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Founder of Aikido (31): The Kobukan Hell-Dojo Period (Part One)

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by Kisshomaru Ueshiba

Aiki News #60 (March 1984)

We would like to thank Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba for his kind permission to publish these chapter summaries.

In April of 1931 the first full-scale Aiki dojo was completed at the present Wakamatsu-cho location. To my ten-year-old boy’s eyes, the 80-mat dojo was a vast ocean. The formal opening was packed and the large number of military officers provided a special spectacle. The founder’s brave appearance made me forget my discontent about having a father who rarely ate or slept with his family and who was always going to different places to teach. That day I felt proud that this great person was my father. The new dojo was named the “Kobukan,” but its nickname, “the Hell Dojo of Ushigome,” soon became more popular.

Morale and enthusiasm were high and the number of new people soared despite the insistence on having a proper guarantor in order to be admitted to the dojo. There were 20 or more uchideshi (live-in students) alone. Most practitioners were young and generally big men with some judo or kendo experience, so practice was rather rough.

In addition to Yoichiro Inoue, Hisao Kamata, Hajime Iwata and Minoru Mochizuki, other early uchideshi at the Kobukan were Kaoru Funahashi, Tsutomu Yukawa, Aritoshi Murashige and Shigemi Yonekawa. Mr. Funahashi was a gentle and sincere man and herculean Mr. Yukawa could easily pick up two bales of rice. Both men waited on the founder and took care of him all day, everyday. Mr. Yukawa often would accompany the founder to different branch dojos as well. The impetuous founder often left him behind trudging along loaded down with luggage. “Yukawa, what happened to you?” he would shout, “You were supposed to be following me.” In fact, the founder favored him and rather enjoyed these scoldings. Mr. Murashige, who was devoted to the founder and helped in developing aikido, wrote an article for the “Aikido Newspaper” in 1962 which conveys a good sense of the founder during the “Hell Dojo” period.

O-Sensei, still in his fifties, was full of vigor. His voice was thick and sonorous and could make the uchideshi shrink with fear. He would blow up but his anger seemed to cool very quickly. His frequent laughter was loud, and after he had been angry it seemed all the more joyful.

Yonekawa recollected the life of the uchideshi at that time in this way:

The atmosphere of the dojo seemed so different from outside society. For the uchideshi, life was nothing but practice and martial arts. There was a clear distinction between seniors and juniors and though I was comparatively old, I observed those rules regardless of my age.

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