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Interview with Fumio Toyoda

by Mark Binder

Aikido Journal #108 (1996)

Fumio Toyoda Sensei, the head of the Aikido Association of America, is a burly man with a generous laugh. His aikido is quick and vigorous, and powerfully direct. Nearly every weekend he is on the road, criss-crossing his way around the United States to teach a seminar at one of AAA’s more than 120 dojos. At every stop, no matter what techniques he demonstrates, the 49-yr-old 6th dan emphasizes one point in particular — transmission of quality aikido. Over time, as they grow further away from their founder, martial arts have a tendency to fade. Fumio Toyoda believes that Ueshiba aikido is an art worth maintaining and improving.

Fumio Toyoda Shihan
(1947-2001)

How did you come to be involved with aikido? Can you give us a brief biography?

I began aikido training as a child in Tochigi, north of Tokyo. My older brother was a student at Koichi Tohei Sensei’s dojo there. The Tohei family is from the same hometown as my own family, so that’s how I developed a relationship with him as my original teacher.

Did you study aikido because your brother told you to, or because you enjoyed it?

In the beginning I had no other place to go, I had to stick with my brother [laughs loudly]. My interest, awareness, and understanding came later.

Later I went to Tokyo and enrolled in the law school at Senshu University. It was during this time that I became a jyoju, or resident traineee, at the Ichikukai Dojo in Tokyo. This is a center for misogi and Zen training founded by a student of the famous Meiji-era swordsman and Zen master Yamaoka Tesshu. I lived at the Ichikukai Dojo for over three years, while continuing my aikido training at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. After graduating with a law degree, I chose aikido as a career.

How did you happen to choose aikido over law?

My family wanted me to be a schoolteacher. My mother’s side are all schoolteachers, and my father wanted me to return to our hometwon to be a teacher. As a matter of fact I did. I was licensed as a high school teacher. I took the local examination for the job, and I failed. My uncle was working at the Board of Education, so it was supposed to have been easy to get the job, but one of my test results wasn’t quite good enough. He wanted me to be a substitute teacher for a year I wasn’t interested in being a substitute teacher, so… [laughs] I decided I would try to do aikido. That’s how I became an uchideshi. I was accepted as the first uchideshi under Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s direction. O-Sensei had recently passed away. Uchideshi had not been accepted at the Hombu Dojo then for some time. After I began my residence there, with the help of Osawa Sensei, the program has continued up to the present day. During my training, I was fortunate to travel with Doshu as his otomo, or attendant. Tohei Sensei was also still attached to Hombu Dojo then, and so I also continued to train under him and other shihan.

You really weren’t interested in practicing law…

[smiles] That’s another story. I was graduated from law school, and I was working at a law office in the summer time. But that job was entirely too boring for me. I only prepared paperwork, and I had no interest in such things. As a student, I didn’t have any actual clients. In Japan, only six or seven hundred students per year can pass the bar examination. On average, it takes people seven-and-a-half years of study after graduating from a university to pass. I wasn’t interested enough for that.

Why did you leave the Hombu Dojo?

When Tohei Sensei left the Aikikai, I followed him as my original sensei. In the years following the establishment of Ki no Kenkyukai, I was the instructor at eleven dojos in Japan. I was Chief Instructor of aikido training for the Ki Society.

Did you come to the United States with Tohei Sensei?

With him? Technically, no. I had been visiting in Seattle for a number of months before he came. I was supposed to be there to study English, get my driver’s license, and to teach. Tohei Sensei came later, and we went to a seminar in Philadelphia for a week. Then I relocated to Chicago, Illinois, on 19 June, 1974

At that time, I was a representative of Tohei Sensei’s organization. Mr. Nakamoto, who established the organization, hired me to run the Ki Society dojo in Chicago, and it was immediately successful. I eventually established my own independent organizations, the Aikido Association of America and the Aikido Association International, which together oversee instruction in over 120 dojos in North America and Europe. These organizations are now affiliated with the Aikido World Headquarters under the direction of Kisshomaru Ueshiba.

What led to your becoming independent of the Ki Society?

I didn’t leave the Ki Society: I was kicked out. We had disagreements regarding instructional matters.

You were kicked out? What happened?

What happened? [Laughs] I’ve almost forgotten about it now.

Tohei Sensei sent me a letter of dismissal. I asked him why I had been dismissed. He said I had violated the bylaws. I said “Oh, okay.” I had written the original bylaws when I was in Japan, because I had been a law school student.

“Sensei,” I said, “I’m in the United States, not Japan. Do you have international bylaws?” [Laughs]

He replied “Naah. I’m making it international law right now, Toyoda. You’re out!”

What was your initial violation?

There were a number of reasons. I was in the Midwest. I went to Texas to teach a seminar and Tohei Sensei didn’t like it, because some other shihan wanted to be involved. So I wasn’t supposed to go there. But my host was originally from Chicago, so I went anyway, and that was the violation. Also, I went to Hawaii, not for business or anything. Still, some high-ranked people said, “Toyoda Sensei, if you visit Hawaii, we want you to teach.” I said, “Oh, okay. Have you at least mentioned it to Tohei Sensei?”

“No, no,” they said. “Don’t worry, you can teach. You have the skill, you have your gi. Come teach us something.”

So I did, and that’s what he didn’t like.

Now that you have your own organization, how do you feel about people coming and teaching on your turf? Does that bother you at all?

No, not at all. Everybody’s doing the same thing. If someone is here from the US Aikido Federation, and one of my students says, “Can I go?” I say, yes, go ahead.

Yes, take seminars; yes, go to other instructors. I encourage them. The problem is that if certain people recognize you as my student, they’ll kick you out. Right away, in front of everybody: “You’re Toyoda’s student, get out of here. You’re not to stay here.”

Why do they call that a public event? That’s why I don’t like these things. I don’t take it personally, I’m just telling you about it. It is a very difficult situation.

Why does the United States need another aikido organization? What is your association’s mission?

The US needs quality instruction; this will never change. We are working to implement this, and to develop the ability of American instructors to teach at the highest level possible. That is my entire purpose for living in this country and for becoming a citizen of the United States; not just for my own personal benefit, but to insure the transmission of quality aikido in this country. Our organization has a methodology and a training system that actively encourages the raising of professional, full-time instructors, which I believe are crucial to aikido’s viability. In short, there is work to be done, and so we are doing it. That is why our association exists.

How did the association begin?

In 1981, Jon Takagi, the founder of Arizona Aikikai in Phoenix, and I formed a preliminary organization, and at that time I was the higher ranking one.

AAA was founded in 1984, so it took a few years to develop what you wanted?

Yes.

What was it that you wanted to do differently?

At that time, especially in California and on the West Coast, there were many black-belts who didn’t belong to any organization. They were disappointed by the Ki Society split.

Jon and I had a meeting in California with more than 60 black-belts. I believed that they were interested in our ideas, or disappointed in the other aikido organizations.

That was in the early 80s. The Ki Society had split off, and aikido people didn’t know which way to go. It used to be that for status and ranking everybody went through Tohei Sensei to Doshu. But, in the United States, Tohei Sensei had split from the headquarters and created the Ki Society, so there were many people who didn’t know which way to go. Especially on the West Coast, which still didn’t have a lot of Japanese shihan, they liked being independent. They were interested in us, because I was independent too.

Tell us about that initial meeting.

I let them speak for no more than five minutes. What did they want? What was their dojo’s situation? At that meeting everybody said something of what they needed, as well as what they didn’t want. So much emotion was expressed. Each black-belt spoke for five minutes, and then, whoosh, two or three hours were gone [laughs].

The meeting didn’t actually establish the organization. It was just a meeting. After that I said, “Oh my God, if 50 black-belts speak every time, when would we ever get around to administrative business?” We couldn’t. So I got together with some of the higher ranks - sandan, godan, yondan — and we talked in private.

Some of them said, “Oh, if you want to do that, then I’m not interested.” Others said, “If you want to take the lead, okay, I’ll follow.”

What specifically does the association offer a dojo that joins?

My organization focuses on the importance of the aikido instructor.

When I first came to Chicago in 1974, I was surprised that the Yellow Pages had two-dozen pages, with several hundred martial arts schools teaching aikido, karate, judo, kempo, kung fu, everything.

I knew that they weren’t really doing aikido, and I didn’t like that type of advertisement. I spoke to some of them. Someone who does not have experience with aikido shouldn’t be teaching it.

“It’s okay,” they told me, “I have learned aikido.”

“How long did you study?” I asked

“I went to a seminar.”

“How many days?”

“A one-day seminar, it was six hours. I know aikido though. I do some judo and karate, so I know what aikido is to me.”

To me that’s very striking. In Japan we had shidoin and fuku shidoin instructor status. But in this country, I was surprised at the general lack of awareness about what makes someone eligible to be a martial arts instructor. I think there should be some status or qualification by a higher rank, which says someone is qualified to be an instructor. Basically, there isn’t any.

In other words, the public doesn’t know who’s qualified to teach and who’s not. It seems that as long as you have a black belt you can teach.

Your association is trying to change that?

In 1977, I started the first annual National Instructor’s Seminar in Chicago. We’re training teachers in the teaching of the martial art of aikido. We grade people, and certify who can teach. The Aikido Association of America provides status and certification. We’ll certify whether your club is an aikido club or dojo, or not. My teaching committee, and myself as the shihan, provide supervisory instruction to the local dojos.

It’s sort of a quality-control network?

Yes., I used to walk into a dojo and ask the teacher, “Why are you teaching aikido? Where’s your certificate?” Most of them could not answer. Today, in Chicago, most of those dojos don’t call what they do aikido. They call it hapkido now [laughs loudly]. Some are even starting to call themselves aikijujutsu or aikijutsu. I have a little problem with this, but there’s nothing I can do about it. In the Chicago area, at least, some things have changed.

The Aikido Association of America tries to help people be their best. My organization is not about trying to restrict people. Our purpose is to help keep aikido on track.

Today we’re under the supervision of Hombu Dojo, which had always been my hope. All my members, with various instructors, a separate organization, but under the umbrella of Ueshiba aikido. Our job is to make it clearer so that in the future there’s not too much confusion. That is my responsibility.

How were you able to gradually reintegrate with the Hombu Dojo and achieve fill recognition for your organization?

When I was training as an uchideshi, and later when I was a young instructor at Hombu Dojo, I had a special relationship with the late Osawa Sensei. He was truly dedicated to Doshu and to the Hombu Dojo, and took it upon himself to take care of the young trainees. When Tohei Sensei asked me to follow him to establish the Ki Society, I felt obligated to do so; however, I know that by doing so I deeply disappointed Osawa Sensei, who had shown me such kindness and encouragement.

Some years ago, I approached him and told him of my desire to be again involved with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. He immediately agreed with this plan. Before he died, he did what he could to further it. Of course, Doshu made the final decision. Since this relationship became official, I have been honored by the wonderful reception we have received.

It took some time to establish the relationship with Hombu Dojo, didn’t it?

Yes, I was waiting around, officially, for more than six years.

And then one day they said okay?

They said, “Okay, it’s all right with us.” [Laughs]

One of the difficulties that you’ve had in talking with us, and that aikidoka have in general, is discussing the politics. It’s all talked about, but it’s not supposed to be talked about.

But we’re talking about it anyway.

We need politics. Without it we can’t pursue the business end of things. I studied law, so I know. The guys who make policies and make laws help the organizations expand and grow. That’s the positive side.

However, the interpretation of laws is one area of difficulty. If you interpret a law the wrong way, you’ve failed and you can be put in jail, In the U.S. you drive on the right side of the street, but in Japan or England it’s the other side. When we come into this country, we have to follow this law. So if your interpretation is wrong, you have problems. But it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person.

The difficulty is not in the bylaws or policy, but when people interpret them in a different way, sometimes they’re talked about as if they were the bad guys. They’re not bad guys, they just have a wrong interpretation. Sometimes that gets corrected, too. [laughs]

Politics is different in different fields. Are we talking about instructional matters or business matters? Sometimes it’s the same; sometimes they can’t be separated. Sometimes I’m a shihan, sometimes I’m a sensei, sometimes I’m a student, sometimes I’m a friend. Sometimes I wish the only thing we had to worry about was aikido training.

In aikido, most of what we talk about as politics is about an instructor’s influence. That’s sometimes stronger than law, because we can’t change a student’s mind. And some people are all mixed up. That’s why it’s difficult to even discuss what we mean by aikido politics.

The worst situation is where some sensei compares his aikido to someone else’s saying, “Mine’s better.” Of course he can’t really know that what he’s doing is better, but if he’s saying that publicly, he loses. I believe he loses as a person. He can teach whatever he believes, but he’s not supposed to speak about any other instructor like that. As a sensei, and as a student, he destroys himself.

It’s hard sometimes. When you teach, you emphasize what you believe, and you present it to your students. That’s fine. But if you talk about particular people or mention names, that is something else. If you can’t control your ego, you lose face and stature.

At the risk of talking about other people’s aikido, you’ve mentioned that you’ve enjoyed traveling around the United States. What have you noticed about how aikido differs in different parts of the U.S?

In 1974, the East Coast was mostly headed directly by Japanese shihan, Mr. Kanai, and Mr. Yamada. In California, there was only Mr. Chiba. Those on the West Coast were mainly influenced by the Hawaiian teachers traveling there. There was no supervision of actual training on a daily basis by a Japanese instructor. I could feel the difference. The West Coast was more relaxed, like a social activity. The East Coast was more traditional, practicing Hombu dojo-style, very similar to the way we do things.

I think today that’s changed, moderated.

You’d say the distinctions between the two coasts have blended together since then?

Yes, the appearance and way of practicing and operating dojos in the West and East are becoming more similar.

Have you noticed any stylistic differences?

Yes, but I’d rather not get into that too much.

When I teach, I insist on my interpretation of aikido. Well, I don’t insist on it, but it’s my job, I believe, to teach my interpretation. Other people have their own methodologies. When you’re located in the United States, you develop your own interpretations and expression of aikido. And you should develop them. It’s still Ueshiba aikido, but it may be slightly different. With each individual’s personality the way of teaching changes slightly. This is a natural evolution of instruction.

When you talk about individual expressions of aikido, I’m curious about how you characterize your own expression of aikido?

If you take my classes, it will be clear to you [laughs]. If I insist verbally on my points, in an interview, people may say, “Who is this guy? I’m doing aikido, too.” If you take my classes, you’ll see.

Is there some way to express it to people who may not ever be at one of your seminars, or to make them interested in coming?

What we do in aikido is harmonize; I like that. Mutual cooperation, and training in harmony. I think that harmony is a tremendously siginificant philosophy. You bring it into the dojo and onto the mat. We have mutual cooperation in our training.

But sometimes, aikido is a budo, a martial art. We say we’re learning a defensive art, but we don’t have any offense. In martial arts training, if you don’t have an offense, then you can’t practice the defense.

When we work with beginners, teaching fundamentals, if we do full-strength attacks, they may be scared and confused. That’s why in teaching, we have to be considerate about harmony or cooperation. But, the bottom line is, as long as we practice defensive training, we also need to train with a proper attack. I believe that if we don’t have a good attack, we don’t have the sharpness and clarity of the original martial art. If aikido is supposed to be a budo, it may well be that the art is fading away.

Proper attack is always taught in my seminars, and after that we apply the throwing or pinning techniques. You also have to develop the skill of ukemi. If you’re developing uke’s skill, that means your art’s true, you can be aware, you can become a master of the defensive arts.

That is my interpretation. Some people don’t agree. They say that aikido students aren’t supposed to attack. We have to cooperate, and fall down. Then we pin them. No attacks. It is sometimes surprising to me that this sort of philosophy has developed. If an instructor isn’t a strong teacher, that sort of philosophy works to the instructor’s personal advantage.

In other words, if the instructor’s not sharp enough in their own aikido, they’re not likely to teach a sharp attack?

That’s right, and if the instructor can’t teach sharp attacks, they’re not teaching aikido, which is a budo.

There is a way of teaching in the United States, where the teacher talks first. They tell you what will happen long before they demonstrate it. In other words, “If someone’s punching here, then grab the hand…” They’re not one with the motion, and you have a very static condition. Plus, they’re talking about it — on and on and on.

In a traditional teaching situation, a sensei will demonstrate first, without talking. Uke attacks in a full offense/defense condition. It doesn’t mean they are trying to kill each other, but the convention is to give a strong attack, at least for the first a few times as a demonstration. Then the students have an image of what they’re going to be practicing. Then we let them try it, go ahead. The teacher sees what points you’re struggling with, and then the intructor brings out the instructional materials. But this comes after the attack.

In this traditional manner, demonstrations are almost like a life-and-death situation. When uke attacks, and falls fully, nage shows the highest level of the technique. Then people see, “Oh, that’s the way it’s supposed to go.”

After that, we can show it again from the beginning. Put this foot here, that hand there. That is, I believe, the strongest method of instruction. But sometimes it’s good the other way around, too. Sometimes you do need to talk.

I know that’s a big difference in the Western way of teaching. In Japan, the instructors don’t talk. They’re doing something, then they come up next to me, and just say a few words, touch me or help me, say something else, and then walk away. It can be confusing.

Of course, for some people in the U.S., instruction means you write everything on a blackboard [laughs].

You prefer to show first, talk later?

I show the skill and timing and speed — show something. That’s the image to develop as a student. That’s the teaching methodology I’m providing. Then I might talk about what I showed, and how things happened. Now here is the step-by-step. If you practice this, you’ll be able to get that level of that technique.

Your uke or partner should also have enough skill to take the falls. If the teacher is demonstrating and showing, then all at once the student has an image picture. I think it’s easier to get in, to achieve mastery.

It seems that one reason ukes are afraid to attack is that if they attack hard, they may be thrown hard.

That’s right [laughs]. That’s why you don’t want to attack hard.

Again, the teaching method for beginners is different. Perhaps sometimes we will work static, standing still or sitting still, then go. Maybe it’s not a bad idea. There are different skill levels to what we’re providing. Sometimes when I teach a six-week introductory course, I’ll spend the first 15 or 20 minutes talking. I’ll tell them what I’m teaching, what the six-week course is about, what aikido means, and what principles I have to talk about.

Just doing something with no explanation can also be an awkward situation.

I think that in my instructors’ seminar we try to standardize teaching methods. We’re not saying that this is the only way, but this is one standard. Each teacher may add what he or she likes to do more or less of. It depends on the person.

I feel that it’s important for instructors and seniors to be able to demonstrate in front of their students. If they can’t demonstrate, it’s very hard to teach. This is the nature of our business. Those guys start talking first — over and over — and then finally do just a little bit of technique. There’s no timing, no speed, no strength. It’s not real.

Your arts don’t come out.

But about ukemi…

The actual word in Japanese, is “receiving with your body” or “to catch with your body”. That’s the direct translation. Some people believe that ukemi means going down to the mat or ground, and that in the falling you’ve already failed — or else you wouldn’t go down to the mat. Yes, that is one point. But for training purposes, if that’s your philosophy, then you’ll hurt yourself all the time [laughs]. That’s why you have to train in the martial art of ukemi. To catch yourself, you have to be fully under control — whatever the conditions, and however nage is applying the technique. You have to survive, you have to be safe.

That principle is important when you begin with a student. An instructor cannot develop their defensive techniques and skills highly. That is my understanding of ukemi training. If you know a technique well, you must be able to take the ukemi well.

When your ukemi improves, you become more sensitive. So you’re safe, plus you’re going to have the advantage of learning the more precise technique. Even if you don’t know what’s coming, or if you’re losing your balance, you can still quickly get back your strength, and center and energy.

That’s why traditionally, being the sensei’s uke is an honor. When you have enough skill receive the intructor’s technique, it means you’re getting closer to being able to copy the technique.

Tell us a bit about your instructors’ seminars. How many instructors attend?

Between 120 and 150. I have instructors’ seminars in Chicago every year, and every two years in the Western states. I might soon alternate on the East Coast.

What happens at the seminar?

Basically, it’s about how to teach aikido. In the first four or five years, I taught everything, but in the last three or four years other high-ranking people have also taught their way of instruction. So, not everything is from me.

We demonstrate examples of step-by-step instruction. For instance, we may show how a six-week course of instruction works. Then, this is how a regular beginner’s class is taught; this is how I teach advanced instruction classes.

The dojo heads actually teach the other instructors a beginner’s class?

That’s right. They teach a beginner’s class or a weapons class. We teach instructors how we teach. During the seminar, the focus is on teaching methodology. That’s the main thing.

We also work on improving public demonstrations. We teach how you set up a demonstration, organize one, and then we actually do a public demonstration, and discuss how it went.

And at the end, there is the recognition. We provide teaching certificates which say that at least you have taken an instructor’s seminar once every two years. We have shidoin (instructor), fuku shidoin (assistant instructor) and joshu (assistant) certificates. I believe this will support people when they are teaching in their own community, at their own dojo.

What do you teach instructors about organizing demonstrations? What have you found that didn’t work before that you now do differently?

Instructors who have everybody coming onto the mat when they do a public demonstration, sometimes look unprofessional, and the audience misunderstands what aikido is.

I like it when the instructors or black-belts — all well trained — provide a demonstration that’s short, but very professional, with crisp technique and some intellectual explanation of the principles demonstrated. As I said, when I have the instructors’ seminar here in Chicago, we actually have the dojo heads do a demonstration, and everyone else sees how we practice the demonstration, how we actually present it, how we make a schedule for the program.

My advice is to make sure everything’s clear.

You’re saying that sometimes when teachers do a demonstration they just have everybody on the mat. So it’s hard to see exactly what’s demonstrated?

Or very difficult. Some instructors don’t have enough experience in front of the public. They need to know about different types of demonstrations, and maybe use different techniques.

What do you mean?

Some people can show their techniques in a class, but either don’t have enough training, or sometimes lose control during a demonstration, because of the audience. Then they don’t show what they intended to. That is not just beginners, even advanced teachers can have this happen to them. Because of the audience, nothing comes out. They get upset or nervous or something. I think we should avoid this kind of demonstration, because the public misunderstands it. They think that what they saw is what aikido is.

Do you have any advice for instructors about getting students interested in aikido?

I recently discovered how to keep students. From time to time we’ve asked, “How did you find the dojo?” Men say, the Yellow Pages or some other advertisement. Women, however, don’t come to the dojo directly. They find us in a round-about way. They hear about our six-week or eight-week courses at the YMCA, and they talk with someone. They go to a class, and see the aikido instructor. Then they learn that the aikido instructor has a dojo. After that they get involved and eventually they become a black-belt.

Many people think dojo means a karate school. They still believe that aikido is like karate. If they just walk in, it can look too complicated. People feel that it is too difficult. But if you provide a six-week introductory course, they say, “Oh, I wanted to try a different type of martial art. I’ll try aikido.” They’ve gotten a little information. They’ve seen an instructor demonstrating during the classes. He is a professional instructor.

I believe that this introductory method is one that will keep the students. During my eight years here, we’ve always had six-week introduction courses, two or three classes per week. Each class has 10 to 12 students. That means between 30 and 40 new students every six weeks.

And during that time I have them see other ongoing programs. They become friends with other students. They get excited. That’s what we’ve been doing, and we’ve been successful with this program.

How many students do you have currently?

I directly manage three dojos. I have 350 continuing students, and every six weeks another 60 students join. Right now we have 400 at the three dojos.

What do you think is the biggest reason Americans quit practicing aikido?

Quitting aikido is not just American. It’s Japanese, too [laughs]. But, Japanese do aikido in community groups. Japanese aikido is more community oriented. Sometimes people start because their neighbor, or the neighbor’s kid is doing it. They stick together.

In the United States, each community may be of a different race. Sometimes their own culture is very strong. They think that aikido is a Japanese martial art, or even Chinese or Korean. It used to be that I heard about aikido here from mostly Asian students. Now there are Caucasians, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in my dojo. So I think aikido can be a cultural exchange.

We hope that people will accept each culture, but as to actually getting involved in another culture, that’s something different.

Aikido is the creation of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei, and his expression was that aikido is budo. As such, it is a martial technique, but it goes beyond fighting to a wider application: training to benefit others.

Aikido is training to benefit others? What do you mean? Can you give us an example?

Aikido is a form of martial art training, but it’s also self-development. If you become a better person, you can pass that on to others. Other people, say, in your work. If you have deeper understanding, and deeper experience, you can give that to others. So your training benefits other people.

Are you talking about the philosophy?

No, the technical points as well. For example, what is this art? Is it something that can be applied in any situation? Your own self-development depends on how deeply you understand, and how much your art can be applied on any other occasion. If you have a deeper understanding, you can pass it on to others. If you don’t, you don’t have much to give others.

Can you give a more concrete example?

Some people believe that martial art training is about becoming a champion. Not aikido.

If martial arts are about competition, you can become a champion. So what? What can this champion do for others? Champion, to me, is the end of the road. You’ve become number-one from your training, and nobody else has equaled you. You’re finished.

In aikido, we don’t have a single champion. We are not trying to select one person as the best. With aikido training, each individual develops. So each individual has to become a champion. That way, seniors are helping juniors. Juniors respect the seniors. Human relationships become stronger.

Then we get older. Our physical strength goes down the drain. We still need the physical, but even without strength, we can still be developing or sharing our own arts.

Then our junior becomes a senior; now he is passing on a higher quality, better and deeper understanding of the art, which spreads our influence. We have grown and there’s still more to learn. Life continues to fill us with enthusiasm.

If you don’t do that kind of sharing then the cycle becomes: champion —- finished. Then the next one becomes champion —- and he’s finished.

Becoming the only champion is a low class of champion. That’s no good. Instead, in aikido, everybody becomes a champion.

How do you continue to learn, grow and keep your technique fresh?

That’s a good question. You’ve got to learn first by example from some instructor, and you try your best. Learning technique by example is a formative stage you’ll go through. After that, when you become one with the art, you should transcend your formation, go beyond kata. You’re doing your own form. So that is how you become fresh again.

In other words, you have to discover your ikkyo for yourself. That keeps you refreshed. If it works, good. Or maybe it needs more or less work, more or less physical strength. Maybe you should try taking the lead, or using more control. That type of thing.

Whatever you wish to do you’re going to achieve.

For myself it’s the same thing. I learn from many instructors. Then you learn from yourself.

Someone says, “You don’t do aikido.” “Oh, so what am I doing?” I answer. They say, “You’re doing yourself.” [Laughs.]

Some people will say that. So, I say, “Yes, that’s what it’s all about.” We will respect our teachers, but when we practice beyond that, or above that, we should go deeper into it. Whatever you learn you have to make work for yourself.

What’s your favorite technique?

My favorite? Kokyunage. Any kokyunage. [laughs]

Why is that?

I like to throw people around [laughs]. When it goes well, the quickness and timing — that feels good.

When I was young I used to like shihonage, nikyo, sankyo, those physical, “YAAAH!” throws. They went in deep.

But we’ve become a little older, and I like to be a little more easygoing [laughs loudly].

[Fumio Toyoda Sensei passed away on July 1, 2001.]

Mark Binder (nidan) is a novelist, humorist, and professional freelance writer. Special thanks to Keith Moore and Lou Perriello. The above article was prepared with the kind assistance of Keith Engle of the USA.