Kuroiwa sensei was not a so-called uchideshi. He commuted to the dojo from his house by train. At the time, the people who lived in the dojo simply happened to sleep there and did not attend any special practices that were different from those who commuted. There weren’t many practitioners to begin with. Despite being called the headquarters dojo, if there were 5 or 6 people there they’d say, “It’s crowded today.”
In the beginning, Kisshomaru sensei’s wife would prepare the uchideshis’ meals. Once the numbers started to grow, they came to prepare their own meals. Everyone was poor and just getting by. They’d go to the neighborhood produce market and get cans filled with bits and pieces of leftover vegetables and damaged produce. Even then they’d leave some money. They’d then eat that produce raw or cooked. One day, they’d prepared some food ahead of time to eat after practice. But when they got there, “A Sensei” had eaten it all. From then on, they would assign someone to stand guard (over the food or against A Sensei, it is not clear).
At the time they were also afraid of ‘dojo yaburi’ (dojo storming) and some of the uchideshi would sleep with a bokken under their bedding. If worse came to worst, they were prepared to bite their opponent and not let go. In 1951 Okumura Shigenobu sensei was 3-dan, and the rest were at the most shodan – basically still “wimpy aiki” (as Kuroiwa sensei told it). Therefore they didn’t get hung up on technique and instead prepared their conviction to win at any cost.
At the time O-sensei would come around from time to time, show a technique, then disappear. As a result, the students would have a terrible time trying to learn the techniques. However, among them Kuroiwa sensei was apparently very good at grasping things visually (mitori-geiko) and could understand the parts/steps in a technique as well as what they meant at a glance. Thus he would frequently teach his peers. As this went on, the name “Kuroiwa School” came to be used and a group formed around Kuroiwa sensei at specific times outside of practice hours. Everyone would gather on the days that Kuroiwa sensei was there at the dojo. Such a funny situation – a commuter student teaching live-in students!
Speaking of grasping after a single glance, a long time ago I said to Kuroiwa sensei, “It takes at least a year to understand the meaning of aikido’s techniques.” His response left me open-mouthed: “You actually need to have the ability to grasp it in a week at most. I got it within three days of joining the dojo. I got that, in aikido, they teach lies. If you don’t notice that, it doesn’t matter how many years you spend.”
Regarding those “lies”: Regardless whether it’s about a strike or a grab, people’s movements evolve around a limited number of patterns that are distinguished by having something in common. The ability to see and grasp is the ability to grasp those movements instantaneously. There are some things that you will never understand from watching the movements of the hands or feet separately. In order to be able to perceive the commonality, you shouldn’t just do martial arts but other sports as well, said sensei. I would hope that people take note that Kuroiwa sensei’s technical perspective is both unique and real in order for (his) aikido to continue to be budo. The start of that perspective was at the Kuroiwa School. In any case, those people started to be sent to places where aikido dojos were being opened. They’d learn, say, shihonage, practice it for a week, then go off to teach it. They wouldn’t know any other techniques – only that one. Now that is what you call guts.