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Interview with Nobuyoshi Tamura (2)

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #67 (May 1985)

This is the second and final part of an interview with Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei which originally was conducted in two parts. The first session was held in Marseille, France on August 2, 1983 with Mr. Didier Boyet posing questions. The second portion of the interview took place on August 29, 1984 at the AIKI NEWS office in Tokyo and was conducted by AIKI NEWS Editor, Stanley Pranin.

Would you tell us about those events which were of significance in the spreading of aikido in the 1950s after the war when the art was still very little known?

I think the fact that the present Doshu quit his job in order to devote himself to aikido was the most important event. In order to spread aikido, it was important that the art be known. Thus a demonstration was organized around that time. We went anywhere if invited even if we had to take our own lunch with us. We went everywhere to places like schools, companies, Self-Defense Force installations and at the request of individuals. I am sure that demonstrations are nothing special nowadays but at that time it was unthinkable to present an aikido demonstration open to the public.

When O-Sensei was invited to the first Kobudo (old-style martial arts) demonstration held after the war, he said he wouldn’t participate himself but told Tohei Sensei to go instead. When Tohei Sensei asked O-Sensei what techniques he should show at the demonstration, he apparently said, “Anything you want. Do what you think is appropriate.” I think he probably thought that budo was not something to show to others and worried that once he showed his techniques they would be stolen. Therefore, when I started aikido there were many people who didn’t know about the art. I was often asked the following type of question: “Aikido? What’s that? Is that a kind of kiai jutsu?” That’s the way things were, so it seems that it was hard for Doshu to receive permission to give demonstrations from O-Sensei. Finally, we did receive permission but since nobody had ever demonstrated in public we were at an utter loss when planning a presentation, insofar as the length and content of the demonstration were concerned. We held a rehearsal demonstration and Okumura Sensei timed the length of the performance of each group with a stop watch and gave instructions to start or stop and told people when they took too long. Okumura Sensei’s image still appears clearly in my mind’s eye.

We understand that O-Sensei went to Hawaii with Tohei Sensei and yourself in 1961. What were your impressions of that trip?

I remember that personally I was very happy because it was my first opportunity to go abroad and also because I was able to accompany O-Sensei. What’s more, I felt easy because Tohei Sensei was along too. On our first day in Hawaii we stayed at a gorgeous hotel on Waikiki Beach. The next morning, O-Sensei angrily said that he was going to go back to Japan. It seemed that this was because he could not adjust the temperature of the shower and poured hot water over his head. (Laughter) It was quite a problem. Normally, those of us who accompanied O-Sensei stayed in a room next to him. But since we were staying in a western-style hotel for the first time we were unprepared. Then one of the members of their group, a person named Mr. Kagesa, let us stay in his detached house. I was very disappointed because I didn’t expect to have to stay in a Japanese-style room in Hawaii. Anyway, we received special treatment wherever we went.

To change the subject somewhat, is there any way for both Japanese and foreigners to understand O-Sensei’s philosophy?

I am often asked similar questions in Europe and the United States. I always answer that even if our features and the color of our skin are different, since we are all human beings, it certainly is not the case that any one race or culture is incapable of understanding it. Although I am not sure that aikido has what can be classified as a philosophy or not, I talk about O-Sensei’s teachings and my impressions of him to my students as far as I am capable of understanding. This might mean that what they can understand will be limited by my knowledge. Because of this it might also mean that it will take a long time for foreigners to understand O-Sensei’s thought. Since aikido is based on the assumption that the mind and body are one, if you can perform correct aikido techniques, your mind will go along with the body. On the other hand, if your mind doesn’t function in an Aiki way, it means that you will not be able to perform true techniques. I think it is true that one is capable of understanding the spirit of O-Sensei little by little through daily practice. Therefore, I practice in the hope that my spirit will approach O-Sensei’s level even to a small degree. O-Sensei often voiced the following complaint: “I have worked very hard to open up the Way of Aiki, but when I stop to look behind, I find no one following me.” Well, this was probably true. This means that the Aiki Path is extremely long not only for foreigners but also for Japanese.

When you went to France for the first time, what was the situation there like?

At that time, around 1964, the aikido population in France numbered about four to five hundred persons. There were supposed to have been only about seven or eight hundred in all of Europe. Then there were (Mutsuro) Nakazono Sensei and Mr. (Masamichi) Noro, one of my friends from my uchideshi years in France and (Aritoshi) Murashige Sensei was active in Belgium. During the same period, Mr. Kawamukai went to Italy and soon after Tada Sensei also went there. Around the time of my arrival in France, Nakazono Sensei and Mr. Noro were giving seminars not only in France but also in countries such as Belgium, Great Britain and Sweden. In other words, it was necessary to consider Europe as a whole rather than as individual countries.

Had (Tadashi) Abe Sensei already returned to Japan?

Mr. Masamichi Noro left Japan for France in 1962. Before his departure Abe Sensei returned to Japan. I remember that I visited Abe Sensei with Mr. Noro in order to hear about his experiences in Europe.

What was Mr. Nocquet doing at that time?

He was the first Frenchman to come to Japan for aikido training and stayed for two years (1955-57). It seems that at that time (around 1962) he was actively engaged in spreading aikido in Paris from his base in Bordeaux where he was born. His group belonged to the FFJDA (Federation Francaise de Judo et Disciplines Assimiles - French Federation of Judo and Related Disciplines) but he thought it was insulting for aikido to be placed under the auspices of Judo. Although Mr. Nocquet had acquired authority over the administration of aikido in France from Mr. Abe, Japanese senseis came to teach without his permission. Consequently, he had initiated legal action against the Aikikai. He had no contact with the Japanese at all.

What was the situation in France like when the International Aikido Federation was first established?

The Idea of establishing the IAF originated in Europe. This was to a certain extent in connection with Mr. Nocquet whom I mentioned earlier. When the French aikido group set up the ACFA (French Aikido Cultural Association), he established the CAT (Traditional Aikido Circle). When we set up the ACEA (European Aikido Cultural Association), he established the UEA (European Aikido Union). Things went on like this and we were worried that he would go so far as to establish a World Aikido Federation if we let him. So we decided to establish one first. At that time, France had the largest aikido population in Europe, some 440 to 450 dojos. Thus, France played a major role in the movement to establish the IAF. Of course, we received the approval of the Aikikai and worked together with it. The first meeting was held in Madrid in Spain where the President of the ACEA (later renamed the EAF, European Aikido Federation) resided and Doshu was invited to it. However, the Aikikai insisted that the first meeting must absolutely be held in Japan. Thus, the gathering in Madrid was considered a preparatory meeting and the first meeting was held on a large scale in Tokyo two years later. The President of the EAF at that time, Antonio Garcia De La Fuente, was head of the Spanish Judo Federation (which included an aikido club), also Secretary General of the World Judo Federation and Vice-President of the World Karatedo Federation. It was based on his advice that the IAF later decided to join the AGFIS (General Association of International Sport Federations).

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