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Interview: Zen and Aikido

Kawaraban No. 7


Shimizu Kenji Sensei

Kamata Shigeo Sensei

Interviewer: Stanley Pranin, Editor of `Aiki News`

At the occasion of the publishing of the English version of ‘Zen and Aikido’ of the two coauthors Shimizu Sensei and Kamata Sensei in the ‘Aiki News’ appears an article on the dialogue with them. Here we present a part out of it, please read the continuation in the ‘Aiki News’ (expected date of publishing: July 26th, 1991 ).

Stanley Pranin: I assume, that Kano Jigoro Sensei as well as others during the Meiji Era, who were practicing arts of Bujutsu, was subject to such influence of Zen.

Shigeo Kamata: They expressed themselves not directly. But because the Japanese Bushido was closely related to Zen at the Edo Period, they assimilated it quite naturally. But there were Budoka as well, who rejected this.

If you are young, you hit people with the sword; you kill people with the sword. But if you approach the evening of life, you do not pull a sword any more, you do not kill people any more.

During his last years of life the famous sword fighter Tsukahara changed to a way of fencing, which did not aim at the killing of people. You could disapprove this as a weakening, but that is not such as easy, because his frame of mind was characterized by a comprehensive feeling. Ueshiba Sensei, too, trained (in the beginning) to become stronger, but when he followed the teachings of the Omoto sect, he outgrow is own strength. It seems as if some day he experienced directly the strength of the big universe.

From this point of view Aikido techniques are more than techniques, which are only related to you, but a powerful force follows additionally. People, who follow the way, only practice techniques in the beginning to become stronger, but then, if they finally break through the wall, which they come across, they experience something directly, which could be called god/gods, the spirit of the universe, or, too, zen.

Stanley Pranin: Ueshiba Sensei is to be said oftenly: „Aikido comes from the sword”. Could you tell us, how Ueshiba Sensei explained the part of the sword in Aikido?

Kenji Shimizu: With regard to the role of the sword the explanations of Ueshiba Sensei were not too exact. On the contrary, he became very angry, when we were using the sword during training. The reason was, that the main things in Aikido finally are body techniques and that inexperienced students should not deviate from the true way. First of all the weaponless techniques should be trained carefully. The body should be trained thoroughly. In any case O-Sensei was a demanding personality, wherever he was watching the training. Therefore, if there was even the smallest mistake during training, he advised us with a loud voice. He really watched us carefully.

O-Sensei himself frequently demonstrated the effectiveness of aiki by using the sword. In today’s Aikido the number of people using the sword excessively has increased strongly. If O-Sensei would be still alive, his anger would break out. “That is no Aikido!” he would call. But it happened frequently that O-Sensei asked us to use the sword for attack (Uchikome). We were overwhelmed by his vitality in a way that we were like marionettes. We were not able to hit correctly. His Ki caught us completely.

© translated by Peter Nawrot 05/2006