* A versão em português dessa entrevista está nesse link
Few people have had the experience of being uchideshi, resident students, in any Aikido dojo. Yahe sensei had this experience not only in one location, but three. He was an uchideshi of Nakazono sensei, Chiba sensei and one of the few foreigners who went through this at Hombu Dojo.
His life story is totally connected with Aikido. Having started as a child, directly with Mutsuro Nakazono sensei, one of Morihei Ueshiba’s main students. Afterwards, he follows the path as a disciple of Chiba sensei, known as one of the most intense masters in the art. At the time when Chiba sensei was developing his weapons training method, Yahe sensei was there.
If all this was not enough, he was still an intern student at Hombu Dojo, having received direct instruction from Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and the main instructors there at the time, such as: Kisaburo Osawa, Hiroshi Tada, Seigo Yamaguchi, Sadateru Arikawa and many others.
Being able to interview him was a huge honor. I cannot express in words Yahe sensei’s generosity in accepting the interview and spending all his time in minutely discussing each issue. Thank you so much! Due to the huge content in this interview, I decided to split it into two parts. I’m sure every Aikido practitioner will enjoy it!
Thank you very much for accepting the interview, Yahe sensei. You have a very rich history within Aikido. You started with Nakazono sensei, you were uchideshi from Chiba sensei and one of the rare foreigners who was uchideshi from Hombu Dojo. How did you hear about Aikido?
I was a young boy of six years old. Our family roots were unbalanced and my parents had gotten divorced. My mom met Nakazono Sensei and was amongst the people who helped him come into this country through Canada from France.
He was a very charismatic man who gathered a big following of people around him quite naturally. We all lived together in one large house in upstate New York near the Town of Highmount in the United States
Immediately I was taking Aikido classes with him at that time along with everyone else. There was no dojo so we practiced out of doors rolling around on the grass because it was spring and summer time.
Two things I remember were that I kept hitting my head on Ukemi and kind of having to figure out how not to do that. And that he kept laughing throughout the whole class.He had a wonderful joyous energy And even people bumping around and into each other he found to be a good part of the practice. He really did love people and had a sense of being a missionary to bring this first wave of Asian arts,traditions and spiritual practice to the United States.
In the tumultuous times when society in general was very much in a state of upheaval and people were searching for something,he felt very safe and was a strong leader.
During this time he also taught Oriental medicine, meditation, and a naturalistic approach to life that he could see was lacking in our culture. I think he’s right. He also taught something called The Kototama principle which is essentially the study of ancient sounds and using them as a meditation practice and a way to reflect on daily life activities. I sat through a lot of his lectures as a kid but still can’t say I understand this completely except to say that it’s another excellent metaphor for naturalistic living and pointing us in a more spiritual and humanistic direction. Which I still appreciate.
At any rate I had known him for only a couple of months when my father committed suicide. This is a huge life-changing thing as you can imagine but on a basic level he was the person who filled that mentor, guidance space for me and Aikido itself became a path that encompassed that. That’s as best as I can say it.
Actually it was him and his son K. Nakazono sensei together who did this. They both saved my life at a time when it was needed and most of the good and successful things I’ve done stem from them having been there for me. So in a certain manner Aikido meant more to me I feel then might normally be the case and growth in it throughout my lifetime always felt very significant and anchored to the deepest part of my self. I’ve noticed over the years that most people as well find Aikido to be life-changing and a way of connecting them to something deep within themselves and in others. But this is how it all occurred for me very organically.
Nakazono sensei was an important Aikido master, one of the few who understood about Kotodama, which O’sensei talked a lot. However, I believe that many current Aikidokas do not know him, his Aikido and his research. Could you tell us more about who he was and how he influenced your path?
As far as Nakazono Sensei was concerned it’s a little bit difficult to objectively express exactly who he was as he always felt much like a grandfather to me.
He was famous for taking Aikido to Europe by challenging all the judo teachers there and beating them up. Then they wanted to train with him. Very different era than now.
Speaking of a different era, he kept a traditional Japanese order to how all the students sat with black belt/Hakama men on one end of the mat then white belt men below them then women and finally there was the children which was where I was.
It was a pretty old school Dojo and I used to challenge myself to go up the line to work with black belts only to get thrown too hard and start crying and come running back to where I started with the kids. But I kept at it as much as I could until the age of 12 years old when I stopped crying. He recognized this and gave me a Hakama. So I knew I’d earned it and sat with the Hakama wearing men from then.
Even in each section there was a structure of seniority amongst the members and where we sat down. It was a very hierarchical, traditional structure. In later years I realized what a unique thing this all was to American culture. Even Chiba Sensei did not have this strict of a structure in his Dojo.
Nakazono Sensei’s classes were an eclectic mixture. It was true he studied the Kototama principle extensively and this was what he based all of the arts that he taught including Aikido.
Before each class we did some version of sound practice put into movement as a means of connecting to our natural body and centers rhythm. He was clear about what we were there to do in discovering and acting from this most native or in his language “Creators Life Will” So,a very high bar in a certain manner and Aikido meant something very different to him than probably most other teachers. Very spiritual.
His Son, K. Nakazono sensei seemed to embody this sense completely. Always when I took Ukemi for him I felt like I was slipping into a dimension where time and space and both he and I had been sucked out of,and some sort of an absolute zero thing occurred.
Aikido happened by itself and I never felt like h even touched me. I recognize that this could have been because I had this absolute trust for my teacher but it none the less stands out as a special experience and one that I’ve only had a handful of times since then.
K. Nakazono Sensei, the son of M. Nakazono, and a contemporary of Toyoda Sensei, and was possibly not as well-known figure in the public world of Aikido as his father but honestly had the deepest understanding within the art of anyone I’ve ever met or touched. I count my entire life and all experiences in saying that.
He was one of O Sensei’s last Uchi Deshi and he took care of him, traveling to Iwama regularly and taking his Ukemi etc. I feel like he picked up the essential quality and insight that the master had. I was very blessed to be touched by such a teacher so early on.
Both he and his father loved finishing a lot of their techniques with Koshinage. I remember many classes were that was the only technique taught. As a little boy in most classes I was quickly at the limits of what I could take and was mostly wondering how I kept standing up. This segment of my practice represented the most difficult physical training I’d ever encounter in my whole career Believe it or not, especially in K. Sensei’s classes. So once again,I got lucky!
His Father however had more of a fun atmosphere about him and was often telling us funny jokes and anecdotes during class. He reminded me of Yamaguchi sensei in this manner, An apparently light or fun seeing exterior that masked a deeper sense of absolute certainty about where their art was headed.
Nakazono Sensei was also a master with healing, and I went to their Natural Medicine School, The Kototama Institute. I trained under both of them and graduated from their school in 1984 and received my DOM so I could practice medicine. I wanted to learn not only Aikido but the medicine they taught. It felt like an important thing to embody from the world I came from. Aikido/medicine completed this for my path from where I came from to where I wanted to go.
Aikido here in Brazil has a strong connection with Oriental Medicine. Kawai sensei, the introducer of art in the country, was a famous Acupuncturist and the instructors trained by him learned both Aikido and Oriental Medicine. How is the relationship between these two paths for you?
That is Extremely interesting about Kawai sensei having such an influence like that and how you guys merged the two practices. I had no idea this was so. I’ve definitely heard of Kawai Sensei and his work. Very influential teacher. This is very exciting to me actually and I’m very glad to hear this!
Nakazono Sensei made it clear that the two paths were one as well. He required all the incoming class in his acupuncture and Oriental medicine program to try Aikido classes. At least to try it and they could drop it if it didn’t agree with them. Most of them didn’t last long.
Every year in September the class would fill up with people at the start of school for the Kototama Institute. I’ll never forget the horrified look on their faces as they had to hit the mat and struggle on a very basic level and Senior Nakazono Sensei would always be standing there and laughing his beautiful big belly laugh.
When I graduated from his school I got the best score in the entire history of the school which was a “B”! Yes, a B. No one ever had achieved this which should tell you about the very high standard he had.
I thought I just got lucky (and sometimes still do) but he told me that his son, K. Nakazono told him this was because I had practiced Aikido for so long with him. No one else who went through his school did this intertwined practice for so long.
He then went on to explain this was the reason his son was such a great healer, because his level in Aikido was so high and the difference between a healer who had high level aikido and one that didn’t was night and day and beyond comparison. Those were his words and that he just normally didn’t say this to regular people who didn’t do Aikido because he did not want to discourage them. But it’s just not the same thing at all and he made this clear.
This sort of question was loud in my ears and a big part of inspiring me to go to San Diego and apprentice with Chiba Sensei. It was important to me to master medicine To master medicine as they had and I knew I had to get high level quality Aikido as they had in order to do this or at any rate walk a similar path to them. That’s what drove my path. So I had a laser focus to get this thing in the middle of it all which I’d seen so clearly in them.
Personally I feel Aikido and medicine go together very well and function on a sort of Yin /Yang manner. When I was young in my 20s and early 30s I taught Aikido a lot and practiced medicine somewhat less. As I’ve gotten older it’s been generally reversed.
I feel like the manner of standing before a Patient is about letting them come all the way in to you but then kind of go through you as well as you find the right diagnosis and treatment. It’s tough to exactly express. And touching a patient by your hands,heart, and energy while leaving them primarily un disturbed is key,as all healing is self healing.
As Aikido is all about meeting and absorbing someone’s energy in and through you this feels identical to me but just with a different setting. It gives your hands and touch sense a higher level. It makes sense the two go together and I enjoy combining a simple hands on healing class with my Aikido seminars. I plan to grow that connection in the future.
Despite being very common, not all practitioners and instructors cope well with this idea of going to train under the guidance of another master, of choosing a new approach to follow on the path. How was that decision to go to train with Chiba sensei in San Diego?
Ha. Very difficult initially!
When I first got to San Diego I felt like whatever I had done previously bore almost no resemblance to what he was teaching!
He had a very specific training system. And this is different from being great at the art itself but his training system was what he was coaching and forging us with. I quickly learned that I had to forget that I had ever done Aikido before and start from scratch so to speak. I could feel that this was what was required or I would have gotten nothing from the experience.
Most specifically the emphasis on good responsive connected Ukemi was completely new to me. I remember one night he screams at me during class after I first got there “You have so much potential but you’ll never realize any of it because you’re so arrogant”!
I’d been taking kind of lazy Ukemi for Futari Dori and not staying connected and he got really angry. Then when I reflected about it I realized that he was right, the lazy Ukemi was only one expression of a larger feeling I had in myself which was that I was trying to add something of his to what I already had. And I decided right then and there to just drop everything and learn his system 100%. I believe this was my first big lesson on Shoshin or beginners mind although I didn’t necessarily know what to call it at the time. All I knew is that I had to empty my cup 100%, 99% wouldn’t do, it had to be total in order to work.
You’re right it is very difficult to go from one teacher to another but primarily I think the reason is the same as what I struggled with myself initially as well.
Have you arrived in San diego to be Chiba sensei’s uchideshi? Furthermore, I imagine that at the time he started with Chiba sensei he was in a huge creative impetus, developing his system. Could you say what that system consisted of?
Yes I did go to San Diego to become his Uchideshi. However at the time there was no formal process for achieving this in any set fashion. But since I had this as my intention and I trained all the time and he could feel it and it was just sort of understood. Then within a couple of months he appointed me as his Uchideshi and I moved into the dojo, joining Juba Nour who had been his Uchideshi for several years.
Yes this is a great question about his training system. In replying I will give you my perspective from the position of right now as opposed to what it was like then where everything was just simply overwhelmingly new and as such simply had to be embraced.
Chiba Sensei was 100% focused on creating the correct touch and dynamic understanding of a human body and how they moved and executed the techniques. All of his exercises were designed around this but for the most part were training exercises. He used to tell us what you are doing now is not martial arts, rather it is pre-martial arts conditioning exercises. He said that a lot and I understand what he meant now. He wanted us to get the right touch the right understanding to where we could be free and develop our own art in our own way and it would have the right essential quality and dynamics to it and never fall away from correct martial principles so to speak. Not just copying him. He was a very tough task master but his ultimate goal was freedom in the art for us and I have a deep feeling in my heart of gratitude about that.
In my perspective the way he combined several arts together namely Zazen Iaido,and weapons around the training and forging of Aikido was absolutely genius and has never been done. He just came up with it himself as he knew this is what was necessary.
He was very much in the developmental phase of weapons and creating his own system when I got there but he had very high respect for Saito Sensei and took his work as the base to start moving with,amongst others. I always noticed books in his office of Saito sensei’s weapons except that he would have little circles and arrows pointing to places he wanted to change or add something to what Saito Sensei was doing.
He told us that O’Sensei was so free and obscure to a point of having no set training methodology in place for learning weapons, and he respected Saito sensei in the highest regard for developing a system to pass on what O’Sensei had given and he really based a lot off of this.
On a basic level what he always wanted was authentic tension in the encounter and live connected responses. For example Ukemi for him I had to fly in at the very instance an opening was created off of our tip to tip posture. He was very fussy about it being absolutely in the moment and if for example I would come in before he gave me an opening that Bokken was right in my throat or if I broke contact too soon during the course of a technique and therefore created a secondary opening he would smack me on the side of the ribs with a Bokken real good. Juba and I would compare bruises after class but I’ll tell you what,you don’t make that same mistake or anything even similar to that mistake twice after you’ve had one of those!
Even by this you can see the basic concept of what Ukemi really is and how it trains human beings to not create any openings in a martial encounter. This is different from simply “taking the fall or just going with it”which although not totally wrong,lacks that central concept of sealing up openings.
In his body arts too he was like that as well,if you break off contact he would always drop his hand blade on you ,punch you in the ribs something like that. The meaning of this you can see for yourself. He could do this so easily as he was always in a safe position and by staying connected with that motion you also stay safe yourself, as well as embody that same sense,distance wise,timing wise and feel wise. For me this all speaks to the very center of what Aikido is as a defensive Martial art.
He used to always tell us a hand is not a hand it could be a broken bottle it could be a knife you have to always be in a safe space and keep them off balance and this was how he created it for us. I hope you can see that very organic connection he had between body arts and weapons work as far as deeper principles of training are concerned.
The amount of emphasis he placed on weapons work I feel magnified and clarified the martial principles of Aikido in Way that simply doing body art can often miss. Body art can become sloppy and a little vague if we’re not carful to remember to stay fully sharp and awake to the possibility of any other attack. He created a clear system to a fuller expression of the total package in Aikido. Weapons translate completely to body art.
It’s a mindset thing as well but he was very clear that this style of Aikido was Martial and it was as though there was a certain martial correctness to everything that just had to be there. Zazen was immediately part of the curriculum from day one and we used to sit in the morning twice a week and then eventually he used to combine this into his weapons classes as well.
Even in this he was unique and would often tell us that the methodology of posture and breathing in the Japanese Temples was generally too sloppy for our purposes. He was very clear about his instructions for our sitting; In our Tanden and squeezing the air out of this region,as he approached it more as a Kokyu exercise then purely “just sitting there” It had much more of an active quality to it. This Zazen always felt to me like the dirt you dig down into in order to come up with the material to forge into Aikido.
Later on he used to run proper Zazen sessions with a couple different Masters. Rev. Hogan from Japan of the Soto Shu then. In the early 90s Genki Roshii who was a Rinzai sect. He also highly suggested we do the Rohatsu, an intense 8 day sesshin (intensive sitting). That was a transcendent experience for me. The intensity of the long amounts of sitting along with the extreme awareness given to everything was something that really opened yourself to a deeper level every time you go through one so they felt important to me although Not so pleasant at the time!
Iaido was something specific and unique to his system and over the years I understand why he emphasized it. It’s hard to put into words everything encompassed in the practice of Iaido. Stillness of body and mind as motion created proper relaxation in order to accomplish good Taisabaki is the necessary offshoot of the art. The biggest thing I remember was him saying one time how Iaido worked to really connect us to the ground through good footwork. Even the iaido itself was significantly modified toward creating the correct martial sense of Aikido in the human body as far as rythym, timing, and execution was concerned. For example, if you look at Chiba Sensei’s teacher, Mitsuzuka Sensei, or the All Japan Iaido and Kendo Federation techniques, what he taught was different. The placement the sword as it comes directly off the top of the head while cutting without leaving a gap. This is a departure from the standard Japanese manner which has a big upward windup prior to the cut which creates a secondary opening through the gap in your motion. This in itself creates a different understanding and dynamic which leads directly to Aikido as a martial art.
Cutting straight off the top of your head with no gap constitutes practice in both connecting wiht your center of gravity as it runs through the vertical axis of your body while leaving no opening. Aikido is a defensive martial art therefore this constitutes the essence of practice, which practitioners should be able to relate to both intellectually and physically.
His emphasis of pulling strongly and putting power on the left hand during the simultaneous operation of the right hand in chiburi is unique. This has the effect of finding the critical centerline in your body that everything rotates through. This establishes contact with the place where rythyms naturally emerge. Anyone can see this is specific to the holistic function of Aikido as a martial art. Over time I see and am impressed by how he accomplished this and his vision and instincts for his creative process.
Aikido is the art and science of navigating gravity through our bodies and controlling other people center of gravity this contact with the ground we stand on is absolutely paramount. Since Iaido is a solo practice, the sense of rhythm and timing as in finding where gravity loads up within your own body during the execution of the technique is an essential element necessary in Aikido practice as well.
In addition, the overall structure in the human body that is created by the singular discipline of drawing and cutting with a sword is profound. “Your body should become a sword” he would say. In a sense, the sword is digested into your body except that your body becomes the opposite of the sword in order to and as a consequence of handling it correctly. The discipline of handling it correctly is the path through which the Aikido Body is achieved. The nature of a sword is strong and sharp on the outside cutting edge and flexible and soft on the backside spine, so it gives a bit and doesn’t break. The human body that is created for this martial art of aikido should be the opposite. Strong condensed tension inside and a soft, absorbing nature on the outside. Do you see how the two natures unify through this simple practice? At that point, it matters very little if you’re using a jo, bokken, tanto, or body art. It’s all the same at this point as the body has merged with the weapon. The details of iaido are important and must be learned in practice continuously and conscientiously until the two merge and the sword drops away, and your body drops away and both become one. This is a great example of the “No Sword Path” made flesh through practice, “The Sword of No-Sword” was an idea he would throw out now and then with no explanation, which is better as it leads our thinking and practice with a general theme. I recall that he told Juba and I that iaido was the ultimate budo and I didn’t understand him then but I do now.
I did not realize this at the time but over the years I really feel like this single art was absolutely key in squishing out the mushy ness that can seep into our practice. These “Assistant”Arts are where the aikido practice itself was clarified and raised to a higher level. What’s more it’s a very well-established system at this point so is something he left behind in his students as a legacy and in this respect incredibly valuable.
Intensity and commitment are words that always seem to be present when I think of Chiba sensei and its system. How long did you live in his Dojo, as an uchideshi, committing yourself 24 hours a day to this intensity?
I arrived in the fall of 84 and went to Hombu Dojo in the fall of 89. So other then a few months of living in an apartment connected to the Dojo. Also there was a block of time,nine months I believe after I’d first arrived in San Diego where Chiba Sensei got stuck in Japan due to visa problems. Juba and I continued to live there then however.
Somehow I feel as though this first time was honestly not that bad for some reason or other. I was the only one there and He’d come teach class then go home and I was left to work around the place,help out any visitors or practice extra with any of the young guys- primarily George Lyons and Frank Apodaca. Any of the mornings I didn’t work or there wasn’t a morning class I had to teach the three of us would get together and work on whatever he’d been doing with us.
The primary focus of this first phase was mostly just taking his Ukemi and I eventually got to where this was manageable so to speak. However, after returning from being an uchideshi in Japan/Hombu I I noticed I’d grown a lot. He noticed this too and the intensity factor went through the roof. It was as though it was the the same Ukemi I was taking from him but now suddenly I could receive it much deeper and gather far more connection and understanding from him.
This was the last part of my training under him and it was very very hard for reasons I can’t totally articulate still,but I’ll try. Ismail Hasan and I lived in the Dojo with him and his family so there was no going home or getting away from him ever. He was an extremely volatile personality and carried this insane intensity around with him and I always felt it and at some point it really starts to wear you down. I’d say I was not far from a nervous breakdown for most of that last stint. It was pretty fierce.
The Ukemi and such on the mat it’s self were actually the easiest part of all of it and in a certain way represented a break from the mayhem if you could believe it. At least in a class it was contained physical training and not well….. just sort of anything! By this I mean he always seemed to be engaged in a process of trying to destabilize us on some level. Make a rule then yell at me for not doing something completely different as he’d just changed it up and chewed me out for not reading his mind or intentions.
Omote/Ura communication is very common forJapanese and he took this to an extreme. My Job was basically to read his mind (Ura) off of whatever he said or was communicated in the situation (Omote). Everything in the Dojo or about Aikido or about anything quite honestly was on the table for this sort of thing.
He used to talk about “Big Aikido” and I used to see this as something he said to keep people with low physical abilities in the path of Aikido as I was young and immature but I suppose this was his application of this concept to Ismail and I.
I’ll tell you what though right when I left I got him,and by that I could absolutely read his mind/intentions whatever and could always tell what he meant off of whatever he said and that sense did stay with me I’d noticed. It became almost a physic “Hit”I’d get around most things he said.
At the end of my stint he went around the Dojo and picked up some stuff we missed for a seminar preperation. Then He got Ismail and I in a room, chewed our asses out and told us we were unqualified to be his Uchideshi and to get out! I could hardly surpress smiling as I knew this meant “Good Job Boys You Graduated” I was not upset at all. In later years I can really see the wisdom of all of this in a couple of ways. The first is that high stress is a great way to more deeply embody any learning, behavior, or in this case martial arts. Trials by fire are there for a reason and no matter who you are stand as an entrance stamp to whatever path you’re seeking for. That’s just that and they can’t be avoided if you really want to gain skill, depth and true individuality and freedom in your pursuit.
The military knows this and they are constantly stressing their recruits towards embodying the type of behaviors which will allow them to survive and prevail in a fight. Since this sort of thing has been going on for years and years and centuries and militaries all do nothing but copy and improve each other‘s tactics it stands to reason that this represents a certain method of fast and deep learning of the variety which has to show up when needed in extremely stressful environments, which means it’s all truly embodied. So the methodology is very sound if you’re looking to accomplish training other teachers and I’d never argue this. In this respect even such things as sitting properly or putting your shoes straight or proper etiquette and Reigi all represent stressors to open the door for deep learning to occur.
What exactly is being taught or learned is a whole other matter, as technique or the science of becoming technically proficient can be learned where as the same activity elevated to the level of an art cannot, it must be self-taught or embodied from the inside.
He always felt like he was mining the deeper undercurrent of some ancient understanding of spirituality transported in this case in the deeper traditions of Japanese culture. Accurately seeing the Ura within the Omote or being able to hold a space for the existence of pairs of opposites in your heart is one of the best ways to hit the ultimate target of beyond good and evil or those deeply held positions and prejudices which separate us. Which is why when he said Japan has its undercurrent in the spiritual and the US is in materialism he wasn’t talking about them having “better” or “good“ people in it to a larger degree then the United States. That’s not it. It’s something entirely beyond this.
So this entire methodology he had of breaking up preconception along with any sense of “this is this and I’ve got it” was absolutely adhered to and directed towards opening up to anything and breaking down a sense of self knowing to gain actual self knowing. If it sounds a little weird it is but you really just have to trust it as a process, one which had very little to do with any of us there to the point where we were all just some sort of actors in some kind of a birth of understanding. For example if I was asked if I trusted Chiba sensei I would answer that’s not the point. He was there and so was I and that was the encounter. I trusted the encounter though, I really did. Even if I hated it I trusted it which is a little strange to say I suppose but there it is.
In the meantime, you were one of the few foreign uchideshi in the history of the Hombu Dojo. How was that experience? Who were the other uchideshi of that time and what masters impacted you the most?
Initially when I arrived, the other Uchideshi were Mr Kuribayashi, he was senior and lived in the room downstairs, then Mr Kanazawa lived in the room across the hall from us up on the fourth floor where Mr Shimamoto and I lived. Later on Mr Kato Came in for about 6 months I believe returning eventually to Nagoya where he came from. Mr Inoe came in around the same time and but had to drop out after some time for health reasons. Mr Kondo too stayed a few months then had to leave for health reasons as well. Tony Hind,a Canadian was there as well during the last year I was there and both Wilko Vriesman and Plamen Youroukov and Atstushi Yamada stayed with us for some months.There were others who visited briefly but these were the longer term Uchi Deshi.
I cannot begin to talk about who these Hombu teachers were without going into why I was there in the first place and what it was I hoped to achieve. When I left San Diego, Chiba Sensei told me that there was something he could not give me in the way of this rounding off and completing process for my art and that I needed a lot of input to do this.It’s true too and I came to find out this encompassed much more than only the physical aspect. For example their personalities and how each teacher taught were all very helpful for me to discover who I was as a teacher.
The headmasters Doshu K. and (then) Dojo Cho M. Ueshiba Sensei’s were very impressive to me in their deep intention to share the art each in their own manner. Doshu K. Sensei’s classes had a special energy in them like a big history lesson with generations of people packed in.You literally could feel the whole line of the art coming through. I was always deeply taken by this environment. He seemed to adhere to a certain internal code and Somehow touched everyone on the mat during the class even if it was a huge class,all with absolutely no fan fare. This all impressed me very much,and he quickly became a roll model for me about being humble and willing to continually share.
I was very blessed to have spent a lot of time around current Doshu M. Sensei as he would take me to his summer Gashuku camps as Otomo as well as overseas a couple of times. I immediately loved the way he did things on the mat in a Generous, enthusiastic,Joyous fun atmosphere. I saw him,and I went “OK this is how it should be”. I still feel this way. Doing Aikido should not be some sort of a burden. It should be something you enjoy and enjoy helping others with and he embodies this perfectly.
This next little bit is tough to exactly explain but try to hang with me here. Hombu Dojo has a lot of different teachers in it who all do Aikido which is ostensibly the same art although it appears very very differently. A lot of it did not adhere exactly to my version/vision of what constituted the type of Aikido I was after and this is as it should be. Aikido is a big world and there’s room for all kinds and I mean this. I’d committed myself to this finishing process and in so doing tasked myself to do/learn What I could from each teacher in each of the classes that I was in every single day.
For example in Watanabe sensei‘s class, don’t kid yourself he was a great teacher and a beautiful human being and had a great environment that he created.Sure I didn’t take the non-touch style of ukemi that he did but rather just kept going and made some contact with him,and as Mr Kuribayashi demonstrated to me he’d throw me and I’d learn something from him.
Or for example if I was in Seki ,Yasuno or Yokota Sensei’s class I’d look at their footwork,positioning, or whatever jumped out at me and just throw myself into it and that was that. The inherent definition of another persons art is that it’s not yours and as such will never be something you can totally do so just accept that, move forward and try. You’ll take what’s native to you as this can’t be helped and then you’ll start growing.
This entire notion of this traditional training in Japan strikes at the heart of this whole thing of individualism and the dichotomy of finding yourself by first dropping yourself. Do you feel where I’m coming from?
Over the years I can feel what an incredible experience this was as all these little gaps in my motion just naturally filled up in spite of the fact that I couldn’t do any of their Aikido per se. In This respect I have no favorites but rather just gratitude for all these different people and being in their classes over the years and all it gave me as what I got now I really like, and they all helped. This is a sentiment that’s grown up over time, but I think it’s worth remembering to step out of the moment and look forward down the road 10 or 20 ,even 30 years in your life to get a perspective as that’s when the value of anything truly anchored to your deeper process will show up.
Yamaguchi sensei definitely jumped out at me for reasons I’m still not entirely clear on which should say something about him. He represented a growth pattern in the art and something that felt attainable on some level. This may sound odd but as soon as I saw him I thought he moved a lot like Chiba sensei except his encounter was more concise perhaps or at any rate a little different in his style of Taisabaki. Yet what I saw in him represented some total embodied version of what I wanted in the art of Aikido. Not appearance necessarily but the deeper principles were all 100% what I was after. In this respect he, Tada and Arikawa Sensei’s stood in a different position as well. Full embodiment in one person and they were unique to me and my vision. Those Teachers were great and I always used to feel I was in the realm of the Gods when I was in their classes. They seemed to verily ooze magic out of their hands,it was so cool.
Probably another commonality of theirs was they all had a very strong vision of a deeper principle they were targeting through Aikido. Different approach each one but Aikido was not only Aikido for them and it was as though they were tuned into something underneath and that the art was simply a expression of this process of theirs. It’s so exciting to be around human beings like this! I was again very fortunate to have received Ukemi from them and got to regularly get a sense of what they felt like as unique practitioners. And indeed they had all the same Martial principles lined up exactly in spite of their completely diverse appearances and even energies.
With Arikawa Sensei I’d say I got extra lucky as he used me exclusively for Ukemi in his classes during the entire 2 1/2 years I was there. I I think our personalities clicked and I really liked him and found his eccentricity along with his concurrent intellectualism extremely attractive. His classes had at least 30 techniques in them so there was a lot of work involved in all of this. But once again I got to touch him a lot which is good thing because I couldn’t understand anything that he was doing at all but no matter what just tried my best constantly to do things as he was doing exactly in spite of it all feeling impossible.
I’m going to say that beginning 5-10 years after leaving I could really start to feel the effects of the work he was doing all those years ago and this all continued to grow over time. It helped me connect to the martial principle I was after in my own body/self that only he had then. Do you see how such information travels over time and how faith and sincerity are the vehicle’s for this? Is this not such a beautiful thing we have and are involved in,the human hearted process of this path?
Tada sensei was wonderful and had a total vision of what Aikido was to him. You could feel something he was working on the inside of it all as he was teaching. He began his classes with breathing exercise to generate Kokyu then got us moving around on our own in sort of a Aikido version of shadow boxing but 360°. All of his techniques felt like Kokyu Nage to where you were shortly just floating through the air pretty much the moment you touched him.
Here too there’s a certain element that just showed up one day some years after I left. Its very identifiable as something that got embedded from him and is still growing as an aspect of my own total sense. I really can feel it.Chiba Sensei told me that there would be all kinds of Aikido there but I should try to take it all in without judgement,even the ones I didn’t like. Why? How can we judge the future if it hasn’t arrived yet,and in a very real way we’re in no position to do so and as far as perusing this art,I’d say this constitutes accurate thinking.
Just for example Older K. Osawa Sensei was a lovely wonderful and extremely respectable man but I did not think much of his Aikido at the beginnning. Furthermore he seemed to exert a lot of influence on a few generations below him as a generalized current in the teaching culture that in all honesty I found a little annoying. Yet for this very reason I tried extra hard in his classes to counter balance my own prejudices. It worked wonderfully too and once again years later I could start to feel a definite growth curve happening inside me that flat out would not be there if it were not for this. If I’d have followed my initial sentiments I’m sure there’s an entire dimension my art would not be able to occupy.I shudder to think how I could have easily shot my self in the foot and missed out on that treasure.
What a rich report, thank you very much. Indeed, faith and sincerity are important ways to access this knowledge. I am here thinking, how incredible your trajectory is, you lived with two disciples of O’sensei and was an uchideshi of Hombu Dojo. Do you feel a burden of responsibility for all this rich access to knowledge you had on this journey?
Another very good question and on okes many things and deserves some exploration, considering my background. I bring this up because as young men there were a few of us made solid contact points with a very traditional way of doing things in the form of Chiba sensei and Hombu Dojo for me as well.
Chiba Sensei was many things,brilliant innovator,masterful teacher come to mind first. In that specific place of being a hardcore coach,he was perfect. When I look back in time I feel like God showed up in a hakama, planted his feet and helped a few people in exactly the manner that was needed.
I remember when I first got to San Diego, we were at his kitchen table and he was talking to Juba and I. He must have had a couple drinks because the usual demon face had come down temporarily and he was talking to us about how things are done “traditionally, in his country”. I don’t remember his exact words but the gist of it all was that you take everything from your teacher when you’re with them, no judgments just take 100%. Then after you leave,the parts that are native to you stay and the parts that are not go and that’s how it’s done. One thing specifically he mentioned was regarding the personality of your Teacher, in that this too was to be taken whole as well. And one way or another this is the manner in which Juba and I were engaged in.
I mentioned God in a Hakama earlier and that’s the light part, with the practical part of Budo, as in dealing with the threat of life and death too as categorized still as some thing that is light, and very helpful to mankind. He always created a situation of extreme stress around him and this is in many ways a very loving thing to do as anything you learn in an extremely stressful situation goes in much much deeper and will be remembered better and more intrinsically at a time when your life depends upon it. Additionally such learning is deeply empowering. Considering the number of students he touched and those their students touched, I’ve no doubt in my mind that he is saved many lives. Some figuratively, but I’m sure there’s some that were literally saved as that’s the nature of Budo.
Yet he had a very real darkness around him as well one which at times you could perceive almost as an element. I recall how walking into his house there is always a place on one side of the living room that felt spooky. Every house he lived in,every time, it was always there. Also the man had an element within him that was able to cut off his humanity and be extremely cold and honestly downright scary. In his lifetime he used it for good and I admire him for doing what he did which was making light out of darkness. This always struck me as his training process,even just for himself this was true.
Yet here’s the deal, he was always in this process and somehow had a very hard time finding another pair of clothes to put on. And as appropriate as it was for students it really was tough on a lot of the people close to him,and in a manner I always felt very objectionable. Now I’m in no position to say what’s right and what’s wrong in any absolute terms. And the closest I can do is to point to this reality which I’ll call living the life you want to live.
Something like the nearly prison like existence I lived with for all of those years as Uchideshi was, in spite of being something I chose nonetheless a very destructive thing to my choice making muscle so to speak to where when I finally left San Diego at the age of 28 I felt somewhat institutionalized. A good part of my first teaching career in Connecticut was around sorting out who I am from what my teachers ideas were. A lot of that heaviness he carried was bound up with his sense of responsibility and he used to tell us about this relationship with his own teacher, O Sensei’s Who, he did really truly and deeply feel a strong sense of responsibility towards. Many of the systems and methodology sprung out of this deeply held sentiment of his and he was not shy to tell us about it. Pass it on keep it going,it’s the right thing to do and I agree is humanly necessary.
Yet this is the place where duty, responsibility and the art start to blend together and start getting in the way of what it’s really about for me which is love. If he expressed it one way well I’ll tell you straight that’s definitely not the way I express it. I have a lot of my teachers understanding in my body but my approach is fundamentally very very different. To where at this point in my life I see things like responsibility as essentially acting contrary to the primary force that pushes me forward in Aikido which is love.
My early days of teaching were more about responsibilities than love and it’s taken me a long time to get here but that’s where I am now and I just don’t want to leave this place and I’m sure I never will as this was all pretty hard won to say the least.
I love having an alive art that grows in my hands and in the hands of other people when I’m around them, it’s seriously one of the most enjoyable, fulfilling things I’ve ever done. This sentiment may not stand in direct opposition to responsibility but for me it sort of does and I’m always better off not thinking that much about it truthfully as it gets in the way of my humanity getting out onto the mat and into the people. Probably this is my personal translation of the word responsibility at this point in my life,one which works for me. I’m sure I didn’t exactly answer your question but this is what I’ve got.
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