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Interview with Shigenobu Okumura (1983), Part 2

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #59 (December 1983)

The following is the second and final part of an interview of Shigenobu Okumuta Sensei, a Hombu Dojo instructor which took place on May 14, 1983.

Shigenobu Okumura Sensei

Aikido originated in Japan and spread throughout the world. But there is a viewpoint which holds that foreigners cannot understand the true essence of Aikido. What is your view?

Well, I think foreigners can understand the spirit of Aikido. It is a creative power. I mean not only the form, in other words, the phenomenal aspect which is throwing and pinning, but also the deeper aspect. If they can just understand this… In my opinion, comparatively speaking, French people tend to want to pursue oriental things spiritually. They have their unique perception. However, Germans or Americans understand the physical side. For example, we call practice “keiko”, but the word “renshu” also exists. Do you know the difference between “renshu” and “keiko”? Nowadays, they have come to have the same meaning. But, in Japan, we use the word “keiko” to refer to mental things and “renshu” to physical things. The original meaning of “keiko” is “to think of olden times”. In China of today, “keiko” has only this meaning. Why do you think that thinking of olden times means “keiko”? It is basic. It is the basic form. It is easy to learn kotegaeshi or shihonage, but it was very hard for the person who created these techniques. Those who learn afterwards find it easier to accomplish. One should go back to the original roots and repeat them. That is why we say “thinking of olden times”. We enter with the form and depart from the form. Since long ago, in budo there have been three steps, “shu”, “ha”, “ti”, which mean “to preserve the form”, “break the form”, “separate from the form”. The form is preserved in the beginning.

Also, there is the word “dojo”. This is different from “gymnasium”. The training place of Buddhist priests is called the “dojo”. In Mt. Hiei there is a place called “Kompon Dojo”. A dojo is a place where the spirit is trained. That’s why we bow properly before entering the dojo. Nobody bows when playing volleyball in the gymnasium, do they? Because it is a dojo, etiquette is very strict. Nowadays young people feel reluctant to bow. They say bowing is feu-dalistic. The dojo is not the place to practice technique, but rather to improve the spirit. The spirit should be consistently emphasized. When you pour water into a glass standing upright, it can contain water. However, if the glass is upside down, it can’t hold water… The present education process is like forcing water to be poured into an upside down glass. Bowing before entering the dojo is like turning the glass upright. In other words, changing the spirit, emptying one’s mind. Bowing is like an on/off switch. If one empties his mind, one can accept a great deal… you can absorb anything. In this respect, bowing is the best thing. At least the critical attitude will disappear and a receptive attitude will emerge. We say, “courtesy in the beginning and courtesy at the end”. Otherwise, we cannot learn all of the techniques. That’s why it has long been the case that etiquette has been strict in terms of efficiency.

Do you eat brown rice?

Yes, I do. When my wife is busy I sometimes steam it myself. When I was a prisoner of war in Siberia for three and half years, I noticed that Russian people don’t eat white bread but rather brown bread. I think that is their source of vitality.

They don’t eat polished rice. If you compare Russian people who eat brown bread and American people who eat white bread, the Americans will no doubt lose in the 21st century. (Laughter) In kanji, with as its left character radical becomes “kasu” (sake lees). (Laughter) But recently, in America food habits habits have been changing in favor of natural foods.

We understand that Ueshiba Sensei went to Manchuria every year.

Yes, after Manchuria was established. He used to go there to get away from Japan. You know of Hideki Tojo. When he was a provost marshall in Shinkyo (in China) before he returned to Japan, he adopted Aikido as part of the military police training. He selected Mr. Tomiki and Mr. Ohba as shihan. He himself did Aikido. He practiced a lot.

Did O-Sensei go as far as Peking?

Yes, he went to Peking, too. He saw various Chinese martial arts. There are good martial arts in China. Ueshiba Sensei was impressed by them. Chinese came to our Kenkoku University and demonstrated various bujutsu. There is a wonderful bujutsu where you swing about a Chinese broad sword.

Who did Ueshiba Sensei go to Peking with?

I was a student at the time, so I don’t know the details. Maybe Mr. Shioda or Mr. Inoue. How about asking Mr. Yonekawa? Who have you interviewed?

Yonekawa Sensei, Akazawa Sensei, Tomiki Sensei, Shioda Sensei, Mochizuki Sensei, Kamata Sensei, Seiseki Abe Sensei, Saito Sensei and Doshu….

Have you talked to Tenryu (the famous sumo wrestler)?

No, he is not in good health now.

Oh, yes. He is not well. Tenryu is our senior. Shirata Sensei and Iwata Sensei are old uchi-deshi. How about Inoue Sensei? He is Ueshiba Sensei’s nephew.

It’s hard for us to meet him directly. We are told that he won’t see us unless we bring two persons who knew him in the past. One time, Yonekawa Sensei and Akazawa Sensei went to see him with us. But, we couldn’t ask him any questions directly.

Really. He may not feel relaxed unless you take someone like Mr. Akazawa and Mr. Yonekawa. He knows O-Sensei’s personal life well.

We talked to Hisa Sensei once. But, his criticism of O-Sensei was too strong so we couldn’t publish the interview.

Oh, I see. I think there is a lot of criticism of Ueshiba Sensei. After all, he is a human being. So, that kind of thing happens… How about Mr. Hirai of Korindo in Shiba?

Yes, we wrote to him and called him but were told that he was too busy.

Mr. Hirai was working for the office of the Hombu Dojo when we were students. He received a rank from the Dai Nihon Butokukai which I mentioned before. How about Koichi Tohei?

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