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Hideo Ohba Biography (1)

by Fumiaki Shishida

Aiki News #85 (Summer 1990)

Kenji Tomiki Sensei spent his lifetime on the development of Tomiki Aikido, and is rightfully credited as an outstanding innovator in the field of martial arts. What many don’t know is that in the shadow of this great educator stood another, Hideo Ohba, who worked alongside Tomiki Sensei as his lifelong assistant, and whose own studies in weapons arts also contributed to Tomiki Aikido. Fumiaki Shishida, Japan Aikido Association shihan, recounts Ohba Sensei’s early years from his boyhood to his days in Manchuria with Tomiki Sensei in this first of two parts.


Hideo Ohba Sensei

Hideo Tozawa was born on April 27, 1911 at 55 Kawahara Azawakamiko Nakakawamura, Senhoku-gun, Akita Prefecture. He was the second son and fifth of eleven children born to Teiichi and Taka Tozawa.

When Teiichi was in the eighth grade his father, Tsunekichi, died and he left middle school and started to work at the Arakawa Mine. At first he analyzed ores in the mine and then after, without formal education, he studied refining techniques and became a refining engineer. Later he moved and worked for a copper mine in Okayama and for the Omotani Mine in Fukui.

When Teiichi moved to the copper mine in Okayama, Hideo was in the first grade. In his childhood, Hideo was very obedient and even had a gentle voice. His older sisters called him Hideko, a girl’s name, instead of Hideo. He was often teased by his classmates because he spoke in a strong Kakunodate dialect.

Hideo’s older sister Mitsuko (her nickname was “Jo”) recalls this episode. When they were children it was their responsibility to spread out everyone’s futon (Japanese-style mattress). Mitsuko says she thought that Hideko, Hideo’s nickname, was unfair because he was in fact so strong that he could do almost all of their chore himself, pulling all the futon out of the closet and spreading them quickly with his hands and feet, while on the other hand all she did was put out the pillows. Hideo was quite considerate towards his older sister and gentle to his younger sisters as well.

Hideo’s father was not satisfied with him because he was so quiet and modest towards everyone. Norio, his older brother, did not really know what to do when he was told by his father to take revenge for Hideo when his classmates teased him. Teiichi was feared by his children since he liked to scold them when he would drink before dinner. Hideo trusted his older brother Norio the most. Norio was embarrassed that Hideo liked him so much and always followed him around. Norio had a gentle and democratic mind, which was exceptional for an oldest son raised in an age of male supremacy and dominance. After his father’s death, he reorganized the family and was never concerned about the order in which the family sat at the table. The influence of his brother on Hideo’s personality in his childhood may be found in the fact that he was always helpful to his juniors even late in his life although he demanded a strict relationship between teacher and student.

Teiichi moved his family from Fukui to Zarumachi Taruyama in Akita City and left them there while he went to work in a mine in Korea. For the time being their life in Zarumachi was not bad with Teiichi’s retirement pension to help support them. By the time Norio finished middle school (ninth grade) their father returned from Korea and the family moved to Okazaki, Kamishiro. Because of the steep decline in the copper market he returned from Korea after only a two-year stay, and began to work for an insurance company. Gradually, however, the family became poorer and their mother had to work hard selling goods or serving drinks at the house. It was under these circumstances that Hideo attended Kakunodate Middle School.

Hideo would carry an empty barrel in his bicycle basket when he rode the mile and a quarter each way to and from Kakunodate Middle School. On his way home through town he would stop in at Goi Liquor Shop to buy sake and brought it home to help with his mother’s small business. He was not a very studious boy, but he loved Judo. During his five years at Kakunodate Middle School he was a member of the Judo Club. Because of his natural physique and strength, he became captain of the club during his last year.

School Days At Kakunodate Middle School

Hideo entered the public middle school in Kakunodate, newly established by Akita Prefecture, in its very first year on April 8, 1925. According to Mr. Suekichi Miura who was nine years his junior at the school, Hideo went to school from his house in Okazaki, Kamishiro Village with Yoshio, his younger brother. They used to get along so well with each other that people around them were jealous. Mr. Miura also recalled, “Since there were only one or two boys in an entire village who could enjoy the chance to attend middle school, I used to watch them, charmed by their school uniforms, black neckties and black caps striped with white. Quite unlike Yoshio, Hideo possessed an outstandingly perfect physique.” Mr. Sadaaki Fujimura, who was three years junior to Hideo at Kakunodate Middle School, and who used to be a member of the Kendo Club, reflected and said, “Hideo was polite and had such strong will-power that he could achieve whatever he wanted. He never argued with others. As a teacher, he was strict as well as kind and generous and was trusted by his students.”

Episodes As A Martial Artist

One day it was snowing heavily in Kakunodate, and the snow and ice on either side of the main street made it difficult to pass. Suddenly a one-horse sleigh came running toward Mitsuko and Hideo. Hideo grabbed Mitsuko and pushed her next to the glass door of the tailor’s shop along the street and then threw himself out of the way in order to avoid being run over by the sleigh. Naturally, the tailor who happened to be watching was amazed.

Another day when Hideo’s village flooded, Hideo carried his brother from his house in a barrel on his back and swam across the big river.

What was Hideo’s Judo like? According to Norio, his older brother who went to watch him in large competitions, his opponents were also well-trained and he could not beat them easily. However, one changes one’s opinion as one’s viewpoint changes and therefore many people acknowledged that he was strong. Mr. Tetsuzo Taguchi, former chairman of the prefectural assembly who went to school at the same time as Hideo said, “From the first year at school, Hideo had an outstandingly fine physique and he was so good at Judo that his seventh dan Judo teacher, Tokugoro Ito, was certain that he would become a good Judo practitioner.” In his fifth and last year at school, he became captain and graduated in the spring of 1930. After graduation, his Judo skills were acknowledged and he got a part-time position teaching the art at his school. At that time Hideo decided to go to Tokyo to train at the Kodokan, and he would stay at his sister’s in Tokyo while he was there. The next year, 1931, he was promoted to nidan. In that same year, Kenji Tomiki, who was to become Hideo’s sensei for the rest of his life, took a job teaching public affairs at Kakunodate Middle School, and from that time Hideo enjoyed learning from him and was greatly influenced by him.

The Fortunes Of War

In September of 1931, the Manchurian Incident broke out in the suburbs of Hoten in China, and in March of 1932 the foundation of the nation of Manchuria was declared. In 1931, Hideo began his service in the 17th regiment of the Akita infantry and was sent to the front lines in China. In the army, Hideo faced many dangerous situations on the battlefield in which he could have been killed. Let me recount some of the episodes he related to those close to him.

One time his unit attacked the enemy during the middle of the night, and there was a violent exchange of gunfire. As many bullets whizzed by his ears, Hideo continued to shoot his machine gun as hard as possible. When a superior officer came to take the exhausted Hideo’s place, he was finally able to take a rest. But when Hideo glanced back, he saw that the officer lay motionless. On the very spot where Hideo himself had been sitting and operating the gun and where he had felt as if all the bullets were avoiding him, the man lay dead. He pondered deeply the transience of life and the mysteries of fate.

Mr. Masaharu Uchiyama, former vice-president of the Japan Aikido Association [Tomiki Aikido controlling body] wrote in a note about what he heard about another of Hideo’s experiences during his military service.

In one battle the unit he belonged to was to fight against crack enemy troops. The battle was a see-saw struggle. A small number of men were chosen from Hideo’s unit and organized into a corps of fearless soldiers. His unit was supposed to sneak behind the enemy in the middle of the night in order to attack suddenly from behind at dawn to confuse them. Ohba Sensei took part in the party and carried a portable machine gun. The battle was incredibly violent. The enemy returned heavy fire at this sudden attack and the battle was long and fierce. They crept forward, moving to the right and left, keeping themselves hidden from the enemy’s countless shots. Ohba Sensei, as he had learned during his military training, ran quickly to the next cover during the ten seconds just after the enemy’s shooting stopped (it took ten seconds for the enemy soldiers to reload and take aim). Ohba told me that although he was slightly wounded he was able to survive while many others were killed.

The happiest moment of his military life was probably when he was awarded the Kinchi Kunsho [military decoration]. One day he was ordered by a commander to reconnoitre. He was to go out to the front lines and check whether the enemy was present or not; if he found no signs of the enemy, he was to wave the Japanese flag to signal the troops. These signals were essential for the commanders to decide whether or not they could advance their troops. However, this task involved him risking his life by allowing himself to become a target for the enemy. Hideo succeeded and was awarded the decoration and an annuity (150 yen) for carrying out his duty so well. The annuity helped to support Hideo when he married. His wife was glad for the extra income. Hideo was always most pleased when he could make his wife happy.

Mrs. Ohba-Japanese Koto Player

In 1933, after Hideo was demobilized and returned safely home, he began to teach again at Kakunodate Middle School as Tomiki Sensei’s assistant Judo teacher. In those days, Hideo would stay at school until dark and, in addition to Judo, was learning Kendo from Mr. Fujimura, a colleague who was the assistant Kendo teacher. He became fairly good at Kendo as well. However, his enthusiasm for Judo was even greater. Since Hideo came to know sophisticated and complex Judo techniques from Tomiki’s instruction, he would often spend his holidays visiting the Kodokan in Tokyo to do further training. In October 1935, he was awarded a fifth degree black belt from the Kodokan. When they had team competitions at the Kodokan, Hideo beat five or six members of the opposing team. At that time he was in his top Judo form.

Hideo was gentle and simple by nature. His hobby iare those days was playing the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute), which he was studying seriously with an instructor. One of his greatest pleasures was his visits to Keiko Ohba, a well-known young koto (Japanese harp) instructor in Yokote, whom he would ask for the opportunity to play koto/shakuhachi duets. He was fascinated by the pretty genius of a koto instructor, and thought that he would like to marry a woman who could play the instrument. Eventually Hideo asked Keiko to marry him, and they were wed on September 3, 1936, taking Keiko’s family name, Ohba. They were in their youth then; Hideo was twenty-six years old and Keiko twenty-eight.

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