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Interview with Shigemi Yonekawa, Part 2

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #36 (May 1980)

The following is the second part of an interview with Mr. Shigemi Yonekawa which took place on April 7, 1979 at Mr. Yonekawa’s home in Tsuchiura City, Ibaragi Prefecture. Mr. Yonekawa was an uchideshi before the war when 0-Sensei’ s art was still called “Aiki Budo”.

Shigemi Yonekawa Sensei being interviewed c. 1994

All of these things to which we attach the name Michi(path) whether it is the path of Budo,or flower arrangement or calligraphy or wnat have you; all seem to have this something that you lea.rn from your teacher, though it is never spoken; something outside of whatever it is he is actually teaching. After all, anything called “Michi” shouldn’t be taught in the first place, but seems to be something that you have to come to a realization of by yourself. Now, that is a very formidable task but that’s the way it seems to be and there is no way around it.

I first met Ueshiba Sensei and got to know his Budo when I took part in an “Aiki Budo” training and lecture course. I was so impressed by the uniqueness, the subtlety and the depth of 0-Sensei’s art that there sprang up in me a desire to make it one of the things I would try to learn, and it was at that time that I joined his group. I suppose the next question is why I didn’t continue in my Budo training. Well, I moved to Manchuria in the middle of my studies, and there I got involved in the “Shiso-Undo” (Liberal Politics Movement). Also, at that time in Manchuria, there was Ninjutsu (the art of stealth) and other things of that sort. It was nothing for some showman or charlatan to rent a theater or some place and put on a show of walking bare-foot on the blades of Japanese swords or jumping up and down, full force, on slivers of broken beer bottles. These were the kind of things that were going on there when I went over.

As soon as I saw these things I went back stage to ask how it was done. I was told that if one could enter the “Realm of No-Self” ( Muga-no-Kyo ) I could do it. Now, getting to the “Realm of No-Self” is a very difficult task so when I asked how it was to be done I was told to “practice Reido” or psychic activity1. If you ‘practiced Reido’, you could unify your mind and spirit. I was told that if I could unify my spirit I could do the things they were doing. When I asked if one of them would teach me “Reido.” I was told ‘come to my place’. Three of four days of training was supposed to be enough but it was going to cost 15 yen. Well, I was flat broke at that time so I got him to drop the price to 5 yen and went again and again. However, there seemed to be something extremely ‘impure’ hanging in the air. I finally gave it up when nothing happened time after time.

Now, why should I have believed the first person I met who told me that if I did a little “Reido” I would enter “Muga-Ho-Kyo”? Well, at the time I went to Sensei’s place I was also going to the Naval University to teach. There was a man teaching mathematics named Yoshisa-buro Doi. Of couse, this math teacher would also come to the dojo for Budo. He would sit in front of the Shinto Altar and do silent meditation, but his body was always moving around. It was really a strange sort of movement, the kind of thing that you couldn’t do on purpose. I was quite impressed by this teacher and so I said to him, “Sensei, you really have an unusual way of moving, don’t you?” and he answered, “That’s Reido (psychic movement).” When I asked him if he had used any will while he.did it, he answered, “There is will power involved, and I am aware that I’m moving, but it’s not me who is moving my body .” Then it would be time to practice and I would bow to him and we would train together. At times I’d ask him, “Is there something worthwhile when you do that(“Reido”)?” Remember, he was doing some really very difficult top-level math work at the Naval University, and during examination sessions, when he was leafing through test problems, he would, at times, have both hands just stop. When this happened he would look at that problem and sure enough there would be a mistake in it. He insisted that he hadn’t consciously found the error. He said that his “Kan”, his intuition, worked very well. Perhaps if I’d studied “Reido” from Doi Sensei I wouldn’t have gotten involved with those quacks in Manchuria but anyway I think these sorts of phenomena are very interesting things to research.

Myself I never really was able to follow it through to the end. In the case of something as deep as Aikido, I guess that one can never say even a lifetime of involvement is really enough; there is no limit. With something that deep, we sometimes feel that it’s just too much; that we are just butting our heads against a wall. When Ueshiba Sensei spoke or while he practiced Budo he would say some extremely difficult things. He would speak of things that he said were deeolv related to what he called ‘love’. When it came to that sort of thing it was indeed a difficult problem.

For example, if I were travelling with Sensei out in the country, or on one of his frequent trips to Tokyo or Osaka it was a delight. I don’t remember if they were returning from Osaka or if they were on their way to Osaka from Tokyo. But anyway, a sempai of mine, a man named Mr. Yukawa, somehow got separated from Sensei along the way and the two of them had to arrive separately. Boy, did he ever get scolded by Sensei. I guess Sensei was making fun of him. When I was honored to be Sensei’s travelling companion, I always said there was no way for him to give me the slip. I guess there was still some conceit in my attitude. We often went to a certain economists’ club for training . Sensei had said that as soon as training for that day was finished we would be returning to Tokyo. Later as we were going out of the elevator, Sensei was just ahead of me and I followed him out, but when I got out of the thing Sensei was gone! I thought to myself “This is going to be a replay of Mr. Yukawa’s problems” and got a little upset. I rushed to Osaka station by taxi but Sensei wasn’t there, either. I thought “I’ve been abandoned.” Then for some reason I had to change trains at Kyoto and as I got off onto the platform, there was Sensei. “Well, Sensei,” I said, “It’sagood thing 1 caught up with you in Kyoto,” and I was relieved that I didn’t have to return to Tokyo alone. Anyway, the training of a deshi was a 24-hour, day and night affair. That’s one sort of training. That’s why Sensei had something completely different from your regular Budo Sensei. That is what is really necessary to learn. If you feel like saying, ‘Well, you could have waited for me.or ‘You didn’t have to leave me behind,’ then you’ll never be able to follow your teacher. But in today’s world this way of doing things isn’t appreciated.

Mr. Yonekawa, do you remember this old book called “Budo Renshu”? It’s recently been republished.

This one; let me show you. I have a copy here. This Mr. Miura mentioned here was one of Sensei’s deshi who attended these sessions. He wrote down everything that was said at that time.

Why did O-Sensei publish “Budo Renshu”?

Well, let me see. In the past various sensei wrote transmission scrolls (makimono) and in this way hoped to make things easy to understand or through pictures and diagrams, to preserve what they knew. I guess those are the main reasons.

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