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Interview with Hiroshi Ikeda

by Stanley Pranin

Aikido Journal #104 (1995)

Aikido Journal: Sensei, what kind of activities are you involved in these days?

Mitsugi Satomoe and Hiroshi Ikeda

Hiroshi Ikeda: I run an aikido dojo in Boulder, Colorado. Also, two or three weekends a month I spend doing seminars in different places all over the United States, such as California, Seattle, Montana and so on. I go to the San Rafael summer camp co-sponsored by Robert Nadeau Sensei and Frank Doran Sensei in California and the D.C. summer camp sponsored by Mitsugi Saotome Sensei, and also my own Rocky Mountain summer camp. Those are my three main summertime activities.

In addition to your dojo, I believe you also operate a martial arts supply company called Bu Jin.

Yes, I started Bu Jin about fourteen years ago. We make items like jo and bokken cases and hakama. I design most of the products myself, so they’re things you can’t buy at ordinary supply stores. Our hakama are the same as those made in Japan, although their construction may be a bit more sturdy. They’ve become quite popular because of their durability.

Do you have an actual storefront or is it strictly a mail-order business?

It’s completely mail-order. We get business from all over the United States, as well as Canada and Mexico. We even get a few orders from Europe and other places, but really we’re not operating on trading-company scale yet. Occasionally orders from Japan come in, too.

Professional aikidoists often engage in side-practices such as bone-setting and police training, but operating a company like Bu Jin is rather unique.

Yes, I suppose so. The fact is, though, it’s very difficult for those of us who have left Japan to make ends meet just teaching budo. Of course, I started Bu Jin not only so I could make a living, but also because I wanted some durable training gear.

What brought you to the United States?

Well, it started with my teacher, Mitsugi Saotome Sensei. He was the instructor at my aikido club when I was a student at Kokugakuin University. I guess that was about 27 years ago, and I’ve been with him ever since. After he relocated to the United States, he asked me if I would consider coming over as well. That was about nineteen years ago, in 1976. I went straight to Florida, and Saotome Sensei then moved to Washington, D.C. I stayed in Florida practicing for two years, then came to Boulder.

Most people are inclined to go to larger metropolitan areas in order to build successful dojos, but you chose Boulder, which is relatively small as cities go. Why was that?

As you may know, Boulder is a student town. The University of Colorado is here so there are quite a few young people. In contrast, the population in Florida includes a large percentage of older, retired people who have gone there for leisure and to live. Many of the young people move away once they become adults. It’s fairly difficult to build up a body of aikidoists under those conditions. I was impressed by all the young people in Boulder and thought, “Hey, that’s where I need to be!”

Did you encounter any hard times while you were establishing your dojo?

No, not really. I’m more-or-less happy as long as I can train, even if there aren’t many people around. It’s enough for me if just two or three people can get together to train. When I first came to Boulder, I rented some space in a massage school. There were no mats, so I put some carpets down. Gradually more and more people came and I was able to build a dojo. When I moved here several of my aikido friends moved with me from other states. They really helped me out a great deal.

Were you operating Bu Jin and the dojo at the same time?

During the day I made a little money working at a Japanese restaurant, then in the evening I did aikido. I took care of whatever needed to be done for Bu Jin when I got home at night. Fourteen years ago there weren’t so many orders, so I could clear up the day’s business in only two or three hours each night.

On Training

Please tell us about your approach to training.

The first thing is that it’s important to train with your body, not your head. It’s good to take a lot of ukemi to get yourself used to what training is. If you use your head too much, your aikido becomes too intellectual and that will hinder your body movement. I emphasize learning and understanding aikido with your body.

Usually we begin practice with irimi-tenkan. Instead of going right into throwing techniques, I believe it’s better to ease the body into the training naturally, beginning with irimi-tenkan to warm up, then moving gradually into ushiro ukemi, and then into the rest of training.

Rather than just teaching or just training it’s important that I, too, find opportunities to learn and grow and cultivate my own aikido, so I try various approaches. Practice comprised of simply grabbing and being grabbed is necessary at a certain stage, but I think you have to change and try different things as you advance-for example, practicing how to be grabbed or how to allow yourself to be grabbed properly. Balance-breaking practice is another possibility.

These days I’m working on the concept of “center” (chushin), specifically how to maintain my own center while breaking my partner’s balance.

The Quality of Training

Are you influenced greatly by Saotome Sensei?

Yes, to be sure. Looking at what Saotome Sensei has done for years, I see that aikido can’t be only aikido; as a budo, it has to be completely capable of responding to anything. In other words, it has to be valid outside its own confines. Saotome Sensei has emphasized this strongly for many years. As I’m sure people who have been around for a while know, Saotome Sensei’s demonstrations have always been somewhat unusual, in their explosive intensity and seriousness. Saotome Sensei’s demonstrations show not only that there is flow; they point clearly to a training approach that hones an ability to respond to anything. That’s something I try to maintain as an important aspect of my own training. I want to pursue aikido as a budo that goes beyond the confines of aikido, perfecting a form of movement like Saotome Sensei’s that comes from the center. The way the body moves is extremely important.

Do you use atemi in your aikido?

Not very much at all, especially not strikes to areas like the face. We may, however, touch someone with a small strike if they’ve put themselves in a dangerous position when grabbing, just to let them know they shouldn’t be standing there in a way that makes them vulnerable to attack. But it’s not so much of a strike as it is a light tap. That’s all that’s necessary for them to realize they need to position themselves more to the side or wherever. Giving your partner indicators like this helps them start to pay attention to the various aspects involved in the act of grabbing itself. That way, the person doing the throwing and the person doing the grabbing can both benefit from the training. In other words, both people must consider their positions. So I advocate an approach to training by which both nage and uke can actively learn.

How do you feel about training exchanges?

During my university days we used to share athletic department facilities with people doing other martial arts like Shorinji kempo and judo and sumo. I remember playing around with them figuring out how an aikidoist would respond to this or that kind of technique. Other than that, we often had joint-training sessions with other universities. My university was in Shibuya, so we trained with groups from other universities in the area-Aoyama Gakuin and Kokushikan University, for example. There was a guy at Kokushikan who could do beautiful body shifting movements (tai sabaki) against knife attacks. Watching and training with him was very informative.

I think it’s important to study with a variety of different teachers. It’s probably best if you can take the good elements that you find useful from a number of different teachers and use them to create something that ideally suits your own body.

Whether or not weapons training is essential to aikido training is a topic of discussion these days. In your view, does the essence of aikido lie in taijutsu alone, or does it also include weapons techniques?

Both, I think. However, becoming proficient with the bokken or jo is really a secondary issue. What’s important is that your hands remain in front of you when you practice with those weapons. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been training with the concept of “center” in mind. I have my students practice movements with the bokken because it prevents their hands from drifting away from the center of their bodies. If the hands drift off to the side it becomes difficult to get any power into techniques. So I find weapons training very beneficial in terms of helping students establish and maintain their own centers within their aikido movements.

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