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Interview with Yukio Utada, 7th Dan, Shihan

by Michael Aloia

Published Online

Yukio Utada Shihan celebrates 35 years of teaching in the United States

With 2009 marking Yukio Utada Shihan’s 35th year of teaching aikido in the United States, the anniversary is being commemorated with a weekend seminar and embu on Saturday, October 10, 2009 and Sunday, October 12, 2009 in Philadelphia, PA.

During all the excitement and anticipation with the planned upcoming events, I had a chance to sit with Utada Sensei to discuss his thoughts and feelings regarding his achievements and his life long journey towards enlightenment.

Michael Aloia: OSU Sensei! How does it feel to have reached such a milestone in both your career and your life?

Yukio Utada: I have been living in the United States now for over 40 years and have been training in Aikido in the US longer than the time I studied in Japan. My stance for life has always been “Now is the time”. Therefore, this 35th year is not a period, it is a comma to me. There will be more to come; this sentence has not ended.

Sensei, with over 40 years of training, what has been your drive to continue?

I believe that in order to show actual proof in life or Aikido, we must always strive for improvement. If you can improve an inch today then that is more than yesterday. That is the meaning of living! In Japanese we say ‘SEI’ – to live! We should always learn and train so that we can grow based upon this concept. I don’t think for one moment that I now know everything. Instead, I always think about how can I improve myself each day. I believe that is the key.

Is there a particular moment in the past 35 years that stands out from the rest?

There have been so many ups and downs during my 35 years of teaching in the United States. To pinpoint one would be difficult. But what I can say is that no matter what the circumstance, regardless of how good or bad it seemed, I would always tell myself to ‘Begin again!’ This is the spirit that keeps me going.

What do you feel has been your greatest achievement to date?

I have experienced many great points in my life. And I have been fortunate enough to be able to achieve a lot of things. But the most important personal achievement is that I have no regrets. If you can look back and say, “ I did my best” then, I believe you will have no regrets. This is where I am today; this is what I do.

This year also marks the 35th anniversary of the Aikido Association of North America, of which you are the president. Now spanning as an international organization, what has contributed to its success?

I believe that in life we should always look to move forward every day. That philosophy has enabled our organization to grow as it has and will continue to grow tomorrow. Much like the essence of water, as one single drop potentially becomes part of the ocean, many drops of water form the ocean as a whole. Much like the AANA, students make up the whole. I want to care for that single drop of water. That one student who desires to study Aikido, I want to take care of this person.

What is the purpose of the AANA?

I want to continue to lay the foundation for those who want to train in Aikido. The AANA is a source for this foundation for growth. The AANA has a place for anyone dedicated to learn, train and grow. We have an open invitation to everyone, regardless of style or affiliation. Because of this, I make it a point to take care of a student who comes to me with the commitment to train. This is my calling. I cherish any student who wishes to train in the Art of Aikido. I don’t want students to chase an empty dream. It all begins with one student. Here and now, together we are one.

Since I am unable to be everywhere at the same time, I am working closely with my senior members and instructors of the AANA. They are traveling and teaching these ideals to our growing line of members and dojos. So they will eventually carry on the message of what I have started to the next ever-growing generation of students.

What is your view on one form or style of aikido versus another?

I believe one’s primary focus must be on training. With this focus they will be able to progress in their abilities. However, if one decides to compare which art or style is better, becoming a “mine is better than yours” situation, then the fundamental principle of studying the mind and body is lost. It becomes “only me, me, me”, and this is not the true study of Art. That is not what I am searching for, but rather the connection of the mind and body. This is Aikido, regardless of style.

You also released, early this year, a DVD titled Doshinkan Buki Sojyutsu, covering your personal weapons approach. Can you elaborate more on your philosophy as to the relationship students need to have with aikido and weapons?

As you know Aikido evolved from the Samurai society. Therefore, you cannot disregard weapon techniques. They are the origin of the Art. For that reason, one can only enhance Aikido techniques by studying weapon techniques. Doshinkan weapons training is not just kata or form only. It includes the fundamental nature of these weapons. The approach is straightforward, practical and effective. Several years ago I was involved in the personal security business. The time spent in this field gave me insight to the need for the practical and effective means required to sustain an aggressive encounter. I have included these personal experiences within the Doshinkan Buki Sojyutsu approach.

Can we expect additional DVD releases in the coming future?

Yes! Several additional Doshinkan Buki Sojyutsu volumes are planned to follow, as well as adding to our empty hand (unarmed) DVD series. We currently have a two volume DVD set demonstrating our Doshinkan Aikido techniques. More are planned for release.

With all the political tribulations revolving within the art in recent times what are your hopes for the future of Aikido?

Aikido exists because people want to study. They are intrigued with what it has to offer them. This curiosity cannot be contained. There is a deep human need to grow, to learn, to enhance. Aikido offers this. Therefore, as long as people have this desire to study, Aikido will continue to exist and evolve. True Aikido, I fear, has been lost in the shuffle of modern times. If it is not brought to the surface for all to see and experience, it runs the risk of being lost forever. It is my hope to continue to have the opportunity to train side by side with people to deepen the understanding of true Aikido.

Sensei, thank you for this opportunity to share with us. It truly is a great triumph. In closing do you have any words of wisdom to convey for those of us who are determined to continue the journey?

I’d like to encourage people out there to train in Aikido. You must believe that each one of us has the inner strength to make the journey. We must awaken our inner strength of empowerment. People ask, “How to get it?” The answer is very easy! It is as simple as putting your mind to it, “I want to accomplish this!” That is empowerment from within. It is unstoppable. The key is continuity. As long as you sustain your original desire or passion you will be able to manifest inner strength to reach your goals. With that goal in mind, together we can train continually no matter what.

I realize that our lives and training will present not so pleasant days. You should expect there will be cloudy days, rainy days, and maybe stormy days as well. But as long as you maintain a burning desire to train in Aikido, you can do anything. Let’s train together, grow together and encourage each other as we work side by side. Thank you very much. OSU!

Thank you again Sensei and congratulations. OSU!

For more information on Yukio Utada Sensei, his DVDs, the Aikido Association of North America and/or the 35th Anniversary Celebration, please visit www.doshinkan-aikido.org.