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Yasuaki Deguchi: The Omoto Religion and Aikido (06)

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by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #102 (1995)

Aikido Journal is pleased to present the following interview with Mr. Yasuaki Deguchi, conducted in Kameoka, Kyoto in the summer of 1992. Mr. Deguchi, who studied aikido for a short time under Morihei Ueshiba in the late forties and early fifties, states that “the origin of Morihei’s thought may be found in the teachingyour of Onisaburo, and thus he spirit of aikido may be grasped through those theachings.”

Aikido Journal: We have been studying the development of aikido for over twenty years now, but our understanding of the relationship between aikido and the Omoto religion remains relatively tentative. We know very little about kotodama, for example. Indeed, Onisaburo Deguchi himself is an enigmatic figure who is somewhat difficult to understand. Since we would like to present such topics to our readers, perhaps you could talk about some of these things, beginning with your experiences learning aikido?

Yasuaki Deguchi: 1 studied aikido only for a short time when I was young. There was an Omoto lecturer named Hidetaro Nishimura who happened to be a high-ranking judo practitioner, as well as a student of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. His family and my family knew each other quite well. Mr. Nishimura liked beer quite a bit and whenever he became drunk he would start telling me martial arts tales, mostly about Ueshiba Sensei and aikido. Later he let me attack him and he threw me in front of the shrine in the Kumano Yakata (where I now live). So it was Mr. Nishimura who piqued my interest in aikido.

Another Omoto believer, Miss Mitsue [Fukiko] Sunadomari also visited my family. She is a sister of Kanemoto Sunadomari, whose writings you’ve published in Aiki News. She was learning aikido and naginata [Sunadomari was also a leading student of the famous Jikishin-kage-ryu naginata teacher Hideo Sonobe] from Ueshiba Sensei. One day, she was sitting on the floor and told me to try to strike her; so I stood up and took a swing and she was knocked over backwards. I was just a boy, so I didn’t hold back. Children don’t follow any particular rules when it comes to that sort of thing, you see.

When did you formally begin training in aikido?

Let me begin with some background. I entered Doshisha Middle School in spring of 1944, but I suffered a deep shock when Onisaburo passed away in January 1948. Somehow I found it intolerable to remain idle and I felt a strong urge to get out into society.

So the death of Onisaburo affected you a great deal?

I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back on it now I realize that it probably did. But that wasn’t the only factor. From April of that same year the coeducational high school system had been adopted in Japan. Doshisha, however, was privately operated and therefore did not adopt the new system. That didn’t appeal to me much, since at that age I was rather preoccupied by thoughts of the opposite sex.

Despite my parents’ strong opposition, I left Doshisha and took a job at the Kitaguni Newspaper office, which had its headquarters in Kanazawa. The president of the newspaper, Mr. Yasuji Saga, was an enthusiastic Omoto believer, so I asked him to hire me.

I started my new lifestyle as a reporter in the cultural department, but I was later transferred to the social department, then to a position as a police reporter. As the youngest member of the news staff I was afraid that the other reporters would make light of me had they known I was only eighteen, so I tried to act older than I really was. I started smoking in the police department press room and drinking more liquor than I could reasonably handle at dinner parties (which eventually turned me into a fairly strong drinker).

That lifestyle satisfied me largely because I could work like a real adult. Nevertheless, I quit the job and went home in December of that year. I’m ashamed to tell you why. Whenever I was out making my rounds as a reporter 1 would see high school boys and girls about my own age hanging around together and I really envied them. After spending most of my life in a culture in which it was commonly believed that boys and girls should never sit together past the age of six, the thought of studying with girls in the same classroom was like a dream. So I decided to go back to school under the new coed public high school system. As luck would have it such a school had just been opened in Kameoka.

So you left the old-style educational system to venture out into the world, but later returned to enroll in a coeducational high school?

Right. I had completed through the fourth grade of middle school in the old system so I was qualified to start from the second grade of the new high school. But to get in I had to take an entrance examination, so I returned to the Kumano Yakata to study.

Eventually I enrolled as a second year student at Kameoka Prefectural High School. Despite my initial attraction, however, I was disappointed by the coeducational lifestyle. I found that I preferred the atmosphere of an all-male school after all. I was also yearning to live in Tokyo, so I left Kameoka High School and enrolled instead at Waseda High School in spring of 1949. Looking back on it now I feel somewhat ashamed at my whimsical, self-centered approach to life then.

Of the two most prestigious private universities in Japan at the time, Waseda and Keio, I was particularly attracted to Waseda’s atmosphere and academic traditions. I hoped that by attending Waseda High School I would have an easier time getting into Waseda University. I assumed that I wouldn’t have to study so hard for the Waseda University entrance exam. Only after enrolling in the high school did I discover that the two schools were not actually related at all. They just happened to have the same name!

A housing shortage in Tokyo at the time made it difficult to find lodgings immediately, so Mr. Nishimura or Miss Sunadomari arranged for me to stay at the Wakamatsu-cho dojo [the Aikikai Hombu] as an uchideshi. The agreement was that I could stay there on the condition that I learn aikido. Getting a place to stay just for studying aikido seemed like a pretty good exchange, and I’m afraid I took it more lightly than I should have.

That was a difficult period for aikido….

It was soon after the Aikikai was formally established. Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, whom we referred to as “O-Sensei,” was living at the Aiki-En in Iwama. His son, Kisshomaru, was making a living working for a securities firm and we called him “Waka Sensei.”

O-Sensei’s relatives were living in a portion of the dojo that was partitioned off with thin plywood. They had a separate entrance so I never saw them, but I could hear their radio through the plywood. I used to press my ear to the thin wall and listen with rapt attention whenever there was a baseball or sumo broadcast.

How many students were there at that time?

Not very many. Probably less than ten people came for the morning and evening classes. The occupation army still had substantial authority over martial arts activities and budo had somewhat of a stigma attached to it [due to the outcome of the war].

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