An Interview with John Goss: Aikido Politics and the Growth of Korindo in America
by Ted Howell
John Goss is the Chief Instructor of the Aiki Martial Arts Institute located in Bel Air, Maryland. He began studying Korindo Aikido under Dennis Mikata Sensei in 1973 and was awarded the rank and position 7th dan Shihan / Official Representative of Mikata-ha Korindo Aikido on July 1, 2005. This thought provoking interview takes the reader through an interesting turn of events, explaining how John Goss was separated from his original aikido teacher in 1990 only to re-establish a relationship with him in 2002. The interview explains, in depth, the intricacies and dynamics involving the search for organizational affiliation and one man’s journey through the turbulent world of martial arts politics.
“Aikikai, Daito-ryu, what’s a Korindo guy to do?”
A few years back, Ellis Amdur made this statement and it struck me as being somewhat insightful. Although said in jest, I believe it typifies the struggle many martial artists experience while searching to find one’s place. Among the many questions that may race through the mind of a martial artist seeking to find his / her correct path, the question, “Where do I belong?” must play a significant role in the direction one chooses to follow. Although the purpose underlying the study of budo is personal to each practitioner, I believe in the end it will always come down to finding the right teacher. Regardless of organizational affiliation, style or purpose, I believe fostering a personal relationship with a teacher is the foundation to one’s study of budo.
Fumio Toyoda Sensei once told me, “If you have two people, you have politics.” This matter of fact statement, made during a conversation regarding aikido and the various political structures found within the United States, implies that the world of martial arts, in this case aikido, has not found itself immune to the evils often associated with political organization found in “civilized” society. One can plainly see by reviewing history, that aikido, often referred to as Japan’s spiritual martial art, has been haunted by the effects of politics. From its very conception to the present day, the effects of political organization and control have shown to be somewhat contradictory to what many may think of when they ponder aikido’s philosophical teachings. Throughout the history of aikido, we have seen strained relationships, fragmentation, ideological differences, and a myriad of other symptoms often related to the human condition. How can an art, with such deep philosophical and religious underpinnings, be surrounded by the same symptoms often found in every other corner of society?
Those that squabble over legitimacy in aikido often forget that its history is chock full of questions regarding loyalty, personal vision, relationship dynamics, and conflict. Aikidoka often forget (quite conveniently) that Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei himself, “broke-off” from the Daito-ryu and Sokaku Takeda. So why then is it different when other students find themselves in a similar situation? What about the relationships between Morihei Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei (founder of Shinshin Toitsu), Gozo Shioda (founder of Yoshinkan Aikido), Kenji Tomiki (founder of Tomiki Aikido), Minoru Mochizuki (founder of Yoseikan Budo), Yoichiro Inoue (founder of Shin’ei Taido), or in this case, Minoru Hirai (founder of Korindo Aikido)?
Think about the dramatic shock waves that rippled throughout the aikido world when Koichi Tohei left the Aikikai in the 1970’s. What about the more recent and most unfortunate disagreements between Hitohiro Saito and Moriteru Ueshiba? In like manner, these types of political situations appear to have plagued the everyday workings of the aikido community. I find it sad that many of those who propose to teach others about respect, self-control, integrity and humility still seek political power themselves and adamantly vie for status, with little or no thought to the price paid by the art.
I do not believe political organizations are inherently bad, but do believe that the search for political power is the root of many unfortunate situations. In regards to martial arts in the modern world, politics begin when a person decides to follow the teachings of another. Thus, the relationship between the student and teacher becomes the focus of the political situation. I believe difficulties arise though, when the balance of this agreement shifts from a student-teacher relationship to one influenced by organizational affiliation.
So the question arises, do you submit to the teachings of another because they belong to an organization or do you follow a teacher as an individual, wishing to learn what they have to offer? With this, another question is brought to light. By what measure do we determine one’s legitimacy? Organizational affiliation? Rank? Ability? Lineage? Or is it the combination of many factors? Whatever your answer or understanding may be, one thing is for sure; nobody, not even the enlightened martial masters, have proven to be immune from such humanistic struggles. I am not saying all organizations are bad per se, but believe somewhere in the mix, the whole purpose of studying budo can be lost due to these power struggles and organizational differences.
In the interest of history, I have provided the following quotes as examples of how Minoru Hirai fits into the world of aikido. The first quote, taken from an interview with Minoru Mochizuki (founder of Yoseikan Budo), provides a rare glimpse into the world of aikido politics, found as early as the Kobukan era.
Did you have much contact with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo after the war?
After the war ended Ueshiba Sensei wanted to return to Tokyo and so he asked me if I wouldn’t set things up by talking to Mr. Minoru Hirai who had been put in charge of the Ushigome Dojo sometime during the war. I was to go and talk to him and get the dojo back for O-Sensei. Also, since young Gozo Shioda had started a dojo in a place called Tsukudo Hachiman, it would probably have had some influence on the Ueshiba Dojo. I had to talk to him and get him to agree to move somewhere [a little more distant] as soon as possible. Everyone listened to what I had to say, but since I had been made to do all those things I ended up feeling a little uncomfortable about going to Tokyo. You see, O-Sensei and Kisshomaru Sensei had already asked me to take over the management of the dojo since Kisshomaru was at that time working in a securities firm. “This is going to be trouble in the future,” my intuition told me and I refused to get into it.
In recent years too, I suppose that Mr. Koichi Tohei had the same sort of difficulty. Mr. Tohei sent me a letter at the time, which read, “I have worked for aikido for many years, but now I find myself driven out. It is a great disappointment.” I had instinctively felt that such a situation would bring trouble in the future. I had felt that kind of ki. That is why I had avoided that sort of thing. I wrote back to Mr. Tohei and asked him if he hadn’t been able to realize that in advance. I can go up to the Hombu Dojo anytime, even now, but I doubt that Mr. Tohei can do the same.” (Mochizuki / pg. 117,118 Aikido Masters)
Aiki News: Among the later well-known figures to study under Ueshiba Sensei shortly before the war were Koichi Tohei [director of Shinshin Toitsu Aikidokai] and Kisaburo Osawa Sensei [former Dojo-cho of Aikikai Hombu Dojo, awarded 10th dan posthumously]. Do you recall when they started?
Shioda Sensei: Mr. Osawa commuted to the dojo. Mr. Tohei was a student at Keio University shortly before I left the dojo. He was practicing judo and two of his seniors, Mori, a captain of the Keio Judo Club at the time, and Umeda, a competitor in the student judo championships, were practicing at the Ueshiba dojo.
[By that time], Shigemi Yonekawa, Zenzaburo Akazawa, and all of the early uchideshi had to enter military service and so only the older people were left in the dojo. Mr. Minoru Hirai [founder of Korindo] was handling the office. Since the young people had disappeared, whenever Ueshiba Sensei was invited to give a demonstration, he would take Mr. Hirai with him and he established many contacts in this way. Apparently Hirai used to teach in Roppongi. (Gozo Shioda / Aiki News 93, Fall of 1992 / pg. 11)
Did you ever meet O-Sensei?
“About twenty years ago, I visited the dojo of Minoru Hirai’s Korindo. In the course of watching their fascinating practice, a senior member of the dojo spoke to me about their art, and I asked a question that included the word, O-Sensei. The man looked puzzled for a second, and then said, “O-Sensei who?” I said, “Morihei Ueshiba, of course.” “The only O-Sensei we know of is Hirai O-Sensei,” was his reply.
In other words, one man’s master is another man’s certified public accountant. (Improvisations / Ellis Amdur / Aikido Journal, Vol. 24, no. 1, 1997)
Minoru Hirai and Korindo Aikido
Minoru Hirai (1903-1998) was born in Okayama Prefecture in March of 1903. From an early age he began the study of classical martial arts. In 1914, at the age of eleven, Hirai began studying Togun-ryu (kenjutsu) under his grandfather-in-law and enrolled in Okumura Nito-ryu (kenjutsu) in 1918. Hirai Sensei later went on to cross train in various martial disciplines and is known to have studied Takenouchi-ryu (jujutsu), Kito-ryu (jujutsu), and Saburi-ryu (sojutsu).
In 1938, after becoming an accomplished martial artist with strengths in iaido and jujutsu, Minoru Hirai established the Kogado dojo where he stressed the relationship between the martial arts and personal conduct. In 1939 Hirai Sensei met Morihei Ueshiba in the home of an Omoto Kyo believer living in Nishikawa, Okayama. Upon meeting Ueshiba a second time some months later, he was invited to Tokyo for the purpose of visiting Ueshiba’s Kobukan dojo. After traveling to Tokyo, Minoru Hirai joined the famous Kobukan, where his theories regarding taisabaki and the circle were reinforced by Ueshiba’s aiki budo.
During the period of WWII, Minoru Hirai became instrumental in the development and instruction of new arrest techniques (taihojutsu) used by the Japanese military police. As the head of the yawara (jujutsu) department of the Japanese Army’s Military Police School, Hirai Sensei authored and published the Rikugun Kenpei Gakko Taijutsu Kyohan (Army Military Police School Taijutsu Manual).
In January of 1942, Morihei Ueshiba appointed Minoru Hirai as the Director of General Affairs for the Kobukan dojo. In October of 1942, Hirai Sensei was sent as a representative to the Dai Nihon Butokukai (The Greater Japan Virtues Society) where he played a major role in establishing the name of Ueshiba’s art, changing it from aikibudo to aikido.
In 1945, Minoru Hirai was awarded the rank of Hanshi (master) from the Dai Nihon Butokukai and in October of that same year established the Korindo dojo in Shizuoka. In September of 1953 he established the Korindo dojo in Tokyo and in January of 1954 established the Nihon Korinkai organization.
Note: After rejecting the proposed name of aikibudo, the Dai Nihon Butokukai established a new section to include yawara and generically labeled this new category as “aikido.” The name aikido, although a category established within the Dai Nihon Butokukai referring to all jujutsu based systems, was used by Ueshiba to refer to his modern art.
The above series of events appears to be a point of contention between the Nihon Korinkai and the Aikikai Foundation. Although Minoru Hirai Sensei served as the Director of General Affairs for the Kobukan dojo and was instrumental in the name change of Ueshiba’s art, he was a member of the Dai Nihon Butokukai prior to the addition of the new yawara section referred to as aikido. There appears to be a disagreement regarding the course of events and the Nihon Korinkai rejects the claim that Hirai was “sent” as a representative by Ueshiba.
Today, the name aikido is generically used in reference to the art created by Morihei Ueshiba. But according to the Nihon Korinkai, aikido was actually founded by Minoru Hirai and little stress, if any, is emphasized regarding the fact that Minoru Hirai studied under Morihei Ueshiba.
Korindo is a modern Japanese martial art (gendai budo) that combines classical jujutsu, traditional weaponry, and the early teachings of Morihei Ueshiba. Although referred to as a style of aikido, Korindo is a unique martial art based on Hirai Sensei’s understanding of body movement (taisabaki). Korindo’s taisabaki consists of seven basic forms or kata that are practiced both solo and with a partner. These unique taisabaki can be practiced empty-handed or with a sword, short staff, or spear. The ultimate goal in the diligent study of Korindo’s taisabaki is to express a natural seamless flow of movement and develop the ability to apply technique from any position or situation. Grounded in Hirai’s unique understanding of the circle, Korindo’s taisabaki stress proper rotation of the hips with the coordination of hand and foot movement.
Almost unknown to most aikido practitioners, Korindo Aikido is distinct in its use of small circles, quick movements, and striking (atemi). Minoru Hirai developed Korindo as a means of effective self defense, grounded in the concepts of martial tactics (heiho), but expressed naturally. The name “Korin” was derived from a Buddhist scripture (Kannonkyo) and means to spread the light. As one develops martial ability, one also develops as a human being. Through the endless pursuit of self-mastery, “…we must look for a correct, natural, and peaceful way to live.” (Quote: Minoru Hirai, taken from an interview with Aikido Journal in 1994).
The Mikata Connection
Deniki (Jiro) Mikata was a close friend and contemporary of Korindo founder, Minoru Hirai. Apparently, both Mikata and Hirai belonged to a group of iai practitioners that frequently met to exchange ideas and practice various styles of iaijutsu. Deniki Mikata is known to have made a life-long study of iai and visited Hirai’s Shizuoka dojo often to practice Takenouchi ryu Iai and Muso Jikiden Eishen ryu.
The connection of the Mikata family in regards to Korindo Aikido actually began in 1948 when Tetsuo and Yukiyo Kurota began studying Korindo under Minoru Hirai at the Shizuoka dojo. Shortly thereafter, they met Deniki Mikata Sensei and a close relationship between the Hirai, Mikata, and Kurota families developed through the marriage of Deniki Mikata and Yukiyo Kurota.
Both Tetsuo Kurota and Yukiyo Mikata studied directly under Minoru Hirai Sensei until personal disagreements regarding Hirai Sensei’s son, Tomohiro, caused a separation in 1963. Upon leaving the Nihon Korinkai, Tetsuo Kurota (8th dan Shihan) and Yukiyo Mikata (6th dan Shihan) privately continued the martial traditions mastered while under the discipleship of Minoru Hirai Sensei. In 1964 Deniki and Yukiyo Mikata moved to the United States and Tetsuo Kurota relocated from Shizuoka to Kyushu.
Dennis Mikata was born in 1952, Shizuoka Japan. He is the son of Deniki and Yukiyo Mikata and nephew to Tetsuo Kurota Sensei. Raised in a family of martial artists, Dennis Mikata was introduced to and influenced by iaijutsu and Korindo from an early age. Although primarily a student of his mother, Dennis Mikata was greatly influenced by his father, his uncle and briefly studied Korindo Aikido directly under Minoru Hirai prior to his family’s move to the United States. Upon arriving in the United States (Maryland), Deniki and Yukiyo Mikata built a private dojo at the family residence and continued the martial traditions of the Mikata family.
Sensei, what were the circumstances surrounding why you put so much effort into affiliating with the Aikikai Foundation?
In 1990, Dennis Mikata Sensei accepted a job offer in California and decided to retire from teaching. He was always a hobbyist, as most Korindo practitioners are. He relocated to California and then moved back to Japan (Kyushu) in the mid 1990’s. We kept a correspondence and he told me he was training with his uncle (Tetsuo Kurota) and even some Aikikai members, but he was just dabbling at that point. Most of Dennis Mikata’s training was under his mother.
When Mikata Sensei moved, that’s when he taught me about the different styles of aikido. I really didn’t know much about all the different styles before then. Because of the number of aikido practitioners associated with the Aikikai Foundation, he suggested I go with the Aikikai.
After Mikata Sensei left, I attempted to affiliate with a number of aikido groups and because Korindo was pretty unknown, I was asked to demonstrate. And when I would demonstrate, of course it didn’t look like the big circles, flowing aikido that is fairly common. I don’t think people knew what they were watching, probably some form of jujutsu or something. I then asked Stanley Pranin about who to affiliate with and he suggested I get his Encyclopedia because it had several pages of organizations listed. I attempted to contact several organizations before I ended up with the Aikido Association of America. Toyoda Sensei was the only shihan that would even talk to me personally. So we decided to do a seminar to see if we liked each other. We did our first seminar with Toyoda Sensei in March of 1991. At the time, we were pure Korindo. We wanted to be Aikikai and we thought Toyoda Sensei was. All of the AAA literature stated they were affiliated with the Aikikai and that their rank was issued through the Aikikai Foundation. This is when the whole, “Aikikai rank is important,” thing started. We worked together for about a year and a half.
When I went to Japan, to the Aikikai (January 1993), and said I was Toyoda Sensei’s student, that was not well received. It was made clear that I wasn’t considered Aikikai, but I could work out there. So at that time, I joined the Aikikai and trained that day. I was issued a membership card that did indicate I was considered yudansha. But the next day, I presented a letter of introduction that Toyoda Sensei had given me, to Masatake Fujita Sensei, and the next thing I know, after training, when I went to get my card, it had been changed into a kyu rank card. With my card, there was a note to go to the office, so I did and Mrs. Ikeda, who spoke English, came out and explained to me that I wasn’t an Aikikai black belt; I was “Toyoda’s boy.” And at that point I realized what was going on, I guess the connection hadn’t been made until the second day. I can only say this probably was due to Toyoda Sensei leaving the Aikikai to go with Tohei Sensei back in the 1970’s, and things were still tense. Let’s not kid ourselves, the aikido world has its separations, and they don’t harmonize very well back together.
So with that disillusionment, I came back and questioned him (Toyoda Sensei) about claiming to be Aikikai and asked why it was written in all of his paperwork, if he actually was not affiliated. Then, he admitted that he was in the middle of re-establishing ties back with the Aikikai. This caused tension between us, because I discovered the truth.
Then when I asked him about working more closely with students from NJ, he didn’t see that as a feasible possibility. He wanted to have his students in NJ, who worked well with me, go to someone in NY and work with them. So again, this caused tension and the inquiry actually got me in trouble and then we parted ways. So that was my first exposure to an Aikikai shihan, or exposure to, a supposed Aikikai shihan. He was actually an ex-Ki Society shihan under Koichi Tohei that was trying to re-establish ties with the Aikikai. So at that point, I went back to Japan in 1993 (May), studying at the Korinkai and with some Aikikai guys that did iaido. But the main reason I went back for a month was to find another aikido sensei. The Korinkai was not cooperating very well; Tomohiro Hirai wasn’t going to work with me if I wasn’t planning to stay with them for at least one year. So, because Mikata Sensei had retired, I continued with my attempt to affiliate with the Aikikai.
Can you explain how your relationship with Robert Kubo Sensei began?
I met him through Stanley Pranin, by going to the Hashimoto dojo demonstration, which was for Igarashi Sensei, a member of Kobayashi’s group. I had heard some very good things about Yasuo Kobayashi Sensei and went to watch the demonstration. So at the demonstration I saw Robert Kubo Sensei (7th dan Shihan, Chairman and Chief Instructor of Aikido of Hawaii International) and Stan Pranin suggested him because he wasn’t political. So we started talking about my situation and that I needed someone to sponsor me. So he said, “Give me a call.” I called him in June of 1993. He said, “Hey, why don’t you join our gang,” and was very nice about it, he was a prince of a guy when I first met him, and I still say that, I’m not going to take that from him. Personal things happen over nine years in a relationship. I think the main problem in the relationship with him is that it got to be about he and my dojo, not about us. Toyoda Sensei took some [of my] students that were disgruntled and so did Kubo Sensei.
I find this a very alarming thing in the martial arts, when we find bureaucracy and politics and the power of having hoards of students is more important than the student-teacher relationship, or the art and spiritual growth. Obviously Kubo was going in a different direction from when I first met him. He [originally] stated he didn’t want to have a large organization, but when I offered the option of maintaining a personal relationship just between us, not his organization, that just wasn’t enough. I wished to keep a personal relationship with Kubo Sensei; he simply did not wish to have one. All I can say is, when you deal with organizations, you become privy to all of their ugly dealings. I understand it isn’t the Aikikai’s fault per se; it was my perception of the importance of Aikikai connections. I guess organizations and politics just breed this sort of thing.
Sensei, how and why did you affiliate directly with the Aikikai?
My mentor (Kubo Sensei) at the time was allowing my students to contact him directly, without letting me know about it. It all started when I took interest in Daito-ryu and began training under Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei. Some of my students were not interested in Daito-ryu and he (Kubo Sensei) began romancing these higher ranked students. He was not directly responsible for the break-up that occurred, but he was responsible for the success of these students. He actually listened to these renegade black belts and set them up with another Aikikai shihan, all behind my back. This violated our student-teacher relationship and in my opinion, was against the proper code of conduct in budo.
I only left him because of the change in his character. I would have dealt with him forever otherwise. So, both of the shihans I affiliated with got into what I call “Warlording.” For example, they would do things like having lower ranking students teach at seminars while they just hung out and enjoyed their visit like it was a vacation. One year in particular, my mentor brought an entourage of students, in addition to his otomo, and demanded I pay for them. When I confronted him about this and questioned why I was to pay for someone’s vacation, he threatened to cut me off. So I researched a bit and found out how to affiliate directly with the Aikikai and did just that. Because of these experiences, I affiliated directly, no shihan.
What happened then? Why did you go independent after you went through so much trouble to be affiliated with the Aikikai Foundation?
After I resigned from AHI (Aikido of Hawaii International) and affiliated directly with the Aikikai (2002), I was granted the authority to test and promote yudansha. I promoted a student without sponsorship from a shihan (referring to Robert Kubo Sensei). Actually, problems with the Aikikai started because of a letter that was posted by one of my students, on Aikido Journal.
The letter was regarding an upcoming Daito-ryu seminar and was particularly critical of how modern aikido is portrayed. The letter was also somewhat critical of various [aikido] shihans and their opinions regarding the relationship between Daito-ryu and aikido. Well, in the letter, the student explained that he had just been promoted and believed Daito-ryu was important to his study of aikido.
Apparently Kubo Sensei was offended by the letter and was outraged about my ability to promote yudansha without him, so he contacted Doshu directly in response. Then, the Aikikai suspended my promotional rights until I worked things out with him; they wanted us to be friends. I sent them (Aikikai Foundation) a copy of the official resignation letter and contacted the Aikikai, but he must have been really bad mouthing me. But eventually, they reinstated my membership and ability to promote, but by then I was back with Dennis Mikata and didn’t care.
It was during this whole mess that I was getting back with Mikata Sensei (who had moved back to Maryland) and saw the Aikikai Foundation for what it is. I have become very disillusioned with organizations and politics. And because I had been directly affiliated (to the Aikikai Foundation), I didn’t have a sponsor. Then I discovered that I needed a sponsor to be promoted myself. So in actuality, I just needed someone, who didn’t necessarily teach me, but would sponsor me for further promotion. I thought this was ridiculous, why couldn’t the Aikikai promote me directly? So at this point, I begged Denny (Mikata Sensei) to teach me again and told him about these experiences and he agreed to teach me. He recognized my ability, my Aikikai rank and all of the progress I had made. After a short time, he promoted me to 6th dan / Shihan with the agreement that he’d teach me the final teachings of his family’s Korindo.
For a time, I actually offered to rank my students through the Aikikai and the Mikata Korindo styles. But after a while my students decided that they didn’t need Aikikai connections and I think this was due to seeing that the Aikikai appears to be motivated by money and political power. After being reinstated with the Aikikai, we kept up with our membership for a time, but then just stopped paying our membership fees. So we never actually formally left the Aikikai, we just don’t financially support them any more.
Sensei, would you briefly discuss the last three years of study under Dennis Mikata Sensei?
Since I got back together with Mikata Sensei, we worked extensively with the kodachi, nito-ryu, the yari, and tessen. We also touched upon kyushojutsu. I asked him about pressure points because I remembered watching his mother doing randori and she would control her attackers by affecting the pressure points, she was amazing. I told Mikata Sensei that I would like to be able to do that and he laughed, saying, “So would I.” So for the last three years we’ve trained together at his house, at a park near Columbia (Maryland), and at his friend’s Shotokan Karate dojo.
Sensei, how is it that you trained at the Nihon Korinkai if your rank was actually awarded by the Mikata family? How did this come about?
Well, I just did the stupid gaijin thing; I walked right in (laugh). Actually, a year before I went to Japan I sent pictures of my diploma to the Nihon Korinkai. When I went to Japan in 1993, the Nihon Korinkai was still around. They were in the Minato Ku, right across the street from the Tokyo Tower, a very affluent area of Tokyo. They had a little dojo with eighteen tatami mats. It was on the second floor of a three-story office building. It was kind of funny (laugh), when I went to see where it was located, I remember I walked up the steps and saw two doors. One door was to Hirai Sensei’s office and the other was to the dojo. When I knocked on the office door, this “daggone” Shibu Inu began barking like it was angry at me. I think I caught him (Tomohiro Hirai) sleeping (laugh). He woke up and asked who I was, and when I went into the office, he looked at me and brought the pictures out that I had sent. He showed them to me and asked, “These are yours?” And I said yes. He said, “Well, you are a Korindo black belt, but you are not a Nihon Korinkai black belt.” Kind of like saying you’re an aikido black belt, but you’re not Aikikai because you are not a member of their organization.
Hirai Sensei asked why I was there and I told him I just wanted to train. So he said, “if you are not going to be here a year, you cannot train with us.” He said, “Well, we will let you work out, but we are not going to recognize you as a black belt unless you stay here.” So I explained that I was only in Japan for a short time and then he told me to come back for class that evening. After he said that, we started talking about certain kata and then he showed me jo kata, which incidentally, was identical to one I had learned under Dennis Mikata. We talked about taisabaki, etc. and then he asked, “What are you doing now?” I said I traveled to Japan to visit both the Nihon Korinkai and the Aikikai. He said, “Oh, you are doing Ueshiba Aikido, true?” I said yes, but then explained my situation. And then I brought up the names Kurota and Mikata and that was it, the conversation was finished. Kind of like when I brought up Fumio Toyoda Sensei while training at the Aikikai, we don’t want to talk to you, done!
So, I did go back that night, as instructed earlier and was under the impression that I had been invited to train, but since I told him I could not stay for a year he made me sit and watch class. Then Narita Sensei (Shinjuro Narita Sensei, 9th dan Dojo-cho) waited until Hirai Sensei left and basically told me that he was an administrative type-guy and was inactive, attempting to run a little defunct organization for years. He said many students got together and trained on their own. Narita Sensei then walked over to the window, looked out while Tomohiro Hirai Sensei left, and then let me train for about three hours. That night, Narita Sensei and I made arrangements for me to train while I was in Japan. So I have trained at the Nihon Korinkai (under Narita Sensei), but my original training came from the Mikata family, who obviously broke off from the Korinkai years before. Visiting and training at the Korinkai reinforced that, although a break-off, they are legitimate Korindo Aikido. As with my training, the Korinkai stressed that the main thing is to know the seven taisabaki.
Sensei, would you explain the differences you’ve experienced between the Mikata family’s Korindo and what is taught at the Nihon Korinkai?
In my opinion, the Nihon Korinkai acted a little “self important,” trying to be something more important than they were. I was not overly impressed with what I saw, with the exception of Narita Sensei, who was extremely impressive.
The Korindo taught by Mikata was very self-defense geared, very strong. I saw no edge except for Narita (referring to the Nihon Korinkai). Dennis and his mother, their technique was sharp, really strong and focused. Dennis’ mother was quite exceptional; very precise and crisp, one cut one mind. She was incredible.
How about taisabaki?
The taisabaki was very similar. We stress the basic seven taisabaki and variations in a more standardized way. You are supposed to mix the taisabaki all together at some point, but we really stress each form in isolation before attempting to put them all together. I was surprised at the lack of taisabaki practiced at the Korinkai. Practice consisted of more randori than either taisabaki or technique.
How about weapons?
Of course, we teach the bokken and jo. We also teach hanbo (to include tanjo and yawara), tanto, kodachi, a form of nito-ryu, yari, and tessen. We don’t teach the bo, the kursarigama, or the naginata as they do in Israel. I don’t really know how some of these other weapons fit into their Korindo. I never saw the Mikata’s do them, maybe a little bo, but definitely not the naginata or kursarigama. From what I understand, most of the weapons taught by the Mikata family came from the Takenouchi ryu. I imagine some of the blade work was influenced by [Muso Jikiden] Eishin ryu, but definitely not Araki-ryu or Toda-ryu, or other koryu being taught in Israel (one of the largest Korindo groups).
With all the weapons taught in the Korindo curriculum, you chose to specialize in the hanbo, why?
I actually started working with the hanbo before training in Korindo. I was first exposed to hanbo while studying Isshin-ryu Karate. I think the hanbo makes sense as a practical self-defense weapon. I can carry a stick anywhere.
What is the difference between hanbojutsu as taught in the Okinawan kobujutsu and that learned under the Mikata family?
Well, the hanbo taught by Dennis Mikata was soft, fluid, and used atemi in a natural way. I still like to think I use the structure of old kobujutsu, but with aikido movement and the use of aiki. It’s not a club, the atemi are at points to control joints and break the attacker’s balance, its not just hitting.
I find the hanbo and aikido a great mix; even better than the jo in my opinion. My philosophy for both aikido and hanbo is the same; strong structure, precise, sharp and done with reflexive aiki movement. My philosophy is very self-defense oriented, I stress constant and reflexive movement. It makes sense to me. Korindo is a very self-defense oriented art and the hanbo is a practical self-defense weapon.
Did you study hanbojutsu or other weapons while in Japan?
Just briefly, in May of 1993, I met a Mr. Noro at the Hotel Listel. We were both eating breakfast and he noticed that I was wearing an aikido shirt. He spoke good English and we got to talking about martial arts. I told him that I was looking for an iai school and he said, “I do budo.” He asked if I wanted to train a little, so we got together. He had a tiny restaurant with a courtyard out back, with tatami mats. I ate at his place and then we practiced hanbojutsu. I think he had a Kukishin-ryu background, but I’m not sure. I also did a little iai with some students of Nishio Sensei. When I was at the Aikikai Hombu, I took a morning class with Imura Sensei (8th dan Aikikai). He turned me onto some others at the Hombu that practiced iai under Nishio.
Was Dennis Mikata Sensei’s weapon of choice the hanbo also?
Oh yeah, the tanto and the hanbo. You can definitely tell Denny was influenced by his father; he’s a demon with a blade (referring specifically to tanto and kodachi). Mikata Sensei’s mother was also into the blade, sword (referring to katana), and the hanbo. I’ve been told that Kurota Sensei did them all (mastered the entire weapons curriculum).
Sensei could you tell a little about Tetsuo Kurota Sensei?
Kurota Sensei studied directly with Hirai from 1948 to 1963. He was there from the beginning, when Korindo was just being established. When he left, he was a high-ranking shihan. He was basically the head of our Korindo system. From what I heard, he also studied Daito-ryu under Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei, but I do not know to what extent. Dennis Mikata Sensei told me that he blessed my promotion to 6th dan, but passed away shortly after, in 2002. After Kurota Sensei died, the art was passed to Dennis’ mother, who was at the time a 7th dan. Due to his death, she became an 8th dan. Since Denny has decided to fully retire in order to take care of his parents, I have now been put into the position of “care-taker” for the Mikata family Korindo.
When Mikata Sensei promoted me to shihan, he presented me with a stamp (Korindo seal recognized by Tomohiro Hirai as legitimate), the same stamp that got me into the Nihon Korinkai. But now I was presented with a stamp that reads Mikata Family Korindo Aikido, their family stamp. I find this an awesome responsibility; I was not quite prepared to be in this position.
Sensei, what would you say the similarities and differences are between modern aikido and Korindo?
Well, the Korindo group is the only aikido group that I know of that participates at the Meiji Shrine Kobudo Demonstration. I find that interesting and think it is unique. So if that’s the case, it should be quite obvious that Hirai Sensei incorporated some of the old koryu type stuff, quite heavily, into his art.
From what I’ve experienced, the aikido in the Korindo was always about effective self-defense. Technique had to be viable for self-defense situations. It really was kind of gritty. Mikata Sensei was definitely into making sure the taisabaki movement was infused into your aikido. The other thing that is completely different is the use of circles and leading. The big circle lead is not there, the circles are small and quick. A lot more atemi is used, very unique atemi, striking with open hands; using them like blades. A lot of work on tanto tori, and our randori is usually more of a sanigake, where you have two attackers in morotetori and the third is applying kubishime from behind. It’s not like the attackers line up in front of you and then you have to play keep away. These attackers already have you and the trick is to get out of that. Then, after you free yourself, you must defend yourself against three attackers. And that is just one level of Korindo’s randori. I think the Aikikai has become very generic in its teachings. Hirai Sensei added elements of the old koryu and jujutsu into his art and I believe this adds a different dimension to what we do and how we think.
Sensei, Korindo Aikido is very small organizationally as compared to the Aikikai, how do you think these organizations differ?
Hirai Sensei’s idea, that budo was a way of life, putting family and work first, and then budo training third, builds a foundation for spiritual development. Budo, I don’t feel is something that enhances a person’s spirituality and self-development through the social aspects found in the dojo. I think you need to train seriously and challenge yourself. If you go through training like that, feeling that you may get hurt, putting an edge into your training, you will develop by learning about yourself and overcoming personal obstacles. That’s how you develop in the martial arts.
These organizations (Aikikai Foundation) were important when I ran a commercial dojo. They are supposed to be about legitimacy, but they’re too worried about making money. Let me put it this way, an organization as big as Aikikai, how many people can they personally mentor, who’s there at the Aikikai? Yet they have hundreds of thousands of members. Why are these people members, they’re not members because they get excellent instruction from Aikikai, their instructor may be Aikikai, but they don’t get their instruction from Aikikai. The reason they’re members is because it legitimizes their rank, which has become more important than the student-teacher relationship and the study of budo. That is one of the reasons we decided to build a non-profit organization, run by the students. We have a non-profit educational institute dedicated to promoting aikido and mainline Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. Our vision is the complete study of aiki and the concept of aiki as used in effective self-defense. I am very interested in effective self-defense. With that though, we have also promoted the study of iai, kendo, bonsai, Ikebana, and sume.
Over the years, I kept a student-teacher relationship with Mikata Sensei although he was somewhat retired. We still maintained a personal relationship, which is much different than having a sponsor. So I started to talk to Mikata Sensei about having these problems, and he finally came to the conclusion he directed me onto the wrong path. He felt he made a mistake, giving me the advice to search out the Aikikai. From that, he was somewhat shocked about how things worked out. After talking about these things, we decided to reunite.
I had tried to blend into the Aikikai mold for a couple years, but it just didn’t fit me well. When we built the large dojo, the Aikikai style was much more palatable, the Korindo was scaring people, it was just too direct. It was only after we moved into the small dojo that we were able to become more technical and cut loose. I have been able to keep a small group of core students that have remained with me no matter what; they share in my ideology and understand my vision. The students that have left me have done so with organizational affiliation in mind. I find that I blame myself to a degree, because I was the one who fostered the idea that organizational affiliation with the Aikikai was a big deal.
So I find that we are going back to the true idea of budo training, with the student-teacher relationship at the center. Isn’t that how you really learn martial arts? Find the right teacher, and don’t worry about associations and the politics. If your teacher is legitimate, why would you need an organization? One thing about Mikata Sensei that I find pretty unique is, unlike most Korindo practitioners, he feels Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei was the founder of aikido. Of course, like most in the Korindo, Denny has no interest in politics or being part of a large organization. Mikata Sensei was always about the perfection of technical ability and believed personal growth comes from diligent training. He’s a big fan of Daito-ryu and actually supports the fact that I’ve become a student of Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei. That’s my original teacher; he’s all about budo!
How did your relationship with Stanley Pranin develop?
I just called him in Japan, I didn’t know him from Adam, but I started getting the Aiki News and then began asking him questions about Korindo and aikido in Japan. I was interested in the Nihon Korinkai and what he knew, and as it turns out, he knew very little because the Korindo is a very closed group.
When he found out I was a Korindo yudansha ordering the Aiki News, we started talking. He only had certain information and I had additional information, and that’s how our friendship started. He was doing research and was having difficulty getting in (unable to establish a working relationship with the Nihon Korinkai). I think since I helped him with getting into the Nihon Korinkai, he was able to get a grasp on a part of history that had been left without many answers. I ended up being his Korindo link and introduced him to Tomohiro Hirai. Then he was able to establish a connection with a German Korindo practitioner and eventually get an interview with Minoru Hirai. We actually started talking in 1987 or 1988, but I didn’t meet Stanley until 1993.
It was kind of funny (laugh), when I took him to the Korinkai, Narita Sensei was not there that day and the shihan that was teaching wasn’t very good. While we were watching class, Stan leaned over to me and whispered, “Is this what you do?” I believe they were practicing randori and it looked a bit sloppy. I guess, after such a long time of waiting to get in, he was a little disappointed. So I had to explain to him that I hadn’t been impressed with anyone at the Korinkai except for Narita Sensei and that the Mikata’s had an edge to their aikido that wasn’t being seen at the Korinkai.
Sensei you have participated in three Aiki Expos. What are your experiences regarding the politics at such an event?
I liked being a part of it. I didn’t see any tensions between the different groups. Things like this can be done without politics and I saw many instructors putting politics aside, allowing them to showcase their expressions of aiki. What do I feel about the event? I feel it is one of the best events I’ve ever been a part of.
You have become known for your use of the hanbo and just released your second book on hanbojutsu. Would explain why you choose to publish two books on hanbojutsu?
Well, I find that Korindo and hanbojutsu complement one another. Information about hanbojutsu is very limited and I felt it was something that needed to be done. Originally, the first book was written as a manual for seminar participants. The second book builds on the first and I believe is much more comprehensive.
My intent in writing these books was to show how the principals of aiki are applied to an extremely practical weapon. Aiki is reflexive and yielding, understanding this allows one to neutralize an attack quickly and then redirect it.
Any medium-sized stick-like object, like a cane, umbrella or golf club can be used in a similar fashion.