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Interview with Kanshu Sunadomari (2)

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #65 (December 1984)

The following is the final installment of a two-part interview of Kanshu Sunadomari Sensei of Kumamoto City, Kyushu which took place on August 15, 1983 in the office of the Manseikan Dojo.

O-Sensei, especially in his later years, would often talk about the concept of Takemusu Aiki…

Kanshu Sunadomari Sensei

Sensei understood the word “takemusu” as the revelation of one of the kami. “Takemusu” is the basis for the creation of all things. Aikido represents the form which creates all things through the body. O-Sensei said, “Aiki is to teach the basis for the creation of budo in which techniques are born as one moves.” So you have to understand the basis for the creation of techniques. The basis is kokyu power. There is nothing else. When you develop kokyu power, countless techniques emerge. You can’t create techniques only by doing the forms of the past. They only represent one form. A practice of these old forms alone will not lead to the development of the next higher techniques. You can make your opponent’s power as your own power freely according to his movements, whether he pushes, pulls, or raises up. This is not possible unless you become one with your partner. This is important. You can’t call it Aikido where you cling to only one form. You must research the basis for creating techniques. That is takemusu. It is not possible to escape from being shackled to one thing or to become one with your partner or eliminate bad feelings when you regard the opponent in a relative sense as an enemy. In order to become one with your opponent and one with the universe, the state where you stop making enemies must be expressed in techniques through the body. Takemusu is born for the first time because your partner and you exist. Children are born because men and women exist. By you and your partner becoming one, so-called infinite techniques emerge. If you have the feeling of destroying your opponent, there is absolutely no way such techniques can emerge. The “musu” of takemusu means “musubi” (tie). In Japan, we say “mushimushi atsui” (it’s hot and muggy). It is the same as this “mushi”. It means the pouring forth of steam. It means the condition where things burst forth. In other words, it is the same as steaming rice or making rice cakes by steaming glutinous rice. It is the condition where things are created or burst forth.

Is the concept of “Takemusu Aiki” something O-Sensei thought of himself or is it from the Omoto religion?

During the last stage of the war O-Sensei became seriously ill. After his illness, he underwent a spiritual transformation. Also, the end of the war constituted a major turning point and Sensei was concerned about what the mission of Aikido was to be. It was at that time that he received a revelation from a kami in heaven. After the war in 1947 when I called on Sensei to pay my respects he showed me the words he had written in his notebook. They were the words Sensei wrote when he received the divine revelation. My sister, (Mitsue) who stayed in the dojo for a certain period, once said to Sensei, “Everyone is saying they cannot understand what you say, Sensei”. It seems that his answer was as follows, “It is impossible for them to understand things I don’t understand myself.” If they were words which O-Sensei understood in his own mind they must be his own words. However, if they were words he received as the result of the revelation of a kami I don’t think he could understand them himself. The Founder of Omoto (Nao Deguchi) received the revelation of the kami when she was 57 or 58 years old. She was merely an old uneducated country woman who could not even write. She wrote down the words of the kami and predicted that there would be a war against China. This refers to what we call the “Sino-Japanese War”. However, she herself didn’t know what China was. The old woman was just reciting the words of the kami as their instrument. She herself did not understand the meaning. Morihei Ueshiba Sensei too received the revelation of Heaven and recited various words whose meaning he may or may not always have understood. He was the type of person who would blurt out words even though he didn’t understand their meaning. So it is natural that those who listened to him could not understand what he said. Unless you truly understand O-Sensei you won’t grasp the meaning of his words. When I was an uchideshi, O-Sensei asked me to write letters. I didn’t know the name or address of the person he wanted me to write to nor did I know what to write. Usually when a person was asked by Sensei to write a letter if he didn’t know the circumstances he would ask the address and content of the letter. However, if you made any comment he would change his mind. Sensei would say things which ordinary people wouldn’t understand at all on a physical level. I guess that the image of the person in question just flashed across his mind. When that happened O-Sensei sent a communication, that is, a letter, to the person. This inspiration jumped out in the form of words immediately and he would ask one to write a letter. It was appropriate for deshi merely to say, “Yes”. That ended the spiritual impulse. If you took what he said literally and not according to the spiritual meaning you would ask what the address was. If you simply said yes he was satisfied. Otherwise, his inspiration would have been cut off. If Sensei asked you later if you had written to such and such a person, it meant that it did not have to do with the spiritual level. Thus, you would ask Sensei what the address was. So unless you could quickly grasp the workings of Sensei’s spirit, you could not understand him. What Sensei said was an expression of the path on which he was to travel. He expressed it frankly as a revelation of the kami. I think that those who were able to receive his message are able to transmit it. It is a question of understanding Sensei’s words and spiritual side and digest them. It is important to endeavor to embody them in concrete terms. Aikido is not merely the transmission of a form but of a spirit. Although some might say that my techniques are far removed from present-day Aikido, I think that I am at the forefront in the Aikido world since these techniques emerged as a result of my pursuit of and search for the spiritual goal of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. If you teach form only, you end up only with an old-style martial art. Morihei Ueshiba Sensei was not talking about such a trivial thing. He said that techniques were limitless. He clearly said that techniques must change and that they will naturally change of themselves. His idea was that the goal of Aiki was to create a peaceful world through its power as expressed in each of his words. Unless you practice Aikido with a true understanding of his words, your techniques will only end up as attacks against your opponent. The basis of Aikido is “kokyu power”. The term “kokyu power” existed before the word Aikido began to be used. Therefore, unless you are able to employ your own kokyu power completely and demonstrate, explain and teach it clearly, it is nothing but a mysterious term. I wrote a book entitled, “The Spirit of Aikido: Kokyu Power” after having been persuaded that it was this that was the true kokyu power. “Kokyu” is the source of life of all things. However, no one breathes in and out consciously. If you breathe consciously it is because your life is in danger. Kokyu power is created when infinite matter emerges through one’s body.

Therefore, you must have a mind which accepts infinite matter. You must not let your opponent enter there (in your mind). Since it is the immense power of kokyu which gives life to all things in Nature and is manifest through one’s body, you must not entertain selfish desires. Moreover, you should not have an egoistic attachment where you try to defeat your opponent. Kokyu power cannot emerge without a pure mind. One’s techniques cannot improve unless the world of the spirit likewise grows. If you acquire true kokyu power, your opponent who attacks with an evil heart seeking to defeat you will lead himself to destruction. It is possible to reach that point. That was what Morihei Ueshiba Sensei taught. We have to understand this and make it a reality.

Morihei Ueshiba Sensei clearly said to me before I came to Kumamoto, “There are no head families (soke) in budo.” The fact that there are no head families in budo means that Aikido technique is limitless and those who truly master the Way can transmit it. I think that one will not be able to understand Ueshiba’s Sensei true mind without practicing Aikido with a clear understanding of this. One’s Aikido remains frozen. By transmitting only unchanged form you are led in a direction which is contrary to Sensei’s thought. Your techniques become one if you study the spiritual aspect of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. You have to continually overcome barriers. Aiki is matter of you becoming one with others. You have to create techniques which unite you and your opponent. If you are not able to achieve this, you should not use the expression “Aiki is love” in an ideological sense. This is something you can achieve through your body and you should not think that spiritual matters are separate. I don’t think there should be various kinds of Aikido. The goal of Aikido is the study of the spirit of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. The true world of harmony will be created through Aikido after the barriers have been overcome when all human beings come to a realization of how wonderful Aikido is. I think that this was the mission of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. It was difficult for O-Sensei to cause the flower of Aikido to bloom and bear fruit. However, if Sensei hadn’t created the seeds the Way of Aikido would not have been transmitted. We deshi should assimilate the seeds, grasp the goal, that is to say, and decide what flowers should be made to bloom, what fruit should be allowed to ripen. If you wish to pursue the path of injuring and beating your opponent, something other than Aikido will be best. There are many other arts for this purpose. Unless this is truly understood by practitioners of Aikido, Aikido may end up being unfavorably criticized. Various comments such as, “Aikido is a mixture of Judo and Karate, isn’t it?” can be heard.

I understand that your family has had a long relationship with the Omoto religion. Would you talk a little about its history?

My father served as a member of a prefectural assembly in Kagoshima for a long time. He was a person with a very strong sense of justice. In order to promote the development of farm and sea villages, he did various things such as establish an electric company, develop ports and build prefectural roads by rapidly developing what we called “backward” regions of the country. When he was in his late fifties, or before, he realized that his sense of justice was not enough and sought spiritual comfort. So he read books on various religions. There were many books of this sort in my house, all of which my father read. Then, on one occasion, he read a book on the Omoto religion and knew that this was exactly what he was looking for and immediately set off to Ayabe.

In what year did this take place?

I don’t know exactly when, but I guess it was about 1922 or 23. It was around the year I was born. My father became a very enthusiastic believer and most of the people in Kikaijima (a small island about 200 kilometers to the south of Kagoshima) came to believe in the Omoto religion as well. Since he was a person without malice he cured sick people one after another. He had no knowledge of medical science. All he had was a spiritual understanding. Therefore he was regarded on equal terms with the kamisama. In addition, he had been involved in political affairs since the Meiji Period. My father was in his 70s at the time of the suppression of Omoto (first Omoto incident of 1925). After retiring from the prefectural assembly he lived on Kikai Island which is close to Okinawa. However, since it was dangerous to be there during World War II, he moved to Kagoshima. Then, having a connection in the upper reaches of the Kuma River in Kumamoto, he moved there for safety. As a result of his moving there we had some acquaintances in Kumamoto. One and a half years later he passed away.

When I was instructing Aikido I went to Fukuoka on business and also visited an acquaintance in Kumamoto. At that time I met Mr. Nakajima, a man with a wonderful character, who supported me until he passed away four years ago at the age of 83. He was a believer in the Omoto religion in the old days having joined the church about one year prior to the Second Omoto Incident in 1935. People who were of a similar mind to his told me that Nakajima Sensei placed confidence in me at first sight and thought that I was a fine young man. Then, I went back to Tokyo to receive permission from Morihei Ueshiba Sensei and also talked to Kisshomaru Sensei about opening a dojo. That’s when I decided to go ahead. With the support of the people in Kumamoto I mentioned above, the present dojo was built one year and nine months later on January 11, 1954. Budo was popular there and many people were interested. The first dojo we rented was an old factory where pharmaceutical products were produced and we laid down 20 tatami mats. When we trained we would set up the mats and remove them when finished. We trained for a year and nine months in that way. Nakajima Sensei thought that unless he built a dojo for me I might leave the area. Thus, he went to extraordinary efforts to build the present dojo. He went through very difficult times in order to pay back the loan company. Nakajima Sensei’s friend, who had a restaurant and was also a wonderful person, let me stay in a small room located in the rear of the restaurant.

He served me free meals for about two years. It was under those circumstances that we were able to establish the foundation.

Before Morihei Ueshiba Sensei went to Tokyo from Ayabe he visited Yatsushiro in Kumamoto. There are many Omoto believers in Yatsushiro and that’s why he visited the place. Ueshiba Sensei said, “This budo springs from the ‘fire’ country.” The meaning of “fire” can be understood both spiritually and physically. There is an active volcano called “Aso”. I think that this place has been associated with an area called the “fire country” in a spiritual sense since olden times. I understand that Ueshiba Sensei came to Kumamoto around 1925 because it was known as the “fire country”. He believed that budo would spring from the “fire country”. Then he went to Tokyo. I didn’t know anything about this when I heard it from a person in Yatsushiro for the first time in 1961.

Therefore, I am conscious of realizing through my body what Sensei foresaw. When I first heard this, I was conscious of the fact that my technique had not progressed very far but I didn’t understand well. But now I really feel that this is the case. I believe now that this budo will spring from the fire country. Our mission as disciples is to proceed towards his goal by assimilating the words which Sensei received as a revelation from the Kami.

I understand that your brother, Kanemoto, wrote the first biography of O-Sensei. What was his purpose in writing the book?

Well, Ueshiba Sensei asked my elder brother to write about him although he did not mention a biography. I didn’t think my brother had the talent to write a biography and I was surprised when he finished it.

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