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New Year’s Interview

Kawaraban No. 33


Special Edition of Tendo Newsletter

Aikido / Tai no Jo – Kodenkan

Shihan Hari Sunao, 7th Dan

Tendoryu Aikido – Tendokan

Shihan Shimizu Kenji

For a feature article for the New Year’s edition January 1998 a New Year’s dialogue between the caricaturist Hari Sunao and Shimizu Sensei took place at the editorial office of the Tendokan Kawaraban. The topic was their thoughts about aikido. They talked openly about the fascination of Aikido, about the development of techniques, and about their attitude to Budo.

Both met more than 30 years ago at the Aikido Honbu Dojo. However, in 1994 the ‘deep relationship’ (Shimizu) began with an invitation for a celebration and a demonstration, which took place on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Tendokan. Since then the two, ‘whose characters fit so well that the sake savors together’, are meeting certainly once a month for a joint drink. At these occasions, at which the topics will never run out, the conversation always gets back to Aikido and results in topics concerning both like the management of a Dojo. This month on the occasion of the Kagamibiraki celebration of both Dojos they will hold a demonstration, Shimizu Sensei on the 18th at the Kodenkan (Saga city) and Harin Sensei on the 25th at the Tendokan. It could be said, that these mutual invitations were an obvious result of the conversations. In this interview we ask both, who are so closely associated, for a dialogue, which reveals many things.

Full of Gratefulness to Aikido (Hari)

On the one hand you, Hari Sensei, one of the most outstanding illustrator of portraits, are working as a political caricaturist at Asahi Shinbun, on the other hand you have a history of more than 40 years of Aikido. Moreover we learned that you are in charge of the ‘Tai no Jo’ and manage an own Dojo 

Hari: I am working as a caricaturist and therefore I practiced Aikido as a hobby in the beginning. But eight years ago the concrete wish to build and to manage an own Dojo as another task came into being. Therefore I founded the Kodenkan in my hometown Saga. Considering my age it was as well time to pay back something to Aikido. And when I was thinking what I could do, I came to the conclusion that it might be a good idea spreading Aikido. At that time there existed not yet a professional Dojo in Saga. The Dojo, which I founded, was quite small, but I could apply my own nameplate there. Thus I followed Shimizu Sensei, changed my attitude and exchanged my easygoing hobby existence with work.

Now I spent a third of the month at the Kodenkan, and during the other two thirds of a month, when I stay in Tokyo , I teach in Shinjuku downtown, in Koganei and in Tokorozawa on Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes that overlaps with my work as artist, but that is another thing, which I love, which I have to do, and for that reason like to do, too. With other words, “What would have become of me, if I wouldn’t had started with Aikido”. I am really glad to practice Aikido.

We are able to return to the roots of human beings (Shimizu)

What is the fascination of Aikido? What is your opinion as a professional Aikido teacher?

Shimizu: For me in Aikido the old Japanese spirit is preserved. I think, that the good past can be found in Aikido. If you ask now, what I mean, it is quite difficult to express it in words. I believe you take in qualities, which form the Budo spirit: ‘wisdom, humanity, and courage’. The longer I practice Aikido, the more I return to feeling Japanese. It is like homecoming. I feel, that I am able to improve myself as it should be, and by that to return to the roots of people.

At the age of 13 years I started with Judo and wanted to become a professional later. But one day somebody told me: “If you look for real Budo, you should practice Aikido instead of Judo from now on”. He also pointed out that there would be weight classes in Judo soon. When we practiced Judo at the university during the 30ties of the Showa period (1955-1964) still no weight classes existed, but if Judo would become a sport completely, the bodily stronger ones would win. Exactly at that time I came into contact with the founder O-Sensei Ueshiba Morihei, and although I really hesitate to mention this by myself, he had chosen me with the words: “This person really wants to practice Aikido”. And I as well, who met O-Sensei, was impressed by his kind of Budo. Since then I completely absorbed myself in Aikido. In fact Aikido became my profession, but I consider Aikido not as work, but as something, which is fascinating me totally.

Hari: Five, six years after I had entered the Aikido Honbu Dojo in Shinjuku, Shimizu Sensei started as Uchi-Deshi. At that time the young Shimizu was really good looking (laughter). We common students could count the times, when we were permitted to grasp the arm of the founder with our hands. The Uchi-Deshi Shimizu had plenty chances for contacts, what I consider as tremendous luck. When we tried to grasp the arm of the founder, we as well felt being absorbed already beforehand and that victory and defeat were already decided. We were made insecure. Nowadays there are only a few, who met the founder personally. I consider this as a valuable treasure, and I think the Uchi-Deshi Shimizu really was lucky.

Shimizu: But there were a number of things, too, which didn’t run so luckily (laughter). Sometimes I complained, too, namely when I could not cope with the hardships.

The Aikido Movements

A little while ago Shimizu Sensei mentioned the comparison with Judo. Is it correct to say that the typical Aikido movements cannot be found in any other Budo art?

Hari: In Aikido we are talking about circular movements. But what I notice most is breathing in and absorbing. In my lessons the question “How to absorb an opponent?” was an issue, too, as the late teacher Yamaguchi Seigo, whom I worshipped, taught. I think, this aspect of absorbing can be found neither in another sport nor in fighting techniques. For example, let’s take the ‘Iriminage’. In case of fighting techniques normally two well-trained bodies collide with each other in a way, which easily can be understood. But a specialty in Aikido is the movement, by which you grasp the opponent in the very moment of contact.

Shimizu: If you add 100°C hot water to 100°C hot water that will not result in 200°C. These movements are of such kind. Regardless how strongly the opponent ever might attack, we do not react by doubling our strength, but by becoming one with him. However, for this purpose we need appropriate abilities. I came from Judo, and became Uchi-Deshi. And in case of Judo you tried to resist, if your partner applied a technique. This habit could be noticed in my Aikido as well, why the advanced students were not able to apply a technique on me. For this reason I had a lot of second thoughts. But O-Sensei had fascinated me completely, as Hari Sensei mentioned already earlier. Being Uke of O-sensei all the second thoughts that it might be possible to throw the high Aikido Dan degree holders at will with Judo techniques vanished naturally. Aikido training means the continuous repetition of techniques. And only by knowing the sequence of movements there is the chance of resistance. But little by little I understood that this is useless and is no Aikido training. Here as well as in all matters I felt the greatness of O-Sensei.

Hari: I would like to add, that there is a difference between Budo and sport. In sports we judge by win and defeat, for what there are rules. In Budo there are no forbidden techniques, therefore there is no competition in Aikido. Furthermore Aikido is more: “Aikido is not made to kill mutually, but how to let live, and it is about, how to be able to merge with an opponent”, as the founder expressed. For example, in case of ‘Katate Dori’ it becomes boring, if you do not practice anxiously and seriously, if you do not imagine that the free hand will attack in a moment. On the other hand, training will become interesting, if you practice with such earnest.

Hari sensei, could you please inform us about the ‘Tai no Jo’, which you are teaching.

Hari: ‘Jotaiken’ is as follows: a sword blow will be warded off with a Jo, and the opponent will be thrown away or will be controlled. Jo and Ken are unequal instruments, and therefore quite interesting. In the past I practiced ‘Shinto Muso Ryu – Jodo’, but because of the typical use of body parts as in Aikido the ‘Tai no Jo’ is something completely different, although the same Jo is used.

Shimizu : I am interested in ‘Tai no Jo’, which is characteristic for the rational mind of Hari Sensei. He practiced Aikido and Jodo for a long time seriously and uses techniques of both. I would like to make this popular even more.

Your Dreams

Finally please tell us something about your plans and dreams for the New Year.

Hari: I am presently drawing the techniques of Tai no Jo. In the past this would have been a secret script, but today actually it is an illustrated book, because I am a caricaturist, I draw things, which could be understood on the first glance. For one technique ten pictures, and that for seventy techniques. This work I would like to release surely at the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Kodenkan, which will be in the year 2000. This is my dream.

Shimizu: I think, Budo is a pillar of the Japanese soul. In this sense I would like to help many people to understand. In return even a teacher still has to learn. He has to break with outwardnesses like force, appearance, camouflage and empty formalities and has to make efforts to guide the classes in such a way that he touches the innermost parts of the hearts. Today it is quite rare doing something by heart. My dreams are classes, where the heart is addressed.

© translated by Peter Nawrot 08/2006