Who was the strongest among those at the dojo at that time?
Well, Tohei Sensei was strong. He was a critical person and I was often scolded by him even for quite trivial things. At a certain demonstration, Tohei Sensei executed techniques against a group attack. Mr. Chiba, Mr. Kanai, Mr. Tamura, Mr. Noro, Mr. Kuroiwa and I consipired to overwhelm him at one time. So Mr. Kuroiwa, if I remember correctly, held Tohei Sensei from behind and immobilized him. As soon as we thought we had him he escaped to the side. After that we were all well-behaved. (Laughter). We were all young, about 22 or 23 years old. Tohei Sensei explained techniques theoretically and very intelligibly. He had a progressive way of teaching. On the other hand, O-Sensei’s way of teaching was the traditional approach where people were expected to improve by accumulating practice time. Although this way is time consuming, once you learn something this way you don’t forget it. But, after all if you wanted to attract students, a theoretical approach was better. In this respect, Tohei Sensei was popular. However, at a certain stage, you cannot express your own approach if you are instructed in too much detail. I think this was why there were many people who started to feel dissatisfied with Tohei Sensei. At best everyone gradually starts to develop his own personality, or at worst, his own mannerisms. So many of us who entered the dojo early on, rebelled against him. I think this was why things ended the way they did. (Tohei Sensei officialy separated from Hombu in 1974).
There are many ways of practicing including hard and soft approaches, training where injury never occurs or training with the idea that injuries sometimes occur since aikido is a budo. What is your opinion regarding this matter, Sensei?
I began studying under O-Sensei in 1955. At that time, he did hard practice. Then, naturally, as he got older, 75 or 80, his techniques changed. I witnessed the gradual transition from the time he relied on his strength to the period where he executed soft techniques. If you intend to train a small group of people, like we uchideshi in order to make them really proficient at aikido, budo-like hard practice is appropriate. However, if the main purpose is to spread the art, you must attempt to prevent injuries. Although I have experienced various styles of practice, I believe that spreading the art is our biggest mission. For that reason I teach the way the present Doshu does. There are almost no injuries that way. I think if you intend to become an uchideshi or professional aikido teacher, you can do a lot of hard training. People in general come for a change of pace after work. Some people are satisfied by enjoying a beer when they return home from practice. We don’t have to cater to them but it’s difficult to continue without taking this into consideration. Anyway, even though they view aikido that way it still does them good. So I think it’s okay that they are many ways of thinking about aikido. I believe that as the number of dojos I operate increases it demonstrates that my approach has not been inappropriate to the times.
Were there injuries when you entered Hombu Dojo?
Yes, often. After all we were practicing how to make our techniques work on our partners and how to make ourselves impervious to pain from the techniques. We were proud of not feeling pain when people applied joint techniques on us. Anyhow, we were young. I think that this kind of hard practice was good for that period as a part of the process. It is thanks to these people that aikido has spread. So I think that if people who just came to train became instructors, the value of aikido would not be recognized to the extent it is today.
Theoretical – Traditional