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Hiroaki Kogure Sensei: Part Two

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #83 (January 1990)

Unlike the old days when there were many opportunities for real fighting, in our peaceful modern society there are few chances for testing one’s martial abilities, and there is a real danger of losing an understanding of the martial origins of techniques. Kenji Tomiki, Founder of the Japanese Aikido Association, introduced competition into aikido in order to pursue the cultivation of character by nurturing the budo spirit in an environment which includes competition. Riki Kogure, Chief Director of the JAA, talks about the activities of the association which carries on Professor Tomiki’s intent…

Hiroaki Kogure Sensei

Would you please tell us about the kata Tomiki Sensei taught?

I think, in fact, that there are two ways in which we use kata techniques. the first is in set groups for demonstration, and the second way uses the same techniques in condensed and abbreviated patterns derived from competition, in form of free practice. there is also another form, randori. Tomiki Sensei always conducted kata style free practice with, of course, randori style movement in mind. from this period, Tomiki Sensei began conducting various experiments such as putting on protective gear, or executing techniques against karate practitioners, boxers, or Sumo wrestlers.

We believe that the system of kata training for demonstration and the training method for competition are different. Can you tell us about your practice methods?

Because our practitioners are mainly university students and usually they only practice for three years during their university days, they do not have enough time to practice both aikido kata and competition. On top of that, young students naturally have a desire to win in competitions, and thus they neglect the practice of kata. However, one should start out by practicing kata first, before training in randori. I believe that unless one undertakes the practice of kata in a way such as conducted in Ueshiba Sensei’s dojo, one cannot understand the essence of aikido.

Because university students begin free practice and training for randori without spending enough time on basic and flowing techniques, their practice tends to become hard and powerful. Waseda students and Tomiki Aikido people look stuff when they do aikido, don’t they? For example, when our students put on hakama and try to do Yoshinkan or Aikikai style Aikido, their flowing movements all look very clumsy. this may be one of the traditionally observed weak points of Tomiki style. Therefore, in a kata demonstration competition, I think our style might be no match for the flowing style of others.

When you are in a competition, your posture tends to be quite forward, while if you practice kata only, your chin is always up, which is a weak point in competition. You cannot fight with your chin up. The weak points of each school become apparent when joint practices are held.

If you describe various kata forms with the term wa (circle), I think you can say that the form which is practices at Ueshiba Sensei’s dojo is characterized by large circles, whereas ours are small ones. On the other hand our “circle” includes randori but theirs does not. We have our good points and so do they. You learn the good points and weak points of both kinds of aikido only by practicing them both. Tomiki Sensei always said, “You should never become conceited about being able to do aikido. If you think I am a liar, you should come and attack me. I will control your aikido with Judo leg techniques.

I taught many foreigners during my days of business abroad. Foreign students always came top challenge me. I couldn’t handle them only with aikido kata techniques. For example, when I taught a man from the FBI who had once actually killed a person, he refused to match my movement and wouldn’t fall when I executed a wrist-twist on him. I had to use techniques like kicking and butting in order to twist him down. Even when i told students to practice according to the flow of ki, and move without resistance, they just wouldn’t do it. It was really hard to teach them. Their eyes would gleam and look weird. I felt the need of randori practice then. In a situation where your partner resists your techniques, the subject of the use of ukemi comes up and it is a difficult one. I do not think that the current forms of kata of our Association are necessarily the best. We need to do more research on that. There is no completely satisfactory form right now, but we would like to continue to transmit the good points of the art as tradition and make changes to it when necessary.

The attitudes of aikido teachers before the war and after the war seem to be different. For example, those who learned before the war now emphasize the martial aspect of the art when they train.

I like to practice that way. I think that this is the true way of budo. When Ueshiba Sensei was young he considered aikido to be a martial art which could be used for fighting and therefore, I understand that many of his students from this period had the same idea.

In his later years and he grew older, he considered the art as a means of religious discipline (gyo) and from this period Ueshiba Sensei and Tomiki Sensei began to disagree with each other. i think this was why Tomiki Sensei had to separate from Ueshiba Sensei.

Since Tomiki Sensei had practiced Judo and was also a school teacher, he was very open about everything he did, unlike many other aikido teachers. this is why his style is often criticized for having abandoned the martial aspects and spirit. However, Tomiki Sensei had set for himself the goal of becoming known as the second Jigoro Kano.

Another characteristic of our group is that we have many contacts with the practitioners of other martial arts. there are people who study the judging method of Shotokan Karate or study the characteristics and weak points of karate, Judo, and pro-wrestling.

Have you had many chances to find aikido useful in society?

In 1963 or 1964, the members of the Waseda sport clubs underwent an examination testing various kinds of physical strength and the results were very interesting. Those who had the strongest grasping power were the students of the Boating and Kendo Clubs. As far as back strength was concerned, the Judo and Boating Club students were the best. For lung capacity, the Ski, Mountain Climbing and Swimming Club students won. However, the person who had the best reactions was Tomiki Sensei himself. The karate group was second. The Boxing group was not that good. After all, aikido is a martial art for self-defense, so we become very sensitive to attack. If we are punched or kicked, that’s the end. Therefore, we seriously try to avoid attacks.

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