A day in the life of Morihei Ueshiba

Early March, 1968. The Founder traveling by train from Iwama to Hombu dojo in Tokyo. Photo by Gaku Homma.

p6_thumbTo conclude his morning ceremony, the Founder would then stand erect, holding his shaku, and look directly toward the sun. No matter if it was a clear day, or the sun was obscured by clouds, he would raise his face toward the sun and stare directly into it. He would offer prayers to Amaterasu O Kami, the Shinto god of the sun. I found this somewhat amazing, and sometimes tried to copy his actions. I was never able to stare directly into the sun for long, it was too bright for my eyes to stand. I have grown to think that the powerful gaze the Founder possessed came from following this ritual on a daily basis. After this, it was time to prepare for breakfast.

Today at the Iwama dojo, a parking lot, and the uchideshi kitchen stand where the Founder’s vegetable garden once was. This garden was planted for the household’s consumption and it was tended to carefully. After finishing his morning ceremony the Founder, still dressed in his formal kimono and hakama, would head for the garden. In April there was young nira, nanohana, daikon and kabu ready to be thinned. The Founder would examine the plants carefully and tell me which ones could be pinched off for that day’s side dishes. We were not harvesting the plants, it being only April, they were too small. The seedlings needed thinning however or needed to be pinched back so that the remaining plants would grow strong. I remember the Founder teaching me that after pinching off some of the nira, one should step on the remaining plant and then douse it with water left over from washing rice. This would ensure a healthy regrowth.

Morning breakfast consisted mainly of congee (a soft rice porridge) with mochi (pounded sticky rice cake). He loved mochi and sometimes ate it by itself, but it had a tendency to stick to his dentures, so on most occasions the mochi was cooked with the congee to soften it. The side dishes consisted of the new fresh vegetable leaves picked from the garden and prepared very simply. The Founder did not remove his formal kimono and hakama before he took his breakfast. For him, taking of this meal was part of his morning ceremony.

After breakfast, it was time to assign morning chores and errands for me and Kikuno to attend to while the Founder rested. A few blocks from the dojo, the Founder owned a rice garden. Tending to this garden was one of my daily duties. Never knowing when the Founder would call me and Kikuno for Aikido practice, I always wore my keiko-gi top with my work pants, just in case.

If it was a nice day, sometimes the Founder would sit by an open window and read his newspaper in the warmth of the morning sun. Or, on especially nice days, we would slide open the doors to the dojo, and the Founder would lay down on the dojo mat without his hakama, and take a nap in the sun. The second Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba said in his biography, that he had never seen the Founder when he was not sitting formally in seiza. At Iwama, the Founder I knew took naps in the sun like an ordinary elderly man.

Even when he was sleeping, we kept our eyes and ears open, and always knew where he was, and what he was doing. If he were to call, we would drop whatever we were doing and run to assist him. Kikuno used to say that I even sleep with one eye open! We lived at attention, twenty four hours a day.