A day in the life of Morihei Ueshiba

As the Founder made his way up the freshly swept pathway, his footmarks were the only ones to be seen. Once in a while, children would scamper playfully through my freshly swept path as they played before school. This would infuriate me as it made it look like I had not attended properly to my duties. Symbolically it was important to sweep every morning to clear away any bad luck or bad spirits before the Founder began his morning ceremony of prayers. The Founder’s formal kimono and hakama were already laid out for him as he finished his bath. It was also my duty to assist him in dressing for the ceremony that followed.

May, 1968. Gaku Homma at the Iwama vegetable garden. The top portion of the fields in the photo are planted with potato, the bottom portion is planted with peanuts. Photo by Kikuno Yamamoto.

p5_thumbRain or shine, the Founder attended to his daily morning ceremony. If it were raining, Kikuno and I would hold an umbrella for him to walk under. Kikuno and I of course did not get umbrellas. Holding a small tray called a sambo laden with three small dishes; one containing salt, one containing rice and one containing water, the Founder headed briskly down the path to the Aiki Shrine. His step was sure and vigorous and his balance perfect as he grasp the sambo before him. p5b_thumbYou can tell in the photograph above that his hakama snapped crisply with his walk, it was difficult to believe at times like this that he was 85 years old. I always thought it curious that at times when I accompanied the Founder to Hombu dojo in Tokyo that he walked slowly and almost feebly. As I reflect now, I think that he was just pretending. I wrote an article on this over twenty years ago for Black belt magazine, but that is another story for another day.

March 8th, 1968. The Founder after arriving at Hombu dojo, looks out the window at the demolition site where his house once stood. The house was demolished to make space for the new Hombu dojo to be built.

Photo by Gaku Homma.

As the Founder neared the Aiki Shrine he would pass under the shrine gate or tori. As servants, Kikuno and I were not allowed to pass directly under the gate so we would walk around the gate to the right and hurry on ahead to open up the shrine. We would unlock the shrine door on the right side of the honden (main building), enter, and rush to quietly open the front sliding doors to the shrine for the Founder. Once he had entered the honden, we would quietly shut the door behind him. On the opposite wall behind the shrine was another sliding door which we opened to reveal a view of the okuden, which was a smaller structure that housed the main shrine. Before finding our places near the shrine entrance, we would light candles. The Founder usually spent about twenty five minutes praying at this morning ceremony. Once a month there was a special ceremony called Tsukinami Sai. This ceremony lasted up to one hour, and the shrine was adorned with offerings of fruits, vegetables, dried foods and fish. No animal products were ever used as part of this special offering.

During regular the daily ceremony, Kikuno and I sat as still as possible in seiza with our heads bowed deeply to but not resting on the ground. This position was painful on the knees and quite tiring to maintain. At my age I didn’t understand what the prayers the Founder recited meant, so remaining vigilant was a struggle. Only when the Founder used a jo in an offering of Jo no mai or jo movement was my attention focused. The jo he used was the length of a regular jo, but it was sharpened at one end. It looked like a length of a spear that had been sliced Daigonally with a sword. If he did not use a jo, he would sometimes use a shaku, which is a flat, wooden paddle-shaped instrument used in Shinto ceremonies. He would perform movements with the shaku as if it were a tsurugi (a sword of the gods according to Shinto lore).

After the Founder finished his morning prayer at the Aiki shrine, he would return to the front yard of the dojo where he would stop to pray at a hokora (small shrine) dedicated to the god Ushitora no Konjin. This god was a personal god for the Founder, which he always carried with him. When his travels took him to Hokkaido, he carried this god with him and dedicated a new shrine called the Kami Shirataki Jinja, in the Shiratake Village he founded there. Although it sounds like the Founder was carrying with him something tangible, it was not; it was the spirit of the god he carried.