Aiki News #84 (Spring 1990)
New AIKI NEWS English Editor offers a glimpse of her life as a foreign aikidoist in Japan and gives an insider’s view on Tomiki aikido.
Diane, how long is it now that you have been in Japan?
You’re a fairly tall person, certainly by Japanese standards, and also, of course, you’re a foreigner. Would you tell us what it was like when you first joined the Tomiki group at Waseda University and the club at Okubo Sports Kaikan?
It was very funny. Once, we were doing a movement exercise, where we stand tegatana to tegatana and practice moving and responding to the other person’s movement around the dojo. I knew enough about the basics at that point to know that you were supposed to be at least looking at the person’s eye level, and certainly not at their hand. My partner was sort of looking at my throat. So I said, “Me-tsuke, look at my eyes.” And he said, “But they’re blue! I’ve never had to do tegatana with a person with blue eyes!” As a university organization, the Waseda Club is by definition a closed group, but finally, after three years, they really consider me as sort of a special member, and that’s unusual. It was much harder with them than it was with the Okubo club, where they accepted me from the beginning.
Waseda University, as Kenji Tomiki Sensei’s alma mater, occupies a special place in Tomiki aikido. Would you describe the importance of the University and the club there?
Well, it was really Tomiki Sensei’s testing ground for the formation of his own style. He had done a little bit of his own experimentation when he was in Manchuria at Kenkoku University [in the late 1930s and 40s], but he really started trying to figure out how to make a kind of aikido that had randori or free-practice in it at Waseda. He did this as the coach of the Judo club and as a professor in the Physical Education Department. He would work with the Judo club, and after Judo practice he would have an additional aikido practice where he taught students techniques employing an aikido ma-ai (combative distance), and kansetsu (joint locks) and atemi-waza (striking techniques) that weren’t allowed in Judo because he thought they were important. He believed they were a part of Judo. He felt that it was something that Kano Sensei had left out and that should be brought back in. Eventually, some people ended up preferring those techniques over Judo, and gradually, in about 1958, the real aikido club was formed, separate from the Judo club. So he was there at Waseda University for the rest of his working life after World War II. It was there that Tomiki aikido really was developed.
Diane, you began your aikido career, not in Japan, but in Indiana.
At Indiana University.
When you started learning Tomiki aikido was it because that was the style practiced at the dojo near you, or did you check out several styles and then decide on it?
At that time in Bloomington, I don’t think there was any other aikido. When I started I had no idea that there was any difference. But fairly early on my instructor explained the situation.
Tomiki aikido is known generally among other aikidoists as the competitive form of aikido. Would you describe how much emphasis is placed on competition in practice sessions?
Many people mistakenly assume that we do aikido in order to compete. Actually, competition is just one portion of a very wide spectrum. Tomiki Sensei always used to tell Yamaguchi Sensei, who now tells me, “Randori and kata are the same.” Without randori, kata techniques have no meaning. They don’t mean anything without the chance to test them against a person who is not cooperating 100 percent. Randori without kata is just wrestling, it isn’t aikido. You need the kata techniques in order to do randori. Shiai or competition is just one level of randori. We practice against various levels of resistance. Competition is just one small portion of Tomiki aikido.
As someone who comes from the aikikai style, but who has been around a fair amount, an interesting question comes to mind. In the Tomiki style, one of the rationale for including competition is the belief that mere practice of techniques without actual resistance will not enable a person to use them in a real situation. What would you say that the conclusion of Tomiki aikido stylists is about the effectiveness of aikido techniques in a situation where the opponent is resisting?
After many years of practice, and at high levels, one can execute an effective technique while doing randori or shiai. Sometimes even in the dojo while playing against someone you get a moment when an opening presents itself. You react just right and pull off a technique you know is “real aikido.” It happens, but not often. I would say that it requires a highly skilled player to do it. Unless you get a chance to practice going for an opening, where the openings are changing and shifting, you really can’t learn to seize the exact moment to apply the right technique. That skill is the highest level of aikido. I think some Tomiki players can.
It’s my understanding that the actual number of techniques that end up being used in competition is really fairly limited. Could you describe about how many there are, and maybe mention which techniques seem to actually have applications in real situations?
In the first place, we are actually sort of limited as to the number of possible techniques. We have a randori no kata of seventeen techniques, which are supposed to be the basis for the techniques used in shiai. Of course there are lots of variations on them, but basically it is required that the techniques used in competition be from among those seventeen plus two Judo techniques which we are allowed to use, ippon seoinage, and makikomi. There are about five techniques used frequently. Shomenate, an atemi directly against the chin, is very often used, also in combination with other waza. The real trick is to be able to combine techniques instantly when responding. Another useful technique is waki-gatame, an elbow lock where you clamp the opponent’s arm against your body. It’s not a pin, it’s a standing bar.
We would call it a hiji-waza, an elbow technique.
Then there is gedan-ate where you enter low under the opponent’s arm, and turn using your shoulder and arm, to send him flying. That’s a good one when somebody’s taller than you, and he is countering another technique that you’ve started. Often your opponent will counter in such a way that makes gedan-ate really easy, you just bowl ‘em over. People try to do sumi-otoshi, kotegaeshi and shihonage often, but they’re very hard techniques to get off because they’re easy to resist. However, they’re very good techniques to set yourself up for another technique.
Is the use of atemi or atemi feints allowed?
Yes. A really nice combination technique is to come in like you’re about to do shomenate. As your opponent reacts usually bringing up an arm, you just bring that arm into waki-gatame. You can also do a number of combinations from atemi. They’re very useful to start a combination.
There’s the question of nomenclature within the Tomiki aikido world. I understand that there was an international meeting held last June, and the official term or terms decided on to refer to Tomiki aikido outside of Japan and within Japan were different.
We do have bit of an identity crisis right now. Just as with O-Sensei and the different names he used throughout his career, Tomiki Sensei used different names for his aikido throughout his lifetime. People who started at one time prefer one name while people who came along later prefer a different name. It seems that Tomiki Sensei did not really want his art to be called “Tomiki aikido.” He wanted to have a name like Kano’s Kodokan to represent the style. He had a name “Shodokan.” Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it was towards the end of his life that he came up with that name. Also, it was attached to one specific dojo, which made other people feel sort of excluded. There was the potential for the Shodokan to get too much emphasis, when in fact there were lots of people all over doing this style of aikido.
It’s been called “Aikido Kyogi,” which is “Competition Aikido.” It’s also been called “Sport Aikido,” and it’s been called Tomiki aikido both inside and outside of Japan. At that meeting it was agreed to call it Tomiki aikido in English because we have an additional problem with the word Shodokan outside of Japan. It’s too similar to Shotokan Karate. It’s funny because there was a little bit in a recent Black Belt magazine about our first international tournament last year, and they got the spelling of the name wrong. They printed “Shotokan Aikido.” As an aikidoka, it bothers me, and it’s very misleading to the public. I think it would be very difficult to prevent that from happening. So Shodokan is too much like Shotokan for English speakers. In Japan the art is still referred to by many different names, but the one I see most often is aikido Kyogi.
For AIKI NEWS readers who have not yet noticed it, Diane has recently joined our staff as English Editor, and her role is becoming increasingly more prominent now that we are publishing two separate magazines, one in Japanese and one in English. Diane, would you explain how you first came upon the magazine.
Well, I don’t know if you remember it, but shortly after I first got arrived in Japan, I bought a copy of your Complete Guide to Aikido. I was looking through its list of articles published in AIKI NEWS, and noticed several about Tomiki Sensei. As an information hoarder I had to have them. I looked at your bibliography too as I had been keeping up my own at that time. So I thought I’d better call you and give you some additional bibliographical information, and see if I could get those back issues. I called, and you said, “Come on over.” I did, and bought some back issues. At that time, we were both busy with lots of things. I would send you a letter once in a while and we kept in contact. My association with AIKI NEWS really started when you attended the Sport Aikido tournament last year in Tenri. You came down to tape the event for the Tomiki video. At that point I was involved in a couple of other aikido publishing projects. It seemed to make sense as a rewriter and aikidoka to see if I could help out with some of your rewriting work. Then it sort of snowballed.
(The full article is available for subscribers.)