Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 4 Life in Hombu Dojo

In the dojo, the numbers of shihan and uchideshi were steadily growing; it was quite a lively place. Although it was a martial arts dojo, there were no extremes in rank and no bullying. Of course, there were things we couldn’t do, but there were no hard feelings; we all shared a certain harmony.

After the 6:30 and 8 a.m. classes, there was cleaning and laundry. People who worked or went to school were free to go. People who had some time would stay and talk about what was happening in the world or do sumo or sitting sumo wrestling. In sumo sitting style,, you would do your rounds while sitting, and the person whose back or shoulder touched the tatatmi would be the loser. Kisshomaru Sensei would also join in and challenge us.

There was the cleaning of the Kamidana (Shinto altar) as well. One of the seniors would command us to clean it, and if we did as we were told, O-Sensei might suddenly appear and shout, “What are you doing?”“ and frighten us. The rule was that we were supposed to use a mop and cloth to clean the kamidana that was different from the ones we used for the rest of the dojo. Even today that brings a bitter smile as I remember how the seniors would give us juniors orders in that way. “My order comes from the head of the dojo Kisshomaru Sensei, and his order comes from O-Sensei, who got the order from the kamisama can’t you hear the kamisama?”

Today as I recall this it doesn’t seem so egotistical a thing to do, but at the time, we juniors didn’t enjoy being ordered to do task after task under this pretext. (In reality, I need to reflect on the fact that many times I myself used the same excuse to order my juniors around.

There wasn’t much attention paid to ways of teaching, either. The deshi learned from watching the instructors. When I was there, the various instructors were free to create their own styles of teaching. We could only establish a style through imitation. Koichi Tohei Shihan was the only one who insisted that we use his style of teaching and technique.

About 1958, the first women of Aikido began to make an appearance. One of the first to have shared the uchideshi life was the sister of the Kyushu Aikibanseido’s Sundanomari Kanshu Shihan, Sundanomari Fukiko. She practice Naginata. So she sometimes practiced Aikido. There was a trio of dojo “flowers” that included Ms.Kuno, Ms. Okubo, and my younger sister, Fumiko Kobayashi. Because they came into the dojo where only men were practicing, their movements and their dispositions were pre-eminent (???). They were all beautiful, so Kisshomaru Sensei always had them accompany him for demonstrations and seminars;

When O-Sensei was in the capital and stayed at the dojo, they took good care of him; his health would improve, and all the uchideshi were able to have fun. O-Sensei often told me that it would have been nice if I had been blessed with my sister Fumiko’s genius and personality. When I went to other dojos, people would ask, “Is Kobayashi-san in good health?” and I would reply, “Yes, I’m fine,” to which the speaker would respond, “No, no, not you. Your sister!” I had many requests to introduce her for dates.

About this time there were the following incidents. People came from the countryside suddenly demanding an Aikido 10th dan license. This was because in the old days, when O-Sensei was teaching in the local areas, he would notice someone who, for just a moment, seemed to understand, and he’d say, “Oh, this guy’s got it. I’ll give him a 10th dan.”“ It seemed he would easily say things like, “You’re great! Let’s make you a 9th dan,”“ to people who took him at his word, even though they may bave been only a 3rd or 4th dan. That was one face of O-Sensei. He’d just say something like, “You’re a 9th dan or 10th dan,”“ When I was younger, O-Sensei told me, too, many times, that I was a 9th or 10th dan. The other uchideshi were also “promoted” to 9th or 10th dan many times.

To all of these people who came with such requests, there was the reply that those ranks were not officially recognized, but people would not give up, insisting, “It was said at the time I was promoted to 6th dan by Ueshiba Sensei," and so forth. It was important for these people that O-Sensei’s recognition be official, with a license..

If O-Sensei was there and aware of the situation, he would usually feel exasperated and say, “I authorized them, so what’s the problem?”

There were also people who had been promoted to 5th or 6th dan outside of the Aikikai; that was problematical. No simple solution free of problems was possible in many cases. Kisshomaru Sensei thought of granting licenses with O-Sensei’s name. Thus, some certificates were printed with the Aikikai’s name and personally signhed by O-Sensei, bypassing the official Aikikai procedure. With these certificates in hand, many of these people returned home happy.

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