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Interview with Shigenobu Okumura (1983), Part 1

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #58 (October 1983)

The following is the first of two-part interview with Shigenobu Okumura Sensei, a Hombu Dojo instructor which took place on May 14, 1983. Okumura Sensei, a Horabu dojo instructor, which some background information concerning his family and initiation to the martial arts.

Shigenobu Okumura Sensei

Although I was born in Hokkaido I went to Dairen (major city in Japanese-controlled Manchuria before the War) when I was three. After that, I went through the public school system and also graduated from the University in Manchuria. My mother entered the Aikido dojo in 1933 eight years before I started my training. She is senior to me in Aikido by eight years. At that time I was practicing Kendo so I really wasn’t interested in Aikido. Whenever I went to the dojo I saw my mother doing simple suwari waza. After I entered the university and studied with Tomiki Sensei and 0-Sensei, I decided to practice only Aikido.

Was Tomiki Sensei the main teacher at that time?

Yes, that’s right. Tomiki Sensei usually taught. Ueshiba Sensei came to Manchuria from Tokyo every fall. Sometimes he came to our university and sometimes he came at the invitation of the Manchurian government. In our university, Aikido was a required subject. Our university was probably the first one among all the government universities to have this requirement. Kendo, Judo, Aikido, all three were required subjects.

Were there matches at that time?

No. It was long after the war that Tomiki Sensei started talking about matches. In the Kenkoku University period he was doing the exact same training as Hombu Dojo. After the war he developed an ideology intended to convert Aikido into a sport. I was opposed to the idea of converting Aikido into a sport and so I did not agree with Tomiki Sensei’s view. Although I was his student, I opposed him to the end in this point.

Did Tomiki Sensei hold that viewpoint at that time also?

Well, he was doing the same as Hombu. After the war, he took the position that it was necessary to transform Aikido into a sport in order to modernize it. We took the position that Aikido could be modernized without turning it into a sport. For example, in the case of zazen or iai, you can’t talk about winners and losers. In Aikido, one can proceed at his own pace, thus, it is equivalent to a “moving zen”. You can’t talk about who is first or who is second in these things. If anything, those who train religiously are the best….. those who overcome themselves. There is that tendency now in general. Like cycling and jogging. Cycling is different from a bicycle race. Cycling is something which the family does together. Jogging is not running a marathon. One runs the whole distance at his own pace. These activities are becoming popular. These new things, which are not sports and which have no competition, are achieving popularity. However, like Judo and Kendo, Aikido is following the opposite course toward sports where there are losers and winners. What people are seeking now is something which doesn’t have such matches. This tendency is widespread.

Aikido has two aspects: a spiritual aspect and a technical aspect. What sort of spiritual practices did you engage in at that time?

Since 0-Sensei was involved with the Omoto religion, Shinto ideology played a strong part. Shinto ideology is, in one word, “musubi” . Ueshiba Sensei explained Aikido using this theory. When one listened to him talk, it was always about the gods. Those who hadn’t read the ancient “Kojiki” text couldn’t make much sense of what he said. If you write “musubi” in Kanji, it can be expressed as “wago”, “wa” or “tooitsu” Musubi has many meanings (in both noun and verb forms). For example, “to tie a string”, “to get married” and also, the “last bout of the day” (musubi no ichiban). “Musu” is to create and “hi” means “spirit”. Thus it becomes “creative spirit”. So ladies like yourselves (referring to staff members Kimura and Kudo) are called “musume”. Those who are capable of giving birth to children are called “rausume”. In other words, it is women who are capable of creation. We call light, “hi”, the sun, “hi”, fire, “hi” and spirit “hi”. We refer to all of these sacred things as “hi”. That’s why we human beings are called “hito”. We possess the holy spirit. In this manner, the spirit remains in the old words. Ueshiba Sensei explained this “nusubi” theory. If you write musubi in a way that young people can understand, you have “wago”. In Chinese characters, “wago” and in classical Japanese “musubi”.

Was the technique at that time the same as that published in the book entitled “Budo” published in 1938?

Yes. At that time it was called “Aiki Bujutsu” not “Aikido”. In 1943, rank came to be issued by the “Dai Nihon Budokai” {Greater Japan Martial Arts Association). None of the heads of schools issued rank. This was the case in 1943, 1944 and 1945. The Dai Nihon Budokai was established by the government and issued ranks for Aiki, Yumi and Kendo, etc. The Association wasn’t directly controlled by the government, it was a foundation.

Was it then that the Budo Shigenobu Okumura Sensei Sen’yokai disappeared?

Yes. Everything was absorbed by the Association. However, when Japan lost the war, the GHQ came and disbanded the Dai Nihon Budokai. It turned out that we couldn’t practice Kendo, Aikido or Judo. Under the occupation, until the San Francisco Treaty was signed, we couldn’t practice openly. However, there were many Judo enthusiasts among American officers. (Laughter) The people in the Kodokan emphasized the sport aspect of Judo by saying that Judo was not a budo but a sport. Then, gradually it was overlooked and the GHQ became rather loose. But, Kendo and Aikido did not receive the same treatment. Kendo, like Judo, came to be called “Shinai Kyogi” (Bamboo-sword Competition). That’s why it gradually became a sport. Ueshiba Sensei was in Iwama. In Tokyo, it was very strict, since Iwama was the countryside, the GHQ people didn’t come. (Laughter) Before their influence reached that far, the occupation ended. Ueshiba Sensei was farming in Iwama and he called the Aikido Dojo, “Aiki En” (Aiki Farm).

When I came back from Siberia in 1948, this area (Wakamatsu-cho) was all burned down. People who had nowhere to go since they had been burned out of their houses drifted into the dojo. At that time there were something more than ten families livinq there. When I came back, there were still three families left. It wasn’t a good atmoshphere for training at all. It was because of Doshu Kisshomaru Sensei that the dojo was saved. Every time a fire bomb was dropped they put out the fire using buckets in order to save the dojo. Around 1948 there was no more rationed rice. There was nothing to eat except sweet potatoes and sugar. Tokyo University students attempted to move as little as possible. If they moved they would expend their energy. When I came back from Siberia I thought I couldn’t eat rice if I stayed in Tokyo so I went up to Hokkaido. Anyway, it was that kind of period. There were no people training. We couldn’t intentionally make ourselves hungry by training.

About when did the situation begin to change?

It was after the Korean War began. The Japanese economy started to prosper as if it had been given a “shot in the arm”. The Vietnam war was also a contributing factor. America started ordering a lot of things from Japan because they were cheap. They even ordered coffins. The GHQ wanted to establish a Japanese military in Japan but because of the 9th Article of the Constitution it was not possible. However, they set up the Metropolitan Police Reserve Corps. The reason for this was that all of the American soldiers went to Korea and were thus absent from Japan. The Reserve Corps was eventually transformed into the National Security Force and finally the Self-Defense Forces. That’s the way events transpired.

Did the training of the Reserve Corps include Aikido practice?

No. Aikido techniques were originally self-defense oriented, not for the art of killing. There are four levels of winning. First, to win by killing. Second, to win, although not by killing, but still resulting in inflicting injury. Third, capturing the opponent alive without any injury to either party. Fourth, where there is no contact and thus no opponent. To kill someone, you can cut or choke or strike or kick. To injure someone, you can avoid inflicting a mortal wound. However, what can you do to only block violence while avoiding injury to either side? For example, what would you do if an elementary school child attacked you with a knife? Would you kill the child? Probably you would avoid the attack or run away. What if you neutralized the violence by taking away the knife and pinned him? To capture the opponent alive, there is technically no way but to pin. If you kick him or choke him, the opponent will be injured. Thus, to neutralize violence without injury to your opponent you have to pin him. If you can’t immobilize him because he struggles you first make the task easier by throwing him and then pinning him.

There aren’t any kicking or thrusting techniques in Aikido. Dealing with violence with bare hands is Aikido. I might say that Aikido is the art most respectful of human life. This is the Aikido spirit. We say “bu” is love, don’t we? If we consider bu equal to love then our only recourse is to pin. The reason that the police don’t adopt Karate is that they are not supposed to finish off the criminal. They can go no further than arresting him. On the other hand, they shouldn’t be injured by the criminal. They have no choice but to pin in order to avoid injury to themselves and their opponent. If they teach Karate to the police, they will go too far.

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