Hidden in Plain Sight: Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei's Power
by Ellis Amdur
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As I mentioned in a previous review, I have a long standing fascination with the Japanese martial arts in general, and Aikido in particular. And while I'm not in a great position at the moment to explore them in practice, I still find reading about them fascinating. Especially when it comes to Aikido, one of the first arts I became passionate about, and one of the first I walked away from.
Hidden in Plain Sight is Amdur's second book on the art of Aikido, this one focused on investigating the history of Aikido and its founder, an exploring one of the major questions that many Aikido (I think) must struggle with at some point: why is it that no modern Aikido practitioner seems to be able to duplicate the feats demonstrated by the arts founder?
The book is broken up into six chapters, exploring many of the known or suggested influences that lead Ueshiba to develop his Aikido. Amdur looks very critically at questions of Chinese influences, the development of Daito-Ryu (this chapter alone makes the book worth picking up), and the role that various religious traditions played in Ueshiba's development. Along the way, he makes an effort to dispel what he sees as misconceptions or misrepresentations of Ueshiba's intent with Aikido (including challenging the notion that Ueshiba somehow "softened" or "weakened" Daito-Ryu in any meaningful way).
Amdur also spends quite a bit of time discussion Ueshiba's "Internal" training and skills, and the question of how he might have acquired them. Interestingly, Amdur is one of the only people I've ever read who manages to write about these skills in a way that makes them sound like something more than something from a scene out of a Shaws Brothers movie. While he does not drift into the realm of mystical absurdity, he does provide some very compelling evidence that Ueshiba (and several other martial artists) seemed to have access to a level of skill that was far beyond that of their contemporaries. He also makes it clear that the level of training and commitment required to reach this level of skill is extremely high.
This is a very deeply researched and carefully thought out work, and very much worth reading for any practitioner of Aikido or Daito-Ryu. Students of other arts may find less directly connected to their art within this book, but if nothing else, it's a worthwhile reminder that oral history and tradition is an incredibly unreliable source of communication. Besides, this is a fun read, and if you have any interest in martial arts history or tradition, it's worth picking up.