AIKI FORUM features discussions with individuals involved in the martial arts in various capacities, such as writers, editors, video producers, etc. In this way we hope to offer alternative viewpoints in order to gain new perspectives on how others view aikido, Daito-ryu and the martial arts in general. On this occasion our guest is Phil Relnick, President of the Japan Martial Arts Society, one of the true “old hands” among foreign practitioners of Japanese martial arts and ways.
Tell us a little bit about your personal history.
I was born in New York 52 years ago. I joined the Air Force after high school and was stationed in Misawa, Japan from 1956 to 1958, a total of two and a half years. During that time I started doing judo. I not only got hooked on judo, but also on Japan. Then I spent a year in Germany and was active there in judo, which was at that time a little known art. I guess I was really captivated by judo and Japan, because by mid-1959 I was already making plans to go back to practice judo. I got in touch with Donn Draeger [1922-1982, author of the three volume series, The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan, and co-author of Comprehensive Asian Fighting Ars; held dan ranks and teaching licenses in judo, Shindo Muso-ryu jojutsu, and Katori Shinto-ryu, among others] who was already living there and with his help I was back in Japan in late 1961. During the next seven years I did mainly judo and jodo, and a number of other martial arts such as aikido, iaido, karate, and t’ai chi ch’uan. For the last four years, in addition to my martial arts practice, I was a full-time student at Waseda University. I had thought I would only be able to afford to stay for one year, but as it turned out, I became a conversational English teacher and was able to support myself completely on that.
Then you went back to the States. How long was it before you returned to Japan?
I got back to the States on December 23, 1968. I had to work a bit before I went to grad school at the University of Michigan, and I was there for two years. Then I took a job with a company, hoping to get back to Japan. But I ended up in Hong Kong. That was back in early 1973. I came back to Japan in November 1974, and I’ve been here ever since.
You mentioned Donn Draeger, known today as a very accomplished martial artist, who studied many different martial arts in addition to researching the East Asian martial arts. Is he the one who paved the way for you to begin your study of martial arts?
No, he wasn’t. I first started in a little machi (town) dojo in Misawa. It just clicked. I can’t say what made me do it. The dojo was dirty, a very old building with broken windows. Back in 1957 every street except for the main road in Misawa was dirt, so when it rained or snowed there was mud knee deep. So to go anywhere you had to wear boots.
After the service your reason for coming back to Japan was primarily to study judo?
Yes. I also wanted to go to university. I went straight from high school into the military. I wrote to Tenri, Sophia, and another university in Tokyo. I never got an ans-wer from anyone, but I was determined to do it. As I said before Draeger helped me to get here.
So you continued with your judo, and I believe you also said you did some aikido shortly thereafter.
I was doing judo, and during my first year back I was going to Sophia University at night. I did judo for two or three months and hurt my back. I think it happened because I was just doing too much. I hurt it pretty badly, and I couldn’t do anything for about a month. When I could start moving again I couldn’t do judo, but I thought maybe I could do aikido, so I went and joined the Hombu in February of 1962.
Was Terry Dobson there at that time?
Yes. He was one of the first people I met there, and he showed me what was going on. Terry Dobson and Quintin Chambers. Through them I learned a lot about aikido.
Who were the teachers at the Hombu at that point?
O-Sensei, his son, Kisshomaru, Tohei, Yamaguchi. Tamura was there, he was still young, about a sandan or a yodan. Chiba was only about a shodan or a nidan, I think. Then Saotome was there. He was very friendly. I trained with him quite a bit. And I trained with Tamura quite a bit. And then there was Osawa Sensei, who was older, who I used to train with in the mornings. He was a very nice person, I got a lot of good training from him. I liked the way he taught. I liked his clean movements. Saito Sensei came [down from Iwama] a bit later on.
What was your reaction to aikido after having been a judoka?
It was easier on the body physically. I could see the relationship immediately. They’re like cousins. But I missed the randori (free training) that you’d get in judo.
When you’re doing judo you’re not working in any particular rhythm together purposely. You’ve got to draw the guy into you, you’ve got to work him into your rhythm, and he’s always trying to change the rhythm so as not to get caught. Judo seems more “real” to me. But it was good for me to learn aikido.
What about your impression of O-Sensei? What was a typical class like that he would teach?
He would philosophize quite a bit. I had introduced my wife, Nobuko, to aikido about a month or so after I started. She interpreted most of what he was saying to me. He used to talk about the earth and the stars and the solar system and the gods; everything all mixed up. She said she couldn’t figure it out. He was quite friendly. He did show techniques. In fact he threw me a couple of times, which I feel proud of. He’d walk around and he’d talk, and he’d come up to you, and throw you, and then he’d talk about that throw.
Was it a very powerful experience?
I guess so. I couldn’t feel physical power, but I could feel the throw. And I was thrown. It wasn’t like a 250 pound man picking me up and smashing me like in judo, though. Those are good memories I have of him.
Diane mentioned that you had a fair amount of contact with Tomiki Sensei. Will you tell us how that came about?
I think I first met Tomiki Sensei at the Kodokan before I started studying at Waseda. He was big, not a monster, but he was tall. He had really big wrists, the bones were big. He was a solid man, very erect. Very polite, well-mannered, well-educated. I don’t remember exactly how we met the first time, but I could communicate with him. My Japanese was okay by then, and he taught me some judo. In fact, his style was something that I could relate to because I’m also tall. At that time there were very few tall people, so I could relate to his movements. After that, he started teaching me aikido at Waseda.
Every once in a while he would come and do some judo training with us, but he wasn’t teaching judo per se, he was really teaching aikido. But the aikido club used to use our dojo. It was a judo dojo, but at that time, Japan was still rebuilding in a way, and there just weren’t that many dojos available. The dojos were old, and small. So a lot of groups had to share dojos to train. And that’s what the Tomiki Aikido people did.
So when you were a student at Waseda, were you also training at the Aikikai Hombu?
Yes, but I wasn’t that active. I used to go once in a while. The original purpose for me to go to aiki was because I had hurt my back, so I did that for about a year and learned a lot which in later life helped me. But when I went back to judo, my aikido training dropped quite a bit. It was because of Terry Dobson and Quintin Chambers that I kept it up, though. I just didn’t have enough time.
I’d like to know a little bit more about Tomiki Sensei. Did you have much contact with him, did you ever peek in on the aikido club?
Yes, I trained with him once in a while. It’s very interesting. I don’t know why, but he liked me; maybe he was just friendly with everyone. In fact I even invited him to my wedding. Of course, he was a teacher of mine, but we just got along quite well. He was very open. Maybe it was because I was a Waseda man and a judo man, and I had done aikido. I trained with him; but I wasn’t a registered student in his class. He used a rubber knife to show us how to use taisabaki (body turning) to get away from it. We mixed judo in with it. It was probably a period of experimentation.
He wanted me to translate a book for him, and wanted me to go to Australia to lead them in Tomiki Aikido. He talked about it, but I never gave a clear answer, because we never talked about it in terms of “Are you going to do it for me or not?” But he was trying to steer me into doing it. That was the relationship. He offered me those two things. I’m not even an Australian. I’d never even been to Australia at that time.
I met him on three or four occasions, and he was very kind and open to me. He arranged to have an interpreter present because I didn’t speak very much Japanese, back in 1973. He had his aikido club do a special demonstration for me alone. There were about 15 people there and he did techniques and had some of his students do techniques. I was very flattered because it was before AIKI NEWS even began, and I was just a foreigner who was in Japan for a brief time who was interested in some of the older teachers and the history of aikido.
Kimura: Would you tell us something about JMAS?
JMAS, as you know, means Japan Martial Arts Society. We started in 1983, so we’re in our eighth year now. Way back in the late fifties and all the way through the sixties, myself and other martial arts people were always sort of outside the Japanese martial arts circles, even though we were living in Japan and could speak Japanese. We belonged to a dojo or a federation, and in name we were members, but actually we were only attached to a dojo. You go there and train, and people would be very nice in the dojo, and you’d say goodbye at the end of practice and go home. And you had no chance to talk with the Japanese or do anything. So you got nothing more than physical training. If anything happened to you, you had no one to fall back on, except maybe another gaijin (foreign) friend, because it’s very hard to get close to Japanese. This always bothered me. At that time in my life I decided to take a stand and try to create a group, a society, that would help take care of the problems that we faced all the time. A lot of people who were coming here were just wasting their lives trying to get something out of martial arts but really not getting much. They thought they were getting a lot, but there was really much more they hadn’t gotten anywhere near.
And going away disillusioned with this country.
Or going away thinking they had everything and going back and teaching it. I finally decided to do something about it, so in early 1983 I set up a meeting with nine other foreigners who I knew were serious about the martial arts, and asked them if they would join me in setting up a martial arts society that could provide accurate information about the martial arts and improve communications between foreigners and Japanese. They agreed and we immediately established the Japan Martial Arts Society which would be non-profit and would conduct four General Meetings per year, and provide its members with newletters of these meetings.
All work done for JMAS is volunteer. We would like to pay those people who help us, but so far we haven’t been able to do that. I’d hate to tell my wife how much of my own money has gone into JMAS.
Kimura: How many members do you have?
We have over 350 members. Not all of them are active, however. For one reason or another some of them are inactive. Some move and don’t leave a forwarding address and we lose contact with them. Others may not be all that interested in what we do. On the whole, however, we get a lot of positive feedback about what we are doing from our members.
Kimura: Do you have any Japanese members?
Yes we do, but not as many as we would like.
Kimura: Why is that?
Well, I think that part of the problem is that Japanese have a tendency to not do things that are “new” or “different” until everyone else is doing it. The other reason, I think, is that our name, Japan Martial Arts Society, translated into Japanese, sounded too much like a major Japanese organization, so we adjusted it to read Gaikokujin Nihon Budo Kyokai, which translated back into English means, “Foreigners Japan Martial Arts Society.” There were a number of reasons for doing that, which included avoiding copying the name of organizations which already existed. Suffice it to say that because of that name, many Japanese thought that JMAS was for non-Japanese, which of course is absolutely wrong. We want Japanese to join JMAS.
JMAS is now in its eighth year of existence. We have had a number of growing problems, mainly because all work for the Society is done on a volunteer basis. Our biggest problems have been membership record-keeping and getting our newsletters out on time. Most of our members have been very understanding about this and we greatly appreciate their patience. We see a very clear light at the end of the tunnel regarding those problems.
Can you describe some of the changes that have been taking place in the martial arts world since you first entered it?
Well, I first got involved in the martial arts in Japan in 1957. I guess my knowledge and consciousness of the martial arts at that time was the same as others at that time. Close to zero. All I knew was that it was Oriental and very mystical. Things have really changed since then.
Fifteen years ago, Draeger and I used to get letters in English from around the world, as representatives of the Nihon Kobudo Shinkokai (Japan Society for the Promotion of Classical Martial Arts), and we would answer them. Back then, all the letters were about judo, aikido and karate, asking about such things as where to find teachers. Now, the letters are about things I don’t even know about, and I’ve got to go and ask a teacher. They’re quite deep, and they’re questions that make a lot of sense. They want to find out the linkage between this ryu and that ryu; was there any relationship between them? Was this teacher doing the style this or that way? What was his reason for doing it? Is this koryu really a ryu or is it phony? The questions are different than they used to be. There are a lot of people who are really interested in finding out what kobudo is about historically. Sometimes they seem to have more information than we have.
Some information is available from your magazine, or from JMAS. They get it from guys who return home from Japan who might give a demonstration or a lecture, or get it from Draeger’s books. There are some people who really know what’s going on and they don’t buy what’s going on in the United States and elsewhere. In Australia, New Zealand, all over Europe, there is all kinds of foolishness. They can do whatever they want if they call it “Joe Smith’s” style of martial arts. But they shouldn’t use a Japanese name if it is not really Japanese.
Then there are differences in what is going on in the martial arts world outside of Japan?
Yes, definitely. What is going on in Japan is not what is going on in non-Japanese countries, in the United States and other places around the world. From their perspective we’re anachronistic here. We are conservative. We want to protect the Japanese martial arts. We have no interest in changing them. We have no interest in “polishing up” the Japanese arts and making them better. But that’s what some Americans are doing, or what they think they are doing. They’re polishing them up and going one step further. That’s not where we are coming from, and that’s not where Draeger was coming from; JMAS is not interested in that.
For example, there’s a group in America which is called the Soke something or other, I can’t remember exactly, but it is a group of Soke, which means the founders or headmasters of a Japanese ryu. Headmaster means to me, one. Headmaster means the master of a particular ryu, and that man is in Japan and is Japanese, if the ryu is Japanese.
Phil, to change the subject, there’s a great interest among foreign readers, and I would guess among Japanese readers as well, in Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu and Otake Sensei, its head teacher. Would you talk about how you were introduced to him and also the relationship between Donn Draeger and Otake Sensei?
Draeger came to Japan in 1956 to continue his research and practice of judo. Before he left the States, his judo teacher Takahiko Ishikawa Sensei gave him a letter of introduction to Takaji Shimizu Sensei, the head teacher for traditional martial arts to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and headmaster of the Shindo Muso-ryu which teaches jodo. Ishikawa Sensei was a policeman, a former judo champion, and a student of Shimizu Sensei. Draeger was a phenomenal student. He did the right things at the right times, and was very good at the martial arts. His teachers liked him. He became very close to Shimizu Sensei and became his head foreign deshi. After a number of years Draeger found out about Katori Shinto-ryu, probably when asking about the lineage of jodo. Muso Gonnosuke, founder of Shindo Muso-ryu, was a member of Katori Shinto-ryu. Shimizu Sensei introduced Draeger to Otake Sensei and gave him permission to train there and find out about it. He went to Otake Sensei and became one of his first students. The relationship between Draeger and Otake Sensei was very close. Draeger was just a bit older than Otake Sensei, but Otake Sensei really admired Donn, and they got along very well. They were both researchers of martial arts, and they were both very, very good with weapons.
What year did Draeger begin?
Oh, let’s see, I’m in my thirteenth year now, so he must have started around the early seventies. At that time I was too involved with Waseda and too involved with just raising a family and working. Also, it takes three hours from my home to the dojo one way. So I waited until I was really ready to do it. When I was finally ready to start I went to Otake Sensei and he admitted me, mainly through Draeger’s introduction.
Otake Sensei is from the countryside, he’s not a city person, and doesn’t particularly like the city. He believes in small numbers in the ryu, as opposed to masses of people. He believes in protecting it, and not letting the ryu get watered down. He’s not part of the big martial arts scene. He’s very dedicated. He’s a tremendous man. That’s why I volunteer to go that far. He’s different, he doesn’t go by the rules of our modern society. When you go into his dojo, you’re going by rules that were basically set six hundred years ago. Democracy has nothing to do with the training, or “Well, in my country we do things this way.” That attitude does not work in Katori Shinto-ryu. People are very nice there, and train very hard. He makes the rules, and that’s the way it is.
Otake Sensei has decided not to let any other foreigners into the ryu. It’s not that he dislikes foreigners, but he’s met too few foreigners that are really committed. This does not mean going and sitting in front of his door every morning and sweeping his entrance. Committed means learning and being able to speak the language, being committed to study a minimum of ten years or more under him, and having a personality that will match the ryu. Fitting in.
Kjmura: Not many foreigners in Japan can understand how Japanese sensei operate.
How about a list of just a few pointers for foreigners who come to train in a dojo in Japan, the typical gaijin errors, that are very easy to avoid if you just know about them.
I feel very strongly about this. For example, when you come to a Japanese house, where do you take your shoes off? If you take your shoes off, do you just drop them on the floor, do you place them, how do you place them? Do you bring a gift? This is where gaijin start their mistakes. Then you’ve got to go back to your introduction to the dojo. How did you get there? Did somebody introduce you? If someone introduced you that means he or she is responsible for you and you are obligated to that person, no matter who the person is. You are obligated not to screw up. And screwing up means dropping out, coming late, finishing early, and all of those many things that cause us to stand out.
Regardless of whether the Japanese might do those same things.
Exactly. When you go into the dojo, of course, you use normal Japanese etiquette. You’ve got to learn how to place your shoes. You don’t just kick ‘em off and walk in. You don’t step on any dirty part of the floor. There’s a way of doing it. Once you get inside you no longer follow the rules of the outside, you’ve got to fit the rules of that dojo. If the guy before you knelt and bowed, or did a standing bow, you should do the same thing. The biggest thing is to keep your mouth shut. Listen, don’t ask questions. And if a teacher says, “No, that’s wrong,” don’t question it. Just say yes, “hai.” Excuses are just not necessary. Another thing is fitting in. If you’re going to fit in, you’ve got to break the ice in some way. Find someone your own age, age is very important too, near your own rank and start breaking the ice. If you go to someone above you you’ve got to use polite language. It’s best with your own age and the same rank for friendship. If you start talking to the teacher, a high-ranking teacher, and he’s friendly, don’t assume that you’re up on his level. The relationship that is foremost is the teacher-student relationship. You’ve got to maintain that relationship. Use the word Sensei, never “you” (anata) because he’s your teacher. That’s a key point.
Kimura: Do you have any advice for Japanese teachers who have to deal with foreign students?
Yes, I think so. Let’s go back a step. The Japanese know a lot about the West, American culture, European culture. Foreigners know very little about Japanese culture. Japanese should understand that. They have to be aware that a person may act as if he is an oaf, but only because he is in a completely different environment. Another thing the Japanese should be aware of is that the Japanese are very regimented people. Everything is done the same way no matter where you go in Japan; everything is done basically by the same rules. Everyone fits into a certain place in the society; the language is set that way, the culture is set that way. We don’t have any of this in other countries. A foreigner, in his own country, grows up in a situation where he fits in anywhere his brains or his experience will take him. He could end up being the president of a company at 25 years of age. But here, we’re like bulls in a china shop in a way. The Japanese know where they fit, and they just go in that little space, and it’s fine, it’s comfortable. This is a good country, and everything is working fine. The foreigner comes here and there is no space for him. He’s got to make his space, and quite often he makes the wrong space. He’s unintentionally stepping on someone’s feet. But in the West that’s acceptable. The worse thing that happens is that the Japanese put up with it, they almost ignore him, they don’t give him any guidance. That’s one reason JMAS is helpful to foreigners. So the Japanese teacher or sempai should provide some guidance to foreigners. I think someone in the dojo should spend a little more time with the foreigners, checking their language abilities, even if you have to use pantomime, or get someone who can interpret a bit, and talk. Just have a conversation over a cup of coffee or beer or dinner or in the locker room. Talk about your martial art in general terms, and try to steer the conversation to the dojo that they’re at. Why they’re there, and what they’re going to do in the future with that art, and build up some kind of communication. It is so simple: communicate.
For example, I remember one time, many years ago, I was leaving the Kodokan after training. We kept our shoes in a locker. I took my shower, dressed up, took my shoes in my hand, and my bag, and I walked out to the genkan [entry way]. Just at that time a Japanese teacher, in his 60s or 70s, happened to end up at the genkan at the same time. We both put our shoes down, except that I dropped my shoes from a standing position, and he bent down and put his shoes down. My shoes dropped and made a lot of noise and ended up all over the place, facing different directions. As soon as I did it, I knew I had done wrong. But no one had told me that when you take your shoes off or put them on, there’s a way of doing it. I will never forget the way he looked at me. He seemed to be thinking, “There’s a bit of class in the way we Japanese put our shoes down. You apparently don’t have it.” I was so embarrassed. It’s a small thing but it’s very important. No one told me. It starts there. The Japanese would be the best teachers.
I think you can learn a lot by observing and imitating the Japanese. Because it’s sometimes difficult for them to tell you. How do they do it? In English? They feel funny having to verbalize what should be internalized.
Bauerle: And they don’t really understand what it is that you don’t know.
Someone is going to have to break that cycle, and it’s going to have to be us and the teachers. I feel very strongly about this. We make fools of ourselves quite a bit because we just don’t know. All it takes is a little bit of communication.
Let’s now take it a step further. We’ve talked about the foreigner out of his element in Japan trying to learn a martial art. What about the Japanese who goes abroad as a teacher of a martial art. Now here he is taking part of his culture out into a Western country, starting a dojo, instructing. What does he have to face? What can he do?
Right now I think that’s a very touchy subject. Number one, I think there are a lot of Japanese going overseas and teaching who should not be doing it. They are not qualified. There are a lot of Japanese who misrepresent the martial arts. Sandan or nidan should not go overseas to teach regardless of whether they are foreigners or Japanese. If they are going over there specifically to teach, then they shouldn’t be a sandan. If they’re representing a dojo and the dojo thinks they’re good enough [to do it], then they should be & higher rank. I think all the head teachers of the ryu here should make it clear to these people, because the head teachers are the ones who make the determination of whether a person going overseas is qualified to teach or not.
Another thing is certificates, and ranks overseas. The Japanese don’t have to hand out rank to people who are not qualified. In the 60s that was rampant here in Japan. A shodan in the 60s was a very high rank in the States. In Germany, for example, it took a minimum of five years to make shodan in judo. Here, gaijin were coming from the U.S. military bases and getting their shodan rank in three months. Those guys go back to the States and they teach. This happened then and it may still happen now. The Japanese are causing their own problem, by giving out rank to people who don’t deserve it. And the more that that happens, the less the gayin respect Japanese martial arts.
Next is, if a Japanese goes overseas he should check in that area to see if that art is being taught, and if there is a federation or an association and talk to them first before teaching. If some guy drops in for a year or two to a particular area because he is a businessman, and he goes to some club or some YMCA and he starts teaching in that area, he may soon be in conflict with the procedures set up already.
A similar problem is happening now in the aikido world. Twenty, twenty-five years ago if a Japanese went abroad, he was automatically a teacher, and chances were nine out of ten that he would have more knowledge and experience than anybody else in the dojo. Twenty-five years later this is not the case at all. You can have a third dan, fourth dan, or even a fifth dan, going over who is still not the best in terms of experience or understanding of the art or teaching knowledge. And it’s very hard for the Japanese to even conceive of the idea that a foreigner who’s been doing an art for a long time might have a higher level, and that in the best of worlds it would be appropriate for him to respect that person as a teacher, not as an inferior. A foreigner, fifth dan, sixth dan, who’s been doing an art for thirty years, and has a professional dojo, should not have to call any twenty-two year old Japanese kid he meets, sensei.
But there are some who expect that because they are Oriental.
When I went to Holland three or four years ago, with Katori Shinto-ryu for a demonstration there, many of the Dutch budo people told me that they were surprised that they were allowed to talk to Otake Sensei. Why? They said that most of the Japanese teachers who had gone to Holland to teach separate themselves from their students and have them make special appointments to have an “audience” with the teacher. The Japanese teacher acts like a god. The foreigners are getting sick of it. A Japanese aikido sensei based in Europe was also invited to give a demonstration on this occasion. He saw Otake Sensei, and walked over and started talking to him. I was standing there too. Anyway, he wanted to give something to Otake Sensei. He was standing very close to him, when at the top of his lungs, he shouts, “Smith!” or some name like that. And this foreigner comes running at full speed right up to him. He orders “Smith” to run and fetch whatever it was. When he yelled “Smith,” Otake Sensei’s hair almost went flying back, because the wind was so strong. It surprised the hell out of him, and me; it was like a bomb going off. The man was making himself like a general or a god or something. He has no right to call anyone like that, this is not the military, but he apparently puts himself on such a high plane that he thinks he can call anyone that way. If I were “Smith,” I would have ignored him and would probably have ended our teacher-student relationship right there. I have never seen that type of attitude from high-ranking teachers in Japan-at least not the ones I know and train with!
That whole week in Holland, at the Dutch’s expense, was topped off by an evening at the Opera House, a grand theater, with a big stage, a beautiful place. We were going to give a martial arts demonstration there, about 15 or 20 rvu, for about two or three hours. It was very formal; the public came dressed up and treated this as a first-class event, which it was. It was really nice. Until this same aikido sensei came on. His group came out, lined up, and bowed in. But apparently he hadn’t planned anything. They didn’t know what to do. And he couldn’t make up his mind what to do. So one or two of his students came running up to him in kneeling position and he did one or two techniques. It was just mixed up, they didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing. He did this for a couple of minutes, and then stood up, walked around with his hands in his hakama, then patted his stomach. “I had a great meal tonight,” he said in English. “You Dutch really have good food. I also had wine with it. I feel real good.” And he went on for about five minutes walking around talking, and just patting his stomach. Then he walked back to the center and threw a couple of guys and had them do a couple of things. And they still didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing, they were being uke for something that wasn’t planned at all. It fell flat. I don’t think anyone liked it at all. Luckily he was speaking in English and hopefully most of the people couldn’t understand his poor English, but I could. It was terrible. That’s something you’d better avoid.
I can give another example. A high ranking aikido teacher who went abroad a few years ago at-tended a national meeting of aikidoka from that country. There were some internal problems within the organization, and the representatives from the area where he had just arrived were present at the meeting. He was getting very agitated by their unwillingness to accept him as their leader. He reached the point where he got very upset and exclaimed, “You are doing this behind my back in my territory!” Then he was interrupted by one of the representatives from the local area, who said, “I object to you referring to this area as your territory, since you are a new arrival and we have been here for twenty-five years.” This was a high-ranking teacher, but nonetheless there was a real lack of diplomacy. He now has a very limited following in that area, and the other people are rather independent.
The Japanese forget their own customs when they leave Japan. We have customs in the States too, in Europe, around the world. Sometimes they’re breaking their own rules and are not being honest.
Do you have any closing remarks?
I’ve mentioned it earlier, but I want to say it again. What we’re doing here, that is, what we are learning in Japan, I feel, is what the Japanese are doing. But in many places outside of Japan, martial arts practitioners are not doing what the Japanese are doing. If they’re going to do something that is different than the Japanese, then they shouldn’t call it Japanese. If they want to learn more about Japan, they should make sure that they have a truly qualified teacher or get in touch with recognized martial arts organizations in Japan, publications like Aiki News or international organizations like JMAS. For the Japanese, they must protect what they have, and really, the martial arts are the backbone of Japanese history. They shouldn’t just give it away. It is part of their very unique culture. Don’t water it down for the masses. If the student “can’t take the heat, he or she should get out of the Kitchen.”