Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 9 My Family's Cooperation in Building Kobayashi Dojo's Future

Perhaps the biggest reason for the continuing success of Kobayashi Dojos is the support I get from my family.

My wife has had to overcome many hardships. She was supportive when I wasn’t working and doing what I wanted to do, namely Aikido.  And thanks to her four sisters who live nearby in Tokyo; the dojos have done so well.  Her second youngest sister, Satoko, started practice in Hombu Dojo in an era when there were few women practicing. She hung in there along with my younger sister, Fumiko.  Satoko was also the tutor of Shihan Koichi Tohei’s son.

The second eldest sister, Mitsuko, graduated from Tokyo Economics University and manages the dojo’s finances.  The youngest sister, Sumiko, helped out when we were building the dojo. My wife’s mother really came through for us when we were strapped for money, buying Hiroaki things and so on.  If it hadn’t been for all of them, Kobayashi Dojos just wouldn’t have made  it.

My wife loves taking care of people and has kindly looked after the university students, the uchideshi and has managed the festivals and other gatherings. On big occasions when many people get together, even though she’d get less than 3 – 4 hours of sleep, had a bright smile and took care of everyone. My students say, “Kobayashi Dojos has a wife.”   That is true.

Katsutoshi Shirakawa Shihan of the Sendai Juku called my wife a goddess when he came to the opening ceremony of the dojo because of the care she showed him.  Today I also call her a goddess.

At that time, I didn’t drink or smoke.  If I had one glass of beer my face turned red.  The head of the Higashi Yamato City Aikido Club, Mr. Sawada, still brags that he learned Aikido from me but he taught me how to drink.  The university students find me dull.  My wife drinks as if it is a gift from the gods.  Dancing and singing a popular song from Kabuki, she starts to chant, “follow me, and stay with the song” there’ll be drinking for two days.

Dojo students and uchideshi may have problems, and when there is stress piling up there may be a quarrel. I try to enlist the uchideshi as allies and as the quarrel begins they say, “Sensei’s right.”  But that’s as far as they get and realize that they are at disadvantage no matter whose side they take.

I like mackerel. My goddess doesn’t like fish. At one strange dinner, we had salted roast mackerel. Among the many uchideshi who were there, there was one who left the mackerel.  I ate mine with great relish and three times ordered him to eat his mackerel. My wife suddenly got up, went to the refrigerator and took out some milk and poured it on me. I hate milk. Without thinking I yelled at her, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“You don’t like milk. Will you drink it?” You shouldn’t force someone to eat something he doesn’t like.” She shouted back at me.  My uchideshi were at a loss for words at that time, too. It was the famous “Mackerel incident.”

The Tokyo District Attorney was coming to the dojo. He was chatting with fellow students about injuries that happen during practice and that if there’s no intention to harm, even if someone sued, there would be no fault found, but…

“Sensei’s a pro, so there would be guilt in his case.” My wife heard this and absolutely knew that I would never strike at first blow.  I can’t remember what caused one quarrel but one day we went into the bedroom. She was shouting at me and she threw a chair at me. It bounced back and hit her hand, which must have hurt. She got madder and madder and pulled out a safety razor from her dressing table and came at me. I had to do a tantodori for real.  Then she got another razor and I had to take it again. Once more she got a safety razor; the drawer was full of them. You can buy them in multiple quantities.  I finally gave up.  Looking back, we quarreled off and on for six months or a year.  We were fuming with dissatisfaction.

My only son, Hiroaki, was born in 1965. From the time he was born, he was weak and always sick. When I opened the dojo in 1969, he was the first deshi practicing.  He immediately got better and stopped having to go to the hospital. When after a half year he caught a cold and we took him to the pediatrician, the doctor was surprised, “He’s really gotten better.  I can now tell you, I didn’t think he’d ever be able to grow up.”

We were very shocked to hear that and thought how we can truly say how thankful that we had him begin Aikido.

After that children who were weak were introduced to our dojo.

A morning practitioner had arrived, “Shall I do something?” Hiroaki would ask. On cold winter mornings he would practice with whomever came and I had him do just the warm-ups. Hiroaki was in first-grade when my second dojo opened in Tokorozawa. There weren’t any students yet so we sent him to a children’s class called “Sakura.”  When we went to parent’s open house, the teachers said one of the students had a funny story she was going to have him read. Then Hiroaki began to read in front of everyone, “My mom and dad quarreled over mackerel. If my dad gets on a train, he soon falls asleep sprawled all over. When we arrive at Kodaira station, he’ll suddenly open his eyes and we’ll get off. If he says we’re going home by taxi, we end up walking.”  I really learned that kids carefully watch adult behavior.

Through his junior and senior high school years, I had him just continue the warm up exercises in the morning because if he practice for the entire class, he’d be late for school.

When Hiroaki was a first-year junior high school student, he went into a rebellious phase. He let his hair grow long and told us “I joined a tennis club,” and came home late, skipping practice.  But after just a half a year, he said he’d lost interest in tennis and came back to practice Aikido.

Mr. Ryu who developed Aikido in Taipei loved Hiroaki as if he was his own son. During school vacations, he’d send a plane ticket and invite Hiroaki to Taiwan. So from the time he was in high school he began to learn Chinese. When he entered college, it was in the Foreign Languages Department, with specialty in Chinese. He also began to study Iaido with the head of Iaido Federation, Shiosaki Shihan whom I taught Aikido to.  As a second-year university student, he went to study at Togo University in Taipei and as a senior, he went to Canada and America to study English and practice Aikido there.

Off To the South Pacific to Recover the Remains of Soldiers

With the encouragement of a senior classmate, Hiroaki joined the association to recover remains and went to the South Pacific islands, which were scenes of battle in World War II to recover Japanese soldier’s remains.

Spring and summer vacations and other times as well, he wouldn’t be home he’d be off to Papua New Guinea or to the Solomon Islands, volunteering to collect the remains of Japanese soldiers who had fought in terrible battles. It was about the time when the economic bubble burst, when young people were dancing in discos, they asked my son who was working. Just by chance, he happened to meet someone in the Solomon Islands who knew about Kobayashi Dojos asked Hiroaki to come back to the Solomon Islands to teach Aikido under the auspices of Japan International Youth Volunteer Association. This system recruits young people to teach various kinds of skills abroad. Hiroaki joined this association and had intended to return to the Solomon Islands after graduation but for some reason the Solomon Island trip was cancelled and it was suddenly decided to send him to Indonesia.

After many months of preparation he was sent there for two and a half years. The volunteers are jewels. These young Japanese men and women who go to assist in developing countries with all sincerity, giving the best of Japanese culture. Surprisingly when Hiroaki was asked about his experience by a reporter, he had no trouble in reporting because he was teaching what he loved – Aikido, so the newspaper article didn’t include Hiroaki. There were only photographs of him. When a former Prime Minister who had practiced Aikido visited Indonesia, he told of a Chinese man who was instructing Aikido for JICA (the Japan Overseas Volunteer Organization). He had visited the dojo and had seen Hiroaki instructing the many Chinese-Indonesians in Chinese, so he thought Hiroaki must be Chinese.

When Hiroaki was on his way home, he stopped in Singapore where he was invited to stay and work for a Japanese Company. In Singapore there are four official languages – Chinese, English, Malay and Tamil, three of which Hiroaki can speak. So he came back and waited for that company to contact him.  It was the time when the Japanese economic bubble was bursting and companies were restructuring. Companies with branches overseas were pulled back, so he waited ten months for some contact from them.  When he finally called them, they were shocked; they had forgotten the offer to have him work in Singapore. He was immediately taken in at the headquarters.

About that time, the Berlin wall fell. Three months after he began working for that company he called the Overseas Volunteer Organization, which he did from time to time. They were trying to recruit old members to reenlist and go to the old Easter European bloc countries, but they weren’t having much luck. The office asked him to come just once to hear their pitch and was promised an airplane ticket and speedy passport renewal and visa process. “If you can’t go, we’ll be in trouble,” he was told.  So he quit his job after only three months and was sent to a short time project in Poland for half a year. He was chosen out of five volunteers and although they couldn’t say exactly how much he would receive, the grant money apparently was substantial.  “Father, one of my suitcases is full of cash,” he told me just as he was leaving.

I went to Warsaw for fun and was given a ride in a white Mercedes Benz that was owned by one of the Aikidokas. In Warsaw I met some young people who had come from Budapest, Hungary to meet me. Apparently they stood at the airport for ten hours with a big sign saying Kobayashi Sensei so they could meet me. They were students of Japanese at a Buddhist University there. Why is there a Buddhist University in Hungary?  I don’t know, but they wanted to study Aikido and needed a teacher.  Listening to them, I understood how serious they were so I promised them I would see what I could do.

When I returned, I arranged for one of our instructors, the late Tsuneo Tamura, to go over to Hungary once a year. Through this effort, our ties gradually deepened over the years.  They provided half the airfare and took care of us locally.  They also provided a small honorarium.  Aikido developed successfully there and today there are over 40 dojos affiliated with Kobayashi Dojos in Hungary.  This is the result of Hiroaki’s stay in Poland.

When Hiroaki returned, he married a woman who had also been a volunteer with the youth corps in Indonesia. She had been a high school teacher, so when she became an independent she entered graduate school at Korin University and got her masters degree through the International Cooperation Research Institute.  Linguists’ skills are important in spreading Aikido overseas and we got more and more calls from dojos abroad.

Hiroaki has become assistant head of the dojos and manages the other instructors. Looking at it from our perspective, we really don’t have many problems.  We trust each other.

Aikido is our base and the number of our dojos is increasing.  From here on it’s just a matter of fine-tuning our teaching techniques. We improve ourselves and continue our training by practicing with the members of our dojos.  My granddaughter is now six and doesn’t seem to mind practicing Aikido.

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