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Interview with Kyoichi Inoue (1)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #76 (December 1987)

Top Yoshinkan instructor recalls episodes of the youthful Gozo Shioda and his master Morihei Ueshiba, the early days of the Yoshinkan dojo and expounds on the fine points of teaching aikido to policewomen.

Kyoichi Inoue

Aiki News: About when did you begin your practice of aikido, Sensei?

Inoue Sensei: I began to practice on November 1, 1955 while a junior at the university. At that time aikido was not known at all. I was also studying at the Logos English language school in Mejiro as I wished to become a diplomat. One of my classmates was a seaman who was practicing aikido. When I asked him what aikido was, he twisted my wrist applying what we call “nikajo”. I found it interesting and asked him to get me a brochure from the Yoshinkan. I told Mr. Kushida, who is now instructing in the United States, about the school and we immediately went to visit the dojo in Tsukudo Hachiman. Mr. Kushida and I went to the same junior high school, high school and university. We would always practice together in the beginning. We attended only the class where the roll was called and would practice aikido at the dojo from morning till night.

Who were the seniors students in those days?

Terada Sensei, Matsuo Sensei and Tanaka Sensei of the Shiseikan Dojo of the Meiji Shrine were instructing then.

Did Tenryu, the Sumo wrestler often go to the Yoshinkan at that time?

Yes, he did. Try to picture a huge man like him practicing with Shioda Sensei! (Laughter) Tenryu would often point his finger at Shioda Sensei and say: “Your teacher never would let go of his hands until I admitted defeat. When he put nikajo on me, he kept applying pressure until I said it hurt. He’s got more guts than I do!” (Laughter)

Was there any relationship between the Ueshiba Dojo and the Yoshinkan at that time?

Yes. Shioda Sensei would often go to Aikikai demonstrations. I accompanied him very often, Aikikai teachers were invited to Yoshinkan demonstrations too. However, we didn’t perform in their demonstrations nor did they in ours. Ueshiba Sensei never visted the Yoshinkan.

Once at the Aikikai demonstration held in the Hibiya hall, Mr. Kushida and I accompanied Shioda Sensei. We went to sit in the back row of the guest seats. Ueshiba Sensei was sitting on the stage with people like Kisshomaru Sensei, Osawa Sensei and Tohei Sensei beside him. Ueshiba Sensei happened to see Shioda Sensei sitting in the guest seats and said to him: “Shioda, why are you sitting there? Come over here!” He immediately let Shioda Sensei sit next to him. Ueshiba Sensei had the top Aikikai teachers move over to make a seat for Shioda Sensei and me, as his students, were very proud. I naturally thought that he as the head of the Yoshinkan was different. The rumors running around at that time were that Shioda of the Yoshinkan was a man who rebelled against the Ueshiba family, that his practice method was a century old, that his art was not aiki and, consequently, that Ueshiba Sensei was angry with him.

The Yoshinkan did not actually separate from the Aikikai. In those days there were many left homeless by the war living in the Aikikai dojo. The dojo was barely operating. Thus Shioda Sensei was among the first to significantly contribute to the postwar development of aikido. I think that the establishment of the Yoshinkan served as a good stimulus for the Aikikai. At that time were there any kata for the basic techniques like you have now?

Yes, there were. Practice at Yoshinkan is conducted following commands. When we became trainee instructors I went to teach the Youth Education Corps of the self-defense force which is headquartered in Kinugasa in Yokosuka City. When I taught them “tai no henko” (body turning exercise), one of the young men asked me something like, “Sir, how many degrees should we open our legs?” or “What percentage of weight should be shifted forward over our centers?” (Laughter). I didn’t have any answer for him but I had to say something. I responded: “There is no exact degree or percentage involved since everything changes depending on the amount of power of the opponent.” I then demonstrated several examples. I talked my way out of it like that. It was around then that the trainee instructor system was established. It was suggested that some basic forms should be established to teach future groups in order to deal with questions posed during seminars. They fixed the degree of turn of tai no henko, the practice method of “hiriki no yosei” (development of joint power) and various technical points and developed the system of verbal commands. We began to teach techniques breaking them down into component parts and using commands in 1955 or 56.

It may be that the use of such methods led to the success of the Yoshinkan.

Yes. You can still teach a large number of people with a few instructors. As students practice in one-two-three fashion they begin to understand techniques. So when you tell them to do all of the parts of the movement from beginning to end they can execute complete techniques. Although practicing in this way helps students to learn faster and more thoroughly, the problem is that the techniques themselves become stiff. There are no flowing movements. Since we want to avoid this we have those above 1st dan practice free techniques. So for tests the lower kyu levels are allowed to execute techniques in a one-two-three manner but those of the shodan level have to do free techniques. We check to see if they are leading the attacker and moving and turning properly.

Would you relate some of the old episodes you have heard from Shioda Sensei?

I heard such stories between breaks in practice or when we traveled for demonstrations. We heard a lot about Ueshiba Sensei too. Shioda Sensei told us that O-Sensei would often carry an iron fan on the train when he went to give a demonstration. He would say to Shioda Sensei handing him the fan, “Shioda, strike my head whenever you find any opening!” Then he would begin to doze off. Shioda Sensei waited thinking that if he tried to strike him right after Sensei began to doze off, O-Sensei would know it. Then when he thought that the time to try had arrived, O-Sensei would suddenly wake up and ask, “Have we reached the station yet?” (Laughter) When Shioda Sensei hid the iron fan replying that they hadn’t yet arrived O-Sensei would say, “Oh, is that so?” and then doze off again. Then Shioda Sensei pretended he was looking outside while glancing over at O-Sensei. Finally, Shioda Sensei thought the time had arrived since O-Sensei looked fast asleep. But the moment he was thinking that, O-Sensei opened his eyes and said: “Gee, I’m thirsty.” (Laughter) The same cycle was repeated about three times but Shioda Sensei began to feel ridiculous and put the fan down since he had been making an effort to stay awake. Later when Shioda Sensei asked Ueshiba Sensei if he could tell when he was going to strike him, he apparently responded that he had woken up because he felt a funny feeling. It seemed that O-Sensei did not have the feeling of being attacked by an opponent. However, for the person attempting to attack him, O-Sensei seemed to have read his mind.

It may have to some extent have been good training for Ueshiba Sensei, don’t you think?

That’s right. There is another story I often hear. When Shioda Sensei was still a student at Takushoku University he had a friend who was a very good fighter and he once said to Sensei: “You’re always telling me how strong Ueshiba Sensei is but I could easily hit the old man in the head. Why don’t you introduce him to me?” So one day Shioda Sensei took him to the dojo. They both sat in front of Ueshiba Sensei and Shioda Sensei introduced his friend as the person he had spoken about. Then his friend bowed deeply and said, “How do you do?” However, even though Ueshiba Sensei said “You are most welcome”, he didn’t bow his head. O-Sensei always insisted that his students be polite to everyone but in this case he didn’t bow at all. On the other hand, Shioda Sensei’s friend remained with his head bowed. Shioda Sensei wondered what the two were doing. Then the moment his friend raised his head Ueshiba Sensei bowed saying, “You are most welcome.” (Laughter) Finally the young man bowed again and said: “You have beaten me!” Then they talked about various things. When Shioda Sensei ushered him out, he said to his friend: “You didn’t even touch his head.” His friend’s reply was, “If you are greeted by someone you are meeting for the first time you bow, don’t you? I thought I might at least be able to touch his head even if I could not strike him. But he didn’t bow at all. I thought this wouldn’t work and raised my head but he, on the contrary, bowed his head then and I missed my chance to strike him. That old man is no ordinary person.” When Shioda Sensei went back to the dojo and asked Ueshiba Sensei why he didn’t bow to his friend even though he was just a student, his reply was, “Your friend had an evil heart in the beginning and didn’t greet me sincerely. But he seems to have changed his attitude and so I bowed to him. He freely admitted that he had been beaten.” (Laughter) Concerning that incident Shioda Sensei later told us the following: “If this young man had hit or touched Sensei’s head, O-Sensei would have thrown or pinned him. But it wouldn’t not have been budo then. The secret of budo is to become friends with your opponent the moment you face him. It is the lowest level imaginable to still be involved with hitting or pinning your opponent. aikido is much deeper than that.” He really convinced me.

Did you ever hear any stories about Tsutomu Yukawa?

I have heard some. I understood he was a really strong man. I heard that he lifted up straw rice-bags with ease. However, when Ueshiba Sensei arm-wrestled with him he had no trouble beating Yukawa. It is not power which is important. Yukawa held a high rank in judo if I remember correctly. One day a man who had perhaps a 5th dan in judo came to the dojo and Yukawa was told to practice with him. He was stopped by the man in the middle of the technique. Then a junior high school student named Zenzaburo Akazawa came up to them, took the hand of the big man and threw him. O-Sensei came up to Yukawa and said: “You have a lot of ability in aikido. But you cannot show your real ability because your mind is on unnecessary things like judo. Sabu-chan (Zenzaburo) could execute the technique easily because he did it with a pure mind.” After that Yukawa could execute shihonage properly on the same man.

We would like to ask you about episodes involving Shioda Sensei himself.

There are various things I want to mention about Shioda Sensei too. When I was a trainee instructor I still doubted somewhere in my mind if aikido would really work. Whenever Sensei had guests he would give demonstrations for them and one time while he was demonstrating I was taking falls in a “two-man attack” technique. Suddenly Shioda Sensei turned his back. I wondered for a second whether I could attack him from behind and thought it would be a disaster if Sensei missed a technique. I didn’t yet have enough confidence in aikido or Shioda Sensei then. I decided I didn’t care and went to attack him. However, he suddenly disappeared. Then my legs were swept out from under me and I fell. From that time on I’ve felt that I could attack him seriously without worrying even if he is looking in another direction.

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