Interview with Kisaburo Osawa
Aiki News #14 (November 1975)
Kisaburo Osawa (c. 1911-1991)
Sensei, would you explain how you first became involved in aikido? I understand you first did judo?
When I was young I wanted to become strong, and perhaps all young people feel the same. But when I actually attempted to achieve this goal, I began to understand the idea of strength differently.
Where were you born?
Kumagaya in Saitama Prefecture, where I was born, was a village of only about 300 or 400 houses. It was a poor village and our house was among the poorest, but it was well-known because I was one of three young men who loved to get into fights! That was the environment I grew up in. When I was 15 I went to Tokyo and, since my family was poor, I didn’t receive any allowance from my parents, so I had to work for a living.
Was that during the Meiji Period (1866-1912)?
It was at the beginning of the Showa Period, around 1928. I left home with nothing. Many people were unemployed and salaries were low. If you didn’t work in the same place for at least five years, people would say you were a coward, and that type of character was mistrusted. At the end of the five-year period even though you still weren’t independent, you were at least half way there. When I joined the workforce I was faced with the decision of whether or not to learn judo. The company director said, “You know, judo is old-fashioned; why don’t you study English?”
But I didn’t have a good head for languages and besides, English and judo were quite different. It was then that, fortunately or unfortunately, I came down with pleurisy. I went to a clinic at Tokyo University, and then to a hospital in downtown Tokyo. All the doctors I went to told me I would have to take it easy, so I decided it would be best to return home. There, everyday I would walk along mountain paths to and from medical examinations, until the village doctor finally told me rather bluntly that I was all right! It seems funny now, but I really worked hard even though I was pretty sick.
Would you mind telling us your age?
I’m 67. When I was back in the village I was looked after by a wholesaler who bought from Saitama merchants. He showed me many books on socialism, philosophy and so forth. Nothing much was happening in the village, and I had been back from Tokyo for less than a year when I decided to help this man out, come hell or high water, even though my parents objected. At the wholesaler’s I had no time to myself, since I had to work from 8:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. But I still had a strong desire to learn judo. The teacher said it was impossible because my body was still weak, but I knew if I kept thinking that way I would never be able to practice, so I started setting my alarm clock for early in the morning, so I could practice judo before my chores.
How old were you at that time?
I was still only 17 or 18. Not being far from the dojo I was able to practice every morning, and I continued until the age of about 25 when I earned the rank of shodan. In those days, it was harder to get shodan than it is now. I was impatient and wanted to become strong quickly, but even after making shodan I was dissatisfied. Was judo the right thing for me? I decided to try something else and began practicing a little boxing but ended up being dissatisfied with that too, and started playing around. This was about 1939. I had a friend at the Army Reserve school in Ichigaya (present site of the Self-Defense Force headquarters) and through him I joined a horse riding club, and came down with hemorrhoids! Fortunately, the doctor who treated me was an acquaintance of O-Sensei and I received an introduction, even though O-Sensei was teaching martial arts mostly to famous people.
What kind of people do you mean?
O-Sensei taught mostly the nobility and people connected with the military. So, of course, someone like myself was not qualified to participate, but somehow I was able to join under false pretenses! Up until then, when I saw people being thrown around easily in the old action movies I thought such things were not possible. In judo it was quite hard enough for me to deal with one person. That was how I started aikido. But even then I still wanted to become strong. However, as I continue to improve my aikido and grow older the meaning of the word “strong” has changed for me.
Did anything occur to change your spiritual viewpoint?
I didn’t experience any big change in particular. It has been a gradual feeling which has extended up until the present. After I had been training with O-Sensei for about two years, he became seriously ill. The doctor, and eventually even I, too, thought he might die. Fortunately, Sensei finally got over his illness and entered into convalescence at the Iwama Dojo.
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