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Interview with Kazuo Chiba (2)

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Aikido Journal #103 (1995)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Jamie Williams of the U.S.A.

In creating a path that advances personal development and harmony, aikido tends to reject the destructiveness and inhumanity that are essential aspects of most martial arts. But inherent in this rejection is the danger of emasculating the art, “killing the bull by straightening the horns,” as the Japanese saying goes. With these concerns in mind, Kazuo Chiba suggests that it is through the state of ainuke (mutual preservation) that the harmony, co-existence, and co-prosperity sought within aikido may be found. For that reason he feels that severe training involving both a complete meeting between two bodies and spirits and true attacks is necessary.

Kazuo Chiba Sensei, San Diego 1995

Aikido Journal: What are your most vivid memories from the time you entered the Hombu dojo as an uchideshi in 1958?

Chiba Sensei: One of the most important things I recall from those times was the high quality of the people gathered together there to practice aikido. All of them had an intense interest in budo. Aikido wasn’t being practiced on the global scale that it is today, but the atmosphere generated by the uchideshi and the other students really motivated me. O-Sensei was still relatively energetic and in good health then, too.

I also have vivid memories of the times O-Sensei got angry. His hair would practically stand on end! His energy came up right through his head, if you can imagine it. It was amazing how much energy he had at times like that. It always surprised people who hadn’t seen him in that state before.

What sort of things made him angry?

Whenever we practiced kokyunage when he was sleeping, for example, he would suddenly appear in the dojo and say, “I can tell by the sound that your training’s no good!” So we were always careful to practice seated techniques (suwariwaza) whenever he was around. He never said anything if we were working hard on suwariwaza.

Other uchideshi have also mentioned that O-Sensei would be in a good mood whenever people were practicing suwariwaza.

I can believe that. Perhaps one of the things I remember most about O-Sensei is the beautiful way he carried himself, no matter what he was doing. You could look at him from the front, from behind, or from the side, and his posture was always complete and harmonious. I’ve never seen anyone with such perfect, dignified presence.

Whenever we traveled with him, O-Sensei always used to leave everyone behind and swish straight through wickets in the train station. Nobody could stop him. We had a really hard time because we had to buy the tickets and then chase after him. I really admired the way he carried himself beautifully, like a true martial artist.

I understand that you often traveled to the Iwama dojo to train with O-Sensei?

The longest I ever stayed there was for six months. O-Sensei didn’t practice with weapons much at the Hombu Dojo, but he did them quite a bit at Iwama. Rather than teaching he spent a lot of time doing his own weapons training, and everyone just followed along. Iwama was like O-Sensei’s laboratory. One thing I remember about that time is [Morihiro] Saito Sensei’s dedicated service to O-Sensei. Saito Sensei and his entire family went through a great deal in serving O-Sensei. When I think about it now I have to bow my head in respect to them.

Who was teaching at the Hombu Dojo at that time besides O-Sensei?

First there was Waka Sensei [the present Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba], who was the head of the dojo, and Koichi Tohei who was the head of the instructors. There were other fine teachers, too. Kisaburo Osawa, Seigo Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Tada, and Sadateru Arikawa were the main ones. There weren’t so many people training—maybe 20 at most.

Back then, as soon as you got your shodan you were sent out to teach at university aikido clubs which were just getting started. The Hombu Dojo was looking to the future, hoping to disseminate aikido throughout society as much as possible, so it began by cultivating the university clubs and places like that. The collection of fees was pretty much overlooked, so it was actually costing us money to go out and teach at these places.

You must have an interesting story or two about the shihan who were your seniors?

Hmm… there’s a story about Tohei Sensei. Sometime around 1960 a pair of wrestlers from Argentina visited the dojo. They were part of a group that was traveling around making a documentary film about the “most dangerous things in the world”. They were both huge men. O-Sensei usually would not allow us to indulge in contests, but on that occasion he gave the go-ahead and told Tohei to have a go, although to this day I still don’t know why. All the students lined up on the mat and O-Sensei sat at the head of the line of instructors. He said, “Tohei, up!” Since he was representing the whole dojo, Tohei Sensei took it very seriously.

I had been the one to greet the wrestlers when they arrived. They were so big that their heads came up past the lintel of the entranceway door. I thought, “Oh no… if we lose we’re going to be so ashamed,” so I discussed it with the other uchideshi and we decided to conceal some wooden swords that we could use those to deal with the wrestlers in the event that Tohei Sensei was defeated [laughter].

The match began. Tohei Sensei immediately moved towards his opponent, who immediately moved back. Ten minutes passed as they circled each other around and around the dojo. Neither of them did anything. Finally, Tohei Sensei chased the wrestler into a corner and leapt toward him. He was so small compared to his opponent, but he ended up heaving him backwards with a judo-like sotogake maneuver, and then pinning him with his tegatana. The wrestler should have been strong in ground techniques, but he couldn’t get up. He tried various ways to escape, but Tohei had him firmly pinned.

I was surprised at the strength of Tohei Sensei’s kokyu power. It’s quite difficult to throw an opponent who’s not coming after you, you know. That’s why Tohei forced him into a corner. I was impressed. O-Sensei didn’t say anything at the time, but afterwards he was angry and said, “There’s no need to throw someone who isn’t attacking you!” It’s true that this wasn’t a very good way of winning in the bujutsu sense. An opponent with a knife could easily run you through if you tried that, so it wasn’t actually very convincing as self-defense. But in that kind of dojo setting I think there probably wasn’t much else he could’ve done. Later I heard that the wrestlers had visited the Kodokan before coming to us, and that apparently someone there had told them never be the first one to attack when dealing with an aikidoka. That’s probably why the wrestler did nothing in the way of offensive moves.

To change the subject, I believe you practice iaido, as well?

Yes, I started doing iaido when I was an uchideshi, because O-Sensei told me to. Around 1959 or 1960, a writer named Yamada came to the dojo. He was writing a novel called Oja no Za, (The King’s Throne), using O-Sensei as a model for one of the characters. He made tape recordings of O-Sensei talking about his experiences in Hokkaido. I sat there listening while O-Sensei recounted his stories, one of which involved an incident in which he fought a match against an iaido expert, apparently as a proxy for Sokaku Takeda. Takeda Sensei had killed a number of people, you know, among them an iaido teacher, whose student sent Takeda Sensei a challenge. Takeda Sensei was ill at the time and couldn’t accept it, so O-Sensei went as his representative and fought the match in the Hokkaido snow.

When the distance (maai) between them closed, O-Sensei suddenly kicked up some snow with his front food and leapt in swiftly to strike his opponent in the side under his arm. Then he threw him.

As I sat there listening I thought to myself, “Now what could I have done in a situation like that?” I figured I had better study some iaido and worried about it for some time.

A while later I was accompanying O-Sensei on a trip to the Kansai region when he suddenly said to me, “Stay here and practice iaido for three months.” “Here” was the dojo of Michio Hikitsuchi in Shingu. It was Hikitsuchi Shihan who gave me my first training in iaido. I think that was around 1960. O-Sensei had read my thoughts. He said three months would be enough time for me to get some basic knowledge.

I had accompanied O-Sensei on his travels before that, and most of his demonstrations involved weapons. The thing is, nobody ever taught me how to use them! So I tried to remember things as best I could by studying on my own, writing down whatever O-Sensei taught me and drawing pictures. I also practiced as much as I could on my own, in order to be as good an uke as possible. I was worried that I might not be able to take ukemi for O-Sensei. I didn’t want to be an embarrassment to such a fantastic martial artist.

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