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Interview with Shizuo Imaizumi (2)

by Marc Abrams

Aikido Journal #115 (1998)

Shizuo Imaizumi was among the last generation of students of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba. He later left the Aikikai to join the Ki Society of Koichi Tohei, 10th dan. Imaizumi is now independent and has taught aikido in New York City for over twenty years.

When did you first begin to travel abroad to teach?

Shizuo Imaizumi Sensei. Uke: Alex Loglia

In spring 1972, Koichi Tohei Sensei ordered me to go to California for about three months to spread ki principles and aikido under Roderick T. Kobayashi Sensei, then Chief Instructor of the Western States Aikido Federation. On March 19, 1972, I left Haneda airport for Honolulu. This was the first time I had ever stood on foreign soil in my life. After passing through immigration and customs there, I proceeded on to Los Angeles. I stayed at Kobayashi Sensei’s residence in Los Angeles and taught his regular classes in the LA area. I traveled to various places such as Orange County and San Diego in Southern California, and Stockton, Sacramento, Eureka and San Francisco in Northern California. I also went to Phoenix, Arizona and Boise, Idaho. After three months, on June 18, I left Los Angeles for Seattle. This was a vacation for me to visit Yoshihiko Hirata Sensei, then Chief Instructor of the Northwest Aikido Federation, who was a friend of mine from Japan. We became friends in January 1965 and he recommended that I join the Tempukai in Kokokuji, Tokyo. I left Seattle on June 23, again passing through Honolulu. After a week’s stay at the Hawaii Aikikai Hombu Dojo, I left for Japan arriving on June 30. This was a wonderful trip for me.

Please tell us something about your initial experiences in the USA.

The questions I was most often asked by Americans were about Tohei Sensei and his art. For example, “What is the Ki Society?”, “Will Tohei Sensei become independent from the Aikikai soon?”, or “I am practicing aikido in the way Tohei Sensei taught me. Why must I support the Ki Society?” My answers to these kinds of questions were simple ones. Tohei Sensei founded the Ki Society for those who would like to study ki principles. That’s why his position at the aikido remains unchanged. He is Chief Instructor of the Hombu Dojo and he is also in charge of dealing with aikido affairs in the United States. If you like his aikido style, that’s fine. Just continue to practice. If you want to open ki classes in addition to aikido, you can do it in the same way he is conducting ki classes in Tokyo with the permission of Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei.”

As you know, aikido politics in California were complicated. I don’t want to say who was against Tohei Sensei or Kobayashi Sensei because I only learned those things after I left California. But most instructors accepted me as an Aikikai instructor when I visited their dojos. Since I joined the Aikikai in May 1959 I had experience in practicing with foreign students, so I didn’t feel any specific difference with students training in the United States.

When and under what circumstances did you go to New York to teach?

In February 1974, I learned from Tohei Sensei directly about his real intention to resign from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo after his USA instructional tour which was to take place from March 9 to April 29. I told him I would resign from the Hombu Dojo together with him. In April that year, Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei also left Tokyo for New York to attend the 10th anniversary of the New York Aikikai. It was an unusual situation in that the top two aikido figures left Japan for the United States for different purposes. Although I was still in the Hombu Dojo, I already knew what would happen in Honolulu soon. All the Japanese instructors in the United States who met with Ueshiba Sensei in New York accompanied him to Honolulu, and a final top-level meeting which included Tohei Sensei was held there. I heard about this incident in detail after Tohei Sensei returned to Japan.

On April 30, Tohei Sensei resigned all of his aikido positions at the Aikikai. I also resigned from the Hombu Dojo at the same time. On May 1, 1974, he established Shinshin Toitsu Aikido. As a result, the Hawaii Aikido Federation split into two organizations—an Aikikai group and a Ki Society group. The Northwestern Aikido Federation and Western States Aikido Federation, mainly in California, also split into two factions. The Midwest Aikido Federation and East Coast Aikido Federation remained almost unchanged except for a small group in each. After Tohei Sensei became totally free from the Aikikai, he dispatched Fumio Toyoda Sensei to Chicago in June of that year because there was a group of supporters to establish the Chicago Ki Society. Although Tohei Sensei decided to dispatch me to New York the next year, in 1975, there was not yet any support group.

Before I talk about New York, let me describe an interesting trip I took with Tohei Sensei to New Zealand. In March 1975, Tohei Sensei and I went to New Zealand at the invitation of the New Zealand government arranged by David Lynch Sensei who was working at the New Zealand Embassy in Japan. Although the government paid all expenses including airfare, room and board, the conditions were that we had to demonstrate aikido on a stage set up in a farm field grandstand from March 14 to April 1. It was a kind of Easter event and corresponded to a county fair in the United States. As there were no night events scheduled, we had spare time. One of the sponsors of the Easter Show was Pan American Airways so all of our flights were handled by them. In those days, there were no direct flights from Tokyo to Auckland, New Zealand on Pan Am.

After brief stopovers in Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, we arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on March 9. The public ki and aikido seminar conducted by Tohei Sensei was held at one of the dojos of the Judokwai in Auckland each night from March 10 through March 14. Each ki session ran an hour and thirty minutes. Tohei Sensei taught both aikido and ki sessions on March 12. The participants were mainly aikido students from the Yoshinkan and Aikikai. Meanwhile, Tohei Sensei conducted the first aikido demonstration for the Easter Show on March 14. It was too easy a schedule for Tohei Sensei. On Saturday, March 22, the final day, Tohei Sensei taught three aikido sessions starting at 8 am, and did aikido demonstrations for the Easter Show two times, ending with the 7:45 pm show. That was our busiest day during our stay in Auckland. Tohei Sensei left for Japan on March 24 via the same route. I took over for him at the Easter Show while teaching ki and aikido for Lynch Sensei’s group. On April 11, I left Auckland and arrived back at Haneda, Tokyo on April 13.

When did you arrive in New York?

On June 20, 1975, Tohei Sensei and I left Haneda for Honolulu. Many students of the Hawaii Ki Society came to see us and we received a warm welcome. On June 22, the Ki Society hosted a dedication ceremony for the new Honolulu Dojo under the guidance of Tohei Sensei. Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei, who had come to conduct a seminar in Hawaii earlier, and I helped Tohei Sensei and the senior students of the Hawaii Ki Society give a demonstration.

On June 23, Tohei Sensei and I left Honolulu for Chicago arriving the next day. We were warmly received by Fumio Toyoda Sensei and his students. Tohei Sensei taught an eight-day ki and aikido seminar from June 25 to July 2. On July 4, we gave another demonstration for the Chicago Buddhist Association and then left for Philadelphia. We were greeted by Shuji Maruyama Sensei and his students. Tohei Sensei conducted a nine-day ki and aikido seminar from July 5 to 13.

On July 14, we were driven to New York in Shuji Maruyama Sensei’s car. When I gazed out the window from the Verrazano Bridge, now the starting point for the New York Marathon, to see the Statue of Liberty and the skyscrapers of Manhattan, I felt that I had at last arrived in New York. St. John’s University in Queensborough was the site of Tohei Sensei seven-day ki and aikido seminar so Tohei Sensei and I checked into a nearby motel while Maruyama Sensei and his students stayed in my temporary dojo at 8 Waverly Place in Manhattan which Maruyama Sensei had sublet from a dancing group for about two months while the group was touring Europe that summer. He told me that I would have to look for my own dojo in the middle of September. Toyoda Sensei and his students came from Chicago to New York to help us and they also stayed in the dojo.

On Sunday morning, July 20, we held the opening ceremony of the New York Ki Society Dojo as the seminar was held only in the evenings. On July 22, Tohei Sensei left New York for Boston to demonstrate ki and aikido there. I started my first classes that same evening. Tohei Sensei returned to New York the next day and departed for Japan on July 24.

What were your early years like attempting to build up a dojo? You must have had to overcome many difficulties?

I had to look for a new dojo by the middle of September 1975 before the subletting contract expired on September 14. As I had been living in the dojo, I first looked for an apartment with my new students. On August 11 that year, I made my first contract with the owner of my apartment building and I moved in immediately. As I didn’t have any possessions, it was a simple move. It’s very hot in summer in New York. There was a refrigerator and an air conditioner. All I had to prepare was a sleeping mat and a carpet. As I had bought a portable typewriter during the seminar to issue Ki Society certificates to the participants in the seven-day seminar, I didn’t have to spend any more money. We found a new dojo at 29 East 10th Street near the temporary dojo in early September and moved in on September 13. We started regular classes at the New York Ki Society on September 15.

Koichi Tohei Sensei returned to New York on April 21, 1976 and conducted a seminar. He then left New York for Boston on May 1. After that, he came to New York for about five consecutive years for seminars. In the summer of 1977, the New York Ki Society applied for tax exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. In February 1978, we became exempt from the payment of state and local sales taxes. This was a very positive step for the New York Ki Society.

On June 1, 1980 I was appointed Chief Instructor for the USA by Tohei Sensei. To prove it I would like to quote from the appointment certificate issued on the same date by Tohei Sensei, President, Ki no Kenkyukai Headquarters:

“Mr. Shizuo Imaizumi is hereby appointed as the Chief Instructor for the Ki Society within the area of the United States for a period of three years commencing June 1, 1980. His responsibilities are to supervise and coordinate the activities of all federations in the U.S. to include the fair and amicable disposition of all questions and problems that may arise, and to promote the continued and effective development of ki principles.”

In May 1982. I received the resident alien card—the so-called “green card” from the U.S. government. On July 31, 1982 we moved to a new location at 137 Fifth Avenue, and began regular classes. My three-year tenure as Chief Instructor for the USA expired on June 1, 1983. At the USA instructors’ meeting held at the New York Ki Society in August of the same year, I recommended Koichi Kashiwaya Sensei, then Chief Instructor of the Boulder Ki Society in Colorado as the next chief instructor. At that meeting, I also proposed the dissolution of the Eastern States Ki Society Federation of which I was Chief Instructor and let the chief instructors of the New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia Ki Societies become independent of me so they could directly report their students’ promotions to the Ki Society Headquarters in Tokyo. I remained on as the Chief Instructor of the New York Ki Society.

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