Interview with Kazuo Chiba, Part 2

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Jamie Williams of the USA. Read the first part of the interview here.

In creating a path that advances personal development and harmony, aikido tends to reject the destructiveness and inhumanity that are essential aspects of most martial arts. But inherent in this rejection is the danger of emasculating the art, “killing the bull by straightening the horns,” as the Japanese saying goes. With these concerns in mind, Kazuo Chiba suggests that it is through the state of ainuke (mutual preservation) that the harmony, co-existence, and co-prosperity sought within aikido may be found. For that reason he feels that severe training involving both a complete meeting between two bodies and spirits and true attacks are necessary.

A young Kazuo Chiba

Aikido Journal: What are your most vivid memories from the time you entered the Hombu Dojo as an uchideshi in 1958?

Chiba Sensei: One of the most important things I recall from those times was the high quality of the people gathered together there to practice aikido. All of them had an intense interest in budo. Aikido wasn’t being practiced on the global scale that it is today, but the atmosphere generated by the uchideshi and the other students really motivated me. O-Sensei was still relatively energetic and in good health then, too.

I also have vivid memories of the times O-Sensei got angry. His hair would practically stand on end! His energy came up right through his head, if you can imagine it. It was amazing how much energy he had at times like that. It always surprised people who hadn’t seen him in that state before.

What sort of things made him angry?

Whenever we practiced kokyunage when he was sleeping, for example, he would suddenly appear in the dojo and say, “I can tell by the sound that your training’s no good!” So we were always careful to practice seated techniques (suwariwaza) whenever he was around. He never said anything if we were working hard on suwariwaza.

Other uchideshi have also mentioned that O-Sensei would be in a good mood whenever people were practicing suwariwaza.

I can believe that. Perhaps one of the things I remember most about O-Sensei is the beautiful way he carried himself, no matter what he was doing. You could look at him from the front, from behind, or from the side, and his posture was always complete and harmonious. I’ve never seen anyone with such perfect, dignified presence.

Whenever we traveled with him, O-Sensei always used to leave everyone behind and swish straight through wickets in the train station. Nobody could stop him. We had a really hard time because we had to buy the tickets and then chase after him. I really admired the way he carried himself beautifully, like a true martial artist.

I understand that you often traveled to the Iwama dojo to train with O-Sensei?

The longest I ever stayed there was for six months. O-Sensei didn’t practice with weapons much at the Hombu Dojo, but he did them quite a bit at Iwama. Rather than teaching he spent a lot of time doing his own weapons training, and everyone just followed along. Iwama was like O-Sensei’s laboratory. One thing I remember about that time is [Morihiro] Saito Sensei’s dedicated service to O-Sensei. Saito Sensei and his entire family went through a great deal in serving O-Sensei. When I think about it now I have to bow my head in respect to them.

Who was teaching at the Hombu Dojo at that time besides O-Sensei?

First there was Waka Sensei [the present Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba], who was the head of the dojo, and Koichi Tohei who was the head of the instructors. There were other fine teachers, too. Kisaburo Osawa, Seigo Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Tada, and Sadateru Arikawa were the main ones. There weren’t so many people training, maybe 20 at most.

Back then, as soon as you got your shodan you were sent out to teach at university aikido clubs which were just getting started. The Hombu Dojo was looking to the future, hoping to disseminate aikido throughout society as much as possible, so it began by cultivating the university clubs and places like that. The collection of fees was pretty much overlooked, so it was actually costing us money to go out and teach at these places.

You must have an interesting story or two about the shihan who were your seniors?

Hmm… there’s a story about Tohei Sensei. Sometime around 1960 a pair of wrestlers from Argentina visited the dojo. They were part of a group that was traveling around making a documentary film about the “most dangerous things in the world”. They were both huge men. O-Sensei usually would not allow us to indulge in contests, but on that occasion he gave the go-ahead and told Tohei to have a go, although to this day I still don’t know why. All the students lined up on the mat and O-Sensei sat at the head of the line of instructors. He said, “Tohei, up!” Since he was representing the whole dojo, Tohei Sensei took it very seriously.

I had been the one to greet the wrestlers when they arrived. They were so big that their heads came up past the lintel of the entrance way door. I thought, “Oh no… if we lose we’re going to be so ashamed,” so I discussed it with the other uchideshi and we decided to conceal some wooden swords that we could use those to deal with the wrestlers in the event that Tohei Sensei was defeated [laughter].

The match began. Tohei Sensei immediately moved towards his opponent, who immediately moved back. Ten minutes passed as they circled each other around and around the dojo. Neither of them did anything. Finally, Tohei Sensei chased the wrestler into a corner and leapt toward him. He was so small compared to his opponent, but he ended up heaving him backwards with a judo-like sotogake maneuver, and then pinning him with his tegatana. The wrestler should have been strong in ground techniques, but he couldn’t get up. He tried various ways to escape, but Tohei had him firmly pinned.

I was surprised at the strength of Tohei Sensei’s kokyu power. It’s quite difficult to throw an opponent who’s not coming after you, you know. That’s why Tohei forced him into a corner. I was impressed. O-Sensei didn’t say anything at the time, but afterwards he was angry and said, “There’s no need to throw someone who isn’t attacking you!” It’s true that this wasn’t a very good way of winning in the bujutsu sense. An opponent with a knife could easily run you through if you tried that, so it wasn’t actually very convincing as self-defense. But in that kind of dojo setting I think there probably wasn’t much else he could’ve done. Later I heard that the wrestlers had visited the Kodokan before coming to us, and that apparently someone there had told them never be the first one to attack when dealing with an aikidoka. That’s probably why the wrestler did nothing in the way of offensive moves.

Back then, as soon as you got your shodan you were sent out to teach at university aikido clubs which were just getting started. The Hombu Dojo was looking to the future, hoping to disseminate aikido throughout society as much as possible, so it began by cultivating the university clubs and places like that. The collection of fees was pretty much overlooked, so it was actually costing us money to go out and teach at these places.

To change the subject, I believe you practice iaido, as well?

Yes, I started doing iaido when I was an uchideshi, because O-Sensei told me to. Around 1959 or 1960, a writer named Yamada came to the dojo. He was writing a novel called Oja no Za, (The King’s Throne), using O-Sensei as a model for one of the characters. He made tape recordings of O-Sensei talking about his experiences in Hokkaido. I sat there listening while O-Sensei recounted his stories, one of which involved an incident in which he fought a match against an iaido expert, apparently as a proxy for Sokaku Takeda. Takeda Sensei had killed a number of people, you know, among them an iaido teacher, whose student sent Takeda Sensei a challenge. Takeda Sensei was ill at the time and couldn’t accept it, so O-Sensei went as his representative and fought the match in the Hokkaido snow.

When the distance (maai) between them closed, O-Sensei suddenly kicked up some snow with his front food and leapt in swiftly to strike his opponent in the side under his arm. Then he threw him.

As I sat there listening I thought to myself, “Now what could I have done in a situation like that?” I figured I had better study some iaido and worried about it for some time.

A while later I was accompanying O-Sensei on a trip to the Kansai region when he suddenly said to me, “Stay here and practice iaido for three months.” “Here” was the dojo of Michio Hikitsuchi in Shingu. It was Hikitsuchi Shihan who gave me my first training in iaido. I think that was around 1960. O-Sensei had read my thoughts. He said three months would be enough time for me to get some basic knowledge.

I had accompanied O-Sensei on his travels before that, and most of his demonstrations involved weapons. The thing is, nobody ever taught me how to use them! So I tried to remember things as best I could by studying on my own, writing down whatever O-Sensei taught me and drawing pictures. I also practiced as much as I could on my own, in order to be as good an uke as possible. I was worried that I might not be able to take ukemi for O-Sensei. I didn’t want to be an embarrassment to such a fantastic martial artist.

When two human beings meet, it is only when they meet with both their bodies and spirits that the opportunity for harmony in the true sense is born. Having both aiuchi and ainuke is something I think we need to attach more importance to. Otherwise the dojo is in danger of degenerating into something more like a training school that only teaches some kind of “method for living,” some passive, compromising way to adjust yourself, your philosophy, and your principles just to physically survive in the world. It’s a difficult issue, a problem that would take a whole lifetime to resolve.

If you are going to use the sword you should know at least the fundamentals of how to wield it. O-Sensei told me to study how to handle the sword both before and after drawing it from the scabbard. So iai was to be my training in what to do before drawing the blade. Your frame of mind and preparation before drawing the blade is very important in iai, as are the angle and orientation of the blade’s cutting edge. These things have to be just right because you’re going to use the sword to actually cut. You can’t understand such things if you only use a wooden sword. Practicing iai gives you a good feel for how to orient the edge of the blade and adjust your power. Knowing about things like that helps you translate your iai and sword-work into empty-handed technique as well as the other way around. I’ve always tried to mesh the two together and bring them into harmony with one another.

Kazuo Chiba with George Lyons at San Diego Aikikai 

You’ve studied a lot of different things!

Another reason I like iai so much is that it goes well with zazen (seated Zen meditation). It’s an excellent way to train on your own. O-Sensei often said you have to harmonize three types of training  budo, farming and spiritual discipline. I wanted to build that kind of lifestyle while I was still young, and I was running up against barriers in Tokyo. I had friend who was a Zen master living in Nishi Izu, so I rented a place in a nearby village and began a new lifestyle, farming, doing zazen, and practicing on my own. I intended to do that for about five years, but it didn’t quite work out that way in the end. Yoshimitsu Yamada visited me there from New York quite a few times to invite me to come to the United States.

One of the things that got me so involved in zazen was a visit to O-Sensei by Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki [1870-1966, scholar of Buddhist studies, well-known in the United States for his studies and research on Zen]. Dr. Suzuki came from Kamakura, accompanied by his secretary. Something he said stuck in my mind. After O-Sensei had given a demonstration, the two of them sat down to talk. I had taken ukemi during the demonstration and served the tea while Dr. Suzuki and O-Sensei talked, so I got to listen to their conversation.

Dr. Suzuki spoke frankly, saying something to the effect that, “I can easily see that your budo embodies the height of Eastern spirituality and enlightenment, but your lectures are unintelligible and I, for one, don’t understand what you mean at all. The day will come when aikido belongs to the whole world. But there is no universality in Shinto, so I think you need to substantiate it with Mahayana Buddhism, and the philosophy of Zen, in particular. If you do that it will become something very compelling.” That was a time when I never could understand what O-Sensei was talking about, either. So when Dr. Suzuki said, “I don’t understand what you mean at all,” I couldn’t help thinking, “Yes! Right! I couldn’t agree more!”[laughter]

I suppose O-Sensei often spoke in terms of kamisama?

Yes, he did. All of the uchideshi in my generation had received a postwar education, so we didn’t know most of the words O-Sensei used. I have a feeling he used words that we wouldn’t learn in school and that weren’t to be found in books. I probably wouldn’t have felt so uneasy about the Omoto religion if I had studied it formally, but what little I knew of it came through O-Sensei and I didn’t understand the words he used. That was probably the main reason why I more or less automatically rejected it.

How do you view the current international practice of aikido?

Aikido is a budo with a big heart; it’s very humanitarian. Largely thanks to the efforts of Doshu, we are able to practice in a way that adapts to a wide variety of human conditions. Aikido lets people pursue budo in a way that makes the person the center of practice. There’s never been anything like this before. In the past budo always existed a priori and people adapted themselves to it. With aikido it’s the budo that adapts to the people doing it.

I’m speaking more philosophically than in terms of practical technique, but I think Doshu’s idea is not only to fix the spirit of budo firmly as the base of aikido, but also to take aikido beyond budo, creating a new path that people can use to develop themselves as human beings. Budo involves many elements that can become destructive and inhuman, you know. I think that Doshu is deeply opposed to those sorts of things, and I sense that he’s hoping aikido can step back from that world and become something that helps people train and build themselves. I don’t know if Doshu’s will is being transmitted, but the fact is that aikido needs to transcend the inhumanity and vulgarity latent in budo if it’s going to continue being a path that can respond to the spiritual needs of our modern world and help people develop themselves. It seems to me that Doshu has considered these things deeply, and I find his sentiments admirable. There’s nothing about this noble spirit motivating Doshu’s aikido that is antithetical to the bu on which aiki is based.

Philosophically speaking, the destructive elements of bu spring from the same source as those fundamental powers active in the formation and development of the universe. When these destructive elements manifest in budo, it becomes the so-called “killing sword” (satsujinken) but if they are buried far below the surface, the “life-giving sword” (katsujinken) can manifest itself through aikido and become accessible to everyone. So in this way the two aspects of kassatsu (katsu, life-giving and satsu, death-dealing) are firmly linked in a philosophical sense.

It’s very complex and subtle, though. There’s a saying, “Straightening the horns kills the bull.” In other words, by removing the “poison” from the bu you risk reducing it to an emasculated form.

All of the uchideshi in my generation had received a postwar education, so we didn’t know most of the words O-Sensei used. I have a feeling he used words that we wouldn’t learn in school and that weren’t to be found in books. I probably wouldn’t have felt so uneasy about the Omoto religion if I had studied it formally, but what little I knew of it came through O-Sensei and I didn’t understand the words he used. That was probably the main reason why I more or less automatically rejected it.

We have the words aiuchi (mutual strike) and ainuke (mutual preservation). Could you please tell us what these mean in terms of your view of aikido?

Neither aiuchi nor ainuke are fundamentally different from aikido. Sometime around the Kambun era (1661-73), a Shinkage-ryu practitioner named Harigaya Sekiun explained this from the perspective of traditional swordsmanship. He said that aiuchi is the basis of bujutsu, and that when facing an opponent, you have to abandon any thought of saving yourself or achieving victory and devote yourself earnestly to attaining aiuchi. Harigaya felt you should completely avoid relying on technical tricks to save only yourself. For example, feinting a strike to the right but actually striking left, or pretending to strike high but really striking low. He strongly criticized that approach to fighting as being brutish and urged instead a higher form of bujutsu based on the spiritual dignity uniquely possessed by human beings. I think this has some connection to aikido.

Of course, you can’t move in to attain aiuchi without resigning yourself to death. About this Harigaya said something to the effect that, “People will probably think that aiuchi is a simple and easy thing to do. But actually face such a situation and you find yourself confronted with many desires for this and that, and delusions float before you, making your desire to beat your opponent leap to the fore. So aiuchi isn’t something you can do as immediately or simply as you might think.”

But when, through the process of training, you break through such things and your earthly desires and delusions come to rest, then the world of ainuke opens up before you. In modern terms we might call it “co-existence and mutual prosperity.”

This development from aiuchi into ainuke and the theory behind this seems quite similar to the theory underlying irimi and tenkan in aikido.

However, the question remaining in my mind and this is something I still haven’t been able to work out completely is whether in aikido we are crossing into the world of ainuke without first passing through aiuchi. And if so, is it really okay to do that? It makes one think about a lot of different things.

When two human beings meet, it is only when they meet with both their bodies and spirits that the opportunity for harmony in the true sense is born. Having both aiuchi and ainuke is something I think we need to attach more importance to. Otherwise the dojo is in danger of degenerating into something more like a training school that only teaches some kind of “method for living,” some passive, compromising way to adjust yourself, your philosophy, and your principles just to physically survive in the world. It’s a difficult issue, a problem that would take a whole lifetime to resolve.

Sensei, thank you very much for your valuable insights.

Read the first part of the interview here.

Kazuo Chiba Profile

Born 1940 in Tokyo. 8th dan, Aikikai shihan, and full-time professional aikido instructor. Entered the Aikikai Hombu Dojo as an uchideshi in 1958. In 1966 relocated to the U.K. and founded the Aikikai of Great Britain. Returning to Japan in 1976, he assumed the office of secretary of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, International Division, and played an active role in the creation of the International Aikido Federation. In 1981, Chiba moved to San Diego, where he now runs the San Diego Aikikai and oversees the activities of the United States Aikido Federation, Western Division.

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