Budo Renshu: The Technical Key to Ueshiba Morihei’s Aikido
Ueshiba Morihei (植芝 盛平, 1883 – 1969), the founder of Aikido never made any special efforts to teach what he was doing. Indeed, unlike other masters, he did not seem to give technical explanations, and when he did speak, his words were essentially centered on philosophy rather than technique. There are also very few direct sources of information describing his techniques except for some videos and photos (including those of the 1938 book entitled Budo, but the various editions available are quite incomplete and/or poorly organized), but no true pedagogic manual. The closest thing to that is to be found in the book Aiki-jujutsu Densho (合気柔術伝書, lit: book of aiki-jujutsu) published in 1934 and better known as Budo Renshu (武道練習1, litt .: Budo practice). In this article, I would like go back to the origin of this book, explain why it is so important, and offer suggestions on what its content can bring in the context of an aikido that keeps evolving.
The Creation of Budo Renshu
The writing of this book was inspired by the work of a young art student from Japan Women’s University (日本女子大, Nihon Joshi Daigaku) called Kunigoshi Takako (国越 孝子, 1911-2000). From her first classes at the Hombu Dojo in 1933, she took the habit once she got home after practice to draw the techniques she had studied in order to better memorize them. The quality of her drawings was quickly noticed by her classmates, and then by Ueshiba Morihei himself, who eventually allowed her to draw at the dojo, with some of her fellow practitioners sometimes even posing for her. Little by little, the idea of creating a book based on her work materialized and formal sessions were actually organized at the dojo after the evening classes. During these, Yonekawa Shigemi (米川 成美, 1910 – 2005), Funahashi Kaoru (舟橋 薫, c. 1913 – c. 1940) and Tomiki Kenji (富木 謙治, 1900 – 1979) would demonstrate the techniques while Ueshiba Morihei gave instructions, and that Kunigoshi drew.
At the instant of the throw, I would say, “Hold it just a second there,” and get most of what was happening. Then later, at my home, I would finish up the details.
Kunigoshi Takako – Interview with Kunigoshi Takako by Stanley Pranin. Aiki News # 47, April 1982
All this work took less than a year and remained more or less under the direct supervision of Ueshiba Morihei, who in some cases gave direct instructions to Kunigoshi to correct certain points or positions on her drawings. The number of techniques practiced at the time and their difficulty were much higher than they are today, and this coupled with the fact that Kunigoshi was a beginner, made it a particularly difficult task.
These pictures were really difficult to do! I had to do them all twice, you know. Even so I felt there were some problems left. The second book was never printed after all but… At any rate, this particular version has the first drawings.
Kunigoshi Takako – Interview with Kunigoshi Takako by Stanley Pranin. Aiki News # 47, April 1982
It is a shame that the second version of these drawings has never been made public. Indeed, the book actually contains a number of approximations or even mistakes, such as the following.
Although the drawing sessions made her job easier, Kunigoshi had to work very quickly. She used to draw a circle for the head and straight lines for the rest of the body, adding the faces, the keikogi and and the hakama only after she got back home.
The explanations given during these sessions were noted by some students including Mr Miura and Mr Takamatsu. Tomiki Kenji, an advanced student who began his study with O Sensei in 1926 and who was at the time the permanent secretary of the Kobukan, was in charge of editing the book. It is likely that he wrote much of the text and Nariyama Tetsuro (成山 哲郎, 1947 – ), a direct student of Tomiki even suggested that the handwriting in the book is that of his teacher.
Technical content and function of the book
The book contains 218 pages and presents in all 166 techniques. When I read it for the first time, I realized that most of the techniques it contained resembled the Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu techniques that I had learned from my teachers Chiba Tsugutaka (千葉 紹隆, 1931 – 2017) and Kobayashi Kiyohiro (小林 清泰, 1941 – ), especially those of the hiden mokuroku (秘伝目録, secret catalog).2
There are almost no publications except “Budo Renshu”, yet there was something called a “mokuroku”, the mokuroku of Daito-ryu. It deals with “ikkajo” and such techniques. It is a scroll with the same contents as “Budo Renshu”.
Shirata Rinjiro – Interview with Shirata Rinjiro. Aiki News # 36, May 1980.
I also remember that when I took the book with me to Wakimachi to show it to the senior practitioners of the Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu Shikoku Hombu (Chiba Tsugutaka’s dojo), they all assumed that it was a manual of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu. Even more surprising is the fact that Hisa Takuma (久 琢磨, c.1895 – 1980), a student of Ueshiba Morihei, and subsequently of Takeda Sokaku (武田 惣角, 1859 – 1943), largely copied Budo Renshu’s technical explanations when he wrote in 1940 his own Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu textbook called Kannagara No Budo (惟神の武道). This manual is still being distributed today to advanced practitioners of the Takumakai (琢磨会). I have compared them and their technical content is indeed very similar. It should be noted that the photos contained in Hisa’s book mostly come from the Soden (総伝), another collection whose entire first half lists the techniques taught by Ueshiba Morihei in the 1930’s [read more about the Soden here].
This parallel between the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei and that of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu is not surprising since Morihei received a number of licenses from his teacher Takeda Sokaku, including the scrolls of hiden mokuroku and hiden okugi (秘伝奥儀, inner mysteries) in 1916, the certificate of kyoju dairi (教授代理, instructor representative) in 1922, and the scroll of goshin’yo no te (護身用の手, self-defense techniques) in 1931. Incidentally, Ueshiba gave similar certificates to some of his own students, such as the hiden ogi to Mochizuki Minoru in 1932.
True to the original idea of Kunigoshi when she drew for herself, the main purpose of the book was to serve as a memory aid. It is therefore not a pedagogical book per se, but a tool to be used by people who are already familiar with the techniques. This is entirely consistent with what was done in traditional Japanese martial arts, where students were only given access to technical documents after they had reached a certain level.
Sensei had planned it to be a kind of mokuroku3 for a number of the deshi, but I don’t remember how many were distributed.
Yonekawa Shigemi – Interview with Yonekawa Shigemi (2). Aiki News # 62, July 1984.
It should also be noted that each technique is represented only by a very small number of drawings, and many key phases of each movement are missing. It is therefore totally pointless to try to reproduce, or worse, “recreate” the techniques as some may sometimes be tempted to do even though they do not have the adequate basics and knowledge to do so. There are a number of videos of Aikidoka on YouTube trying to do just that, but unsurprisingly, the result is really poor. On the other hand, for someone who knows Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu, these techniques are quite clear. I am fortunate to be in this situation and I recently came to the idea of using this book to help aikido practitioners explore important and little-known technical points, while trying to stay faithful to the spirit of O Sensei’s practice.
In accordance with the way mokuroku were used in the past, the book was offered by Ueshiba Morihei to the people he deemed worthy, and they would deposit 5 Yen4 on the altar of the dojo as a gesture of gratitude. Several of his pre-war students such as Akazawa Zenzaburo (赤沢 善三郎, 1920 – 2007), Kunigoshi Takako, and Tanaka Bansen (田中 万川, 1912-1988) mentioned that Morihei awarded this book (as well as later, the “Budo” book of 1938) as a substitute, or in addition to, level certificates. So we see that this book was a kind of update of the old makimono system, which is yet another example of the rather reformist character of Ueshiba Morihei.
Interestingly, we can learn from an interview with the second Doshu Ueshiba Kisshomaru that Budo Renshu was actually conceived as the first of a series of books. Considering that the vast majority of its content covers the basic repertoire of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu, it is likely that the follow-up volume would have addressed the superior techniques.
This Budo Renshu was published as the first series of several volumes but it turned out to be the first and last one.
Kisshomaru – Doshu and the Daito-ryu School speak their minds! Aiki News # 79, January 1988.
Still according to Ueshiba Kisshomaru, the original book was published in about 500 or 600 copies. Other re-editions followed over the years with some modifications made for public distribution. One of them, a bilingual edition in Japanese and English entitled Budo Training in Aikido (武道練習 (合気道)) was developed by the publishing house Minato Research (港リサーチ株式会社), which is now known under the name Sugawara Institute of Martial Arts (株式会社菅原総合武道研究所). It seems that this version corrects some of the inconsistencies between text and drawings that were found in the original version. It is not certain, however, that all existing versions were approved by Ueshiba Morihei.
The first mimeographed version was also copied. This was a bit problematic, because it happened without consulting O Sensei.
Tada Hiroshi (多 田 宏, 1929 -) – Interview with Tada Hiroshi Shihan: A life to cultivate Ki by Guillaume Erard and Fabio Gygi
The disappointing sales of the 1978 reissue led Ueshiba Kisshomaru to conclude that the public apparently had little interest in this type of historical material. This may explain the fact that the Aikikai has never published any other book listing the techniques of Ueshiba Morihei.
What does this book tell us about O Sensei’s aikido?
Few still doubt that Ueshiba Morihei’s aikido takes up most of his technical substance from Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu, but there is still a widely held belief that there is such a thing as pre-war and a post-war aikido, particularly following Ueshiba’s retreat in Iwama, where aikido was supposedly “finalized”. Yet many elements suggest that O Sensei never changed the techniques of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu at the fundamental level, and in any case, not the key points (principles) of the techniques. Budo Renshu is one of the most convincing proofs of this.
Recently, Chris Li discovered another forgotten book by Ueshiba Morihei published by the Aikikai Foundation in 1954 called Aikido Maki no Ichi (合氣道 巻之壹, First Volume of Aikido). As Chris points out, this is the first book attributable to O Sensei to bear the name aikido. Like Budo Renshu in its time, it served as a memory aid and was given by Ueshiba Morihei to some of his students once they had reached a certain level.
To have it, you had to have O-Sensei’s permission. For me, that was when I reached what would now be called shodan.
Hikitsuchi Michio (引土 道雄, 1923 – 2004) – Interview with Hikitsuchi Michio by Laurin Herr and Tim Detmer
Kobayashi Kiyohiro also received a copy of Aikido Maki No Ichi after he was recommended toward O Sensei by his teacher Hisa Takuma to undertake a period of intensive training at the Aikikai in the early 1960’s. This document is of course interesting from a historical point of view, but what is even more wonderful is that when one looks closely, one notices that a very large number of engravings from Budo Renshu are reproduced in it, which means that Ueshiba Morihei had to consider that the Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu techniques listed in Budo Renshu were still relevant as references for post-war practitioners. Therefore, this formally contradicts the idea that there was such a thing as a pre-war and post-war aikido. On the contrary, it confirms the fact that O Sensei did Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu all throughout his life. Note that although his practice did not change, his teaching and philosophy changed profoundly, however.
Other proofs exist to support this claim. For example, in this video produced by Aikido Journal , we can see Saito Morihiro (斉藤 守弘, 1928 – 2002) demonstrate techniques from the Budo military manual published by Ueshiba Morihei in 1938. Saito Morihiro was the closest pupil of O Sensei during the so-called Iwama period, yet he explains here that the techniques he learned at that time times were still extremely similar to pre-war ones. In addition, in this other video that presents side by side pre-war and post-war techniques, the similarities are striking. To finish, we know today that Ueshiba Morihei continued to use the name Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu on a number of official documents even after the war, even though the name “aikido” had been officially registered as early as 1942.
I came here [to Iwama dojo] at the age of 12, I think it was June 1, 1949. […] And the title on my registration papers was “Registration to the Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu “. That’s what I signed.
Isoyama Hiroshi (磯山 博, 1937 – ) – Interview with Isoyama Hiroshi Shihan, the master of the Iwama Dojo by Guillaume Erard and Kei Izawa
If we take the problem in the other way around, Ueshiba Morihei's demonstration held in Osaka in 1935 clearly shows that all so-called “modern” elements (nagare, long projections , etc.) of his aiki were already present well before his retreat in Iwama.
The differences between Budo Renshu and Aikido Maki no Ichi
Just like for Budo Renshu, there are several editions of the book, the latest I know of is the one dated 1956 recently rediscovered by Yokoyama Shinjiro and described in the February 2019 issue of the Hiden Budo & Bujutsu magazine. Regarding the differences between the two works, Aikido Maki no Ichi contains 144 pages instead of the original 218 and lists 137 techniques instead of 166. All the references to militarism initially found in Budo Renshu were removed in Aikido Maki no Ichi. Chris Li argued that the characters drawn in Aikido Maki No Ichi are less severe than in Budo Renshu but to be frank, after comparing side by side every single drawing, I don’t think that the difference is that noticeable, and if any, it can by no means be generalized to the whole book. The latter also contains a section entitled “Understanding of Practice” (練習上の心得), which shows that the book is much more focused towards practice than on applications. It should also be noted that Ueshiba Morihei is credited as a publisher, and that the author is a certain Ueshiba Koetsu (植芝 康悦), which is actually the birth name of Ueshiba Kisshomaru. Yokoyama suggests that according to one of his acquaintances who was a contemporary of the time, the writing in this book might be that of Kisshomaru himself. According to the same person, Yamaguchi Seigo (山口 清吾, 1924 – 1996) was particularly involved in the writing of the book and that it is Kunigoshi Takako herself who reproduced her original illustrations.
According to him, two people participated in the making of the book. The first person is Kunigoshi Takako, who drew the illustrations. Just as she had designed the illustrations in Budo Renshu, she also edited the drawings of Aikido Maki no Ichi. The other person was Yamaguchi Seigo.
Yokoyama Shinjiro – Hiden Budo & Bujutsu, February 2019
Given the name of the book, it is quite possible that a second volume Aikido Maki no Ni might exist, and it is likely to cover the philosophy of aikido. No evidence of its existence has been presented though. It is very interesting to note that unlike Budo Renshu, the end of Aikido Maki no Ichi does not contain any mention suggesting that the book served as a license document. It is thought that O Sensei probably started using the dan grade system around 1940 and it is conceivable that for reasons of consistency, the Aikikai may have wished to issue only titles within the dan system from there on.
Technically speaking, several drawing boards in Aikido Maki no Ichi contain modifications compared to their original versions of Budo Renshu. Ten of these boards were complete with drawings to illustrate phases missing from the Budo Renshu techniques (these boards contained only about two or three drawings per technique). One technique is complemented with a drawing to illustrate the attack, four techniques are completed by one drawing each to show an immobilization, three to show a projection, and two techniques are completed with an additional intermediate board to show a transition between to postures. Six drawings illustrating attacks were removed and three others were substantially modified.
The book contains eight techniques that did not appear in Budo Renshu. Interestingly they are all in tachi waza and include:
- shomenuchi – iriminage (technique #24)
- yokomenuchi – iriminage (technique #26)
- katadori – (technique #40)
- gyaku hanmi katatedori – iriminage (technique #45)
- gyaku hanmi katatedori – karada no henka (technique #46)
- gyaku hanmi katatedori – shihonage (technique #52)
- ryotedori – shihonage (technique #55)
- ushiro erihijidori – irimi (technique #77)
The set of eight techniques that are specific to Aikido Maki no Ichi
These constitute the only differences between the techniques of Ueshiba Morihei before and after the war to be found in these books. Note that in reality, the cutoff line for the apparition of these techniques in Morihei’s practice is not necessarily the war, and certainly not the Iwama period. For instance, shomenuchi iriminage can be found in the Volume 3 of the Soden, which is one of the volumes that show the techniques that Ueshiba Morihei taught between 1933 and 1936.
The same technique is also present in the in the Budo book from 1938. It is however not present, as far as I can tell in the 1936 set of pictures taken at the Noma Dojo.
It is clear that despite these few differences, the techniques of Ueshiba Morihei contained in Budo Renshu are faithful representations of his practice, whatever the period, and they form an integral part of his legacy. Moreover, these techniques have never been lost or forgotten, even if they have not been exhaustively transmitted by his direct pupils to subsequent generations. Fortunately, it is not necessary to try to reinvent them since they have been preserved in the teaching of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu teachers like Hisa Takuma and Nakatsu Heizaburo (中津 平三郎, 1894 – 1960), who were both students of Ueshiba Morihei, and subsequently Takeda Sokaku in the 1930’s.
What can we hope to learn from Budo Renshu today?
I think that by its very nature and the way it was published, Budo Renshu is the most important source of information on the technique of the founder of aikido. With the right keys, one can look at the techniques of ancient aiki contained in the Budo Renshu textbook and try to discover the secrets they contain in order to polish and grow our so-called “modern” aikido. Contrary to what some people think, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Being a practitioner of aikido but also of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu, I was lucky enough to learn in detail many of the Budo Renshu techniques and my teacher, Chiba Tsugutaka, instructed me how to teach them aikidoka. I therefore devote a part of my seminars to this type of work.
To be clear, it is not a question of “mixing” the practices of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu and aikido, neither their spirit nor their repertoires, but to understand their common etymologies and their common points, but also some of their key differences, because there are indeed some. Besides, the external form of my aikido is quite different from that of my techniques of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu, and I never present my work of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu on video since the rules of my school prohibit it. On the other hand, I think that the key points of these ancient and original techniques can be studied and put into action in any form of “aiki” (in the original sense of the term), thus leading to more historically accurate and more mechanically efficient techniques.
The beauty of this work of historical study is that it is not a question of changing either the form or the style of the practitioners, since the focus is on the principles. Moreover, this research on the origins of aiki makes it possible to understand better the reasons behind the technical differences between the various lineages that grew out of the teaching of Ueshiba Morihei. Hence we stop seeing those differences as errors, as it is unfortunately often the case when judging from ignorance. In doing so, we become better educated and more tolerant towards practices that differ from ours, and we can gather around common principles. I hope, on a small scale, to encourage that.
I want to thank Chris Li from Aikido Sangenkai for his pioneering work on comparing these two volumes and for making scans of both Budo Renshu and Aikido Maki No Ichi available to all practitioners.
- Renshu (練習). The first kanji 練 means “regrouping and dividing”, which gives a sense of classifying or sorting things and keeping only the good ones. The second kanji 糸 illustrates the immersion of a raw silk thread into the water, which gives a sense of polishing and refining good things.As a whole, renshu means to polish, forge, temperate, train, discipline.
- The hiden mokuroku (秘伝目録, secret catalog) is a set of 118 techniques of the first level of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu organized in five kajo (条, sections) and which represents a technical progression equivalent to the fifth dan.
- Mokuroku (目録) can be translated literally as a catalog. In martial arts, mokuroku is therefore a catalog of techniques but it is also given as proof of the level or rank of a practitioner.
- 5 Yen in 1934 correspond to about 70 Dollars today.