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Interview with Kyoichi Inoue (2)

by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #118 (Fall/Winter 1999)

Kyoichi Inoue is the chief instructor of the Yoshinkan Aikido Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. Inoue was one of the early instructors in the Yoshinkan system having initiated his training in 1955. In this interview, Inoue Dojo-cho talks about the development of the teaching methodology of the Yoshinkan during the years when Gozo Shioda Kancho was head of the art. The particular characteristics of the Yoshinkan instruction program came about in large part due to the necessity of teaching large groups of beginners at the same time. Inoue Sensei also explains the purpose of the new bilingual technical manual meant to facilitate the task of instructors of Yoshinkan Aikido the world over.

Kyoichi Inoue Dojo-cho

AJ: Through Aiki News you have recently published a Yoshinkan technical training manual. What issues did you specifically keep in mind in preparing that particular book?

Inoue Dojo-cho: One important thing I wanted to convey was that budo-and, in this case aikido-is not something mysterious. I tried to write the text in a way that makes it clear that anyone can do budo, assuming of course that they train hard, put in their time, and make their best efforts to train correctly. Keiko (training) is a means or process to bring out the potential inherent in every individual, and in this book I attempted to describe and explain that process in a way that is as easy to understand as possible.

Did you use the training manuals published by the late Gozo Shioda Sensei as a basis or foundation?

Yes, Shioda Sensei was my teacher, so it was very natural that in writing my own book on aikido I should refer not only to the things he taught me and his views on aikido, but also to his opinions and thoughts about making videos and writing books and so on. If you were to look for it, his influence can probably be found throughout the book in various forms.

Even so, does it also contain perspectives that are uniquely yours?

I would say it does. Shioda Sensei was from a different, older era, and in that sense, I think my way of thinking is probably more modern than his was. I tried to include that more up-to-date way of thinking in the writing in order to make things easier to understand. A lot of the old textbooks and training manuals are written in a way that makes them difficult to understand. Partially that style was used was to lend them a sense of authority, but in this day and age I think it is simply better to make things clearer to begin with. Of course, it goes without saying that even though the textbook is easy to understand, actually mastering the skills it describes still will always require time and effort spent on hard training. You’ll also notice that the text is provided in both Japanese and English. I felt that such a bilingual format would be helpful to Japanese instructors wanting to know how to express things to their English-speaking students. Also, having the English equivalents can even sometimes help Japanese practitioners better understand the meanings of some of the more highly specialized budo-related terminology. And of course, English-speaking aikido students can use the book to find out how to talk about what they’re studying in Japanese, and to study Japanese terms with meanings and nuances that can’t be expressed easily in English.

In any case, the fact that the book has so many photo sequences and clear explanations makes it a very progressive and unusual textbook that I hope will be widely used both in Japan and internationally.

The book seems to take a very budo-oriented approach and help preserve Shioda Sensei’s sentiments about aikido, his way of doing things, and the content of his techniques. In that sense I think it’s an important document in that it preserves many of the technical and spiritual aspects of aikido that he learned from the founder before the war. Also, while books in European languages tend to be translated into English fairly quickly, the language barrier seems to prevent the same from happening with books written in Japanese. The bilingual format of this book makes it significant internationally, as a document preserving Shioda Sensei’s techniques in both Japanese and English.

Moving on, I would like to ask you about some aspects of the Yoshinkan training system. To begin with, I notice there are many times when techniques are practiced according to voiced commands by the instructor. How and why did this way of training come about?

Back when I was training under teachers like Shioda Sensei, Kiyoyuki Terada Sensei, Tadataka Matsuo Sensei the instruction was still conducted much as it was under Morihei Ueshiba Sensei; in other words, the teacher simply demonstrated a technique and then had the students practice what they had just seen. They would sometimes show or talk about some of the more general details, but essentially they just showed what the technique was supposed to look like in general and then said “Okay, go practice it.”

I joined the Yoshinkan in November 1955, about half a year after the Tsukudo Hachiman-cho dojo was built. I became one of the first kenshusei to participate in the intensive training program that was started the following spring, and having gone through that I was eventually sent around to teach at organizations such as the police training academy, the riot police, and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. I would often find myself having to teach very large numbers of students at once, so I had to figure out various ways to do that effectively.

Once when I was teaching tai no henko to the Youth Education Association of the Kinugasa Self-Defense Forces one of the students asked me how many degrees, exactly, he should turn his body. I told him, “Well, it depends on how much force your opponent is applying, but about at this angle…” and showed him. I took the question back to Shioda kancho and we decided that we should be able to give clearer answers to such questions. We gave it a little study and found that turning only 90 degrees would leave the opponent still in possession of his power, while turning 100 degrees would close the maai too much; so we decided to make it 95 degrees. Only as a general rule, of course; obviously it depends on the specific situation. We did the same thing with other aspects of training, for example how to take a hanmi stance. Originally we were taught only to “stand like this,” and that’s how we had been teaching our students, but there was no specific description, for example, of the weight distribution on the front and rear feet. So, we kenshusei got together and decided that the most accurate description seemed to be about 60% of the weight on the front leg, 40% on the rear. We reported this to Shioda kancho and he said that sounded about right, so that’s what went into the textbook.

What about the practice method of calling movements off step-by-step and having everyone in the dojo practice them in unison?

That originated around 1963 when I was teaching at the police academy where I sometimes had to teach as many as 300 students at a time. At first I would just pick the strongest looking guy and use him to demonstrate techniques like shihonage and so on, then tell everyone to practice what they’d just seen. It didn’t take me long to discover that this didn’t work very well in such a large group. Nobody seemed to be able to understand clearly enough what they were supposed to be doing, and consequently some people would be practicing very hard, but a lot of others ended up just playing around, and I was spending all my time running around the mat correcting and teaching them individually. I could tell we weren’t going to get anywhere like that, so I started using the “by-the-commands” method. It allowed me to teach everyone at once and to break down each technique into its component movements in an easy-to-understand 1-2-3 fashion. The only difficulty was making sure I didn’t give the commands at odd moments that would cause the technique to stop halfway through any given movement.

For example, I would tell everyone to take a right hanmi stance, then correct that: “Your hands are too low… No, that’s too high… Hey, open your eyes, will you?!” Or when teaching something like katatemochi shihonage I would take them through it a couple of times, explaining how the attacker should take hold of the other’s hand, then how the defender should do step 1, then step 2, then step 3, then throw on step 4, then execute a finishing strike on step 5, then stand up and return to position on steps 6 and 7. After they seemed to have gotten the general idea, I’d go through it like that several more times, then start going through it with just the numbers, one… two… three… four… and so on. After five or six times I’d drop the numbers and have them run through the whole technique in one motion, then in pairs switching off being attacker and defender, and finally send them off to practice on their own. That was the only way one teacher could handle 300 students.

I can imagine how difficult it must have been to teach aikido to 300 complete beginners.

Yes, very difficult. One disadvantage of performing techniques by the commands, however, was that it tended to make people rigid, so that their techniques would become very start-stop. To compensate for that, once people had achieved the rank of shodan, we started having them practice using a more free-style format (jiyu waza) that placed more emphasis on making techniques flow more freely.

Teaching and practicing techniques by the commands was a very good educational method. More traditional teachers like Ueshiba Sensei and Shioda Kancho might have felt some reservations about this method, since they felt that a technique should be whatever you have to do to break the opponent’s balance based on the degree of power he is using; but I still think it’s a good way to manage the teaching of large groups of beginners, and it makes things much easier for the teachers as well.

Having developed this system for teaching techniques, we decided to apply it to teaching the kihon dosa (basic movements) as well. We divided them into six types including two versions each of tai no henko (body turning), hiriki no yosei (elbow-power cultivation), and shumatsu dosa (finishing movements). Then we added advancing and center-of-gravity shifting movements, turning movements, and finishing movements, all designed to show the various relationships between shite and uke.

All of this was worked out during my generation of kenshusei. Shioda Kancho would watch what we were doing and tell us if he thought it was okay or not, and also gave us various recommendations and advice. The result was the instructional method that is still used at the Yoshinkan today.

If we were back in the Edo period that is the sort of system that would have been written down in a [secret] scroll of transmission (mokuroku).

Probably, yes. Obviously there’s no need to conceal that sort of knowledge in a scroll these days. Anyway, even if you look at those scrolls there is no way to understand what they actually mean, and only people who already are very skilled could ever understand their contents.

How did you come to teach at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department?

Shioda Kancho had an old acquaintance named Mr. Takahashi who was the director of the Security Bureau within the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Around 1960 he asked Shioda Kancho if he could arrange to have aikido taught to the riot police under his jurisdiction. At first Kancho himself went to teach, but after the classes had gotten underway he started sending people like Takashi Kushida and myself in his place. After about a year it was decided to select a certain number of people from those classes to be trained as instructors themselves. About twenty-five (later reduced to ten) of them-most already instructor-level practitioners of judo or kendo-were dispatched to the Yoshinkan (initially for nine months but later extended to a year) to be trained as aikido instructors. That was the beginning of the program to send members of the riot police to the Yoshinkan dojo, and this led eventually to the formal establishment by 1964 of the Metropolitan Police Force Riot Police Aikido Trainee Program.

Because this program was used largely to train special security police, in the beginning we tried to limit eligibility to trainees who were at least 175 centimeters (5’9”) tall and had a least a third-dan ranking in judo or kendo. We soon found out, though, that people meeting these criteria were actually a rarer than we’d assumed, so eventually we relaxed the standards a bit.

Once certified as instructors, these people would return to the police department to teach others in their departments and start programs to provide aikido instruction for female police officers, and so on.

In 1970, I officially joined the staff of the Training Section of the Metropolitan Police Department. Ordinarily it would have been difficult for an aikido teacher to just show up in such an organization and start teaching alongside the judo and kendo instructors already established there; but the fact that I’d been teaching the riot police for ten years already made it much easier for me to be accepted there, especially since I already knew most of the assistant and head judo and kendo instructors.

I remained officially employed by the Metropolitan Police Department for about twenty-five years until retiring on March 31, 1996. On April 1st I returned to the Yoshinkan to take up my current position as dojo-cho (dojo director).

I believe the Yoshinkan had involvement with foreign practitioners from very early on, and there were even members of the Occupation forces who came to the dojo.

Yes, there were foreigners coming to practice even back in the days of the days of the Tsukudo Hachiman dojo.

Next October there will be a Yoshinkan seminar in Philadelphia in the United States. In addition to yourself and other Japanese instructors, the teaching staff is scheduled to include such non-Japanese instructors as American Amos Parker and Jacques Payet from France. I think the inclusion of non-Japanese among the teaching staff at such a seminar is rather unique and attests to Yoshinkan’s international vision.

That they are qualified to participate in such activities at the shihan level has largely to do with the fact that they’ve spent considerable time training as uchideshi (live-in students) at the Yoshinkan dojo in Japan. People like Jacques Payet have lived in Japan for many years and have made a deep study not only of the Yoshinkan technical curriculum, but also of Japanese culture in general, and they have been able to carry deep understanding back to their native countries. In that sense they are very much qualified to play important roles in activities at that level and there seems nothing strange in their doing so.

On the other hand, there are other individuals who haven’t spent much time training here in Japan, and whose promotions have mostly been awarded abroad. People like that may not have had an opportunity to obtain a truly deep understanding of the Japanese spirit, and they can only try, as best they can, to graft aikido onto their own cultures, to insert it into their cultures outside of its native Japanese cultural and social context. How to handle such cases is something we will have to give a lot of thought to from now on.

As you suggest, I think the internationalization of aikido will continue to go smoothly as long as the non-Japanese instructors involved have spent time receiving instruction at the Yoshinkan and have cultivated an understanding of Japanese language and culture, and also if the Japanese side has in turn makes efforts to understand and properly prepare them. It would seem ideal if communication and information exchanges between the Japanese Yoshinkan headquarters and practitioners abroad could be kept as direct as possible, with as few filters as possible in between.

I agree. If you think of Yoshinkan aikido as an automobile, the Hombu Dojo is the engine, the motivating force, and therefore has an obligation to make efforts to steer everyone in the same direction.

Translated by Derek Steel