Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Last Samurai of Martial Arts

On Wednesday, January 28th, Kei Izawa Sensei of Tanshinjuku Aikikai in Louisville, Colorado lectured to a crowd of nearly fifty on the last samurai of martial arts and Founder of the art of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. The one hour lecture was sponsored by The Center for Asian Studies and the catchy title, no doubt, contributed to the excellent turn out. Mr. Izawa, or Izawa Sensei as we know him in the Aikido community, was introduced by a lengthy and impressive docket of both business successes and Aikido credentials. Perhaps the most recent of which was the publication of the new English translation of Osensei's biography: A Life in Aikido, The Biography of Founder Morhihei Ueshiba by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, published by Kodansha International.

Izawa briefly chronicled the early life of Morihei Ueshiba, his upbringing, education, and early martial studies. Izawa began by contrasting the typical upbringing of a child born to the post-feudal samurai class with that of the more humble farmer's class of Morihei Ueshiba. The point of this comparison was to illustrate how Osensei transcended the social implications of his lower class and became a man of tremendous national prestige, respect, and reverence - a testament to him living the principles of Bushido.

Even after Japan's governmental restoration of the late 1880s, the samurai class was still regarded as the most esteemed class, follow by farmers, artisan and craftsman, and finally merchants. Perhaps in stark contrast to American values of the Gilded Age and even of today, merchants of Japan were considered the lowest of all classes. Despite all of this, Ueshiba became a man of overwhelming significance, and arguably, the last samurai of martial arts, in his country and around the world by living the principles of which he taught for many decades.

Izawa briefly reviewed the seven virtues of Bushido, which is the Japanese samurai's code of conduct. This code of conduct is considered by some to be analogous to that of medieval, English chivalry. Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, and Loyalty are frequent interpretations of Bushido's virtues and were first articulated in the English language by a Japanese national named Inazo Nitobe in 1899.

Nitobe was a fascinating personality in Japan's history, in part, because he was raised and educated in Japan as a Christian, which gave him a unique perspective on East-West relations. His classic text, Bushido: The Soul of Japan will be reviewed in a series of articles to appear in future issues of the Dojo News and on the Castle Rock AIKIDO web site.

Like many successful people, Ueshiba was plagued, it seemed, by a multitude of career failures until his late 30s. While at first I found this surprising, I then remembered that success author, Napoleon Hill, in his classic 1939 text, Think & Grow Rich!, articulated that most people do not experience any real success in life until after their 40th year. It was around this time that Ueshiba began to integrate his martial skills into an early version of what we know today as Aikido.

"Aikido can be very difficult to describe in words," Izawa said. "But, it's really about diffusion, instead of defeating." Izawa then illustrated Aikido by playing two videos of Ueshiba filmed at different times in the Founder's life. The videos demonstrated how Morihei Ueshiba evolved from a more brutish martial artist in his late 30s to a more gentle martial artist in his late 70s. As can be readily seen by the two videos, what did not diminish over the decades was Ueshiba's power. In fact, it could be argue that his power continued to expand into his elder years.

Izawa had the opportunity to demonstrate his own use of Aikido philosophy during his lecture when a computer incompatibility issue initially prevented him from showing the audience from viewing the two videos he brought with him and were an important element to the presentation. But, as Aikido philosophy teaches, we must learn to adapt to our ever changing environment, blend with the challenges we are faced with, and redirect the energy of any given problem or set of circumstances to a positive outcome. Izawa quickly petitioned the audience for a Macintosh laptop.

One young student happened to have a Mac in their back pack and quickly volunteered its use. Within 5 minutes, Izawa was back up and running with his presentation. Considering that the lecture's content involved the philosophy and practice of Aikido, it seems appropriate to see such a non-martial application of its philosophy right there, on the spot. There was something overwhelmingly charming about the technological glitch and its prompt resolution. It seemed to add a true sense of authenticity to the subject matter being discussed.

What was so nice about the lecture is that there was no "angle" or "pitch" attached to it. Izawa was there simply for the pleasure of sharing his hard work of translating this Japanese text to English, and to share his experiences in doing so. One question from the audience inquired as to whether or not Izawa experienced some challenges translating from Japanese to English. Izawa responded that there were times when translation posed a challenge. There are so many elements of Japanese communication that do not possess a literal translation to English, or if they do, the notion initially intended by the author is lost in the literal translation and, therefore, some editorial license was needed.You can order the book through by clicking HERE

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