A day in the life of Morihei Ueshiba

October 1968. Gaku Homma at Iwama dojo.

Saito Shihan and his family lived in a different house next door. At that time, Saito Shihan’s family did not own a restaurant or other businesses, only a family run laundry service. In those days, outdoor plumbing was the convention and the families’ outhouse stood adjacent to the house. Posted outside of the outhouse was a makiwara (a wrapped padded post used by karateka for punching training). During a seminar Saito Shihan held in Denver one year, he told us that when he was young he used to practice karate. I asked him why the makiwara was posted outside of the outhouse. He told us that as part of his personal training regiment, he would hit the makiwara ten times each time he went in to use the facility and ten times each time he came out.

In 1968, the land between the Iwama rail station and the dojo was forested with chestnut trees and thickets of bamboo. In April the chestnuts would bloom, releasing a strong smell of chestnuts into the air. Bamboo, up to four inches in Daimeter would sprout everywhere, sometimes in the middle of the dirt packed streets. Native to the area were also peach trees whose blossoms added to the décor of spring. Today, houses and shops have replaced most of the chestnut trees and bamboo forests.

When the Founder was at Iwama, he taught most of the evening classes at the dojo. Evening practice started at 7:00 pm. which he instructed after having dinner at about 5:00 pm. The Founder usually did not take his bath in the evenings. He usually took his bath first thing most morning. Because of his age, the Founders diet was simple. He always took his meals together with his wife Hatsu. The couple seemingly enjoyed their meals together, and the Founder was sometimes playful. With his chopsticks he would pick up a morsel of food and place it on his wife’s plate. “Omahan tabe yoshi” (here, you eat this) he would tease in his local Kishu Dailect. She would playfully pick it up and place it back on his plate exclaiming, “No, you eat this”. It was a sweet banter between the two. Even though the Founder’s diet was a simple one, he also occasionally enjoyed “modern” foods such as curry-rice. The Founder used to comment that the curry was good roughage, and made for a healthy bowel movement.

1968. Gaku Homma as a boy of 17 sweeping the path in front of the Ushitora no Konjin hokora.

The Founder and his wife took their meals in a room located directly behind the dojo altar. The room was sparse with a wooden floor. A small table about three ft. by two ft. with collapsible ten-inch legs was set up for every meal. The four of us ate our meals together. The quarters were close, and I found I had trouble being able to eat in a relaxed fashion, being so close to the Founder as he ate. Kikuno and I always sat formally with our backs straight, executing our best manners.

In one corner of the small room was a tiny sink about two feet by one foot wide. The sink had a single faucet that ran only cold water; the only hot water in the living quarters was heated by hand before serving. The Founder also used this sink to wash his face and brush his teeth. Accommodations were simple in Iwama, the single cold water sink serving as both kitchen sink and wash stand. Next to the sink was a small propane gas burner where the simple meals were prepared.

Today the accommodations of the third generation Doshu, Morihei Ueshiba’s grandson, are a far cry from the simple and rustic accommodations the Founder lived in. In the old days, there was of course no television or radio. The Founder usually retired to sleep before 9:00 pm. each evening. In April, the nights were sometimes chilly, yet the Founder refused to use an electric blanket. He claimed that the electricity in the blankets made him itch. (As I reflect now, this may have been a symptom of his liver condition). Instead of using an electric blanket, Kikuno the maid used to get into the Founders futon before him to make it warm. While Kikuno warmed the futon, it was my job to massage the Founder’s feet or to sit in seiza by his head and read out loud to him from the Omoto Kyo text; Rei Kai Monogatari.