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Interview with Ikkusai Iwata (1)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #85 (Summer 1990)

Did you begin your study of Aikido at about the time the Kobukan dojo was built?

It was before that. I entered the dojo when Ueshiba Sensei was at Mejiro. It was in 1930.

Was it a dojo in a private house?

Yes. It was Sensei’s temporary residence before he moved to the Hombu Dojo in present Wakamatsu-cho. At that time I was staying in Tokyo in a place similar to present student dormitories, which was called Kojosha at the Shuyodan [a private school where the cultivation of mind and spirit is pursued]. The superintendent was Kenzo Futaki Sensei who was studying at Morihei Sensei’s dojo and was also known as a brown rice enthusiast. He also took on the role of father for all the students there. I did my own cooking for the first time in my life, using brown rice. Since it was a place for moral training, life was really strict. We got up at six in the morning and the person in charge cooked breakfast for everybody. We started our meals after we recited a pledge to pursue “Diligence, training and friendship.” The life there was like that. Since we were there to cultivate ourselves, we were not allowed to use a brazier even in the winter. So we used to move around vigorously to warm ourselves by burning energy [laughter]. We would do that for about an hour and then return to our room for study.

Ikkusai Iwata in action c. 1975

There was a man called Mr. Montaro Mori who was a student of the Tokyo Imperial University, which later became Tokyo University, and he and I and some others used to frisk around together. Although Mr. Mori was not well-built physically, he threw us easily, which was a complete mystery to us. There was a man called Mr. Nagasaki who was a 4th dan in Judo and he was also thrown easily. We asked Mr. Mori what technique he used and he said that he used something called “Aikijutsu.” The techniques were called Aikijutsu then, I believe. We asked where he had learned it and he said he learned it at a dojo close to our place. I asked him to take us there once and this is how we went to the dojo.

It was the dojo in Mejiro, wasn’t it?

That’s right. It was an ordinary house. We entered through a simple gate. Then we saw Mr. Kamata [Hisao Kamata who entered the dojo as a live-in student around 1930J coming toward us. He knew Mr. Mori. We followed them to the dojo. There were two rooms there, one an 8-mat and the other a 6-mat room with very low ceilings. There was a sliding door between the two rooms. They opened this door a little and practice began. Since the ceiling was low, standing techniques were impossible to do. I went there because I was interested in the art, and so I popped into the dojo and began practicing by asking the students how to do techniques. Then suddenly a short man with intense eyes appeared from a back room and shouted, “You! Insolent fellow!” I wondered who was being scolded, but he told me that he meant me. I was surprised because I had no intention of being insolent to anybody. “Do you mean, me?” I asked, and he nodded and asked who had given me permission to practice at the dojo. I told him that in fact nobody had given me permission but explained that I came with Mr. Mori, which I thought was all right. He said “That is what I call insolence.” I asked him what I should do in order to receive instruction. He told me that I should bring him a letter of introduction from a “certain” person. I wondered who this “certain person” could be [laughter]. I asked Mr. Mori who had written the letter he had brought to Sensei and he said that he had brought a letter from Futaki Sensei. Futaki Sensei was the superintendent of our place and was also like our father. I asked Sensei if I could bring a letter of introduction from Futaki Sensei and he said that this was all right. So when I returned to my boarding house, I called Futaki Sensei and told him that I wanted to study Aikijutsu and would like to receive a letter of introduction from him. He immediately approved and said to me, “That is good. Young people should train a lot. Come to me at about six tomorrow evening.” I visited Mr. Futaki the next day and he wrote me a letter of introduction in the form of a scroll. With this letter in hand I immediately went to the dojo where I was received by Mr. Kamata again. I explained to him that since I now had a letter of introduction from Futaki Sensei, I would like to receive permission to enter the dojo. Then he let me in. There was a book which served as a student register list and since ink and a brush were prepared for me I wrote my name there. At that time you needed to pay an admission fee called sokushuryo to enter the dojo; I paid and received permission to be enrolled.

Things were very different from now. In those days, many people from the highest classes practiced at the dojo. Although numerous dangerous techniques have been omitted from the present Aikido, many of the techniques during those times were quite dangerous.

You continued to practice at the Kobukan dojo after that, didn’t you?

Yes, as a live-in student. In the beginning only Mr. Kamata and I were live-in students at the dojo. Since Mr. Inoue had a family then, he used to commute to the dojo from his home.

The dojo had just been built and was really new. We even used to polish the pillars [laughter]. Mr. Kaoru Funahashi came after that. I think it was around 1931. He has already passed away. He was the son of a believer of the Omoto religion and it was through that connection that he came to the dojo. He was a really good boy, I mean, in those days [laughter]. Then people like Tsutomu Yukawa, Gozo Shioda, Shigemi Yonekawa and Rinjiro Shirata entered the dojo and the number of students increased.

In those days, the dojo was not called “Aikikai” but “Kobukai.” I went to Shanghai and opened an Aikido dojo as a branch dojo of the Kobukai in 1940.

How long did you stay there?

I returned to Japan after the war. The war ended on August 15, 1945, but I could not come back immediately and returned to Japan the following year. So, I was in Shanghai for about six or seven years, from 1939 to 1946.

You speak fluent Chinese then?

No. Since China is a big country, there are many different ethnic groups, which means many different languages. Today Northern Mandarin is standard Chinese but it is not used in Shanghai. You could make yourself understood with it, but in Shanghai the Ninpo language is used. I speak Ninpo, or Shanghai Chinese, a little.

Did the Daito-ryu art have a strong influence during the Kobukan period?

Yes, it did. Sokaku Takeda Sensei often came to the dojo.

What kind of person was Takeda Sensei?

Well, let’s see. He had a very strong character. He was small, smaller than I am, perhaps less than five feet tall.

Takeda Sensei used to shout out how much it would cost to learn a technique whenever he taught. For example, he would say things like “You pay 30 yen if you want to learn this technique!” I didn’t like this and couldn’t respect him for that. He was too public about money.

He also used to play shogi (a kind of Japanese chess). Although I myself didn’t know much about the game of shogi, Mr. Kamata liked it and would often play with Takeda Sensei. However, since Mr. Kamata was a live-in student and had various things to do in the dojo, he sometimes had to leave for work for a while in the middle of a game. Takeda Sensei would move a piece to his advantage during Mr. Kamata’s absence. I often witnessed scenes where Mr. Kamata would come back to the game and discover that the pieces were not as they had been before, and he would argue with Takeda Sensei about it, which was funny in a way.

However, Takeda Sensei had great techniques. He was a very able martial artist with a lot of ki power. He used to wear a pair of high wooden clogs called bokuba which were often worn in those days by students dressed in formal wear. He also carried a cloth pouch called a shingenbukuro over his shoulder and wore a Western style cloak. He looked like an actor from a Meiji period movie.

One day, I heard somebody shouting in a horrible voice at the entrance from the room which Mr. Kamata and I shared nearby.

I went out of the room to see what was happening and there I saw Takeda Sensei dressed just as I have described executing nikyo on a taxi driver. He was furious and shouting at the driver, “Who do you think I am? How dare you do such an insolent thing to me!” He was a man of violent temper.

Did Takeda Sensei teach directly at the Kobukan dojo?

That’s right. He was Ueshiba Sensei’s teacher, you know. Ueshiba Sensei respected Takeda Sensei and studied under him. Takeda Sensei was very good technically.

Did Takeda Sensei demonstrate techniques at the dojo?

He did things like opening an umbrella the moment an opponent came to cut him. He said “This is kasatori (umbrella technique).”

Were Takeda Sensei’s techniques at that time different from those of Ueshiba Sensei?

Let’s see. Today we use the terms like ikkyo and nikyo but in those days we used the terms ikkajo and nikajo. Since Takeda Sensei was a teacher who charged 30 ryo per technique, he didn’t demonstrate many techniques. He might have shown many if we had paid him 60 ryo. Ueshiba Sensei was a very modest man. He believed in the kami (deities). Takeda Sensei was not like Ueshiba Sensei.

Ueshiba Sensei did his best to serve his master, Takeda Sensei, during his occasional visits to the dojo. In a sense I was lucky to have been able to receive teaching not only from Ueshiba Sensei in his later years but also from Ueshiba Sensei while he was involved in the process of completing his art. If the art had been completed then, there would have been no further progress. Ueshiba Sensei always tried to continue his pursuit and I grew up constantly seeing him exhibit this attitude. I am now 76 years old but I still continue to do further study. I think this is because I received instruction from Ueshiba Sensei.

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