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Kenkichi Ohgami

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by Louis Butto

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We would like to thank Louis Butto for his kind assistance in preparing the following interview.

Kenkichi Ohgami

Could you tell us about your first experiences in the martial arts?

My first introduction to the martial arts was through judo. In my high school days I practiced a little while at a nearby dojo and at high school. From that experience, I discovered that my physique was too small for judo, so then I decided to try karate. At Kyushu University, I joined the karate club where I practiced for the full four years. In fact, 75 out of the 80 students who were practicing quit because the practice was so rigorous and severe. After all, it was full contact. However, I persevered, believing that if I quit or gave up half way, I wouldn’t be considered a trustworthy person. To this day, I keep in touch with my alumni and have received 5th dan from them.

How and when did you join Takuma Hisa’s Kansai Aikido Club?

Soon after graduating from Kyushu University, I came up to the Kansai area in 1961. Then, by chance, I discovered Hisa’s Sensei’s dojo right next to my company’s office building. It was located on the third floor of the Saitama Bank building. When I met Hisa Sensei for the first time, I felt that he was a fine aged gentleman who was tolerant, highly educated, and knew the ins and outs of life. Thus for me, who suffered a lot from stress in human relationships, Hisa seemed just like my own father, and I felt a strong affinity and respect towards him. Consequently, the reason I joined his dojo was not so much for the interest in the martial art, but because I was attracted by his humanity.

What was it like practicing in those days?

Hisa’s dojo was not very big, so there were limitations in what we could do during practice. When Hisa taught a technique, instead of pairing up as done in many dojos today, we would instead form a line where the person at the head of line would perform the technique on everyone, one by one, then the next person would do the same, and so on. Especially with a technique like aikinage, there was no other way but to line up and do it in this fashion because Hisa’s dojo was so small. Although it was small, I’m sure it was a very expensive location to rent.

Kenkichi Ohgami and Takuma Hisa

You received 8th dan from Hisa Sensei. Did Hisa Sensei ever mention that he would give out the menkyo kaiden to anyone at the Kansai Aikido Club?

During his senior years, Hisa was teaching a women’s Aikido class at the Asahi Culture center in Tokyo. In reality, he was just supervising it because of his poor health, and a Mr. Tsuruyama was conducting the class on his behalf. However, Mr. Tsuruyama decided not to follow Hisa’s instructions and taught what he liked, mixing his favorite jodo techniques with some aikido. Hisa was very displeased with the situation, but he realized that if he pointed this out to Tsuruyama, more than likely Tsuruyama would reply “then you teach the class yourself.” Because of Hisa’s advanced age, he couldn’t do it, so there was no alternative for him but to remain silent on the matter. However, Tsuruyama took advantage of this situation and, on his own authority, announced that he had received the menkyo kaiden from Hisa Sensei, publishing this in his own book. After discovering this incident, Hisa became quite displeased, and determined to clearly give the menkyo kaiden to people who deserved it, not Tsuruyama. He, then decided to give it to me (Kenkichi Ohgami), Mr. Hakaru Mori, Mr. Makita, Mr. Usami and Mr. Kobayashi, all of whom had already received the 8th dan by then in the Kansai area.

Hisa Sensei first phoned me to tell me that he wanted to confer the menkyo kaiden on the above-mentioned people. But I replied that it was still too early for me. After this conversation, I heard he contacted the other above-mentioned students. It seemed that the other students declined it as well, believing it was yet too early. Afterwards, Hisa Sensei sent me a postcard, which I still have, saying that he would wait for the appropriate time to give the menkyo kaiden to the above-mentioned disciples, except Tsuruyama. By the way, I have a collection of perhaps close to 100 postcards from Hisa Sensei from our correspondence that I keep as my treasure.

Ohgami and Hisa in front of Daito-ryu
Aiki Budo Daibukan banner

When and why did you open the Daibukan?

Hisa Sensei often mentioned that if one of his disciples were to open his own dojo while he was still alive, he would be very pleased. So taking that to heart, I decided to open my own dojo, the Daibukan, which he personally named, in 1968. Although I couldn’t open a big dojo, he encouraged me by saying that Daito-ryu could be taught even on one tatami mat, and in fact he had been taught that way by Sokaku Takeda, so I began by teaching on the Mukogawa river bank (in Nishinomiya near Osaka) on nice days and under the Meishin highway near my house during other times. Such were the humble beginnings of my dojo.

What is your relationship with the Takumakai Association?

I was one of the original founding members in the 70s, but after Hisa Sensei passed away, I decided to no longer participate in their activities for various reasons. First of all, they adopted aspects of the curriculum of Hokkaido (for example, the 118 mokuroku) which went against Hisa Sensei wishes. I have a postcard from Hisa Sensei that concerns this matter. It is because I wanted to remain faithful to him, I only teach from the Soden as he did. Secondly, I already had established my own dojo, so I wanted to concentrate on its development.

Did Hisa Sensei ever come to visit the Daibukan? What did he do at those times?

Yes, he did. He often came to my house and attended my dojo. After practicing outside, I eventually opened a dojo in a prefabricated structure where Hisa Sensei came often. He presented me with the first volume of the Soden to celebrate my wedding anniversary in 1964 and the second volume in 1968. Based on those books, he taught us many techniques. On some occasions he showed us some higher level techniques that included being taken by two, or three opponents, or aiki techniques, as well as others that were carried in his 11 volume Soden books. He sometimes came with some of his disciples from the Kansai Aikido club, most of whom are present executive members of the Takumakai association today.

Could you describe your relationship with him and how did you come to write Hisa Sensei’s biography?

I believe we had a close relationship. In my early days, I was anxious to get married, and I often had my landlady introduce me to some young eligible women, a tradition called “omiai”, (arranged marriage). Unfortunately, most of these encounters ended in failure. In the case of one of these introductions, it turned out that Hisa Sensei knew the young lady’s family. Now this was not just any young lady, and this is one story that represents why I respected Hisa Sensei so much. He had such a broad character to embrace all kinds of people. Please let me digress a moment, so that I can explain the background of this young lady.

As I have written in my biography on Hisa Sensei, young Hisa, as a member and captain of the Kobe Commercial High Sumo team, defeated a sumo wrestler of Kansei Gakuin college which had been the strongest sumo team in the Kansai area and their rivals. Then a wrestler from the Kansei Gakuin team picked a fight with Hisa. The former happened to be the son of a Kobe gangster. Hisa stated, “What is wrong if I defeated the guy? I only fought fairly.” Takuma Hisa said this clearly without any fear or hesitation despite who he was talking to. Surprisingly, because of Hisa’s dignified manner, he gained their respect and was invited as a guest to the gangster’s house. From then on, he continued the unique relationship and during the New Year’s greeting season, he would attend the gangster’s party, sitting next to the boss himself. Hisa was the kind of man who could be admired by all kinds of people. He was well respected in every aspect of society and was well known around Kansai.

Now getting back to my search for a young lady to marry. The young lady I was introduced to happened to be this gangster’s granddaughter. So when Hisa Sensei heard the family name of this lady, he was surprised since he knew their family. By this time, the original boss of this group had already been killed. Even so, when Hisa heard about the failure of this marriage introduction, he personally wanted to accompany me to apologize for the inconvenience I caused their family and to pay his respects to them. I caused Hisa Sensei so much trouble, because at this time he was still walking with a cane due to his stroke. In fact, I had to help him walk to their house, but this did not deter him from his sense of duty or obligation he felt toward this gangter’s family, even if it was their descendants. Perhaps it is difficult to understand this attitude because this is a Japanese tradition, albeit not practiced as much these days. However, he thought it would be best to show our consideration to their family together. Such was his nature, even though he was still having a hard time getting around.

From these events, it was only natural that I should consider Hisa Sensei as my father in Kansai. Thus, I often invited him to my home and to our Daibukan. Despite the fact that my home was so small, and I had three young noisy children, he often came and stayed over several days, always enjoying himself. He was especially fond of my wife’s kindness. After our practice, we would have a small party where he would drink sake and mention many interesting stories about Daito-ryu, Sokaku Takeda, and Morihei Ueshiba and his life. He showed us lots of pictures that illustrated his difficult life.

So returning to the main point of the question, I decided to write his biography, which Hisa himself wanted me to write while he was still alive. I once submitted a part of the biography to him around 1973 or 74. Then he showed the draft to his daughter Kyoko Yoda, who is now living in Kanagawa Prefecture. Unfortunately, I was so busy with running my cram school, attending a conversational school for English, taking care of my family, carrying out Buddhist activities for peace, in addition to my teaching at the Daibukan, I was unable to complete the project while Hisa was still alive. In fact, he sent me many postcards urging me to complete it. To my regret, however, I had no choice but to complete it after he passed away.

Perhaps because I was just an ordinary person without any special or high status in society, Hisa really enjoyed coming to my house where he could just be himself without worrying what he could say or not, especially while drinking. With some of his other disciples, perhaps he couldn’t be so free, nor feel comfortable. Moreover, probably no other disciples made so much effort to invite him to their homes as often as I did. In that sense, we had a special relationship.

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