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Interview with Minoru Inaba

by Eisuke Aoyagi

Aikido Journal #120

Aikido doesn’t have competitive matches.
Always keep the feeling of being on the battlefield

AJ: Aikido doesn’t have competitive matches, so what is the objective of training? How can we decide the goal of training?

Minoru Inaba of Shiseikan
Dojo in Meiji Jingu

Inaba Sensei: It was one of Master Ueshiba’s suggestions that aikido not have competitive matches. One explanation is that we don’t want to make a champion or "number one" person. It’s more important that individuals reach their own highest level.

But if we think about it deeply this is probably not the reason. Real martial arts are not about winning or losing. They are about the kind of fighting you can do. A long time ago, if you lost a match, this was shameful. It was either win or die. In sword fighting this was especially true. Now perhaps this is true with guns. How can you fight with a gun?

I wonder how effective "sport" martial arts would be in a real battle. In a sports match they decide where and when they will fight. That means, if you win, how much carry over or effect will that have on your daily life? You cannot say whether it’s better or not to have competitive matches. Maybe you can say they are fun a sporting activity.

I think I agree about not having competitive matches for aikido. If you have a match on such and such a day, at a certain time and place, you prepare for that match. But in real life, you don’t know when you have to fight for your life. If you have a match, you sometimes forget that life is unpredictable.

Even if you do not have a competitive match, you should always feel at every moment that you have a match. That kind of feeling is important to keep. That is more of the martial arts’ spirit. If you are thinking that you are always on the battlefield, you will be prepared.

If you set up competitive matches you will forget that feeling. That being said, sometimes in some situations I feel that competitive matches work. If you want to experience competitive matches, you can try any sport. You may want that type of experience. But there is a big drawback to competitive matches. In modern kendo they wear armor and do well with it, but without armor sometimes they cannot move. If they had wooden swords or real swords I don’t think they could fight.

A drawback to not having competitive matches is that you lose the tension associated with matches. If you lose this tension you should try to bring back this feeling in your aikido training.

People who are worried about not having competitive matches in aikido are those for whom aikido is everything. The Japanese samurai knew that only one technique was not enough for the battlefield. You should know a minimum of three or four. In true martial arts, there is no such thing as enough.

A battle doesn’t have rules. If you don’t have a sword, you have to fight without one. Maybe someone will shoot at you from far away. You can’t say, "Please fight by aikido rules; I studied aikido."

From a Technique to Do (Way)

You said that in a real battle you can’t be particular about rules or one type of martial art.

Martial arts techniques are tools for fighting. You should know that an attack doesn’t have any limit. Let’s think about a real battle. In a battle the goal is to overcome the opponent’s power. Even if you lose the battle but you still have fighting spirit, the opponent will continue to fight. The goal of a battle is to conquer the opponent’s fighting spirit. Don’t we practice aikido that way? We use technique until the opponent gives up. When the opponent loses his fighting spirit, that’s the end of the battle. But sometimes people do not lose their spirit. They are called yusha (brave person; person of courage). That’s why in a real battle you kill someone or you die. If you kill someone unnecessarily, this is a bad thing. If the opponent loses the fighting spirit and gives up, the Japanese martial arts way is to stop the battle.

Sometimes in ancient Japanese battles, people claimed to give up but actually came back and beat the opponent. Eventually in Japanese history the rules evolved naturally and trust was developed.

The samurai came from the same family roots. Sometimes they had to fight each other. They knew they were the same and therefore they respected each other’s fighting spirit. This situation will create a certain type of fight. That was the root of " Bushido". That feeling still remains in the martial arts, I believe.

"Jutsu" — How to fight
" Do" — How to treat an opponent who loses.
When you lose, how to handle yourself.

You should know the difference between jutsu and do. Do has to do with one’s lifestyle. Jutsu is fighting technique. You cannot be serious only about jutsu. When you find do, then you can find jutsu. You can see it clearly. You will also see how you can train. You will find what interests you and you can be serious about it. If you find what interests you, you will clearly see the martial arts way. You will understand many things clearly—people, society, etc. If you do so, you will achieve a balance between jutsu and do. If you don’t understand this fundamental background to martial arts, you cannot talk about martial arts. Budo is now popular in foreign countries. But the term "martial arts" means simply "technique." This feels like half the meaning of the word "budo."

If the word "budo" becomes popular everywhere, people will understand just part of the meaning.

The premise of budo is that everything that is alive eventually will die. You understand that you have a limited life so you have to think about how you can use your life. You have about 30 years to really do anything in your life, and one-third of that time you are sleeping. Also you have to think about eating, etc. So how much time do you really have to create a pure life? Time is limited. If you don’t think about this seriously, you will waste your life.

My time is very important. You have to think that first, and then you have to think about what aikido is. If you feel this is not important. You should quit and look around for something else that is important to you.

If you are looking for the true meaning of aikido and if you are looking for a teacher, when you find just the right person, then you have to try hard for your goal. Don’t be ambivalent; undertake serious training. If you are not training seriously, you are just wasting time.

About Non-competitive Matches
Always Being on the Battlefield

There are no matches in aikido. How can we then set training goals?

We don’t have matches. That is one of Morihei Ueshiba’s ideas. One explanation for this is that in aikido we don’t want to have championships or choose a "number one." More than striving to be "number one," the emphasis is on self-development and reaching one’s full potential. That is one thought.

But, on a deeper level, I don’t think the absence of non-competitive matches is really about not making a "number one." The important point in the battle of life is what kind of game or what kind of fighting you can do.

Master Michiiyuki Kunii — The Path of Budo

What was your first encounter with martial arts?

Famous Kashima Shin-ryu
master Michiyuki Kunii

I guess it was when I saw the sword of Master Michiyuki Kunii of Kashima Shin-ryu. At first, even though I joined his dojo, I couldn’t get any teaching from him. One rainy day, nobody was there except him and me. He said, "Take a sword," and gave me a very detailed lesson. When I struck at the teacher with kesagiri, I felt that this was the moment I had been waiting for, and I experienced pure understanding from deep within my body. I think the sword has something that reminds us of the Japanese spirit.

A short time before that happened, I had started training at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. There was a different teacher every day. I did not focus on one teacher, but once in awhile Master Morihei Ueshiba came to talk to us. I learned a lot from him.

A senior student of Master Ueshiba, Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei, had very soft body movement. He was very popular because of his smooth, elegant movement. I joined him privately as a student and I studied his movements and ideas. Then my mind and body were ready and I joined Kunii Sensei. At that time my feeling and timing were perfect, and that’s why my understanding developed.

When did you begin studying at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo?

At the end of 1962, in December of my third year of senior high school.

I did swimming until middle school but I didn’t do anything after I entered high school. I felt that my body was not in good shape. I felt that I had to get into shape. I had a friend who lived near Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Shinjuku. He said let’s go together. I went there just out of curiosity.

Two or three times a week I went there to practice, but not seriously. I met Mr. Kazushige Shimada. He was very knowledgeable about budo.

Because of Mr. Shimada I met many people. I became more serious about aikido. Mr. Shimada knew the true essence of martial arts, and he said that if I wanted to learn aikido, Yamaguchi Sensei was a good teacher. He brought me to Yamaguchi Sensei’s private dojo.

He also said that for the sword, Kunii Sensei was the best. He said I should go learn from him. He and I and Shigeho Tanaka Sensei went to Kunii Sensei’s dojo.

After you graduated from Meiji University, what kind of job did you do?

My father owned a small company that made sharpeners for metal and wood. I was expected to take over for him; that’s why I studied engineering. But I wasn’t interested and could not be serious. I had already studied aikido and met Kunii Sensei. His personality made a strong impression on me and I was obsessed with Kashima Kenjutsu sword style.

Mr. Shimada, Tanaka Sensei and I had letters of introduction from Shinto philosopher Ashizu Sensei. Then we joined Kunii Sensei’s dojo. Kunii Sensei deeply respected Ashizu Sensei. That’s why he treated us so well. A year-and-a-half after we started, Kunii Sensei died.

Kunii Sensei’s health wasn’t good. We always had that thought in our mind when we went to the dojo. We always felt that each day could be the last day of training. I forgot about school and studying and I did only training. But sometimes I had exams or a training camp to attend and I could not go to Kunii Sensei’s dojo for one week. Kunii Sensei sent a letter asking why I was not there. I thought about my teacher getting weaker and weaker. It made it difficult for me to take time off. So I went almost every day.

That’s why I ended up not taking over the family business and why I chose budo. Although I joined my father’s company, I could not be serious about my work. I wasn’t good at management or business. I discussed a career and martial arts with Ashizu Sensei and Mr. Shimada. They said if I chose budo, I would have to know about real fighting. But they said if I studied in a foreign country, I could get injured or die, and then that would be the end of it. In Japan I could join the riot police and gain some understanding of fighting. Then right away I became a policeman.

I experienced the student and government clashes of 1970. I thought that maybe that was enough. Next I thought I should study the Japanese spirit. If so, I would have to study Shinto. I joined a weekly newspaper company called "Jinja Shinpo." It was small, but it was an opinion leader about the spirit of Japan. I was Ashizu Sensei’s driver/secretary/writer. That was my job, and I studied Shinto.

After the Shiseikan Dojo (the dojo located at the Meiji shrine) was set up, did you teach there?

Yes, starting in October 1973.

Michi no Tame no Jutsu
Technique for the Way

People use the words "budo" and "bujutsu" interchangeably. How can we distinguish them?

Possibly Emperor Jingu holding
tree and bow as offerings

If you see this picture, you will see the roots of Japanese bu. This picture is from before the war. The famous Japanese artist Insho Domoto donated it to Kashihara Jingu. This portrait is of a fighter who may be the image of Emperor Jingu. That warrior’s right hand is holding a tree as an offering and the left-hand has a bow. And he has a sword at his waist.

The meaning of the picture has to do with "making a prosperous country of Yamato (Japan) and ensuring its people are happy and have enough to eat." That’s the purpose of the picture. That’s why he has a tree offering. If you want to make wood you need one tree first. The first person plants one tree, and like-minded people bring a tree and offer their help for planting. Soon you will have a forest where a god can live. Then there will be a shrine for the god. This was the idea of Iwasaka Himorogi. You have to have a goal and work toward your goal even if you can only accomplish a little bit. This is very important.

If there is an obstacle you must fight in order to reach your goal. That is the meaning of this picture. Even if you dislike fighting, you will fight for justice.

You have to have the mind-set that you can "throw away life" at any time. But the technique of the bow does not tell you what you need to do. You have to find your own way. You cannot confuse bujutsu (technique) with budo (way). If you mix them up, your efforts to seek truth will be unsuccessful.

The goal and technique together make budo, right?

Right. "Do" has a "goal." If you want to reach your goal you need technique. And battle technique changes in each generation. A long time ago it was the bow, but now maybe it’s not the bow. That’s why it became kendo, judo, aikido. If you say aikido is best, your thought will stop there. You have mixed up "do" and "jutsu" and you’re heading in the wrong direction.

At the Shiseikan do you teach aikido and Kashima Shin-ryu? Do people who study aikido also take Kashima Shin-ryu?

Teaching aikido at Shiseikan Dojo

Yes. I teach both aikido and Kashima Shin-ryu. There are people who want to study only Kashima Shin-ryu or only aikido. But usually people who want to study aikido are also interested in the sword. They usually try the sword. But there are those who want to do only practical Kashima Shin-ryu. These people say they do not want to study aikido

Even so, I usually tell them to do aikido technique to make themselves more flexible and soft. Then they can study Kashima Shin-ryu.

People want to do Kashima Shin-ryu usually read a lot of martial arts magazines and focus on the sword. That’s why they say they only want to practice the sword. But where does the sword come from? It’s from the mind and body. The important thing is, how can we develop the mind and body? I don’t think you can have total development without also practicing empty-handed techniques too while you are studying ‘ken’ (sword).

Calm Mind & "Reading the Situation"

How do you separate or unify the technique of Kashima Shin-ryu and aikido?

For each art I teach the basic form. But I always keep flexibility in mind and am not trapped by the form, while at the same time I do not neglect technique.

In my limited experience, I have felt that while teaching the technique, the important point is self-control, calming the mind, and "ki" energy.

It doesn’t matter how you are going to fight. Before you fight, you need to understand the situation, where you are at that moment, what situation you are in. If you misunderstand this, no matter how you use your technique, your moves will not work against your partner.

Having said that, how can we "read the situation?" Really, you have to calm your mind, size up the situation, know how the opponent will attack, and decide what your response will be.

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