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Interview with Shigenobu Okumura (1991)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #87 (Winter/Spring 1991)

During Ueshiba Sensei’s visits to Manchuria did he refer to Sokaku Takeda Sensei?

No, he didn’t talk about him much. By that time he was already running his own dojo where he taught. He was also teaching both at the Naval and Army Academies. Admiral Isamu Takeshita was among the famous people who were his students in those days.

Did Admiral Takeshita ever go to the dojo after the end of World War II?

I didn’t see him during that time because I was not released until 1948, three years after the end of the war. When I returned to Japan from Siberia, an admiral by the name of Sankichi Takahashi, who had been Commander-in-chief of the combined Japanese fleet, had just been released from Sugamo Prison [where Japanese war criminals were held]. He came to the dojo, but I don’t think Admiral Takeshita ever did during that period.

Admiral Takeshita died in 1949.

Mr. Takahashi came to the dojo many times. I think he was the most eager aikido practitioner among the Naval Academy students. He has already passed away. He was also an Admiral. There were many high-ranking military officers, including generals and admirals, among O-Sensei’s students.

I have heard that an illustrated textbook of aikido was used at the Nakano School or at the Toyama School. Do you know anything about this book?

You may be referring to a book of rules for teaching taijutsu to the military police. It was a small-sized book designed to be used as a textbook. But at that time the regulations concerning taijutsu had not yet been formalized; they were only provisional. It was quite small and thick, with a few illustrations; it merely listed regulations. It was not intended for publication because the plan it contained was only tentative. The taijutsu described in that textbook was the old style, from which modern taihojutsu (arrest techniques) of the Metropolitan Police Board came. The present system is more complete, and many people are still contributing their ideas to it. The book does not contain the term aikido; it covers the rules for teaching taijutsu.

In our previous conversation with you [AN58-59] we talked about the International Aikido Federation, and at that time you said that the present aikido world was being splintered into different factions, though you didn’t feel that any new schools would arise from this split. Can you comment about your current views of this situation?

Right now the Ueshiba school is in sole charge of the federation.

It would be wonderful if unity could be realized through a single organization.

I agree with you. But now each school has begun to establish its own organization or international organization, so it has become increasingly difficult to create such an ideal union of all of the aikido world.

Yes, it would be difficult. The martial arts world is organized vertically, which is quite different from the horizontal structure of a democratic society.

I once tried to persuade Tomiki Sensei that if he were to devise new ideas which were different from those of O-Sensei, it would be better if he taught them using a name other than aikido. That way his art could be developed. You can see that tendency in the history of the development of Japanese martial arts. So he should have changed the name.

The case was the same with Jigoro Kano Sensei. He had learned Kito-ryu and Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu during his days at Tokyo University. Later he established his own school based on these two schools, but under the newly-devised name, Kodokan Judo. Today both the Tenjin Shin’yo-ryu and the Kito-ryu still exist as old-style Japanese martial arts. Tomiki Sensei should have done the same as Kano Sensei, adding his own new ideas to aikido, then using another name for his new style.

All aikido practitioners use the name aikido; so for example, at Waseda University there are several different aikido clubs including Ueshiba-style, Tomiki-style and Tohei-style. I think this may confuse students. Noriaki Inoue Shihan has used the name Shin’ei Taido for his art, and I think all aikidoka should follow his example and use new names for new developments in aikido to avoid confusion.

I think the Yoshinkan style is rather similar to ours at the Aikikai Hombu. At any rate, I think that it would be best if we were all united. But I have heard that the Yoshinkan has recently established an international organization.

Do you have any good ideas for the present-day aikido world? I think it is best to create new names for new kinds of aikido.

Despite what I may think, in the end aikido practitioners will do as they like. If any organization is to be established in the future, I think it is essential that it be flexible. Otherwise many people will break away from it. The best way to sustain such a group is to promote mutual understanding, and to communicate effectively with each other. To avoid misinformation, or the loss of a certain percentage of information both to and from the center of the organization, avenues of communication must be direct from the center to each dojo and must not be filtered through other organizations or people.

In Japan the “headmaster” system exists in all kind of arts, such as tea ceremony and flower arranging. It has both good and bad points. I think it is a version of the Imperial system, that is, at the top is the Master, or Emperor. But in Europe the head-master system does not exist; they work horizontally, not vertically.

I agree with you. Western systems tend not to be vertical.

That is why after the war, people who had established new systems became independent of their former master and became masters in their own right.

I have heard of many cases of this happening.

So, I asked Tomiki Sensei to change the name of his aikido to something else, and then try to popularize it. Otherwise, original aikido would be mixed-up with Tomiki Sensei’s aikido and a great deal of confusion would result. The aikido which Ueshiba Sensei founded has no concept of competition in it. In this sense, it is totally different from Tomiki Sensei’s aikido.

When Tomiki Sensei started working on his new ideas for aikido did he talk with Ueshiba Sensei and ask his advice?

Yes, he did, but Ueshiba Sensei strongly opposed his ideas.

When was this?

About 30 years ago, after Tomiki Sensei had returned to the Aikikai after the war, and started to work at Waseda University. What do you think about competition in martial arts? You must be familiar with James Michener’s book, The Crisis in Sports. In it, Michener wrote that competition sports spoil a person. Even at the Olympic Games we have seen some typical competitors who went so far as to take drugs to win.

That’s right, throughout the history of humanity, sports has been treated as a kind of preparation for war.

This is why Ueshiba Sensei used to say that Japanese martial arts did not need to be made into sport. I think any sport the goal of which is competition is not suitable for a long-lived society. The age-limit for competition sumo or judo seems to be about the 30s. Only kata martial arts can be practiced at one’s own pace. People in their 70s or 80s can only practice arts such as aikido, iai and t’ai chi ch’uan, which allow one to practice at one’s own pace regardless of age. Even Yamashita [Japanese judo champion] and Chiyonofuji [sumo Grand Champion] will not be able to continue forever, and I think that this is a pity. Thus, I recommend a way of training which does not have competition as a goal, but rather one in which each individual can, through hard training, come to understand on his or her own terms. In this sense, I believe that aikido and t’ai chi ch’uan are the best. Thus, I told Mr. Tomiki that we did not need to have Japanese martial arts imitate European sports, and I find that Michener, an American, agrees. So I feel certain that Japanese martial arts should survive only by traditional training in forms. Judo has become an Olympic event and regrettably Kano Sensei’s spirit has been lost in present-day judo.

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