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Interview with Swordmaster: Kiyoshi Nakakura (2)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #79 (January 1989)

This is the second of a two-part interview with Kiyoshi Nakakura Sensei, 9th dan hanshi in both Kendo and Iaido and one of Japan’s top swordsmen. It was conducted on December 23, 1987 by Editor Stanley Pranin at the residence of Nakakura Sensei in Higashi Murayama City.

I believe Ueshiba Sensei taught at the Toyama School and the Military Police School?

Yes, he did teach at the Toyama School, the Military Police School and also the Naval Staff College sometimes but he did not receive a monthly salary from them. He received an honorarium every time he visited these places.

We understand that Admiral Isamu Takeshita studied under Ueshiba Sensei for a long time.

While I was at the Ueshiba Dojo, he was an adviser to the Kobukan or something of the sort. I met him many times and also visited his house. He was present at my wedding as well. He also practiced at the dojo. I understand that he left some 2,000 pages of notes of Ueshiba Sensei’s techniques.

Of course we now call the art “Aikido” but in those days a different name was used, I believe.

The art was called “Daito-ryu” because of the connection with Sokaku Takeda. Then a few years later it was changed to Aikido. It seems that while I was there, various names were used for the art. For example, “Aioi-ryu” or “Aiki Budo” and so on. I think that the name “Aikido” was used quite a bit later. The dojo was built before I enrolled but its name was changed to the Kobukan while I was there, probably around 1932 or 1933. The land used to be part of a mansion called the “Tsugaru” which was owned by a lord of Aomori Prefecture. The Ueshibas used to rent a section of about 100 tsubo (one tsubo = 3.954 sq. yds.). I think it was around the time I was leaving the dojo that they were asked to buy the land and they did.

How did Admiral Takeshita support Ueshiba Sensei?

When I was there Ueshiba Sensei never received money from him or anything like that. Sensei used to receive a gift during the traditional bon summer period and the end of the year from Admiral Takeshita and that was all. There was an association named the “Harada Sekizenkai” which contributed funds to places like the Ueshiba dojo and a man called Osumi who was an admiral was the president. Admiral Takeshita told Mr. Osumi about the Ueshiba dojo and the dojo used to receive 100 yen per month from this association. 100 yen at that time was quite a sum. I imagine that Admiral Takeshita was around 70 years old then.

I believe there were navy officers practicing at the dojo who had connections with the Omoto religion such as Admiral Seikyo Asano.

The Omoto religion did have a positive influence on Mr. Ueshiba as well as on Aikido. However, there were some negative aspects too. I think it is because Mr. Ueshiba was an Omoto believer that he created such divine techniques and also came to hold such a faith. So these are pluses. However, from our standpoint, a religion responsible for an inci-dent of lese-majeste is questionable. Actually, though, I don’t know now whether the activities of the religion were really disrespectful to the Emperor or not.

We understand that the second Omoto incident of 1935 (where the pre-war Japanese military suppressed the Omoto religion destroying much of its property) put Ueshiba Sensei in a very difficult situation. Do you know anything about the matter?

In the Omoto incident of 1935, Onisaburo Deguchi Sensei as well as his wife, the second successor of the religion, were arrested. Also, the Osaka police department was ordered to arrest Ueshiba by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. At that time he was instructing police officers including a Mr. Kenji Tomita who was then the chief of the Sonezaki Police Department and who later became the head of the Criminal Law Bureau. Mr. Tomita knew that Mr. Ueshiba was not the sort of person who would involve himself in a lese-majeste affair. Mr. Tomita insisted that if they were going to arrest Mr. Ueshiba, they would have to arrest him first. It was because of his efforts that Mr. Ueshiba was not detained.

Was Ueshiba Sensei in Osaka at that time?

That’s right. His wife, Hatsu, was also there. I was in Tokyo. Kisshomaru was here also. In the Ueshiba dojo there were shrines dedicated to Omoto deities and many framed calligraphic works by Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi hung on the wall. They were things which Mr. Ueshiba valued highly. However, I tore all of them down and burned them. The live-in students were surprised and asked me if it was all right for me to do so. However, it had nothing to do with being right or wrong. To hang up or display such things was a lese-majeste affair, you see. If Mr. Ueshiba’s wife was present then, I don’t think I could have done such a thing. I could only do it because nobody was there.

How many calligraphic works by Onisaburo Deguchi were burned then?

There were about four. There weren’t many works by Onisaburo Deguchi in Tokyo. That was because Admiral Takeshita disliked the Omoto religion.

We understand that Ueshiba Sensei went to instruct at the Noma dojo of the Kodansha Publishing Company. There were many photos taken at this Noma dojo which have survived.

Actually, Ueshiba Sensei never went to instruct at the Noma dojo. The son of Seiji Noma (founder of the Kodansha Company), Mr. Hisashi Noma, used to train at the dojo in Wakamatsu-cho. I think Ueshiba Sensei demonstrated Aikido there rather than taught it. It seems that Seiji Noma practiced Kendo in his youth but he was no longer doing it when we came to know him. He apparently was putting his energy into his son, Hisashi. He didn’t even have his son go to middle school but insisted he would educate his own child by himself. He thought that it would be a problem if his son was educated poorly and so he had tutors come to his house to have him study with them. Therefore, Hisashi Noma only graduated from elementary school.

We understand that Mr. Hisashi Noma participated in the Tenranjiai (tournament in the imperial presence).

He won the event in 1934. He was a student of the Yushinkan dojo. He went to train there when he was a child and was one year older than me. He died of cancer of the rectum at the young age of 30. He was a great man. If he were still alive he would be the president of the Kendo Federation now.

Do you know any-thing about Sokaku Takeda Sensei?

Sokaku Takeda Sensei would never fail to contact Ueshiba Sensei if he didn’t send him money for living expenses. That was the reason Mr. Ueshiba used to send him money. One time when Ueshiba Sensei happened not make a payment, Sokaku Sensei came to visit him at the Kobukan. I was there then. I heard something that sounded like an argument going on at the gate and went out of the dojo to find Takeda Sensei pushing a taxi driver into a gutter! It seems that the driver said something about money to Sokaku Sensei and so Sokaku got mad at him and pushed him into the gutter. (Laughter) So I apologized and paid the driver his money explaining that Sokaku Sensei was just an old martial artist. Then, Sokaku Sensei asked me where Ueshiba Sensei had gone and I replied that Sensei had gone down to Osaka. Next he asked where in Osaka he had gone and I answered that he went to instruct at the Asahi Newspaper dojo. Sokaku Sensei immediately went down to Osaka. This was around 1933. Mr. Ueshiba returned to Tokyo because Sokaku Takeda Sensei went there. After Mr. Ueshiba returned to Tokyo no one was left in Osaka to teach. So Sokaku Sensei decided to stay there explaining he would instruct the students since he knew techniques he had not taught Ueshiba. There was a man named Takuma Hisa who was an employee of the Asahi Newspaper. I believe it was he who studied under Sokaku Sensei.

We have obtained copies of teacher certification documents from the Daito-ryu school. They state that those awarded these certificates were to pay a fee of 3 yen to Sokaku Takeda Sensei when instructing students in Daito-ryu.

Depending on how you think of it, I believe it’s quite natural. Even now the All-Japan Kendo Federation takes a registration fee. Sokaku Sensei would have needed money for living and transportation expenses and so I think it was quite natural. I do not know how much Mr. Ueshiba used to send Sokaku Sensei but since Mr. Ueshiba had many live-in students in those days I believe he had just enough to take care of them. I don’t think that he was that well off.

Would you tell us about the Kendoka Jun’ichi Haga Sensei who was also a friend of Ueshiba Sensei?

The relationship between Haga and Mr. Ueshiba was not that close. Haga came to visit me because I married into the Ueshiba family. He was never taught Aikido directly by Mr. Ueshiba or anything like that. Around 1930 when I came up to Tokyo, Haga was serving as an imperial guard. He was two years older than me. Since I was 22 years old when I came up to Tokyo, he was probably around 24. After one year and 4 months I entered the imperial guards. Around that time Haga was still with the imperial police. He was a man of violent temper. There was a certain prefectural police chief who was really supportive of Judo and Kendo and he thought that since Haga was so strong it would be a pity to send him to the Metropolitan Police Office. However, there was no one who could handle him as his superior officer. So there was nothing to be done but send him to the Metropolitan Police Office. And that’s just what he did. Haga became an assistant instructor at the Metropolitan Police Office. I guess he was there about 3 years. Even though he was working for the police office, he got drunk and got into a fight once and was sent to a detention room. The next day it was discovered that the person who was taken into custody was an assistant instructor at the Metropolitan Police Office. Therefore, the police had no choice but to let him go. There was a professor of Tokyo University named Oshima, who was also a teacher at the Metropolitan Police Office. One of his students named Masuda was teaching at the police training school in Korea. Mr. Oshima asked Mr. Masuda to accept Haga there and so he went to Korea and stayed for a time. Then Mr. Masuda was promoted to commander-in-chief by the commander of the southern region, Seishiro Itagaki. Since Haga was sort of a secretary to Masuda, he accompanied him to a place called San Fernando in the Philippines. This was during the war. Masuda lived in Tokyo for a while after the war. I was working for the imperial guards then and he sometimes came to visit me and we practiced together at the Saineikan dojo. Masuda became a lawyer six months or a year later. He is eight years older than me so I suppose he was around 41 or 42 years old then. He is now living in a place called Saginomiya. He is probably about 83 or 84 now. Since he had bad legs, he has not been able to train for the last three or four years. He took really good care of Haga.

We understand that Haga Sensei tested Ueshiba Sensei on one occasion.

Yes. In those days a 10th dan Judo master named Kyuzo Mifun was using a technique call kukinage (lit., “air throw”) which was highly regarded then. Haga and I thought that the technique Mr. Ueshiba was using to throw his students must have been this kukinage technique and we decided to test him once. We both went to attack him but we were thrown before we even grabbed him. Then we realized that what Mr. Ueshiba was doing was genuine. This incident took place after I entered the Ueshiba dojo.

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