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The Joyous Path: Interview with Koretoshi Maruyama

by Antonietta Ferrari & Federico Gobbo

“You see? When he attacks, I’ll make a lizard step … pom, pom, pom!” An elderly gentleman, not very tall, looking amused, intercepts the attack of a more than sturdy youngster and leads him to the ground, as he explains his movements with a language reminiscent of comic strips or the cry of an animal. At one stage he hisses like a cat “fffgg…” and the attacker ends up spread out on the ground with only a gesture of a hand. Then he laughs and says: “Try each other!” The atmosphere created reminds one of the clear, serene humour of certain calligraphies of Sengai(1).

We are in the sports hall of Pianoro (Bologna), where the Bolognese Association ASIA, (Association of Interior and Environmental Space) has organised an Aikido seminar, which was open to practitioners of any age, level or style. The seminar was conducted by the founder of Aikido Yuishinkai, Master Koretoshi Maruyama. These days, as the wrestling shown on television increases the violence among the young spectators, causing more and more serious incidents, his presence and his story are particularly interesting.

Born in 1936, Master Maruyama belongs to the fourth generation of Morihei Ueshiba’s students, from whom he personally received 6th Dan and the consent to become professional instructor in 1967. Before discovering aikido however, he had practised wrestling, boxing and judo. He trained to win, to be the best. But this was not really what he was looking for. He tells that when he first saw in a book the clarity in Ueshiba’s eyes, he was struck by it, just as he was attracted to the non-competitive aspect of aikido. He felt, that this was to be his path. Some years after the death of Ueshiba, Maruyama left Aikikai to join the Ki Society (Ki no Kenkyukai in Japanese), founded in 1971 by Master Koichi Tohei, who also had been a student of Morihei Ueshiba. Maruyama eventually became President of Ki no Kenkyukai in 1990 and remained with the association until 1991, when he retired to a zen temple in Saitama prefecture, where he remained for 10 years. In this period ripen critical reflections on the changes in the aikido world since the death of the founder. In many cases aikido had become a sport or a fighting technique. At this point, Maruyama felt the need to return to the original instructions of his master, and in 1996 he founded Aikido Yuishinkai. He 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.” With the desire to turn this dream into reality, Maruyama has started to teach seminars, coming even here into the Bolognese hills. From this seventy year old Master, of slight physique, lively look and placid speech, who mixes with ease technical explanations, strikes and philosophical considerations, emits a sense of joy. He enjoys the practice and his joy is contagious. During the sessions he speaks often of ki, which permeates the universe and nature.

He says: “Humans are an integral part of nature, but they are the only living beings which have a spirit, a mind, who are capable of self-consciousness. The task of humans however is to use the mind to allow ki, the energy of the universe, to express itself, to flow and the harmony between the parts to be realised.”

In Maruyama’s aikido the role of visualisation is very important: the mental image acts on the body and permits the energy flow to be unblocked and to flow freely. If only touched on for the short time of the seminar, on the basis of Maruyama’s instruction, one perceives a sense of confidence in the interior force of humans and their natural possibilities to harmonise with all.

We have read in your biography that you had started with judo and wrestling. When you found aikido, what had you been looking for?

At the beginning I practised judo and other sports. I wanted to become strong, because I was young and I wanted always to win, but with judo, sometimes I won and sometimes I lost. Now judo is divided according to weight categories, but when I practised there was no such division. I wanted to become strong to become a champion. To become a champion you had to become big, strong and very heavy. I was small and skinny then, I weighed 60 kg - now I weigh 70 – I would never have become a champion. At a certain point I left and found in the library a book titled Aikido. I looked through it and read that aikido was not competitive, and it was what I had been looking for, no competition, no fighting. I went to the Aikikai at the age of 20.

And there you met Master Ueshiba?

Yes. He was not always there, but he was the sensei, the number one. He taught only the morning sessions, every morning. At other times there were the assistants. I was a student at the University there at the time.

Can you tell us about the ‘spiritual’ aspect of aikido? The resonance of sacred words (kotodama), the recitation of the norito (invocation of the deity) before the sessions, the purification rituals were for Ueshiba fundamental moments of the practice. Have you maintained these in your usual practice, do you teach these?

[He recites the norito]. I do this every morning, but to recite it, that depends on you yourself. Aikido Yuishinkai is not a religion. I cannot tell you: “you have to do this”. The norito is Shinto, it is part of a religion of Japan. I can say that it is good. If you really want to do it, try it. When I am in Japan, every morning at sunrise, I put my hand into position. The light, the energy of the sun enters through my hands, arrives at my front, and in that moment I recite the norito and the tokokami a rite of purification. This norito was always recited by O-sensei (Ueshiba), he adapted it from Omoto kyo, which is Shinto, from Onisaburo Deguchi .

What is the message you would like to spread with aikido?

I would like that all human beings would be more extended, that they would achieve greater relaxation, I would like that ki would flow more between humans and that all would be more aware of it. The scope of man is to become one with the universe. I am not interested in the spread of Aikido Yuishinkai, I am not looking to take, to seize people. I always talk of aikido, and that is all. But the original aikido is the one of Aikikai, because first there was Ueshiba Morihei, then Kisshomaru, then Moriteru. I could not call my school only aikido-kai, because there would have been confusion. Therefore I chose Yuishinkai. Shin means mind, heart, inside, center.

Ueshiba invited people not to resist during practice. In everyday life however it can happen to have to front up to attacks …

Ki resonates. If you are happy and don’t have a mental fight, nobody will attack you in this way. Nobody ever attacked me in this way. One evening in Japan, I walked in a park. There were many youths, big, fat fellows, who were lighting fires. Somebody started to tease me, but I continued on my way and so the aggression disappeared, they all calmed down, saluted me with a bow, cordially.

When did you meet Noguchi Sensei(2)?

It was in 1972, a year after the Ki Society was founded. I was introduced by a friend who was a member. In Hawaii we were giving a demonstration with Master Koichi Tohei; Master Tohei told me what I was to do, because I was uchi deshi. “I will do a yoko men and you will bend slightly”, he said. I did as I was told, but he forgot, he carried out the full attack and hit me full force behind the ear and I fell to the ground; subsequently I lost my hearing in that ear. I had a strong pain in the spine and in the cervical and so I returned to Japan. I could not say anything about it to Tohei, but I spoke about it to a friend, who introduced me to Noguchi, who gave me a seitai(3) treatment. From this moment on I started to acquire a deeper knowledge of seitai.

Did the principles of ki you learned from Noguchi influence your practice of aikido?

A big question … Mmh… (he smiles). Noguchi always talked of yuki. Yuki is this … (he lays a hand on John, his assistant’s, knee), not this (presses down hard), not to push. But with Tohei it was the same.

Why did you decide to introduce the regenerative movement during this aikido seminar?

When you practice the regenerative movement every day, your body becomes more sensitive. For example, you realise very quickly when you have caught a cold. Master Noguchi said that a cold is an important moment for the re-equilibration of the body. To the contrary people generally think, that when you catch a cold you have to take medicine immediately.

Doing this, little by little, the body becomes desensitised and when you arrive at 60 or 70 years of age you probably develop a cancer or something similar. If you maintain the body in a state of natural attention and equilibrium, you inevitably also improve the quality of aikido.

(1)Sengai Gibon (1750-1837) monk and zen painter famous for his subtle humour.

(2)H. Noguchi (1911-1976) founder of Seitai, together with techniques for the re-equilibration of the body.

(3)(normal terrain) – technique of human psychophysical re-equilibration developed by Haruchika Noguchi.