HOME > Feature Videos > Daito-ryu’s most practical Technique “Aikinage(合気投げ)”! Ishibashi Yoshihisa

This is the most practical technique!
“Aikinage” by Daito-ryu Aikibujutsu,Ishibashi Yoshihisa Sensei

Yoshihisa Ishibashi was born in Tokyo in 1938. He started training in Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu at the Daitokan in 1964, learning Aikibudo and Ono Ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu directly from Tokimune Takeda. In 1969 he opened his own Daito Ryu school and also received his Ono Ha Itto Ryu teaching license from Junzo Sasamori. Ishibashi has a broad knowledge of martial arts from his studies of zen, judo, kendo, Shorinji Kempo, and Tai Chi.

DVD:DAITO RYU AIKIBUDO SECRETS OF AIKINAGE BY YOSHIHISA ISHIBASHI

I have known the name André Nocquet for almost as long as I have known about aikido. Indeed, the picture of him standing in front of an old Japanese man was the first thing I saw when I entered the dojo of Michel Desroches, my first teacher. As it happened, I started my practice of aikido in André Nocquet’s federation and consequently, I was told many fantastic stories about his life and pioneering journey to Japan to study with the founder. As a young boy, it made a strong impression on me and I often dreamed about following in his footsteps and study in Japan with the masters. As I started my work as an aikido historian, I took the opportunity during my various interviews and projects to gather as much information as I could about Nocquet. I published a number of elements in my articles, and eventually was able to write a biography, which was published in Japanese in a recent issue of Hiden.

André Nocquet and O Sensei in Iwama. This is the picture that was in my first teacher’s office.

My efforts were also noticed by a number of people, including some of the closest students of Nocquet, Messrs Frank De Craene and Claude Duchesne. They asked to meet with me and to my surprise, chose me to become their successor as custodian of Nocquet’s personal belongings, which contained countless items such as a diary, letters, scrolls, films, photographs and wooden weapons. I will always remember that moment when Frank placed the keikogi jacket on my lap and said: “As you are all here to witness today, I am handing over this jacket to Guillaume Erard so that he becomes its guardian.” My blood froze as I immediately recognized the keikogi jacket that I had seen many years ago, and which according to him had been offered to Nocquet by Ueshiba Morihei in person.

The keikogi that André Nocquet brought back from Japan.

Indeed, during his seminars, Nocquet Sensei used to say that when O Sensei gave him the keikogi, he told him the following:

Take this keikogi, I have worn it and sweated in it. Now it is your turn to wear it so that our sweats mix during your practice as you work towards developing aikido in Europe.

The truth is actually that no one knows exactly what the story of this garment was, so once I became its caretaker, I decided that it was time for it to return to Japan. I wanted to show it to knowledgeable people, including some of the last living students of O Sensei, in order to find out if they knew anything about it.

André Nocquet teaching in France. He is wearing the keikogi given to him by O Sensei.

Though given its age, the vest is in remarkably good condition, it is clear that it has been worn a lot. It has in fact been patched a number of times at different periods, as indicated by the difference in brightness in some of the threads.

One of the numerous areas where the keikogi has been patched

I first wondered whether the jacket had been used regularly by O Sensei and mended before he gave it to Nocquet, or whether it was Nocquet himself who had used it the most. At first glance, it’s obvious that some of the patches seem to be as worn as the keikogi itself, so it is likely that they were added many years ago, but an interesting detail lies however in the reinforcement made on the collar.

Collar of the keikogi

The reinforcement on the edge of the collar sits above the embroidery, so it must necessarily have been added after fabrications. Given the similarity of color though, I assumed that this had been made in Japan, but if we compare it with the image of Nocquet wearing the jacket, we can see that the reinforcement is not yet present at that time. This addition can therefore only have been made after the return of Nocquet to France.

On the left hand side is the keikogi’s collar as it is today, with the patch. On the right hand side is a closeup of the picture of Nocquet wearing the keikogi after he returned to France. The patch must therefore have been made afterwards.

The weaving

The first person I showed the vest to was Jordy Delage, who is the founder of Seido Co. Ltd. and one of the world’s foremost experts in Japanese budo equipment. He gave me some very interesting information about the structure of the keikogi and how it was made. According to him, the keikogi itself is made in the same way as a judo keikogi, that is to say that the top is composed of a thick fabric with a sashiko grain of rice pattern and the lower half is fitted with a hishisashi diamond motif. Interestingly, the two types of weaving are done on the same piece of fabric, suggesting that they were hand woven from a single piece of cotton cloth.

The sashiko and hishisashi weaving are made in the same piece of cloth.

Still on the weaving, I noticed an interesting detail at level of the sleeves, which seem to have been lengthened, as suggested by the presence of a seam line at the wrist. I assumed that perhaps, the keikogi had been made to fit O Sensei, and then enlarged for Nocquet. However, upon further examination, this seam appears to have been made during manufacture and it may have been due to the fact that the cotton swaths used were not wide enough to allow one-piece weaving. This process also still exists since if you order an aizome cotton hakama and ask for longer straps, it is quite possible that you will find a seam at a point of the length.

Keikogi sleeve with a seam line near the wrist.

Jordy added that the keikogi was obviously handmade, probably by someone with great sewing skills. Given the quality of the weaving and embroidery, he felt that it must have been a fairly expensive item. He said, however, that the cut was a bit unusual and that the person who made it may not have been very experienced in weaving a budo keikogi. For instance, the sides of the jacket do not close very well, especially compared to the fairly wide shoulder width.

Jordy Delage and I discussing about the structure of the keikogi.

Iwata Shokai was the first company to start making keikogi for aikido around 1956. However, in comparison to a keikogi made by them for O Sensei, which is exhibited in a museum in Hokkaido, it seems clear that the one in my possession was made in a very different way, so I suspect that Jordy could be right and that the keikogi could have been made by someone else. The keikogi I obtained did not bear any label or trademark, so the identification of the maker is impossible.

The embroidery

The embroidery is made up of seven very high quality characters, with very tight weaving, which descend along the left collar of the jacket. Jordy pointed out that the characters sit behind the seam lines, indicating that they were added during the manufacturing process rather than sewn afterwards.

The embroidery is placed under the lines of stitching

About the embroidery, it says: “Doshu Ueshiba Morihei” (道主植芝守平), followed by a last kanji that was unknown to me. I first assumed that this last kanji could be some archaic honorific title added by the person who had made the jacket in order to offer it to O Sensei. However, I did not find any similar kanji in any of my books. I was steered in the right direction by my friend and fellow budo researcher, Baptiste Tavernier, who suggested it might be O Sensei’s kao. A kao (花押) is a stylized signature that can be used instead of the seal (判子, hanko) usually used in Japan. So I delved into the various calligraphy of O Sensei that I knew of and I quickly found the same character on several of his writings!

The last character on the keikogi’s embroidery (left) and O Sensei’s calligraphy bearing his kao (right).

This discovery had serious repercussions on my previous assumptions since it made it virtually impossible that the keikogi would have been a gift made for O Sensei. In fact, it meant the opposite. O Sensei either made this keikogi himself, which is unlikely, or he got it made by someone and had his seal affixed to it. More importantly, under those circumstances, he would never have worn routinely a garment that had his signature on it. In fact, I have never seen any picture of O Sensei showing him wearing an embroidered keikogi. I therefore started to doubt Nocquet’s story.

Getting the opinion of the masters

After the excitement, I realized that I had not advanced very far in my research, many questions were left unanswered and some more had come up. I decided to inquire with Tada Hiroshi Shihan with whom I had the chance to discuss about the history of aikido several times, and in particular about André Nocquet.

André Nocquet in front of the Hombu Dojo with Tada Hiroshi and Yamaguchi Seigo (c. 1957)

Although Tada Shihan does not remember ever having seen the jacket, or any other similar to it, he let me know that from the moment O Sensei had started to learn calligraphy from Abe Seiseki Sensei, he was often asked to sign personal items such as fans and wooden swords. According to him, this jacket could have been such an object. Tada Shihan also seemed to suggest that it was entirely possible that Nocquet had this jacket made for himself and requested that the name of O Sensei be embroidered on it. This is certainly possible but personally, I think that the fact that the embroidery sits behind the stitching lines, which Tada Sensei probably did not see since I only had photos to show him, makes that unlikely.

Demonstration on the roof of the Toyoko department store in Shibuya (kindly given to me by Kobayashi Yasuo Shihan).

I decided to ask the question of another contemporary of the time and I went to Kodaira to show the keikogi to Kobayashi Yasuo Sensei, whom I had also interviewed before. He had never seen this particular keikogi either, but he immediately noticed that it looked handmade. He said it was fairly common at the time because there weren’t any big manufacturers yet. Mihaly Dobroka, who had arranged the meeting, reminded us that there was a tradition where the person offering a garment used to wear the garment once to make the gift more personal. Kobayashi Sensei replied that he did remember that such a custom existed and that it could well have been the case for this particular garment. He said that given the jacket’s relatively large size, it was unlikely to have been made for O Sensei, who was only about five feet tall.

Kobayashi Yasuo Sensei and I studying the keikogi

What does such an item represent?

Thanks to the help of all of the above-mentioned people who were kind enough to help me, we now have a clearer idea of ​​the circumstances under which André Nocquet could have received this priceless object. It is likely that O Sensei had the keikogi made by hand and embroidered his signature on it during the manufacturing process. He probably wore it once, symbolically, before offering it to Nocquet before he left for France. According to the many people who saw it in France and the numerous patches made, Nocquet seems to have used this keikogi on numerous occasions.

In my opinion, this keikogi represents the friendship between France and Japan (remember that Nocquet was commissioned as part of the recent Franco Japanese Cultural Agreement signed in 1953) and the keen interest of the French people regarding Japanese budo. I hope that in the future, the link between our two nations through the practice of aikido, which was initiated by O Sensei and his son Kisshomaru, and continued by a number of pioneers in Japan and abroad, will remain strong and continue to grow. In future articles, I will talk about the contents of André Nocquet’s personal journal.

I would like to sincerely thank Tada Hiroshi Shihan, Kobayashi Yasuo Shihan, Jordy Delage, Hara Jouji, Baptiste Tavernier, and Mihaly Dobroka for their help with the study of this keikogi, and Claude Duchesnes and Frank Decraen for entrusting me with the care taking of those invaluable artifacts.


About the author

Guillaume Erard is a permanent resident of Japan. He trains at the Aikikai Headquarters in Tokyo, where he received the 5th Dan from Aikido Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. Guillaume regularly gives Aikido seminars throughout Europe as well as lectures on its history. He studied with some of the world’s leading Aikido instructors, including several direct students of O Sensei, and has produced a number of well regarded video interviews with them. Guillaume also holds the title of Kyoshi in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu and serves as Deputy Secretary for International Affairs of the Shikoku Headquarters. He is passionate about science and education, and holds a PhD in Molecular Biology. Guillaume’s work can be accessed through his website.

text and photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

Cliche exist because they serve a purpose: when writers select their tools, there are times when they reach for the obvious because, well, only the obvious will do. Tennen Rishin-ryu’s relationship with Shinsengumi, the Bakumatsu-era special police force patrolling the streets of Kyoto, is so well-known even to people not involved with classic martial traditions that it can’t be ignored –even here, in “Hiden” we included this installment of our “experiencing a koryu” series focusing on this school in a feature about the Shinsengumi. But I want to make it clear up front: having a chance to be introduced in Tennen Rishin-ryu and especially as taught in Kato Kyoji’s Bujutsu Hozonkai dojo has been a five-year old wish come true.

Tennen Rishin-ryu and me

Kato Kyoji and Sandro Furzi

The reason? They are two, actually. The first is that since I came to Japan I developed a deeper interest in (and, I’m not shamed to admit it, a deeper respect for) kendo and its roots. “Hiden” readers know that I’m practicing Ono-ha Itto-ryu at Reigakudo and Itto-ryu’s relationship with kendo is well-known so having a chance to see from up close a school focusing on gekiken, kendo’s more recent ancestor is something I’ve wished for a long time. And even more so (and this is the second reason), since I met Sandro Furzi from Italy, one of Kato sensei’s older students and was introduced to his teacher.

You see, this visit at the Bujutsu Hozonkai dojo wasn’t my first contact with Mr. Furzi and Kato sensei: I had met the former socially and was instantly charmed by his demeanor, character and dedication to Japan’s culture and through him I had been invited, back in 2016, when they started their dojo, not only to watch their practice but also participate if I wanted. I did watch (personally, not with “Hiden”) and was in turn charmed by Kato sensei’s warmth, joyfulness and deep love for the tradition he has been studying and teaching. Being a martial arts’ professional (of sorts!) I’ve had the opportunity to meet hundreds of martial artists and I can honestly say that Kato sensei and Mr. Furzi are easily in the Top-10!

Grigoris Miliaresis putting on the kendo bogu

So doing a Tennen Rishin-ryu “experience” article was inevitable for both personal and, well, historical reasons. And now, as I write about our visit I can say it was undoubtedly worth it! Not only I had the opportunity to put on again my kendo bogu after over ten years, but also to practice in a way very different from present-day tournament-oriented kendo involving, by Tennen Rishin-ryu practitioners’ estimates, 70% sword techniques (using the school’s trademark extra thick and heavy bokuto, regular bokuto and shinai) and 30% unarmed techniques, most of them while in armor! Because, and this is what many don’t realize about gekiken, in its context you can’t practice the one without the other: you go from long distance to short distance to body collision to standing grappling to ground grappling as would happen in a real fight.

Tennen Rishin-ryu’s trademark extra-thick and heavy bokuto

The history -and Shinsengumi (of course)

Kondo Isami (1834-1868)

First let’s get the Shinsengumi connection out of the way: Tennen Rishin-ryu was created by Kondo Kuranosuke Nagahiro in the late 1700s after a musha-shugyo (quest for knowledge) around the country which included study of Kashima Shinto-ryu. Kuranosuke had to take into account the demands of late Edo-period people for a swordsmanship style that allowed safe competition between different schools by the use of some rules and some protective equipment (i.e. gekiken, i.e. kendo). He was active in Edo and Kanagawa and during the times of his third successor Kondo Shusuke (1792-1867) and Shusuke’s adopted son, Kondo Isami (1834-1868) the school became quite famous. Kondo Isami, becoming commander of the Shinsengumi and other three of its thirteen core members (Hijikata Toshizo, Okita Soji and Inoue Genzaburo) also practicing the school certainly added to its fame.

Tennen Rishin-ryu Menkyo

Shinsengumi didn’t survive the Meiji restoration and neither did Kondo, Hijikata, Okita or Inoue. But thanks to the school’s popularity several Tennen Rishin-ryu teachers kept it alive in the broader Edo/Tokyo area and through Kondo Isami’s adopted son, Yugoro and his dojo in Chofu, Hatsuunkan, it was transmitted during Taisho, Showa and Heisei periods and up to the time of Hirai Tasuke, teacher of both Kato sensei and Mr. Furzi. And to anticipate the standard question “How much of the Shinsengumi times’ Tennen Rishin-ryu is Bujutsu Hozonkai teaching today?” the answer is “Who can really tell?” And that doesn’t only apply to Tennen Rishin-ryu: I couldn’t answer that even for the two traditions I am studying but I trust my teachers and their teachers that they did their best to keep alive their essence. And I’m certain Kato sensei does too!

Moving on to gekiken -and staying there

Bokuto-no-kirikaeshi

We started our practice at the Bujutsu Hozonkai with bokuto-no-kirikaeshi, a warm-up exercise where partners run towards each other doing kiai, strike three times at men level and retreat. It sounds easy but doing it with Tennen Rishin-ryu’s 100cm/3’2” long, 6cm/2.3” thick and 2kg/4.5lbs heavy bokuto and with kiai coming and going makes it quite exhausting –which is exactly the purpose! From there on, we moved to the first kata of the school’s Kenjutsu Omote, called “Jochuken”, again performed with the big bokuto. In Jochuken, shitachi in seigan approaches uchitachi who is in jodan, they attempt a mutual men cut, disengage and return for a second mutual men; this time shitachi pushes uchitachi who retreats to jodan and shitachi closes the distance and finishes with a solar plexus thrust. This is classic kenjutsu but like the warm-up, the extra-heavy, extra-thick bokuto makes it quite challenging!

Kenjutsu Omote “Jochuken”

The next thing we did before wearing the bogu (which, incidentally in Tennen Rishin-ryu also includes under-hakama shin protectors: shins are also targets) was “Yokozuki” from Mokuroku’s “Kogusoku” section. Here, shitachi blocks with his kodachi uchitachi’s sword and then grabs both uchitachi’s arms and brings him down illustrating how natural is the passage from armed to unarmed techniques. Kato sensei was kind enough to demonstrate several variations to what follows the take-down, explaining that during free sparring, practitioners are encouraged to use whatever feels appropriate each time.

“Yokozuki” from Mokuroku’s “Kogusoku”

Practice continued with various techniques from different parts of Tennen Rishin-ryu’s curriculum: First from Kirigami (first level) were “Sen-no-koto” (men strike from jodan), “O-no-koto” (deflecting a men strike), “Shiaiguchi” (a sequence of mune tsuki, three kendo-style kirikaeshi, another mune tsuki and a final mune tsuki from jodan) and “Soi-kirikaeshi” (kendo kirikaeshi but with ayumiashi footwork); as is obvious, in Tennen Rishin-ryu tsuki isn’t limited to the throat like in kendo but can also target mune and the face –and the latter can be really nasty!

Kao tsuki

Mune Tsuki

Leg strike

Then, from Chugokui Mokuroku followed “Oken” (uchitachi strikes at shitachi’s left kote when he’s in jodan; shitachi lets go of the left hand and strikes men with the right),

Oken 1

Oken 2

Oken 3

“Hienken” (both are in jodan, shitachi deflects uchitachi’s men and strikes do while stepping out of range -and possibly kneeling)

Hienken 1

Hienken 2

Hienken 3

“Muitsuken” with shitachi holding the blade part of the shinai, in mugamae (regular stance with the shinai held horizontally in the front) from where he uses it to block a men attack either directly from the front or moving to the side, hitting uchitachi’s wrist and following with a powerful jukendo-style two-handed tsuki to the face or blocking and then grabbing both uchitachi’s arms in his armpit like the technique used in Yokozuki with the kodachi

Muitsuken 1

Muitsuken 2

Muitsuken 3


Muitsuken 4

Muitsuken 5

Muitsuken 6

and “Ten-chi-jin” where shitachi also holds the shinai with his two hands but in naname-no-gedan kamae –this is a side stance where shitachi tries to hide the shinai and at some point whips it like an arrow towards uchitachi’s inner kote or face.

Ten-chi-jin 1

Ten-chi-jin 2

The final technique, Otaiken, came from Menkyo and it was a more realistic reaction to kendo’s tsuba-zeriai: shitachi pushes uchitachi’s kote away and strikes men with the other hand while pulling back –simple and extremely effective!

Otaiken 1

Otaiken 2

Otaiken 3

Ken-Tai-Ichi revisited

Because of a left shoulder pinched nerve, I thought I’d stay away from the unarmed techniques; 15 minutes in the practice, after the heavy bokuto kata, I realized that in Tennen Rishin-ryu this is impossible. As I wrote before, their curriculum is 70% sword/30% taijutsu and passing from the one to the other is so smooth and natural that either as a viewer or as a practitioner you can’t see or feel the seams: if your body placement allows you to use your sword you use it –if not, you use your body and you do it in the most effective way. When at some point we asked Kato sensei about a hip throw, he said that while wearing armor (real bushi armor or kendo bogu), a hip throw would be hard –kneeling down and having the opponent tipped over would be more realistic. And when he demonstrated it on Mr. Furzi, it really was.

Gekiken grappling 1

Gekiken grappling 2

Pushing the opponent to the wall

The Shinsengumi captains’ famed fighting skills notwithstanding, there’s little doubt that Tennen Rishin-ryu’s techniques were created in an era where the shinai was much more in use than the real sword. Edo in the end of the Tokugawa bakufu was a hotbed for shiai-kenjutsu and for reinventing the training and practicing paradigm through various combinations of kata and free practice leading to the creation of hundreds of new dojo, especially in the cities and dozens of “New Ryu” created by samurai and commoners alike, all exploring and developing what would become today’s kendo. Kato sensei’s Tennen Rishin-ryu (incidentally there are other lineages, but not having visited them I can’t speak about their interpretation) is true to that spirit and its kendo shows its roots with its throws, expanded target areas and “unorthodox” techniques like using the opponent’s do or men to choke him. Interestingly, the school’s curriculum also includes 12 iai kata, nine in seiza and three standing –quoting Mr. Furzi, “they are simple applications/basic sword drawing actions that people carrying swords were supposed to know.”

Gekiken grappling 3

Gekiken grappling 4

Bujutsu Hozonkai

There’s a phrase going around martial arts’ circles: most people come to the dojo because of self-defense but most stay for any other reason than self defense; paraphrasing this, perhaps most people are drawn to Tennen Rishin-ryu because of Shinsengumi but most of them should stay for any other reason. Tennen Rishin-ryu might be younger than some extant schools but certainly doesn’t lack depth or sophistication. It has a very realistic, well-rounded curriculum within the assumptions/restrictions/parameters of the Bakumatsu era (and probably of those immediately following it) and I have no doubt that its practitioners would have been able to hold their own even at those times of heavy inter-school competition; I won’t even mention today since many schools don’t practice realistically anymore.

Gekiken Shiai 1, tsuki

Kato sensei’s teaching methodology is also indicative of the importance of reality-based practice (i.e. gekiken) in Tennen Rishin-ryu: students are introduced to various techniques from the school’s curriculum not in sequence as usually happens but through gekiken; this way they can learn them as they would work with shinai and bogu and when time comes to perform them in the kata with bokuto, not only they already know them but they know their functionality and applications. This knowledge informs their kata and imbues them a vitality that sadly many schools lack.

Gekiken Shiai2, grappling

Gekiken Shiai 3, grappling on the ground

In closing, I would like to say with absolute sincerity (and with enough years in journalism to be able to keep my personal feelings aside) that if I’d come across Tennen Rishin-ryu as Bujutsu Hozonkai practices it even 20 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have searched any further. It has a very well-balanced combination of kata and free practice, weapons’ work and empty-hand work and historically it is old enough to be a koryu but young enough to be influenced by the big-city culture of later-day Edo which I find fascinating. Furthermore, the dojo’s approach (credited to Kato sensei and his understanding of budo but I’m sure with Mr. Furzi’s input too!) is conducive to more evolution and development in the way these traditions should be; by “approach” I mean as much the knowledge and the understanding as the atmosphere and the mood. Kato Kyoji’s Tennen Rishin-ryu isn’t just “the school of the Shinsengumi” and it isn’t just the legacy of Kondo Isami: it’s much, much more.

Kato Kyoji’s Bujutsu Hozonkai

PS
As always, I owe a combination of gratitude and apology, first to Kato Kyoji sensei and Mr. Sandro Furzi for being such perfect hosts and second to Bujutsu Hozonkai students for upsetting their practice and keeping their instructors busy. Please, accept this brief account of our day in your dojo as a consolation prize.


About the author

Grigoris Miliaresis has been practicing Japanese martial arts since 1986. He has dan grades in judo, aikido and iaido and has translated in Greek over 30 martial arts’ books including Jigoro Kano’s “Kodokan Judo”, Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life-Giving Sword”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings”, Takuan Shoho’s “The Unfettered Mind” and Donn Draeger’s “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan” trilogy. Since 2007 his practice has been exclusively in classic schools: Toda-ha Buko-ryu under Ellis Amdur in Greece and Kent Sorensen in Japan and, since 2016, Ono-ha Itto-ryu under 18th headmaster, Yabuki Yuji.
http://about.me/grigorismiliaresis

text  by Grigoris Miliaresis

photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

It was the 11th International Aikido Congress’ last day. Many had left the previous day, either after the Doshu’s class or after the sayonara party that followed it; many had planes to catch and long flights until they returned home with keikogi still wet and heads full of memories both on and off the tatami. But a good part of the crowd –probably more than five hundred people- were still there to see what, in one sense, can be considered the true essence of aikido: a demonstration of various styles from teams from all over the world and from practitioners of varying levels and concepts of what aikido means and how it is executed.

Brazilian team

People had gathered in a square –on the top side were the desks with the International Aikido Federation’s heads flanking the kamiza with Ueshiba Morihei’s portrait, on the left and bottom sides were the spectators (most of them were seminar attendees who didn’t participate in the demonstration or who had participated already and then changed and sat to watch) and on the right side the participants, still in their aikido attire. Most were carrying cameras or video cameras to record the demonstration and there was a lot of lively chatting even though everybody tried to keep their voice low so they wouldn’t interfere with the actual event.

Norwegian team

It is impossible to record all the different things presented in this demonstration; furthermore it wouldn’t make much sense since the diversity that characterized the demonstration is synonymous with aikido itself. Even in classical martial arts were the transmission is being done through kata there are variations –how can there not be in an art as open to interpretation as aikido? How can the techniques not vary depending on different body types, levels of practice and distance (literal and figurative) from the art’s source? Among the people demonstrating one could see people who have been only doing aikido for two or three years and never under a Japanese teacher (let alone a teacher close to Ueshiba Morihei and his lineage) and people who have trained for decades under direct students of him; people with backgrounds in various martial arts and combative sports and people who have never done anything but aikido; people who live in Japan and people whose first exposure to the country and its culture was this seminar.

Swiss team

Seeing more than a hundred people in teams from thirty three countries demonstrating more or less the same techniques these differences were glaringly obvious: right there, on the same tatami there were people with techniques harder than the most combative army self-defense system and people whose softness could match that of the most soft tai-chi; people with a firm grasp of aikido’s basics and people whose comprehension of the fundamentals of the art was clearly lacking; people who demonstrated the most by-the-book version of the techniques and people whose implementation only marginally resembled aikido; people extremely powerful and people exceptionally weak; people blindingly fast and others glacially slow. But it was all aikido: more than a hundred interpretations from more than a hundred individuals coming from dozens of different teaching methods and understandings.

English and Scottish team

Even though my view of the martial arts differs from this approach, I can’t but admire the way aikido has managed to use this diversity to its benefit; how it has able to build upon it and thrive in an age where abundant communication has made hundreds of martial arts and combative sports available to almost everyone on this planet. And above all, how it has been able to continue its course in history without succumbing to the usual sirens of competition and blatant commercialization –at least in the majority of cases. Personally, I can’t think of many martial arts that could bring more than a thousand people from so many countries in such a remote corner of the world just to study for a week and then stage such a varied demonstration without the backing of a big athletic organization and without the motivation of a tournament of sorts. That it achieved doing so is, I believe, a testimony to the quality of the set of values envisioned by Ueshiba Morihei sixty years ago and to their endurance over time, distance and people’s preconceptions. Maybe that’s why there were moments that I could swear I saw a very faint smile in the old man’s portrait in the kamiza: that demonstration was the realization of his dream.

Thai team

About the author

Grigoris Miliaresis has been practicing Japanese martial arts since 1986. He has dan grades in judo, aikido and iaido and has translated in Greek over 30 martial arts’ books including Jigoro Kano’s “Kodokan Judo”, Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life-Giving Sword”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings”, Takuan Shoho’s “The Unfettered Mind” and Donn Draeger’s “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan” trilogy. Since 2007 his practice has been exclusively in classic schools: Toda-ha Buko-ryu under Ellis Amdur in Greece and Kent Sorensen in Japan and, since 2016, Ono-ha Itto-ryu under 18th headmaster, Yabuki Yuji.
http://about.me/grigorismiliaresis

text  by Grigoris Miliaresis

photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

At a certain point, during his free technique demonstration towards the end of his class the Doshu said to his uke “Hey, look –we don’t want to knock out that guy with the camera”. And that’s when it hit me: the guy with the camera was me, sitting in the front line of a crowd easily one thousand strong and less than ten feet from the man who is the head of the Aikikai Foundation and the carrier of the aikido founder’s legacy; both in a literal and a figurative sense. I was on Ueshiba Moriteru’s tatami with the permission to take as many pictures as I wanted and watch his class from a distance that most aikidoka around the world only dream of. Yes, there are times like this when I honestly love my job!

photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

Of course I have seen the Doshu before, in his regular class in the Aikikai Honbu. And in a sense, his class at the last day of the seminar running parallel to the International Aikido Federation’s 11th International Aikido Congress in Yoyogi’s National Olympic Memorial Youth Center wasn’t that different. But that is to be expected: he is the Aikido Doshu so he needs to provide the standard against which all aikidoka measure themselves –and in a martial art as diverse and as multifaceted as aikido this is really hard, making his job all the more difficult. Still, he manages to be the perfect embodiment of true aikido: starting from the square of the hanmi kamae, the triangle of irimi was blending with the circle of tenkan giving birth to all the techniques that his grandfather inherited from Daito Ryu and transformed in his head to create this truly unique martial art.

 

photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

It has been years since I really trained in aikido (I’m not counting the occasional seminar) but the atmosphere on the Youth Center’s tatami really had me itching to put down my cameras and my notepad, don my keikogi and hakama and jump right in. And it wasn’t just because of the Doshu’s steady rhythm that went on unwaveringly for the 1,5 hour that the class lasted. It was also because of the hundreds of aikidoka of all ages and body types and levels from 33 countries who filled the tatami trying to duplicate his technique as best as they could; if, judging from his videos, you think that this would be easy think again! Like most people who are good at something, Moriteru Doshu makes his thing (i.e. aikido) seem deceptively simple. But the subtlety is there –it’s just hidden. In plain sight.

 

In this respect the Doshu resembles his father and his grandfather; OK, maybe not so much his grandfather since at least his talk while teaching is straightforward. In the IAC’s class he only emphasized tai sabaki (as irimi or tenkan) and kokyu and demonstrated how these can lead to an ikkyo, a nikyo, a kote gaeshi or a shiho nage either from standing position of from hanmi handachi –all clear, crisp and with the ease of someone who has been doing this long enough to know exactly when to move, where to step and how to keep himself covered (i.e. without any openings). Furthermore, he always gave out the air that he knew what is important and what not; something that is not always the case even with top level instructors –in aikido and in other martial arts.

photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

The two characters reading “Usehiba” on his hakama make it easy to attribute his ease to being who he is and forget that this is a man who has been doing aikido for fifty five years, always in the Honbu Dojo and always under the supervision of the greatest teachers the art had to offer. One can easily assume that this name (and the legacy that goes with it) certainly helped him get some preferential treatment from the teachers of that age –most prevalent among whom was, well, his father- and that with the dojo being his home, things might have been easier for him than to other students of aikido, even in Japan. Even if this is true, though, it doesn’t negate the fact that even a casual observer will immediately understand: that this man has put in the hours needed to become a top-caliber aikido practitioner and instructor.

And the seminar participants certainly felt it! In all the conversations I managed to squeeze in before, after or during his class all the aikidoka regardless of their level or their country of origin readily admitted that Doshu’s aikido is the perfect illustration of the Aikikai style (or, to be more accurate, to the mixture of styles starting from Ueshiba Morihei and being carried down to his first and second generation students). “His style is exactly what aikido is all about” said a practitioner from Brazil “flowing techniques executed in perfect timing”. “I love that what he does is no-nonsense” was the comment from an American practitioner living and training in Japan “These days you see a lot of things in aikido that don’t make sense but Moriteru Doshu’s aikido certainly doesn’t fall into this category. It works.” “He is great! This is the first time I train on the same tatami with him and I even had the opportunity to take ukemi for him –you can really feel the power of his technique but at the same time it is gentle” were the words of a Chinese aikidoka who came to Japan for the first time and who has been training in Beijing for four years.

 

Everybody finished the Doshu’s class smiling; the difficulty of doing aikido in such a limited space (limited because of the numbers of the attendees; not because of actual lack of space) didn’t stop everyone from having a good time and learning things that will help them make their training better. And the most important among these things is that everybody got the chance to train on the same mat with people from all over the world under the eye and the guidance of a teacher sharing the actual as well as the “artistic” genes of the man who created aikido –in the big picture of Ueshiba Morihei featured in the dojo kamiza, everybody saw the founder of their chosen art but Ueshiba Doshu saw something more: a beloved family figure the perpetuation of whose dream has been the destiny and the purpose of his life.

photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

Closing this brief account of the Doshu’s class in the 11th International Aikido Congress I need to comment on something that really grabbed my attention and made me thinking. Even though everybody shared a feeling of gratitude for being there and sharing a tatami with the head of the Aikikai, most fortunate among the participants were two that probably had the least comprehension of their fortune: they were two little girls (probably elementary school age) one white and one black practicing in the shimoza side of the tatami, obviously for safety reasons. They were very earnest in their training and tried as best as they could to execute the techniques the way the Doshu taught them in the laconic and concise style that characterizes most Japanese teachers. I don’t think that their age allowed them to understand the significance of the man teaching the class, but if they continue training in aikido, there will come a day that they will be able to say “I trained with the Third Doshu when I was seven or eight years old” –how many among us can say that?


About the author

Grigoris Miliaresis has been practicing Japanese martial arts since 1986. He has dan grades in judo, aikido and iaido and has translated in Greek over 30 martial arts’ books including Jigoro Kano’s “Kodokan Judo”, Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life-Giving Sword”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings”, Takuan Shoho’s “The Unfettered Mind” and Donn Draeger’s “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan” trilogy. Since 2007 his practice has been exclusively in classic schools: Toda-ha Buko-ryu under Ellis Amdur in Greece and Kent Sorensen in Japan and, since 2016, Ono-ha Itto-ryu under 18th headmaster, Yabuki Yuji.
http://about.me/grigorismiliaresis

text and photo by Grigoris Miliaresis

The father of aikido in Thailand

It is true so I have to admit it: even though I have trained in aikido for almost a decade, even though I have participated in seminars with some of the highest level teachers the art has to offer, even though a big part of my professional life has been writing about martial arts and even though for the last few years I have been living in Japan, I hadn’t heard of Fukakusa Motohiro before I took the assignment for this article. And I have to also admit that going to the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center in Yoyogi that day I was a little worried about what I was going to see; besides seeing Fukakusa sensei’s class from up close (i.e. on the tatami) we were also going to interview him. That for the coverage of this particular event “Hiden’s” editor-in-chief the knowledgeable Mr. Shiozawa was to join my colleague, Mr. Ogawa and me made me wonder even more. Who was this man?

Doing the necessary preparation before going to the event I started getting some glimpses of why this man is important. Very important. Having started aikido in the early 1960s, when the Aikikai was still under the guidance of the art’s founder, Ueshiba Morihei and with many of the greats still teaching and training there, he was chosen to carry out a very difficult task: to disseminate the art to Thailand, a country with a martial art of its own (i.e. Muay Thai) very well rooted to its natives’ consciousness. And to do that with only three years of training aikido and a second dan as credentials! Of course those three years were spent in the presence of giants and the second dan was signed and handed by Ueshiba Morihei himself but still I can’t even contemplate the magnitude and the difficulty of the task.

And he did it! Going through a variety of difficulties, he managed to establish aikido not only in Thailand (which is still he base and which, after fifty years he has every reason to call his “home”) but in the greatest Southeast Asia. And since 2008, to give this network he created an institutional base: the Aikido of South-East Asian Nations Fellowship (ASEANF) which besides Thailand also includes dojo from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam; this organization was part of a dream the man Fukakusa sensei considers his teacher and the man who sent him to Thailand in the first place: late Tamura Nobuyoshi shihan, 8th dan Aikikai (1933-2010).

Through Fukakusa sensei’s hard work, and through networking between Japan and Thailand (in which the Aikikai played a significant role), his first team of aikidoka managed to move from the College of Physical Education (at the National Stadium of Bangkok) to their own dojo, the Renbukan and from there to create a strong cluster of six dojo all over the country. What is more important was that even in a country with such a long and strong tradition in a martial art very different from aikido, Fukakusa sensei managed to make aikido appear interesting to the eyes of police and army officers and to demonstrate the art to the King of Thailand; this happened in 1982, in the opening of the Thai-Japan Youth Center in Din Daen.

Today Fukakusa Motohiro (or Khun Somchai as is known among the Thai) sensei holds the 8th dan from the Aikikai; a fair compensation for his 50 years of hard work in Thailand and the broader area. Furthermore he travels extensively and teaching seminars not only in his sphere of influence, so to speak, but as far as Ukraine, France, Romania, Hungary, and Israel. All this while still retaining his posts as Chairman of ASEANF, President of Aikido Association of Thailand and of course teacher to his own dojo, the Renbukan. Most web sites label him “the father of aikido in Thailand” –and judging from his accomplishments, this is probably an understatement!

The rapid moves of a good kendoka at his peak

The above were enough for me to understand why this man is indeed important for aikido and the Aikikai. Now the question was what about his presence on the tatami? After all, astonishing as a person’s achievements might be in the so called “politics”, this is a martial art and the only real test is the one that one takes (and hopefully passes!) every time they step on the tatami. I know this might sound somehow inappropriate for an aikido practitioner who has not only been training for 50 years but who is also an 8th dan holder but I have been in the martial arts long enough myself and I have seen enough practitioners (teachers and students) of various arts not living up to their ranks to know better than be impressed just by a title, however high this title be. 

As soon as the warm up (the standard warm up seeing in Aikikai dojo all over the world) was over and the actual teaching began though, all the doubts I might had vanished. This man was the real deal –he seemed to own the tatami (not an easy feat, considering there where at least 400 people up there) and he could grab and hold the interest of even the most skeptical practitioner. Always with a smiling face he would wander around the training pairs and offer his insights by allowing everyone a hands-on experience on what he meant during his teaching; and whenever he saw that a student couldn’t (or wouldn’t) understand his point he would repeat the technique again and again playfully, revoking images of Ueshiba Morihei at his best.

Fukakusa sensei’s aikido was not “spectacular”; it was basic aikido as seen from the Doshu or many other teachers. But it was strong, it was self-assured and well-balanced and it contained everything that characterizes good aikido. Going through the basic aikido techniques (ikkyo, kote gaeshi, irimi nage, kokyu nage etc.) he demonstrated all the basic elements: impeccable tai sabaki, perfect timing, good kuzushi and stability while in motion –all that regardless of the size or the level of his partner. I can’t tell with certainty how many seminar participants he trained with in the one hour his class lasted but I didn’t see him lacking these qualities at any moment.

One thing that really impressed me in Fukakusa Motohiro’s aikido (and one that took me completely by surprise, at that) was his speed, especially when demonstrating atemi, the various strikes that are part of any good aikido technique. Even though he is in an admirably good condition, especially considering his age (he is 70 years old) his punches were as fast as would be expected from someone less than half his age: he reminded me the rapid moves of a good kendoka at his peak or, more appropriate maybe, of a good young boxer. I am not sure if this is the case, but I am guessing this might have to do with the fact that for many years he has had to prove his aikido to people very well versed with one of the most relentless boxing styles known to man –again, I am talking about the Thai boxers that (as he told as in his interview later) were invariably among his students.

Relaxation, awareness of openings and natural stance

My colleagues in “Hiden” asked me what I would single out as the three main elements of Fukakusa sensei’s class. And this would be hard since, from an aikidoka’s standpoint (and I do still consider myself enough of an aikidoka to say this!) there must have been at least a dozen important insights in the one hour his class lasted. If I was forced to pick the three more important though, I would say (I) relaxation, (II) awareness of openings and (III) natural stance; rethinking of his class as I write this, I feel that everything he did and taught that day in Yoyogi included those elements and was supported by them. Furthermore, I believe he himself considered those three very important because he emphasized them whenever he had the chance, both in his teaching and when he trained with individual seminar participants.

Relaxation is a funny thing: almost all aikido teachers preach it but very often what passes for relaxation is actually limpness: an almost dead condition lacking muscular tone and depriving the aikidoka of all choices. Fukakusa sensei also emphasized it, sometimes comically illustrating the stiff shoulders many have while performing aikido, but what was most important that he demonstrated it in his movement while executing any technique. His relaxation was anything but limp: it had all the nerve needed to control his partner and perform the technique he wanted but also the softness necessary to change his body position according to the partner’s reaction; in other words, he was able to dominate the whole situation in the most natural way.

His demonstration of how to be aware of openings is something that, again, I will attribute to the interaction he must have had with people who have practiced Thai boxing. Every time he picked a partner, he would point out their openings with one of the extremely fast atemi I mentioned before, underlining something that is sometimes missing in aikido: the sense that this is a martial art and that the partner is supposed to be an opponent who will exploit any opening. Without preaching disharmony and lack of cooperation, Fukakusa sensei stressed more than enough that a technique that starts (or continues) with openings is a technique lacking awareness and, consequently, that the result will be weak and prone to failure. I really hope all the participants remember this important lesson; if they did I’m certain their aikido will be much better.

The third point, the one about natural stance is also a controversial matter in aikido circles: many aikido instructors seem to worship the hanmi no kamae and among them there is a big majority that overdoes the positioning of the feet in a way that would seem unnatural to most exponents of other martial arts (a well-known American aikido teacher I know, calls that “aiki feet”!) I don’t know if Fukakusa sensei’s background in judo (he practiced judo since he was 11 years old and continued until the time he went to college and found out aikido) is responsible for his… standpoint but in his teaching independence from a fixed stance was one of the main motifs; the point he made quite a few times was that adherence to a particular stance limits the options and can result to a stiff body and mind and to inability to adjust to the demands of the confrontation.

These are the technical points. But there is a point I would also like to make and one that seems to me of equal importance: Fukakusa sensei’s comportment during his class. Especially for someone putting so much emphasis in practical aspects of aikido, his attitude was so playful and joyful that made training seem like a game among friends –and it accomplished that without missing the critical aspect of the real and the martial. For me, this might have been the most important teaching of all and one that I believe managed to get through to seminar participants in the most direct way: through feeling the atmosphere sensei created during the one hour his class lasted.

The East: still a mystery

As I finish this small account of Fukakusa Motohiro’s class, I realize once again how inadequate words are to express a physical discipline like the martial arts and even more so, the way this discipline is illustrated by an exponent who has been training, teaching and refining his art for 50 years. I also realize how people (both in the West but, I suspect, also in Japan) are limited by their own perspective: I know for a fact that there are thousands of aikidoka in Europe and the United States who, like me, have never heard of Fukakusa sensei even though they know very well other teachers with much less experience than him. And it is sad that in this day and age, when communication technology has managed to bring everything to our TVs and our computer screens, the East remains for many people a mystery. Even in the world of martial arts, where the people involved have a particular interest for the countries that gave birth to the arts, gems like Fukakusa Motohiro haven’t found the recognition they rightfully deserve from the entirety of the people involved. And it is a shame because their teaching, their insights and their whole course through life contain vital lessons for all of us.

Related article:International Aikido Federation’s 11th International Aikido Congress: Christian Tissier’s class

About the author

Grigoris Miliaresis has been practicing Japanese martial arts since 1986. He has dan grades in judo, aikido and iaido and has translated in Greek over 30 martial arts’ books including Jigoro Kano’s “Kodokan Judo”, Yagyu Munenori’s “The Life-Giving Sword”, Miyamoto Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings”, Takuan Shoho’s “The Unfettered Mind” and Donn Draeger’s “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan” trilogy. Since 2007 his practice has been exclusively in classic schools: Toda-ha Buko-ryu under Ellis Amdur in Greece and Kent Sorensen in Japan and, since 2016, Ono-ha Itto-ryu under 18th headmaster, Yabuki Yuji.
http://about.me/grigorismiliaresis