Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 5 Unforgettable Folks

1. The uchideshi of Hombu

The uchideshi who were my contemporaries were all unique individuals. The now deceased Genta Okumura worked for the Self-Defense Forces. Once in a while, when he had time off, he would bring good things to eat in his own taxi.

Yoshinobu Tamura Sensei who is active in teaching Aikido in France, was Okumura Sensei’s special deshi but was only a white belt in those days. Okumura’s uncle, Masamichi Noro, was supposedly a good friend of Kisshomaru Sensei’s, who came from Aomori prefecture to attend university. I never saw him go to school, but as I heard it, Noro entered a medical course, and, one day while he was dissecting an animal, it glared at him and he quit school. How much truth there is in that story I can’t say. I know he didn’t care for practice much but that was just too unbelievable. When he ran out of money, he’d go off to a Mahjong parlour in Shinjuku and earn some. Seiichi Sugano came to Hombu Dojo after work from a Chinese restaurant in Kagurazaka where he worked and was serious about practice. Yoshimitsu Yamada was a university student whose father was a university professor so he always had plenty of money. He lived in the dojo and when the envelope with his allowance arrived, all of us uchideshi went out for a good time.

Kazuo Chiba suddenly showed up at Hombu Dojo asking to be an uchideshi. At first he was refused so he staged a sit-in in the entrance hall of Hombu. Kisshomaru Sensei was astonished and finally granted him permission after a week.

About a year later, Mitsunari Kanai came to the dojo and for one month, day and night, begged to become an uchideshi. One month passed and Kissaburo Osawa Shihan said “It’s pitiful, so…” and allowed him uchideshi status. The next day, Kanai stopped coming. “What happened?” we wondered. Many weeks later, I ran into him by accident and heard that after he got permission to become an uchideshi, he was so relieved, he let himself go and got sick and was laid up.

After a little while I understood that Chiba and Kanai had been good friends in junior high school, but during the sit-in, they never let on and no one had an idea that that was the case.

Mitsugi Saotome was the deshi of Yamaguchi Sensei and practiced in a Kuwamori dojo in Toshima-ku. Soon, he became an uchideshi. He was an artistic type, emotional, and as such, was set apart from the rest of the uchideshi.

Andre Noquet of France lived in the dojo for nearly four years. He was Abe Shihan’s deshi. He previously had practiced Judo, but came to Aikido the day after he saw a demonstration. He was the first deshi from another country. I thought Kisshomaru Sensei was being kind. We became good friends. He was picked up by lots of newspapers and magazines. Foreigners were rare in those days. Moreover, he was an uchideshi from France doing strict training in a martial art, so right away the press showed up. Through TV the NHK programs like “My Secret” and “I also take ukemi,” Hombu Dojo reaped a lot of good publicity. A famous cartoonist who began practice about that time even did a caricature of him.

In Sankei Gakuen school an Aikido course was offered. Through the dojo, many many people began practice and places of practice rapidly expanded. In the neighbouring dojo, body building was also offered and the famous author Yukio Mishima came to study. He was always surrounded by so many people.

In 1964, the year the Shinkansen began running, that dojo finally closed, but the present-day Hombu Dojo Seijyuro Masuda Shihan, Koichi Toriumi Shihan and the deceased Kenzo Miyazawa Shihan of Argentina, as well as many others, advanced in that dojo.

2. Bandit King – Hakuro Kobinata

I also had the chance of meeting the famous Japanese Bandit King Hakuro Kobinata who came and went at Hombu Dojo. I had dreamed of talking to him about his life as a bandit in Manchuria, it was very interesting. Whenever we young uchideshi or Aikido club university students had some free time, we’d hurry to his house to hear his stories. Because he was a giant among the right wingers, he talked about whether to someday reform or do away with the present cabinet, shocking us. Another unbelievable thing was that he offered yo provide bodyguards for Kisshomaru Doshu but Kisshomaru Doshu rejected that then and there. If you went into his office, you might walk out a different person.

3. Giants Coach Hiroshi Arakawa

It was about 1955, Kisshomaru Sensei introduced me to Hiroshi Arakawa saying “this man is a famous pro baseball player – give him private lessons.” He was a player who had batted over 300 in his day for the Orions. In addition to that, he was famous for having scouted Sadaharu Oh’s talent when he was at Waseda. He passionately practiced Aikido everyday looking for he could take to baseball.

At that time, O Sensei said “would someone bring me two bokken?” I brought him two and we went to O Sensei’s 12 mat room where he gave Mr. Arakawa one of the bokken.

“Mr. Arakawa, where does the ball come from?”

From O Sensei’s martial arts perspective, the ball could come from the side or the rear.

“From the front only,” replied Mr. Arakawa, who was brandishing a bat. Then in front of my eyes, O Sensei thrust the bokken in past the bat. If the bokken had been a ball you would have been hit, he said. It was in the room and O Sensei was holding back. He was lightly brandishing the bat; the bokken was steady. “Don’t hold back,” O Sensei said and this time, Arakawa Sensei swung with a lot of power at the bokken that had hit him and struck the bokken but the bokken didn’t budge. He hit his hand and stumbled down. After that he practiced seriously until he got his first dan and wanted to introduce Aikido theory to baseball so brought along Mr. Hiraoka, Mr. Nagashima, Mr. Oh and many others to watch practice. It’s well-known that Sadaharu Oh’s one-legged batting style was developed by Mr. Arakawa. Neither Mr. Oh nor Mr. Nagashima ever practiced Aikido, but Mr. Hiraoka practiced once or twice a week in the off-season with us uchideshi. Since I didn’t have any interest in baseball, the fact that Mr. Oh and Mr. Nagashima were coming didn’t impress me much. One day after practice I got a ride in a car from Mr. Oh to Shinjuku station. I was surprised when we were surrounded by many people who recognized him.

Among my present deshi there is a woman who was a classmate of Oh’s in junior high school. At a class reunion, she was talking with Mr. Oh about Aikido, he recalled me and wrote me a short note later.

4. Shinamadu’s Bonesetter, Dr. Yoshida

A famous trainer of such Giants’ players like Nagashima and Oh was Dr. Yoshida of Shinamadu. Before he became the Giants’ trainer, he treated ordinary people as well, but when he became a celebrity trainer, people from all over the country came to receive treatment from him. If he was too busy, you couldn’t see him. He was a famous practitioner of Shibukawa Judo, so if you said you were from the Ueshiba Dojo, you were considered a friend from a related soft art and could get in to see him. However, it was hard to take. Open the door to the examination room and you would only have half your body treated. People with big bone fractures would suddenly take a fall. He would suddenly jump on a patient’s fractured foot that was resting on a bed. From a commonsense point of view, his method of healing was totally absurd, yet it unbelievably worked.

When I was injured, I went to him. Because I was practicing Aikido, he’d neglect treatment and would do techniques, apply pressure to vital points and talk about the secrets of martial arts. Soon afterwards he became the special trainer for the Giants. In the off-season, Giants players often came to him. After Aikido practice, Misters Arakawa, Nagashima, Oh and Numazawa would head for Dr. Yoshida’s bonesetting clinic. For a time, if Dr. Yoshida was pleased with me, he’d allow me to act as a sort of assistant to him. Before treatment, I would explain his method from my personal experience. I really learned a lot. I could learn about the vital points of the human body in great detail.

After he became the special trainer for the Giants, he stopped treating ordinary people. For a time, many people would gather in front of his gate begging for treatment. Whenever I brought him someone from Aikido, I’d witness the weirdest treatments. For example, a car salesman who had hurt his knee falling down some stairs was told by a surgeon that he would need an operation that would require three months hospitalization. He couldn’t take three months off work, so he begged Dr. Yoshida to do something. We went right after we phoned. Before we could enter, he commanded “you must do exactly as I say,” and then took off the cast.

When we went into the examining, Dr. Yoshida looked him in the eye and said only one thing “Seiza” (sit on your knees). I was to push him down and slowly his knee bent under him. While he experienced sharp pain, his knee extended enough, but his hips were shaking. Dr. Yoshida said “Kobayashi, push from above.” I felt I had no choice so I pushed on him from above. He burst out in perspiration from the pain but somehow managed to sit in seiza. The doctor took out a watch and commanded that he stay in seiza for five minutes. He hung in there for about three minutes despite the pain but fainted.

“Kobayashi - revive him!” Dr. Yoshida said. I knew about revival techniques for when someone chokes or drowns but I didn’t know what to do for someone who faints from extreme pain.

“Idiot. Like this!” he cried, kicking me in the butt. He hit a vital point and I felt only pain. He went on to kick the patient and the colour returned to his face. Then the doctor slowly massaged him, he gradually relaxed, and the treatment came to an end. When he left I was surprised to see that at the station, he was able to climb the stairs without a cane.

I have one more example. When a six-year old boy who had injured his wrist was brought to Dr. Yoshida’s, he sat the boy on a chair and stared at him for a while.. Suddenly, he slapped the boy across the face with the palm of his hand. The boy was shocked and opening his mouth wide, let out a scream and began to sob. His parent and I watched dumbstruck. With that one slap, he was instantly cured. The child had put all his energy into pain, so to release that pent-up energy, he slapped the boy. There was always a logic to his methods. When Kisshomaru Doshu injured his shoulder, I took him to Dr. Yoshida.

5. Ken Takakura, Actor

About 1960, the well-known actor Ken Takakura wanted to make a movie about Aikido, so the director, the staff and the actor came to visit the dojo. The title of the movie was Toshin Taro. I’ve forgotten what it was about but Ken Takakura played an Aikido Shihan. He came to the dojo every morning for a week to have a private lesson from me. We all were very surprised at how fast this movie star was able to learn the movements, and at least the techniques came to look like Aikido. I felt that if it hadn’t been an actor as talented as him, the film couldn’t have been made. While I was shocked to learn that “Ken Takakura was a 3rd dan in Aikido,” according to a sports newspaper, I had to laugh at the same time.

6. National hero, Shigeru Hayashi

The president of a publishing company who practiced at Hombu built his own dojo at his home. President Hayashi, who ran the company by himself, a so-called one-man company, had a tattoo on his back. Hombu sent instructors to that dojo; however, after many years he said “that instructor’s no good; the dojo is closed.” This happened three times. When he reopened the dojo, again he asked Kisshomaru Sensei to send a teacher, but no one wanted to go. Finally, Kisshomaru Sensei said “Kobayashi, you’re the only one,” so I got the onerous task of going. It was a dojo built above his garage in Toshima ward.

From 5-7, I taught the president and other managers in a private lesson, then, from seven, it was the practice for ordinary company employees. The president was serious in his practice, but the rest of the employees would talk about work during the practice and take breaks and fool around. I gradually grew used to this, then a woman who worked in a cabaret began practice, and as soon as practice was over they’d all go along with her to the cabaret. Sometimes I also went with them and had a good time.

Once, when Kisshomaru Sensei needed me to take ukemi for a demonstration at the Keidanren Hall (the Japanese Chamber of Commerce), I called off class at that dojo. Then Mr. Hayashi asked why I had taken off and I explained about the Keidanren demonstration. He replied “I understand, but you are a customer who buys a company’s products and without the customer’s consumption, the company would fail. You neglected your customers here; we didn’t agree to your calling off class. The dojo is closed.” That was harsh, but there was a reason. He had persuaded everyone to come.

In the end, there were all kinds of things but until his death I continued to be the main teacher in that dojo. Many instructors from Hombu also helped out with teaching, including Seishiro Endo, Fumio Yoshida, and Haruo Ishigaki of Saitama University Aikido Club. From this experience, he wished to continue Aikido in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture after graduation. Hombu Dojo’s Etsuo Takezawa Shihan began practicing in that dojo. Mr. Kunioki Ishimura, who is the Fuchu Dojo administrator, and has practiced for many years in Kobayashi Dojos, practiced in that dojo. With a word from me, he quit the pharmaceutical company he worked for and began his study in acupuncture. He currently runs an acupuncture clinic near Fuchu station and continues his cooperation with our Aikido dojos.

7. Mr. Takemichi Okubo

My good friend Takemichi Okubo practiced in Hombu Dojo together with me. One day, he promised to be at practice at eight the next day but didn’t show up. He didn’t come to practice for a week. On the eighth day, on the front page of the newspapers was the report of a double suicide and his picture was there. He could not marry the daughter of the last Manchu Emperor and so they both had killed themselves with a pistol. I was so shocked.

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