace, sees himself simply as a messenger of Peace.
The book provides so many rich insights into O Sensei’s thinking and world-view. And Stevens has done a yeoman’s job of translating the lectures by O Sensei. Stevens writes, “When O Sensei gave a lecture the contents were so confounding that it seemed as if he was from another planet.” Stevens writes, “Truth speaks a universal language” And so we have this beautiful collection of only seven chapters and 125 pages (including a Glossary of Terms). The book is another exquisite presentation from Kodansha International where no small detail was overlooked. The book is expertly made to last a lifetime of us and even comes with a chord to mark your place while reading. This is book that belongs in your core martial arts library.
“The Heart of Aikido – The Philosophy of Takemusu Aiki,” with a forward by Morihei Ueshiba, originally edited by Hideo Takahashi and compiled and translated by John Stevens. Published by Kodansha International, Japan, US 19.95, ISBN978-4-7700-3114-2