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Interview with Kenji Tomiki (2)

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #44 (January 1982)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of James Day.

This text is the second and concluding part of an interview conducted with Professor Kenji Tomiki in January of 1974 at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.

Prof. Kenji Tomiki

Aiki News: I have a much clearer background now, a much clearer understanding of why Kano Sensei formulated and modernized the jujutsu techniques and what his goals were. And I also understand your efforts to modernize the jujutsu forms to work from a greater distance, rather than grappling. Could you, in the time we have remaining, talk about what it was that brought Kano Sensei, Ueshiba Sensei and yourself together? What made you spend time with each other to talk about budo? Was it true that Kano Sensei sent some of the top judo people to study aikido with Ueshiba Sensei? What was it about his art that was important? What was the association like in that period of time?

Tomiki: Well, yes, it was in the fall of 1927 that Ueshiba Sensei left the Omoto-kyo Headquarters in Ayabe and came up to Tokyo. That was just at the time I was a graduate student at Waseda University, and I acted as his uke, or actually, he made sure I took the ukemi! (Laughter)

Anyway, it was Admiral Takeshita who brought Ueshiba Sensei and Kano Sensei together. This Mr. Takeshita later became a deshi of Ueshiba Sensei.

You may remember that American President Theodore Roosevelt had acted as a go-between in mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. He was at that time pro-Japan and he became aware of the existence of jujutsu here in Japan, and actually became very interested in spreading it in America. He invited Kano Sensei’s number one student, a man named Yoshiaki Yamashita to come to America and teach judo. The person who acted as contact man for all of this was Admiral Takeshita. Later this same Takeshita invited Ueshiba Sensei to come up to Tokyo.

At first they trained at the home of Baron Nonomura and later they took over a billiards hall in the Osaki home of Duke Shimazu, installed tatami and had their first dojo.

Of course, all this time Kano Sensei had his Kodokan. He died in May of 1938 while sailing across the Pacific Ocean. The last time I met Kano Sensei was two years earlier in 1936 at the Kodokan. He knew that I had been researching aikido and encouraged me saying, “Though it must be difficult for you, please continue to study aikido as deeply as you can.”

Permit me to change the subject at this point. In modern psychology, science is attempting to discover if phenomena like telepathy and the sixth sense exist. Someone who practices martial arts for a long period of time realizes that he’s not only working on the physical level but that sometimes by adopting a certain mental attitude he can influence the attacker; that there is some element present which is very difficult to describe, but it is not technique. What are your feelings on the psychic areas? Is it possible to influence the power of your partner’s attack?

I have my doubts on that point. I deny it though there are people who say things like that happen. However, I don’t deny things like hypnosis or telepathy exist under certain spiritual conditions. In the case of budo there may be such things but they are the “outer limits,” the result of very extreme psychological (spiritual) conditions, situations where it is a question of will I live or will I die, and these are conditions that we simply don’t meet today. They just don’t exist, and it’s good that they don’t. It’s no good to fight.

I always take the educator’s point of view. The bujutsu of old were overwhelmingly dangerous. They were cruel and bloody. In sports, whether it is track and field or swimming or whatever, we have the world of real strength. The same strength but with the addition of cruel things made to cause injury (literally, “to make blood flow”). Thus, to make this something that is applicable to our own times we must remove these elements and make the arts into an armour that we wear for self-defense. In the case of judo we have to skip certain techniques, and then systemize movement. The problem is in that way of thinking.

We’ve actually come to an important point. There’s one thing I have a hard time explaining away and I am a skeptical person by nature, I like to see to believe. I don’t like to say, “Well, you know if he raises his hand all of his opponents just fall down.” However, I have in my possession films of Ueshiba Sensei. He takes a jo about 3 and 1/2 feet long and holds it out to his side. People come and push on it and he can hold them here from the side; from a perpendicular angle! That’s one thing. Another is this. He sits with his feet crossed underneath, hands relaxed three men come close before him and try to push him over. They can’t. Now either it’s all faked or people are doing it on purpose. If it’s true though I know of no physical principle which can explain those physical feats. This is why I wonder if what happened, was all faked or if he was at a very special “place?” I’ve seen these things on film with my own eyes….

This problem is one of modern physical education’s muscle training. It’s called isometrics. That is to say, by pushing or pulling you train either the outer muscles or the inner muscles. When you get perfect at this form of training you can hardly see any muscle movement at all during the exercise. When you can’t see any movement you are using the muscle very skillfully. But, in the educational field if you demand a similar level of perfection then you are making a big mistake. If anyone trains sufficiently it is possible to do it to some degree, but, of course, there are limits what a human being can do. Perfection is a problem of belief. Can we call it religious faith? If we have to disrupt our partner’s psychological state through some hypnotic technique it would not be a matter of religion as we usually think of the word. I for one, take the normal point of view that education appropriate for the general public is correct and I think aikido should be something usual, or normal, as well.

Because of the work of several important people like Kano Sensei, yourself, and others, the modernization of traditional martial arts was accomplished. The concepts of fighting, winning, of love, of developing harmony between the mind and the body, were woven together. The vehicle, the method that we use for teaching this to the individual is aikido training—our practice. Now, some of these principles are very important, not only in the training we undergo with different people but also because the principles can be applied to everyday relations with people. And also if a person at a very high governmental level felt very strong, very confident and was very sensitive to the person he was talking with I think some very interesting results could be produced at an international level or at a political level by applying the same principles. I’m sure you has some thoughts on this matter.

Let me start with my conclusion first. In Japan our budo of the past was something extremely bloody, vicious, and completely without bounds as to what methods or tricks one could resort to. Therefore, in viewing our present peaceful society and looking forward to a peaceful future, I think that “sportification” (kyogika), the conversion to competitive sport, is the best way to spread the outstanding points and the benefits of budo to the world.

Someone may form some sort of acting guild and spread or popularize it in the form of something like the samurai “cut-em-up” film. While you are working for your acting group you are learning to get along well with people. This is good for your health, don’t you think? Or you may go the route of Kenbu, the “sword dance”, and foster your art as a form of stage presentation and that’s fine, too, isn’t it? There is also the possibility of transforming the arts into exercise routines as was done in the case of Tai Chi Ch’uan, a fine exercise system from the anatomical standpoint. Anyway, there is no need to spread anything that is dangerous and cruel.

There’s only one thing, though. The martial arts actor is a character of fiction. He can single-handedly defeat 10 men. The hero can display wonderful strength on the stage, but in the dojo strength is a different thing. The dojo is again the world of real life strength. In order to filter out that part of budo which is simply cruelty, we organize and limit the previously unrestricted range of technique. This is because if we didn’t, how do you suppose we could ever proceed with the process of converting them to sports? I firmly believe that the change to sport is the ultimate way of giving birth to a new art form.

Ask some people why they do judo or kendo and you will get some who will answer that they train to be able to win a fight. Even so you will also find many who, like me, will say they practice for their health or to make more friends. Everyone has his own individual reasons and sense of values. But in the old budo there was only one rationale and that was to win in a fight. You have to keep the time period in mind.

Budo has always included the aspect of self-defense. Today we hear of violence in the streets. But should we use strength to counter this violence, we may end up in some legal trouble in our law-abiding society. Still even in a peaceful social context, there must be some form of appropriate means of protecting one’s self, and outside of using one’s strength, what way of defense can there be? This is why I think we have to put forth some form of technique that is designed for the present world and the future reality of society.

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