Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 1 Practice, Days of Tempering

I entered Hombu Dojo in 1955 at the end of April, beginning Aikido at the same time I began my university career at Meiji.

With me in those days of practice were many people who, like me, had also practiced judo, karate, and other martial Arts. . Because I could take Judo ukejmi, I wasn’t treated like a beginner; from the start I was severely trained. Almost all of us were young, and if a joint technique was really cranked on, we’d nonchalantly insist, “Oh, not yet, it doesn’t’ even hurt.” But all of us were totally devoted to Aikido. I had an infinite passion for the art.

There were many uchideshi who actually lived in the dojo and I was included as if I were one of them. I slept at home; that was the only difference. Sometimes I’d go home after a vigorous practice and sleep, but at other times I might sleep at the dojo as well.

It was still a time of scarcity. If there were gifts of rice crackers or whatever, they would immediately be shared among all the deshi, to our great joy. We would each take a cracker or morsel in the order in which we had enrolled in the dojo, so our seniors (senpai) would take the first offerings. We would say “Itadakimasu!” and whoever ate the fastest was the winner. We’d put something in our mouths with our left hand, while we were reaching for more with our right hand. With things like watermelon, there were no individual portions. We would dig in and cram our mouths full, spitting the seeds out onto newspapers we had spread underneath. The seniors were fast; this also was a kind of training. Tomatoes cooled in Hombu Dojo’s well were special treats in the summertime.

Mosquitos were troublesome in the summer when we were trying to sleep, but the dojo reeked of sweat, so naturally the mosquitoes came in great numbers. It was a marvel that the mosquitoes understood who were beginners and attacked them. Deshi who had been practicing longer slept soundly, never seeming to be bothered by mosquitoes. One of the deshi from Rikkyo University whose family was rich brought mosquito coils for himself. I heard that from everyone.

I hadn’t yet quit practicing Judo. The Judo dojo was in Suidobashi, and Hombu Dojo was not too far away in Shinjuku. For a while I would go to morning Aikido practice and in the evening practice Judo. But more and more I was pulled toward Aikido. One reason why was that I had reached the limit of my ability in Judo. Of course, in Judo big, heavy people couldn’t be defeated. I was not that big, so I could not prevail very often. Being thrown all the time wasn’t that interesting, to tell the truth. At practice, there always seemed to be a frenzied atmosphere, to which I was not very well suited. In a typical Judo practice there would be over 160 people on the mat, so that even the 500-mat dojo seemed full. Another thing I didn’t take to very well was the relative lack of instruction; you just grabbed a partner and practiced various techniques, and you were free to go home at any time-a style encouraged by the Judo Association.

Aikido was in a period of expansion. At the same time, there were few members, so in a practice if there were fifteen people practicing that was a large number. There was plenty of opportunity to talk with everyone. I, who grew up in Tokyo, had the chance to meet people from all different regions of Japan who were living in the dojo; it was a breath of fresh air. Another plus was the wide range of ages among people practicing Aikido. In Judo it seemed that we naturally ended up with partners our own age, but in the Aikido dojo there were young people and old people coming and going. Talking with these people was great fun. Finally, in my sophomore year, I turned to Aikido only and withdrew from the Judo world.

Aikido at that time was like a family, and if I had some free time, I would spend it at the dojo. Just naturally, I began to hang out with the uchideshi, and we all became good friends (I still think of the dojo in these terms, and even though Aikido is permeating society and dojos are more modern today, I’d still like to preserve this aspect of human connectedness in Aikido).

Outside of classes at the University, my life was soaked in Aikido. It was the era in which Kisshomaru Ueshiba, O-Sensei’s son, was taking the reins of the organization. At that time, people would have feet in two different worlds-one the Aikido world and the other that of a company employee. Around 1958, Koichi Tohei Shihan returned with five deshi from Hawaii. They were shocked by the run-down state of the dojo. The uchideshi were washing the keiko gis of the senpai with soap by hand, ten at a time. Did the deshi from Hawaii look at this with pity, I wondered? They bought us a washing machine in which we could just pile in the gis, add soap, and push a button and the washing would be done; it was like a dream come true for us, After they returned to Hawaii, the Hawaii Aikikai would send Hombu Dojo money for detergent. It was a time when the dollar was worth 360 yen. When we exchanged the money, it came to a lot in yen. With it, we were able to repair the cracked exterior walls, the showers, toilets, and the women’s dressing room.

Whenever I came to the dojo, I would meet so many different kinds of people. I was able to learn about different ways of thinking. People from the Tenpukai, Ikkukai, Nishishiki-Kenkohonokai (healing and spiritual practice groups), Shokuyodo (a macrobiotic group), and religious sects were constantly coming and going. Many of these people were practicing because they were attracted by O-Sensei’s personal charisma. Naturally, I was influenced by these people as well. Perhaps the strongest impression on me was made by the Ikkukai. This association followed the teaching of Tesshu Yamaoka, which pushed people to their physical limits with the goal of spiritual purification. The practice involved sitting in seiza and chanting “To Ho Ka Mi Emi Ta Me” to the sound of a bell. For three days, we chanted with our whole being until our bodies and minds were completely tired out and we all had reached our limits together. But this was something splendid-I really tried, and in the midst of this practice I remember receiving a glass of hot, sweet water and feeling it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted in the world. I recall returning home exhausted. There were many people who had escaped in the middle of this training, as well.

I was also influenced by the summer lectures of Tenpu Nakamura Sensei of the Tenpukai. It was a kind of thought that was able to perceive the positive aspects of everything, a magnificent way of looking at the world, I still feel. Don’t worry about things, let things go and your spirit will grow stronger, and for me it did work that way.

At the same time, in order to forge myself as I had dreamed of doing, I thought about how I could train in a short period of time. Maybe I was the first or second person who ever ran around the Imperial Palace. Every morning I ran with a Judo belt wound around me on which I had hung several bags filled with stones. Also, I would use a narrow bench to strengthen my abdominal muscles. I used all kinds of devices to temper myself physically and mentally. In between classes at Meiji, I would run up and down the stairs of the high school on the campus. I still thinki that it is a good idea to strictly train future teachers of Aikido in order to attain competent people as instructors As they do this training to become pros, they develop their own unique abilities.

To top of this page.