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The Founder and Mr. Yamamoto

Kawaraban No. 76


by The Head of Tendokan, Kenji Shimizu

I am surprised how fast the years passed by. This year also has passed nearly already, and next year we will celebrate 40 years of independency of Tendokan. Thinking back now those years passed in no time. And looking back very far into the past, those years seem to me as if they were a very long way down hill, and sometimes there were quite difficult hardships as if crossing over the Pacific Ocean with a boat. And there were rain and wind and typhoons.

To begin with, during those days when I became Uchi Deshi of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, the term ‘Aikido’ was not very popular among the people, and when I told somebody my occupation, they asked in return “Pardon?!”. Advancing on this way after leaving the university really was like beginning a trip to an unknown world. My mother resisted very much, but nevertheless I was obstinately egoistic and had my own way.

Mr. Hideyuki Budo, who introduced me to the founder, at that time was the managing director of the board of directors of the reception hall of a guesthouse for foreign guests of honor. Mr. Budo heard about me from someone, who knew me very well, and he intended to put me under the supervision of Morihei Ueshiba. Mr. Budo enthusiastically encouraged me: “There is someone, who is called the last Budoka in Japan. His name is Morihei Ueshiba, and he is a character, who will appear in a population only every 50 to 100 years. If this opportunity is missed now, there will be no true Budoka in Japan anymore…!”. And those words convinced me finally.

Once Morihei Ueshiba taught the commissioned officers of land and sea Bujutsu until 2. World War. The founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, who personally evaluated the techniques of the founder, said with great admiration: “That is my ideal of Budo!” and he sent four of his favorite pupils, who at those days were known at the Kodokan as ‘The Big Four’, under the supervision of the founder.  Additionally I heard that Onoe Kikugoro VI (1885-1949), who was very famous as an excellent Kabuki actor during the Taisho period (1912-1926), also was his enthusiastic pupil.

When I was admitted in the year 1963, those years were just the last years of the founder. Fortunately he liked me, and he trained me every day during the lessons. But there was one thing that worried me. Because the founder, wherever he was, always put on his voice and shouted: “Where is Shimizu? Where is he?”, I was worried that this might result in unhappy feelings among the other Uchi Deshis. But I was able to handle easily several times of their training, and receiving the 4th Dan after three years of practice surely was a record.

During the first half of the sixties the 2nd period of advanced maturity in Japan had not yet started, and prosperity was still to come (under the Bretton Woods System the exchange rates were determined until 1971 / remark by translator). It was the time of the cheap Yen, when the exchange rate was 360 Yen for 1 Dollar. It seemed as if only the muscles held the bones of the bodies together, because due to the lack of money the meals were miserable. One day we went to a Sento (public bath). And there I got near to a middle-aged man, who was tattooed on his whole body. I was afraid that he certainly would pick up a quarrel, because his looks were so bad, but he praised me slowly: “Hallo brother, you have a super body”, and there are still moments, when I am amused about these unexpected words.

Well, when I founded the Tendokan six years later (in the very year 1969 when O-Sensei died), soon a student named Keiichi Yamamoto joined. His personality seemed to be that of someone, who mistakenly was born 100 years too late. In his company you had a refreshing feeling, he was able to swallow his pride, and he was my senior by four years. After leaving the Tokyo Shosen Daigaku (Tokyo University of Mercantile Marine / remark by translator) Mr. Yamamoto found employment with Kawasaki Kisen (a Japanese shipping company / remark by translator), thereafter he changed to Det Norske Veritas (an independent association of the Norwegian ship’s classification / remark by translator), and then carried on in the shipping business in Hiroshima. During practice there was mutual understanding. He went full out for the Dojo in many areas, always supported the Tendokan, and when writing the history of the Tendokan his name mustn’t be unmentioned.  I was thinking by myself that meeting him might have been a farewell present from Ueshiba Sensei.

Mr. Yamamoto was able to put his own business aside; he was such a fine fellow, that because of his sense of justice he couldn’t be uninvolved, even it was not his business. Furthermore he always was ready to volunteer even if it became dangerous. For example,  “If the woman, whom you just met, cries for help, you would go through fire and water “, was one of his remarks. He exactly was like a living textbook incorporating the old Bushido spirit.

When my late mother visited Tokyo at those days, she had several opportunities to talk Mr. Yamamoto. He might have rack his brains as my mother only spoke the dialect of Kyushu, and I can remember very pleasant circumstances. My mother said smiling broadly: “Mr. Yamamoto praised you strongly. And we talk up to the point that meeting you has changed his life, but what on earth is so good about you?” (Spoken in Kyushu dialect / remark by translator).

It might be that I, who repeatedly behaved with a lack of filial piety, finally show at least some piety for my parents.  That Mr. Yamamoto became 72 years, and died the other day by prostate gland. I feel very pity, and the feeling of sadness and loneliness will be everlasting.

I press my hands together in prayer and pray full heartedly for happiness in the next world.

© translated by Ichiro Murata and Peter Nawrot 03/2009