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Excerpted from The Way of Aikido by George Leonard. Copyright 1999 by George Leonard. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.
 


"He took everything to extremes... disappearing into the mountains for extended periods of fasting and other spiritual practices."

George Leonard, The Way of Aikido, Part 3

"The Greatest Martial Artist Who Ever Lived"

The practitioners of most martial arts derive inspiration from their founder, none more so than aikidoists. O Sensei was born in 1883 and died, at age eighty-six, in 1969. That was before I had even heard of aikido, so I never had the chance to meet him. My first teacher, however, trained with O Sensei in Japan and my present teacher apprenticed with him as uchi deshi (live-in student) for fifteen years. I've also met several other people who knew and studied with O Sen-sei, and whenever. I and other aikidoists get together with these fortunate souls, we are prone to stay up late into the night, never tiring of the stories told and retold, tales of the founder's predilections, his eccentricities, his profound dedication to matters of the spirit, and of certain of his feats that challenge our secure faith in the impossible.

In his excellent biography, Abundant Peace, John Stevens offers an opinion of the founder's skill shared by almost all aikidoists--and many practitioners of other arts as well: "Morihei was undoubtedly the greatest martial artist who ever lived. Even if we accept every exploit of all the legendary warriors, East and West, as being literally true, none of those accomplishments can be compared to Morihei's documented ability to disarm any attacker, throw a dozen men simultaneously, and down and pin opponents without touching them, recorded scores of times in photographs, on film, and by personal testimony."

Morihei Ueshiba was a hypersensitive, sickly, frail child. His father, a prosperous farmer and politician of samurai stock, encouraged him to build himself up by studying the martial arts. This was the beginning of a decades-long quest for physical power and the perfect martial art, a quest that would sweep Morihei up in enough adventures for several lifetimes. He studied the sword, staff, and spear, along with sumo wrestling and various forms of jujutsu. He took everything to extremes, strengthening his head by pounding it on a stone slab a hundred times a day, disappearing into the mountains for extended periods of fasting and other spiritual practices.

In his late twenties, after drifting from job to job and sensei to sensei, Morihei led a group of eighty-four people to start a new community in the frigid wilds of Hokkaido, Japan's Alaska. It was there that he met an old-time warrior named Sokaku Takeda, the master of Daito Ryu aikijutsu.

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