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Lecture on Kotaro Yoshida (1)

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by Richard Kim

Published Online

[The material presented below concerning Kotaro Yoshida, an important student of Sokaku Takeda, cannot be verified historically given the long time lapse since the reported events and the fact that none of the principals is still alive. However, we feel that it has great value as anecdotal evidence and may provide hints for further research into the life of Yoshida. -Editor]

I was a student of Sensei Richard Kim’s from 1968 till 2001 when he passed away. Presently I am writing a book about him and his background and in my digging I have found something that I thought you may want to use for your website as it is 6 lectures that he did back in early 1971 on Yoshida Kotaro… Sensei Kim used to lecture every Saturday morning after his classes on the philosophy and psychology of the martial arts much of which I believe came from Yoshida Kotaro. You are most welcome to use them how ever you like in your magazine or on your web site. - Excerpted from an email received from Don Warrener of Rising Sun Productions on Dec. 5, 2005

Lecture by Richard Kim on Kotaro Yoshida - Part 1

[Edited from a lecture given on February 27, 1971]

Richard Kim and Kotaro Yoshida

If Yoshida Kotaro were living today, he would be anywhere between the ages of ninety-six to one-hundred years old. There are no records on him because he was a master spy. He was a man who lived simply, like most zen men, and had few possessions. Others, not knowing any better, might feel sorry for him, thinking he had a poor life, but he was rich in spirit. He taught only those people with whom he got along. When Mr. Kim last saw him, he was about eighty-two years old.

When Yoshida was thirteen years old, he went to a shrine every day to meditate. He did this for one hundred days. On the ninety ninth or one hundredth day he was kneeling down, just about ready to get up and ring the shrine bell signifying the end of the period of meditation, when he dozed off. Someone was calling his name. He woke up and saw an old man standing in front of him. The man looked very old and had a white beard. He was dressed all in white with a medal I-ching symbol sewn on his clothes. He was armed with a stick.

The old man knelt down on one knee in front of Yoshida holding the stick vertically in one hand with the hand about eight inches from the top. He told Yoshida to attack him any way he could. (At this point in his life Yoshida’s hair was not yet worn in the samurai style of having part of the head shaved and the rest tied back. Hair was not worn that way until you became a man by killing another man.) Yoshida drew his sword and tried to attack the old man, but when he did, the tsuba (the top eight inches of the stick representing the hilt of a sword) would grow in size closing the opening. The tsuba grew in size till he could hardly see the old man behind it. Finally the old man said enough, that’s very good. He told Yoshida to think about what he saw.

Then Yoshida’s mother called him. She had a meal all prepared at home to celebrate his one hundred day feat. When they got home, he asked for his father’s sword which was very famous. He took it out of the sheath and examined it, then put it back. He held the sheathed sword in his left hand up against his side and asked his mother to attack him. (Being a martial arts family, the mother had some training also.)

His mother said that there were two ways that she could attack him. One would be to attack his head and the other was to attack his hand that was holding the sword. What would be attacked in a fight would depend on the attacker’s particular style of fencing.

Yoshida said that that was the way his father had died. Then he asked, suppose the tsuba grew so that it was several feet long, then you wouldn’t be able to attack. His mother said that was right. (His father had been killed before he could draw his sword.)

Yoshida’s father thought that all the training in the use of the sword was a joke not to be taken seriously. He studied it only because he belonged to a martial arts family and it was expected of him. He felt that because of the new contact with the west, and the subsequential effect on Japan’s culture and way of life, dependency on the sword as a way of life was coming to an end. He was more of a scholar than a martial artist.

One night the father went to a party where he ate and drank a lot and had several women. When the party was over, the host sent a servant to escort him half way home, as was the custom of the time. By the time the two had reached approximately half way which was near the edge of the forest, mist was forming along the ground. Off in the mist the father saw what he thought was his servant standing in the middle of the road with his arms folded, so he dismissed his host’s servant and went on ahead.

Getting closer to the man, he saw that the man’s clothing was tied back with string in the manner of one about to fight. Then he realised that he had made a mistake. The man was a stranger whom he had never seen before. When the father tried to go around the man (Nitta Dengoro), the stranger stepped in front of him blocking his way. When he tried again, the same thing happened. It was then that the father saw the sword in the man’s right hand that had been hidden by the folded arms. Finally realising that the man intended to attack him, the father made a mistake in strategy. He ran for the forest thinking that when he reached it, his rear would be safe and he would be able to hold off his attacker until his servant arrived. When he reached the forest, another man (Sakagami Shuzen) jumped out in front of him and cut his arm off, and then, giving a big kiai, cut him in the head.

The host’s servant and his own, hearing the shout, ran to where he lay. He was able to tell them what happened before he died. Yoshida was thirteen at this time and this was the reason for his one hundred days of meditation.

Yoshida decided to try to find a spy school to study at. This was not an easy thing to do, for while every town has a least one martial arts school, there are few spy schools, and they don’t advertise. Eventually he found Takeda Sokaku’s school which taught Daito-Ryu Aiki Jujitsu, including the art of being a spy. Sokaku agreed to accept Yoshida as a student. When he heard Yoshida’s story about his father’s death, he told him that the man who did it must have been very skilful because of the kind of stroke that he used. Sokaku also told him to forget about his revenge for the present.

Takeda Sokaku taught Yoshida principles rather than techniques because a technique will only work under certain conditions whereas a principle can be applied to many different situations.

Yoshida had to learn to press out with his ki in order to be able to compete with the man who killed his father. The first thing that must be mastered for this is breath control. You must breathe in such a manner that if the teacher held a feather in front of your nose, it would not be moved by your breath. You must breathe with these syllables: a, um, aum. When you breathe in this manner, a certain part of the cosmic rays that are always penetrating your body can be absorbed and their energy sent to the skin. Being able to do this results in some physical changes to your body. These changes start from the marrow of your bones and proceeds outwards. The first change is an increase in the density of your bones.

To illustrate this Mr. Kim told the following story. In 1948 an incident occurred to Mr. Kim which resulted in him being cut to the bone by a two foot bread knife. The doctors who examined him were amazed when they heard the story of what had happened because a normal man’s bone would have been cut throughout, but his was merely nicked. Further tests revealed that his bones were on the average of three times denser than other men his age.

Misc.: The following incident concerning Mr. Kim and Yoshida occurred in the winter of 1953. It had been snowing and the tree in Mr. Kim’s courtyard was barren of leaves. It had five branches pointing up at the sky like fingers of a hand. When Yoshida saw this, he said that it was good luck and that they should go out and practice catching the cosmic rays. After a while they went inside and Mr. Kim was pressing a 220 pound barbell to see if he could use the cosmic energy to help lift the weight. As he was pressing the weight several times, his second wife’s mother entered the room and when she saw what he was doing, she commented on what would happen to the floor if the weight fell. Mr. Kim lost his concentration and not being a weightlifter per se, dropped the weight. It didn’t hit the floor, but was suspended above the floor by Yoshida. When his mother-in-law saw that, she was no longer a skeptic.

Click here to read part two.