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O-Sensei Part II

March 9, 2012

Today resumes the short biography of Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido (fighting art of Steven Seagal) and, essentially, a saint: a martial saint — since the original question from yesterday is whether or not blackbelt satori exists outside of Asian cinema.

Part II — Attack on Father

Morihei credited his enlightenment to eight years spent following Onisaburo Deguchi, head of the shamanistic-agricultural Omoto sect. An early yearning for sainthood, the years of studying with a holy man, then… satori — Morihei’s biography might almost belong to some great pacifist priest. What needs to be explained is such a spiritual man’s equal dedication to budo, to martial arts.

Something life-defining happened to Morihei during his boyhood years. He saw a political rival’s goons assault his adored father. Today it is hard to recover the awe in which pre-modern Japanese children held their parents. The central formal question in the life of a good child was always first and foremost how to honor father and mother.

How did her fortunate son honor Yuki? Morihei outdoors often explored famous Buddhist sites and quizzed local priests. So he went on preparing himself to someday achieve that spiritual ascent the indoor bookworm had first dreamt of, knowing it would please his mother. And the youth also supposed, in the future, he would gratify his father by great success in the world of men. Exactly what sort of work he would succeed at seemed a decision to make when he was grownup. For now the boy had fiercely gone about becoming stronger than great-grandfather Kichiemon.

Then one day, catastrophe. A few sources say Yoroku fought back and drove away his attackers, although the popular versions sees his father falling, bloodied, more or less at Morihei’s feet. Either way, his idol was cracked, if not smashed, and so the decision of how to honor a broken idol must be made by a disillusioned child. How do you honor a beaten father?

By becoming unbeatable.

Whatever else he did from then on, Morihei looked for martial arts masters who could whip him, since only they had anything to teach. He said of his instructor for twenty-five years, “Sokaku Takeda opened my eyes to budo.” Although the deep childhood wish to be a saint will also come true, after the attack on his father, Morehei begins a parallel and equally successful search for physical invulnerability, and on the very day he clinched that skill, was the day he was first struck by satori.

Morihei grew up, left home and lived — brilliantly — the life of his times. His calm in battle and skill with a bayonet earned Morihei the nickname “soldier god” during the Russo-Japanese War. The greatest post-war budo teachers cheerfully admitted Morihei’s skills were beyond unbeatable. He was untouchable, either free-style or at swordpoints. Once Morihei literally dodged a bullet because of a pre-felt warning he was about to be shot. So his students revered a master who verged on the supernatural.

1925 — the same year F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby and Gitchin Funacoshi, his Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu. One spring afternoon at home, after routinely humiliating an arrogant young Navy officer in his front room, 42-year-old Morihei had gone outside to the garden, washed his face in cool well water and was sitting there by himself when suddenly…

“I felt that the universe suddenly quaked and that the golden spirit sprang up from the ground, veiled my body and changed it into a golden one. At the same time, my mind and body became light. I was able to understand God, the Creator of the universe. At that moment I was enlightened. The source of budo is God’s love, the spirit of loving protection of all beings. Endless tears of Joy streamed down my cheeks.”

Tomorrow — Part III: The fighting art which wins by refusing to fight you

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