This book is really three separate booklets bound into one. In this case, I believe the three parts work together quite well, and it doesn’t feel like a trick of padding to make a pamphlet into a salable book. I only mention this to point out that the three sections are quite different on several levels (i.e. authorship, subject, and content), and to put the reader on notice of it.
The first part is an “Introduction” by Kisshōmaru Ueshiba. The reason I put introduction in quotes is that it’s really a brief biography of Morihei Ueshiba (often called Ōsensei by practitioners of his art.) At 16 pages, it would be somewhat long for an introduction to the (130pg) book, but it introduces the martial arts master who founded the martial art of aikidō and who wrote the second part of the book nicely. The bio is a good use of space. Morihei Ueshiba wasn’t only an accomplished martial arts master, but he led an interesting life as well. I found this biography to be intriguing, and it made me want to read a full biography of the man. I must point out that there are a couple spots that will trigger the BS-meter of any rational skeptic (i.e. comments about Ueshiba being bulletproof or invincible.) Even though I don’t believe for a minute that the man was either bullet-proof or invincible, I think that most of this biography is true, and even that which isn’t gives one insight into the man as a combat veteran (and it certainly says something that some of his students literally deified him.) In addition to biographical text, this part includes various photos from both inside and outside the dōjō.
The second part is the beating heart of the book. This is a manual on martial arts written by Morihei Ueshiba, himself. It features prose, photos, technique descriptions, and even poems. While the bulk of the section consists of descriptions of techniques along with illustrative photos, there’s some philosophy of martial arts in both the early text and poems at the beginning and ending of the section. This section is almost 50 pages long, and the translator provides explanatory end-notes that help to make sense of the text for non-specialists.
The last section is technically the longest. However, it contains almost no text other than a translator’s introduction and technique names. It’s a series of technique sequence photos. The photos were taken in 1936 and were taken at the behest of the president of Kodansha Ltd. at the time, Seiji Noma—hence, they’re referred to as the “Noma Dōjō Techniques.” The shots of the sequences are tight enough that one can follow the flow of Ueshiba’s movement. For me, this section wasn’t particularly valuable. However, for practitioners of Aikidō, I can imagine how it could be invaluable. In other words, if one is familiar with the techniques, one might spot something that would give one a new insight. For the rest of us, this section just gives a crude taste of the nature of Aikidō.
I found this book to be interesting and informative. I’d recommend it not only for aikidō practitioners, but for those interested in the martial arts more generally. There is certainly insight to be gained from this phenomenal martial arts master.