Morihei Ueshiba Meets Rube Goldberg

The common vision of the martial artist is that of a hard-eyed, hard-bitten, potential killer. Someone very Very Serious. Aikido preaches "soft eyes, loving protection, and a large heart" and Zen tradition is filled with tales of wise old "fools" of impish and zany humor. Jay Gluck witnessed one of the best, an encounter between O-Sensei and cartoonist Rube Goldberg. (See Gluck, 1992).

Rube was visiting Japan. He strolled into the Aikikai Hombu Dojo stepping up onto the elevated floor "a huge cigar protruding from his maw like a naval cannon" — and his shoes on. As horrified students raced to remove Rube's shoes, O-Sensei heard the commotion and came out to investigate. "As his eyes met Rube's O-Sensei's eyebrows rose. His eyes lit up. His straggly beard vibrated. 'Haw!' he hawed."

Pushing Rube's interpreter aside, he grabbed the befuddled little man by the arm and hauled him, cigar "streaming smoke like dragon spoor," into the sacred tokonoma alcove. O-Sensei shouted orders. Startled students raced for their practice weapons and attacked, screaming. O-Sensei stood in the middle of the vortex whirling, ducking, spinning as bodies flew everywhere. Then it was over. Rube walked out of the alcove, "laughed and tugged O-SenseCs wispy white beard."

O-Sensei... pulled the immense stogje out of Rube's mouth, bopped him on the head with it, jammed it back into his mouth and laughed. Rube guffawed. They both laughed like the ancient fools. Then both turned and left. Not a word had been uttered.

I had never heard this story before, nor had anyone else I mentioned it to. Thinking it might be a charming fiction that I had taken all too seriously, I wrote author Jay Gluck. "I assure you," he replied, "the Zen Fools episode involving O-Sensei and Rube is history."

"No one present realized the significance of the strange scene."

"Other witnesses I questioned months later were interested only in the fact that they had been granted the honor of tangling with their 'angel of God' like a gaggle of Jacobs.

None of the Japanese knew who or what the funny looking man in the porkpie hat and stogie was.

As he told me when I questioned him some months later, O-Sensei recognized what he was —from his eyes."

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