Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 4 The Senior Instructors

1. Morihiro Saito Sensei

While he was working for the former Japan National Railways, Morihiro Saito Sensei lived in the Iwama Dojo compound, taking care of O Sensei and the Aiki Shrine and teaching in the Iwama Dojo. Sensei was devoted to O Sensei and for this I respect him. I often met Saito Sensei when I accompanied O Sensei to Iwama and during preparations for the Aiki festival. O Sensei was always there, so I don’t have any memories of taking any of Saito Sensei’s classes.

O Sensei was more than 75, so his techniques and movements had fully matured. Kisshomaru Sensei wasn’t around, and the techniques and movements changed. In one direction, Saito Sensei absorbed completely the movements and techniques that O Sensei had taught when he was healthy and strong. Since O Sensei lived in Iwama which had the Aiki Shrine as well, I think in that context it is proper to speak of “preserving the traditional Aikido of Iwama.” The Iwama Dojo was located in a large garden-like compound which was needed to practice ken and jo. O Sensei would teach ken and jo however he felt inclined, and then the next day would do something completely different. It was owing to the genius of Saito Sensei that an easy to understand system of teaching jo and ken was established. My dojo’s Igarashi Sensei cooperated with Saito Sensei’s publication of his book on jo and ken. When I was shown the first edition of the book, I noticed there was no photograph of O Sensei. I said something about this to Saito Sensei and he replied that he had no good photographs of O Sensei. Good photographic equipment wasn’t so readily available in those days. In the second edition appears photographs of O Sensei which I gave to Saito Sensei.

With this kind of connection, Aikido Kobayashi Dojos have incorporated regular ken and jo practice. Saito Sensei highly praised us for this. Today, in overseas seminars, everyone has their own jo and ken; this is Saito Sensei’s legacy.

2. Arikawa Sensei

When I first entered Hombu Dojo, Arikawa Sensei was working and lived at the dojo. We only saw Arikawa Sensei’s face at the 6.30 morning practice. He would strike or wrench everyone’s wrists including beginners. Common dojo members weren’t so evident in the morning practice, so often Sensei’s uke was one of us new uchideshi. He would look up and give an evil smirk. We just prayed that we could get through practice without severe injury. Since my body was very flexible and loose, he often chose me to take ukemi at demonstrations. He loved talking and gave us a lot to think about concerning the martial arts.

3. Hiroshi Tada Sensei

Hiroshi Tada Sensei was the sensei who was teaching the first time I went to observe a practice at Hombu Dojo. He was a somber ball of lightning who was twisting arms and smashing people down. When I was leaving, he just said “If you’re interested, come to practice.” There had been no explanation of the techniques. After I had begun to practice, I realized that Sensei had no half measures in his tempering style. With the bokuto, if we resorted to strength, it was as if we had had a thousand cuts to the abdomen. After regular practice, we uchideshi would have to do 1000 suwariwaza ikkyos. In the dojo he would pick up and hold in one hand an enormous tempering stick and brandish it, stopping just where he wanted to.

A really long time ago, when I was walking on a narrow street near the Arch de Triomphe in Paris I heard someone calling “Kobayashi. Kobayashi.” When I turned my head I saw Tada Sensei waving his hand. It was a good accidental meeting.

Later, when Tada Sensei returned to Japan from Italy, he took it easy at his dojo Gessuji in Kichijoji. My dojo isn’t far from Kichijoji. Suddenly there was a phone call from Sensei. “Kobayashi, I’m going to Italy the day after tomorrow. Send some teachers here.” He only said what he needed and that was all. He didn’t ask my opinion. With great excitement teachers were sent one after another. Kazuo Igarashi Sensei went there a great deal. He had been my assistant having trained up in my dojo and I lost him during this time. Tada Sensei even today is still energetically teaching.

4. Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei

Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei came to Aikido from Kendo. If I remember, he began Aikido through the diet therapist ______ Sakurazawa. He taught the 8am class in Hombu. He would turn his whole body and did the techniques like a flexible whip; he had many devotees. His movements (sabaki) were the soft techniques to complement Tada Sensei’s strength. After practice, he’d invite everyone to a nearby coffee house where he’d drink his favourite coffee and talk about martial arts and things for two or three hours. For me, who was naïve about the world it was a wonderful way to learn. As part of reparations to Burma (present-day Mynmai) he was sent to teach Aikido. He invited me to go along, but in the end, there was a military coup d’etat, and I stayed in Japan. Abroad, Yamaguchi Sensei mainly taught in France, so his style is most highly developed there. He would go there every year to teach.

5. Shoji Nishio Sensei

Nishio Sensei taught and developed practice through Hombu’s North division and I don’t have any particular memory of practicing with him. My deep connection with him came with the founding of the Aikido club at Toyo University. The first head of that club was ______ Ichimura Sensei who was the deshi of Nishio Sensei and Nishio Sensei and I both taught that club.

Near the Yamanote line’s Otsuka Station, a taxi company’s president built a dojo. He offered its use to Hombu Dojo. We took his name and added it to Kobayashi Dojos; it was a splendid 66-mat dojo. There when there was a time slot, Nishio Sensei would teach Iaido and jo. At the same time, the Northern area was the biggest section of Hombu’s domestic management, and all kinds of plans were being made and carried out. A system to rate the form and quality of demonstrations was developed and I became a judge of these. We stopped this after one or two because Aikido has no competition. We also set up the present-day year-end midnight practice. I can’t remember what year it was but Nishio Sensei and the northern region’s administration visited Hombu Dojo and asked if they might use the dojo to practice from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Morning. The uchideshi from the countryside really opposed this because it would mean that they would not be able to return home for the holidays. Kisshomaru Sensei gave permission for anyone to participate or teach in year-end practices as they wished. Year-end practice has gained popularity and every year more and more people come to the practice. In many Kobayashi Dojos there is year-end midnight practice.

6. Yokoyama Sensei

Yokoyama Sensei was the president of Yokoyama Motor Company and began Aikido about 1957. It is now part of Shibuya, but in those days, he lived in Ryokuku and I went with him to morning 6.30 practice. He went by car and so passed Kudan (where I lived); I rode with him frequently. Because he and I were the same age and our sons also were the same age, we practiced together a lot. After practice, he would freely throw around the younger uchideshi tempering them. He would give advice to Kisshomaru Sensei on all kinds of things from a businessman’s point of view. Sometimes when we got together, he’d take out handfuls of money and give it to us younger deshi. All of us owe a debt of gratitude to him.

Another unique thing about him was his climbing of Mount Fuji. Until he died he climbed Mount Fuji more than a thousand times, I heard. For a long time, Kobayashi Dojo members would join him on the first Saturday in August to climb Mount Fuji. We’d eat lunch in Shibuya, then meet him at his office and drive to the 5th station of Mount Fuji and began climbing about ten in the evening. We’d slowly make the climb as Yokoyama Sensei would count off one, two…eight, one, two…eight. He never let up the pace until we reached the top. Because it was a leisurely pace, others who came later rapidly passed us. But the true value of his pacing became obvious after the 7th station. All the people who had overcome and passed us would be sitting on the side of the path in pain. They were suffering from altitude sickness. We slowly made our way up allowing our bodies time to adjust and so we all were able to finish the climb in good health.

When Yokoyama Sensei came upon someone suffering acute altitude sickness, he would do shiatsu. Unbelievably, they’d immediately recover. If for whatever reason there was an old woman who wanted to climb the mountain, she should do it as we did it. Above the 8th station it’s tough going for anyone. Climbing Mount Fuji was a good tempering for us.

When Kobayashi Dojo was being built, we graciously received springy old tyres that we laid under the mats. At the opening ceremony, Yokoyama Sensei pulled wads of bills from his pockets and handed them to me. Afterwards as well he continued to support me.

7. Tadashi Abe Sensei

Abe Sensei is the Shihan who introduced Aikido to France but I got to see first hand his remarkable temper. I had just begun Aikido when I heard about him, but since he was in France, I didn’t meet him. Then one day I heard it said “Abe Sensei’s coming home soon.” Abe Shihan would return from France. Several days passed when suddenly a short man wearing a business suit who had a peculiar look about him showed up asking out of the side of his mouth “Is Tohei here?”

“If you’re speaking of Tohei Shihan, yes he is here,” I was going to politely respond, but before I could get the words out of my mouth, he had taken off his shoes and barged into the dojo.

Ah, was this Abe Shihan? He was expected.

When he saw Tohei Shihan who had just begun practice, they both were happy to see each other. A short time later, he called “Hey, bring me a cup of water.” As he wished, I brought a cup of water, but he said “Throw it in Tohei’s face,” pointing at Tohei Shihan. “What’s the matter with you? Throw the water!”

Of course I didn’t throw the water on Tohei Shihan. Shockingly, he grabbed the cup out of my hesitant hands and tossed it at Tohei Shihan. Tohei Shihan gave a forced smile.

Trouble like this surrounded Abe Sensei. If we went drinking together in Shinjuku it ended in disaster. When he was drinking a vein would pop out in his temple. Wherever with whoever he’d get into a quarrel. If it turned into a fight, we’d have to intervene and stop it. I was always in a cold sweat.

In reality, Abe Shihan was a person full of energy. He beat up an Iwama gangster, keeping a distance between his surroundings.

I, too, was burned by Abe Shihan, but I guess it took this kind of temperament to take Aikido abroad for the first time, and if he hadn’t been like that, perhaps he couldn’t have carried through with the job. At that time, he taught in Algeria under the infamous France Foreign Affairs Bureau and as I heard tell, walked freely in the Casbah wherever he liked, the lone foreigner. That was Abe Shihan.

O Sensei had a special fondness for him. Tohei Shihan also would say “Can’t be helped – that Abe,” but when Abe Shihan was around, Toheie Shihan smiled and talked with him.

There was, too, this kind of unusual, one-of-a-kind person in the world of Aikido.

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