Interview With Takako Kunigoshi
Aiki News #47 (April 1982)
The following interview with Ms. Takako Kunigoshi took place on the 26th of August, 1981, at her home in the Ikebukuro area of Tokyo. Kunigoshi Sensei is a teacher of both flower arrangement and the tea ceremony.
Editor: Kunigoshi Sensei, when was it that you first became involved in Aikido?
I started in January of 1933, the year that I graduated from school. I was then able to continue up to a little before the air raids began over Tokyo. At one time I had been asked to teach self-defense to female employees of a company located next to the famous Kaminari Mon (Thunder Gate) of the Asakusa Temple in Tokyo’s old town district. I went there with the grand daughter of Yakumo Koizumi (the well known Meiji period author better known to foreign readers as Lafcadio Hearn), Ms. Kazuko Koizumi, and we would teach there together. She is dead now, however. Then the air raids started and there were always warnings and alarms and things were getting a little dangerous so we had to stop. We never got to train very much there.
Editor: Were you training at the Ushigome Dojo (presently Hombu Dojo)?
Yes, that’s right. It was the dojo that had asked me to teach in Asakusa.
Editor: I imagine there weren’t very many women among the deshi in those days.
There were only two of us! The other woman was two or three years younger than myself. I received New Year’s greeting cards from her up until a few years ago. Even now it seems that her nephew is going to the dojo. But as you said, in those days not many women went to train. Ever so, Ueshiba Sensei never made us feel different by changing things “because you are a woman.”
Editor: Who was it that introduced you to the art?
In my case I was never especially introduced by anyone. I went on my own, on my way to school in the morning, to the 6:30 morning class. Do you by chance know of the late Kenzo Futaki Sensei? He was a teacher of the Macrobiotic diet based on brown rice. I used to go with him. He has passed away, too.
Things were not like they are now, the art was not so well known. I would say that there were about six or seven uchideshi students who lived and slept in the dojo and probably about the same number of people who came from their own homes outside. If the uchideshi were not awake yet we couldn’t get into the dojo and we had to wait outside in the cold! (laughter)
Editor: What were the uchideshi like in those days?
There was Mr. Yonekawa, Mr. Shirata, Mr. Funahashi and the late Mr. Yukawa. Then there was a person who came from Osaka whose name was Mr. Oku. He dropped in on me from out of the blue a few years ago. Perhaps it was Mr. Yonekawa who was the oldest among us. Last year he and I made a trip to the Kasama Inari Shrine together on our way home from the ceremony that was held to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of 0-Sensei.
Editor: About two years ago we heard some wonderful stories from Yonekawa Sensei. Do you recall if at the time you were training, the name “Aikido” was in use?
I think at that time it was called Daito Ryu.
Editor: “Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu?”
I think it was something like that because I received a makimono scroll entitled Daito Ryu. It seems to me that the name Aikido came into use just a little before the war started. It was almost as if the name Aikido was thought to actually indicate the Daito Ryu. Later whenever I was asked about it I always answered that it was Takeda Sokaku Sensei’s tradition (ryu).
Editor: During Ueshiba Sensei’s training sessions in what way did he explain the techniques of Aikido?
No matter what it was that we asked him I think we always got the same answer. Anyway, there wasn’t a soul there who could understand any of the things that he said. I guess he was talking about spiritual subjects but the meaning of his words was just beyond us. Later we would stand around and ask each other, “Just what was it Sensei was talking about anyway?” (laughter).
Editor:This is a copy of the book entitled “Budo Renshu”. It was republished two or three years ago. I’m sure that you, Kunigoshi Sensei, are very familiar with it.
I drew the pictures for it. I had Mr. Yonekawa or Me. Tomiki pose for them. Everyday right after practice I would sketch them. Just as someone was about to go flying I would say, “Stop!” and they would go no further. At the instant of a throw I would say, “Hold it just a second there,” and get down most of what was happening. Then later, at my home, I would finish up the details. Naturally my family often asked me, “What on earth are you doing?” as I stood in front of a mirror trying as hard as I could to recreate a certain attitude or look, for my reference in the drawings. (laughter)
Editor:About when was it that this book was first put out?
I started early in 1933 and it was after about a year that we did the book so I suppose it would have been around 1934. These pictures were really difficult to do! I had to do them all twice, you know. Even so I always felt there were some problems left. The second book was never printed after all but… At any rate, this particular version has the first drawings.
Editor: Akazawa Sensei was kind enough to introduce us to another book called “Budo”, printed about 1938, which contains photographs instead of drawings.
I was not involved in that work but I’m sure that photos are better for most people. Was that 1938? Look how young Mr. Kisshomaru (Ueshiba) was then!
Editor: For what reasons was the “Budo Renshu” book printed in the first place?
At first I started drawing the pictures so I myself could remember the techniques. Though on any certain days, for example, we may have been taught ikkajo and nikajo by the time I was out of the gate of the dojo I could hardly remember them so I would watch other people and sketch out just enough that I could understand what was happening. Then one day the owner of a candy store in the Yotsuya area (of central Tokyo), a man called Mr. Takamatsu, happened by and said, “Hey, you’re doing a good thing with these illustrations. Why don’t you draw up a set for me, too?” I replied that those pictures had only been drawn from memory and were not something for other people to see. At that he said, “Well then, I’ll find someone (for a training partner) and we’ll pose for you.”
That’s how all this got going in the very beginning. While we were working on them Ueshiba Sensei looked at them and kindly gave us his personal approval. After that the project became more and more of a formal undertaking and (0-Sensei) had Mr. Yonekawa take this or that attitude. “Do it exactly rightl” he would shout (laughter). For a while at first I hardly got more that ten minutes training in a hour’s practice session because I had to sit and watch closely and try to each the forms in my memory for later use.
Editor: Do you recall about how many issues were printed?
Well, that’s a good question…. I had nothing to do with that part of it. I wonder who it was that took care of that? Perhaps Mr. Yonekawa would be the one to ask about that. Anyway, it was only given to those people who had already mastered the basics to a certain degree. Sensei always reminded us that “If someone who has just entered the dojo should try to train like this they’ll be injured so never show this to a beginner.”
Editor: Who wrote out the explanations that accompany your illustrations?
I think that a friend Mr.Takamatsu wrote them for us. Then, in other cases (Ueshiba) Sensei;> and I would sit down together and Sensei would show me how, “the right hand should be like this,” or say, “More like this,” and in this way we would draw the pictures together.
Editor: There are quite a large number of techniques in this book. About how long did the job take?
I don’t think it took us a year. Then, too, there were times when 0-Sensei would suddenly say, “That’s enough for today,” and we would simply quit. Nothing would get done if he didn’t feel like working on it.
(The full article is available for subscribers.)