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Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei

by Clement Choo

Published Online

Koretoshi Maruyama

Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei was born in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, on 5 October 1936. After his graduation from the Economics Department of Keio University, he joined his father’s business, Maruyama Manufacturing. He became interested in the martial arts during his middle school years and at his father’s urging, practiced Judo and earned a black belt. Again at his father’s urging, he entered the Rikidozan School of Professional Wrestling and also trained in weight-lifting and boxing, while simultaneously training in Judo at the Kodokan.

In the spring of his third year of college in 1957, he began to develop doubts about the martial arts of judo, wrestling and boxing, which emphasized a mere contest of strength. At this point he entered the Aikikai, as well as training at the Keio University Aikido Club. It was here that he found in aikido what he had been searching for all those years, a martial art which did not depend on strength, and taught the right attitude of mind. After graduation, he continued his training in Aikido while working at the family business. In 1967, he delegated his responsibilities in the business so that he could become a full-time professional Aikido instructor, under the tutelage of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido.

In 1971, he went to Hawaii for 4 months, to teach Aikido on each of the islands. A year later, he resigned from Aikikai to become the Chief Instructor of Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Society) which was founded in September 1971 by Koichi Tohei Sensei, who granted Maruyama Sensei the rank of 8th-dan.

In 1973, he became responsible for teaching in Hawaii and for 10 years taught ki principles at the University of Hawaii in Hilo as well as the Keio University Physical Education Research Department in Japan. From 1977, he studied with Haruchika Noguchi Sensei on how to heal and help people with Ki and use Ki in daily life. At the same time, he also studied the psychology of Zen from Zen priest Shogen Munou, from whom he learned how to use the mind positively.

During this time, he also traveled extensively to Hawaii, many states in America, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Philippines, Guam, England, Italy and other parts of Europe, teaching Aikido and Ki Principles, and eventually becoming the President of Ki no Kenkyukai in 1990. However, he began to have reservations about the direction and policies of the Ki Society, and resigned from this position on 29 July 1991. From this time he undertook a period of 10 years in a temple in Saitama Prefecture, intensively training in the philosophy and practice that ‘You are fundamentally Mind.’ He left the temple on 9 October 2001, during which time he had received permission from the temple priest to establish Aikido Yuishinkai on 9 May 1996, which he has continued to develop until the present day.

(Extracted from the Aikido Yuishinkai Student Handbook)

What are your earliest recollections of Aikido? What was the most important lesson you learnt from O-Sensei?

I learned many martial arts, especially Judo. These arts involved a lot of throwing and fighting. I practiced Judo to become strong. I took many classes at the Kodokan but felt the limits of Judo. Back then, the heaviest person was the Judo champion but I only weighed about 60 kg. After one Judo class, I went to a bookshop where I read a book on Aikido by Kisshomaru Ueshiba. When I read it, I was struck by the clearness of O-Sensei’s eyes. I was also attracted by the fact that there were no competitions in Aikido. Although it seemed like playing, I decided to practice Aikido.

In Japan, studying at a university takes four years, so it was in my third year of study that I went to Hombu dojo. The date was 26 November. When I reached there, I found a lot of young people who were from Keio University! Back then there was no dojo at the university so they had to go to Aikikai’s dojo to practice. It was quite a coincidence since the university’s training slot was 3-4 pm and I reached Aikikai around 4-5 pm! I didn’t know them but they knew who I was. The reason for this was that I had established a cartoon club at the university a year before and had made a television appearance due to it. Tohei Sensei was the instructor of Keio University Aikido Club but he left the position to go to Hawaii.

After I became a full-time instructor in 1967, Ueshiba Sensei used me as his uke. As a deshi (student), it was important to take ukemi. One deshi didn’t know how to take ukemi from O-Sensei and went down with a bang. I already knew that Ueshiba Sensei used ki. I wondered, “How to take ukemi from O-Sensei?” So I decided to extend ki to him. He said, “Come, Maruyama!”, and I attacked him. After taking ukemi from him, Ueshiba Sensei looked at me, and said, “Good ukemi!” He then asked what rank I held and I told him I was a 5th dan. He gave me a 6th dan and told me to go to the office to get the certificate! I thanked him but I never picked up my certificate. However, I had learnt an important lesson, “Extend ki to your opponent!”

How has Aikido changed your life?

When learning how to extend ki, I was also learning to keep calm. This state has changed my life.

How do you see the future of Aikido?

After O-Sensei died, separation has taken place in the aikido world. Some aikido schools have introduced competition. In ancient Japan, there were many famous swordsmen. One of them was Kami-izumi Isenokami of the Shinkage ryu (New Shadow School). O-Sensei learnt Shinkage ryu in addition to other martial arts. During that time, the swordsmen practiced only kata and they didn’t have competitions. They would practice one kata for two hours or more.

Aikido has kata, take for example Shomenuchi Kokyunage. Today, we usually practice one technique for 5-10 minutes before changing. The swordsmen fought with no injuries. However, if any one of them fought 60 times, it would mean 60 people died — just from practicing kite.

In Japan, I am teaching ki to a karate instructor. At the public gym where I teach, half the space is taken up by my class while the other half is occupied by his class. I am also teaching his students how to use ki in karate. My classes take place from 7-8:30 pm while the karate classes run from 8-9 pm. During the 30 minutes where our times overlap, the combined class practices breathing and other ki exercises.

This instructor introduced me to another karate instructor who told me an interesting story. He recounted a children’s class which practiced nothing but kata from the ages of 6-12 years. They didn’t take part in any competitions during that time. However, when they did compete, the children who had practiced kata intensively won. Kata practice is very important.

O-Sensei once told me that even though I knew the techniques, I must take ukemi. “Don’t resist! Take ukemi!” he said. We should return to Ueshiba Sensei’s teachings.

What are the most important influences on your aikido? During your time spent in the temple, how did your meditations help you to evolve the concept of “You are fundamentally Mind”?

Ki is very important. Thomas Edison, the American inventor said that the universe is filled with electricity. Lightning seemingly strikes out of nowhere but the potential is already there. Likewise, ki is like electricity. Everything is composed of molecules which consist of smaller particles such as atoms. If we continue to infinitely subdivide these particles, we will never reach zero, since you cannot make something from nothing.

In Eastern philosophy, ki is defined as an infinite gathering of infinitely small things. Everything is made up of ki. When ki comes together, suns can be created. When these suns die, they return to the ki that made them. The mind is very important as it is similar to an electric generator. The mind allows us to tap into ki and to use it.

I had read the teachings of Shogen Muno, a Zen practitioner and in his books he talked of “Mind makes your future”. A positive mind can have great effect on a person’s life.

Kan So (positive visualization) enables anyone to positively affect their lives. One of my instructors is Tayeko Yamada, a housewife with three children. She had neither taken an airplane nor visited a foreign country. I asked her to imagine going to another country for about five minutes a day. However, she couldn’t picture this so I brought her some travel brochures to help her in her visualization. This took place in December 2001. In February 2002, Michael Williams Sensei of Australia called me and invited me to come down and give a seminar and invited any instructors that I wanted to bring along. In September that year, I arrived in Australia, along with my wife, and Tayeko Yamada.

For myself, I wished to visit Hawaii. After practicing kan so for a few months, I received a call from Donald Enoki who asked me to come over for a week. This time there would be no Aikido practice so I left my keikogi in Japan!

The ‘Yushin’ in Yushinkai Aikido means “I am mind itself”. During my stay at the temple, I meditated on being Mu (nothing). I came to realize that “now” is very important so I formed the idea of “Now be here”.

Our minds have conscious and subconscious parts. In between these two parts, there is a filter. If this filter is dirty, whatever good thoughts that occur in our consciousness will become dirty when they pass into our sub consciousness. A positive mind keeps the filter clean.

Could you tell us more about your philosophy on “Words have a power of their own”?

The power of the spoken word was recognized in ancient Japan as kotodama, or word spirit. To speak a word is to encourage it to come true. Your life energy responds to sounds and thoughts, as expressed in the spoken word. When you fill your daily life with positive words and thoughts, your life is filled with the power of ki. In this way you can keep mentally and physically healthy, and have a positive influence on others as well. Words have real power, and can produce practical results in your life.

There was a girl who was poor but pretty. She had a hard life as her parents had died when she was very young. She married a rich man but she continued to have a negative mind. Later on, her husband died in a car crash and she lost all her money and career. She died at a young age. Although good things happened to her, her mind had this “but” inside which clouded her thoughts.

How has your experience with teaching aikido in many countries helped to you establish Aikido Yuishinkai? How has your teaching of aikido evolved over the years? What are your thoughts about the subject of not using strength in the practice of aikido?

I would like to spread kan so throughout the world since positive words lead to a positive mind which dictates your life.

I have added the footwork that is used by the Shinkage ryu style of swordsmanship into the techniques taught in Aikido Yuishinkai. The footwork is known as Suigetsu-no-ashi (moon shadow foot). This allows nage to insert his foot into the ma-ai space, without any indication of movement in the upper body. This gives nage an edge.

When watching a wildlife documentary, I was inspired by the image of a lizard running over the surface of a pond. Of course, human beings cannot run like that but I was able to create Tokage-no-ashi (lizard feet). The advantage of using this lies in the fact that nage’s two or three steps are faster than uke’s single step in an attack.

Both pieces of footwork are usually not noticed by the uke. When they are used together, the ma-ai is shortened and a technique can be executed easily.

The swordsmen of ancient Japan never jumped or twisted their bodies when practicing kata or when they were fighting. Be natural in your Aikido. I noticed this about Ueshiba Sensei. He never twisted his body nor did he jump when performing a technique. He just walked naturally. If you watch movie footage of him, you will see this.

Could you share with us your thoughts about the centerline in aikido?

Imagine there is a long metal rod that stretches from the top of your head, through your spine, and emerges from the bottom of your pelvis. This is sei-chu-sen, the center line of the body which is also considered a spiritual center. To help my students keep their centerline, I ask them to visualize a very thin wall along their centerlines which cuts their bodies into their left and right halves. When they walk, they should slide the insides of their legs along the sides of the wall.

Could you tell us more about the healing aspect of Aikido Yuishinkai?

I learnt Yuki (healing with ki) from Haruchika Noguchi who said, “Laying the hands on the body to cure illness is not something that men have thought up; it is an instinctive method of treatment.”

Noguchi said that as men began to use their brains, and because their way of living impaired their original wildness, that ability grew weak and, following the example of dogs and deer, they learnt to chew bark and lick the roots of plants and so discovered how to treat themselves with medicinal substances.

“No matter how skillfully a person may protect himself with things that derive from outside him, we cannot call him strong unless he becomes strong through his own power,” said Noguchi. “People who are going to use the method of yuki should not use it as a substitute for medicines. It should be used only to create people who are genuinely strong.”

“First of all, it is important to practice, in your daily life; concentrating the ki in the palms of your hands by putting your palms together and imagining that you are breathing in and out through them; gradually deepen your breathing so that is seems that you are breathing through the palms into the lower spine, and out again…Yuki is not used to cure sickness, it is done so that the condition of the body becomes such that sickness is naturally cured.”

When you have a bright mind and happy ki, you will be healthy. As Noguchi puts it, “…the only genuine way of staying healthy is to live exuberantly.”

“Aikido without boundaries” is one of the philosophies of Aikido Yushinkai. Could you elaborate on the importance of this?

As I said before, we should come back to O-Sensei. In the foreword to the Aikido Yuishinkai Student Handbook, I wrote, “Every river has a name. However, these names disappear when they flow into the great ocean. Aikido has many styles, many names, but Aikido is Aikido. It is my vision and hope that, like the rivers, they flow together and unite as one.”

What are your thoughts about the use of the bokken and jo in Aikido?

When you extend ki through your bokken and jo, they become “bright”. I gave a bokken to a student of mine. I had used this bokken regularly so it was “bright and shiny”. However, when I visited this student later, I found that the bokken had turned “dull” as he had not been practicing with it. The bokken and jo will help you to focus your ki.

As one member of the generation that knew and practiced with O-Sensei, what do you think is the most valuable gift that a teacher can give to a student?

Don’t fight. Use ki. Don’t resist. Take ukemi.

(This interview took place on September 1st, 2003, and during a seminar conducted in Singapore by Koretoshi Maruyama Sensei. Aikido Yuishinkai is arranging a seminar tour to Europe in June/July and North America in July/August 2004. For information on seminars, please visit the organization’s website located at: www.aikidoyuishinkai.com or email info@aikidoyuishinkai.com)