Reflecting on John Steven’s Abundant Peace

Stevens, John. Abundant Peace: The Biography of Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido. Boston: Shambhala, 1987.

The prolific aikido author John Stevens published his Abundant Peace in 1987, initially becoming one of the only sources of information outside of Aikido Journal on the art’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, at the time. It provided many Western practitioners a glimpse into the founder’s life and historical background for the creation and development of his art. Stevens seperated the biography of Morihei into three parts, beginning with who he was as a man, as a martial artist, and ending with his overall message of aikido. Considered by some as dated, Stevens’ work provided many an aikido practitioner a gateway into the founder’s life and the influence he still has on his art, decades after his passing.

In the first part, Stevens retells the events of Morihei’s life, starting with his familial background. His father was a local politician, which led Morihei the opportunity to experience different martial arts, first with both sumo and judo. He soon expanded into weapon-based and other empty hand martial arts, and he even joined the Imperial Japanese Army during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) to expand his martial horizons. In 1912, he moved to Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most island and met the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu master Sokaku Takeda, learning all he could from the older man from 1915 to 1919. Once he left the island, he found his way to Ayabe, the headquarters of the Omoto-kyo Shinto religion. There, he made a connection with the sect’s leader, Onisaburo Deguchi, who later took Morihei on an adventure to Mongolia that ended in arrest and, by actions from friends in high places, deportation back to Japan.

Through the connections made in the Omoto sect, Morihei met Admiral Isamu Takeshita, who persuaded him to relocate to Tokyo and establish a school there in 1926. Morihei essentially taught there, in Osaka to the east, and anywhere else in between the two cities until the Second World War began to take a turn for the worse for Japan. With the War’s tide turning and a momentary decline in health, he retired to Iwama and built a school, a shire, and a farm. With the war ending in 1945 and the United States allowing the defeated country to govern itself in 1952, Morihei was free to teach freely in Japan, however, his son, Kisshomaru, assumed more of the organizational leadership role of what would become the Aikikai.

At the close of the Morihei’s life, Stevens continues with an analysis of aikido’s founder as a martial artist. In it, Stevens dives deeper into the martial training Morihei put himself through. While known now by the work of the late Stanley Pranin, Steven promotes that aikido, though influenced by many martial arts, was a creation that was “new” and “revolutionary” – something that was completely original. Aikido was Morihei creations, yes, but, according to Pranin, Morihei’s main influence was that of Takeda’s Daito-ryu. Afterwards, Stevens discusses the changes Morihei made to his art over the years, from the hard, Daito-ryu-like practices of the prewar years to the softer, more flowing practices of the postwar years. Each of these changes would result in some of his early students to break away and form a school/style around the aikido they learned at the specific time they were disciples of Morihei.

Stevens closes his study on the founder of aikido with a look into the ultimate message Morihei wanted to convey with his art to the larger world. As Stevens explains, aikido is a spiritual journey for each one of aikido’s practitioners. The way that Morihei explained the spiritual aspects of aikido was deeply rooted in both the Omoto-kyo and ancient Shinto mythology. Stripping away such confusing and, at times, obscure references, Stevens asserts that the message was peace and harmony with everyone, so there would be no violence or death in conflicts. For this, Stevens retells samurai stories, demonstrating the usefulness and the morality of not killing or destroying one’s opponent, but rather harmonizing with them to create an outcome that was suitable to both parties.

However old or dated this biography is of Morihei Ueshiba, it still paints a picture of who he was during his time and what his creation contributed to larger community of Japanese martial arts and beyond. Furthermore, Stevens’ book provided and still provides a basis of the founder for new and continuing aikidoka.

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