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Interview with Seigo Okamoto Shihan (02)

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #84 (Spring 1990)

Seigo Okamoto, head of the Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu Roppokai, studied under Kodo Horikawa, a top student of Sokaku Takeda. In the Daito-ryu world where secrecy and tradition are strongly emphasized, Okamoto Sensei has adopted an open approach. In this second installment of our two-part interview he talks about the Roppokai and its techniques.

Seigo Okamoto Sensei

Did you practice Daito-ryu at Kodo Horikawa Sensei’s dojo in Hokkaido while you were working?

I was never absent from the dojo until I left Hokkaido and came to Tokyo in 1977. I went up to Hokkaido again to participate in Sensei’s 88th birthday celebration. Sensei taught until he was 82 or 83, though he would do only one or two techniques. When I started practicing the art, he was about 69 years old and was very strict in the class.

How many students were there at the dojo then?

There were about 30 students in the Kitami Dojo at the time I entered. We used to use a private Judo dojo in town.

Horikawa Sensei passed away after you came down to Tokyo. Did you establish the Roppokai after you became independent?

That’s right.

When did Horikawa Sensei pass away?

I think he died on October 30, 1980. That year I was running my dojo as the Tokyo branch of the Kodokai. I established the Roppokai after he passed away. In the beginning, I was not planning to do so. I only wanted to support its activities. However, there were many difficulties in communicating with the people in Hokkaido because of the distance, so I decided to establish a separate group. It seems that in the Kodokai, they call the Sapporo Dojo the Sapporo Main Dojo and the Kitami Dojo the Kitami Headquarters Dojo.

What is the origin of the name “Roppokai”?

Roppo can be understood in a variety of ways, such as the roppo of roppogumi [six groups of chivalrous young men who used to wander the city streets in the Edo period]. Or it can be equated with the roppo from the kabuki term roppo o fumu of Benkei [a priest of the early Kamakura period and a famous retainer of Yoshitsune Minamoto. Roppo o fumu means to make one’s exit with bold gestures along the runway]. However, I usually compare roppo to gaming dice to describe techniques which can deal with any situation from any direction, top or bottom, front or back, right or left, like the faces of dice. But these techniques do not have square angles like dice but are round, forming six (roku) infinite circles. I am eager to get as many meanings as I can out of the term.

It seems that there are many differences among Daito-ryu techniques.

I have not often viewed the techniques of other schools. I have seen them only at the demonstration held by the Headmaster [Tokimune Takeda]. When I entered Horikawa Sensei’s dojo, there were some people from other schools who criticized his techniques when they saw them saying that he could not really execute a technique with such a small movement and that his students were very meek. However, I believe that there were no such stupid, critical men among the students, seniors and juniors alike of Kodo Sensei. We followed him because his techniques were real. However, there were many who could not continue their practice for long because they found the techniques too difficult.

I have learned a lot since I came to Tokyo. In the Roppokai there are some students who have practiced another school’s art for more than 20 years or who are instructors of another art, but they all recognize my art and are gradually making progress mastering techniques which I think is great. I really feel that I must continue to practice all my life.

Does each technique have a name?

Yes, but I don’t remember them very well unless I refer to the scroll. In class we use terms like ikkajo and nikajo, but usually we have terms only for basic techniques. When we practice applied techniques, the name as well as the kata (form) become very vague. It is very difficult to express the terms and meanings written in the scroll. A term such as hanmihandachi or kashiwade (clapping-hands) is easy to understand, but a technique like fure aiki (aiki technique executed by a mere touch) is not described anywhere in the scroll.

How many basic techniques do you practice?

There are about ten basic techniques. It takes a full three hours if you try to practice them thoroughly, such as when I demonstrate each technique first, explain it, and then have the students try it. But it is impossible to master these basic techniques perfectly in such a short period. However, once you have advanced to a certain level, you become able to execute aiki. There isn’t much aiki in basic techniques, but when you are able to execute them smoothly, you are able to execute aiki techniques.

Many people try to define the meaning of aiki in various ways. Some refer to the original meaning of aiki as the harmony between one and his opponent (ki ga au), while others say that the term aiki can be used for techniques which really work. I think that these are all correct. Everyone has his own way of understanding aiki and therefore everyone has his own way of expressing it.

Are there are some Aikidoka who try to learn Daito-ryu techniques in order to improve their own Aikido?

Yes, that’s right. I do not refuse anyone who comes to me. We have an Aikido instructor at our Osaka branch dojo. I think that he is probably utilizing the techniques he learns from us in his Aikido techniques.

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