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Interview with Takeda Shihan by Aikikai Hombu Dojo

Published on 19 Apr, 2013

takeda-shihan-8th-dan-celebrationThe following interview was conducted in 2006 by Aikikai Hombu Dojo after Takeda Shihan was awarded 8th dan by Doshu. It was published in the Hombu Dojo annual magazine and has been translated by Ayano Seymour.


Hombu: Tell us how you started teaching.

Takeda Shihan: I originally liked martial arts and used to practise Judo and Kendo but one day I saw a newspaper ad introducing Aikido as a ‘mystic martial art’ so I went to see it in Yurakucho, Tokyo, with curiosity. I saw people being thrown one after another and decided to start, thinking it would be fun if I could do this. It was when I was 20 or so. Kisshomaru Sensei, Arikawa Sensei, Tada Sensei and Tamura Sensei used to come to teach there. When I started, each class had about 20 people with 100 members in total.

At that time in training, the attackers attacked very hard. My wrist was always swollen but I never felt it was hard or severe. I thought that that was how Aikido was and also I was proud of it. My arm got bigger and bigger. I was working for a railway company and my arm couldn’t fit in the sleeve of my uniform anymore!

I still remember when someone was thrown on me when my body was on the mats taking ukemi. This person’s heel hit my eye and it swelled up. When I went to see the doctor he said, “I can’t believe you didn’t lose your sight”. I had severe hemorrhage in the eye. When I had this injury, Tamura Sensei was covering my eye with his palm, saying “It’ll be fine”. Tamura Sensei was macrobiotic so he might have had some knowledge about natural therapy. That might be the reason I didn’t lose my sight.

Hombu: Let us hear the story or memory of O-Sensei.

Takeda Shihan: When Yamaguchi Sensei came back from Myanmar and started a dojo in Roppongi, Tokyo, I began to attend his class there as well. Yamaguchi Sensei told us stories about O-Sensei and then I started going to Hombu Dojo.

My impression of O-Sensei was, if I use only one word, ‘light’. That doesn’t mean bright or shining, but he had light which made the whole thing transparent. The touch I felt from O-Sensei in the dojo was not much sense of contact but was like electricity coming through my body, or electricity connecting O-Sensei and I both together. O-Sensei led me when I was holding his arm but it didn’t feel like I was holding. Sort of assimilation. Probably I should say ‘getting sucked into a bright black hole’.

Hombu: How did you start teaching?

Takeda Shihan: I didn’t think about being a teacher at all in the early stages. My only thought was ‘Aikido is a great joy’. I changed my jobs more than 10 times to attend as many classes as possible during the day as well (laughter). I still don’t have a sense that I am a teacher. I do Aikido because I enjoy training.

The opportunity to teach came when Nonaka Hifumi Sensei, who was teaching in Kamakura, was moving back to his hometown in Kyushu. Yamaguchi Sensei told me to take over the dojo in Kamakura when I was 25. I just said, “OK, sure, thank you very much” without thinking much and moved to Kamakura from Tokyo immediately. Yamaguchi Sensei was surprised (laughter) because if you had common sense you would just visit there a few times a week but wouldn’t change where you live. Even at that time, I meant to practise for myself rather than teaching.

Kisshomaru Sensei was very kind to me. Kisshomaru Sensei was the same generation as Yamaguchi Sensei so Yamaguchi Sensei often brought Kisshomaru Sensei along to training. Sometimes, when both teachers came to the dojo together, only 10 students showed up. It was such a waste but a precious moment. Kisshomaru Sensei was trying to spread Aikido at that time. Even so, he had an aloofness from the world and didn’t worry about small things. He looked after me warmly. I am very grateful that he was paying attention to some enthusiastic students in my group. They are now instructors in different places.

Yamaguchi Sensei used to communicate with us heart to heart, even with high school students. It was not so much like a teacher teaching a student but he was training with them in the same realm. I was very impressed by Sensei’s attitude and also hugely influenced by that.

Hombu: What was Yamaguchi Sensei like?

Takeda Shihan: He was not like a martial artist but a philosopher. Insightful. He had his own worldly view, or I should say ‘universal view’. Yamaguchi Sensei used to tell us about when he was a pilot in the air force in Edajima*. He said that the day before going into battle, you don’t have anything to do after you prepare to die. At that moment he laid on the grass and looked up at the sky, thinking that the sky is beautiful, flowers are blooming beautifully, and also thinking about defeating foes attacking him. Having tenderness to love nature or animals in one hand and power to attack opponents to defend yourself in the other hand. Life and death, the world which contains living and killing at the same time… The war came to an end before Yamaguchi Sensei went to battle after all. He was ready to die then he survived. I guess he had something to feel, not through his intellect but through his physical body about what the meaning of life is.

*Edajima was the place pilots were trained as kamikaze suicide pilots.

Hombu: You told us that you don’t consider yourself a teacher. If so, how do you lead the class?

Takeda Shihan: I take practising Aikido as enjoyable and interesting. If people don’t agree with this, then no point forcing my way on them, but if they agree I say, “Let’s practise together”. That is all I can do to be honest. If it is for beginners, I give them the idea that Aikido is interesting and enjoyable. Because beginning is most important.

The scroll I have in my dojo says ‘Aiki’. The monk who used to be a vice proctor of Eiheiji temple happened to draw it for me. It is ‘Aiki’ instead of ‘Aikido’. I asked why ‘do’ (way) is missing then what he told me was “You find your own ‘way'” (laughter).

It is tiring teaching weak-willed people or people without intention. I don’t think it is a good thing to feed an animal, not letting them catch their own food. In the same way people will end up waiting all the time until someone comes to teach them if they don’t make an effort.

I sometimes unnecessarily help ones who are struggling but it is usually a matter of time, having to wait for them to change. For example, cheese or natto need time to ferment. If this type of person has a good attitude and practises enough, all I can do is keep quiet and wait.

For instance, about grading, I don’t just grade automatically because this person can do such and such techniques. Depends on this person’s attitude and enthusiasm. If I can tell this person will improve after a while, I sometimes give recommendation to take grading test. It is not detail of techniques that I consider but more to do with their spirit or feeling towards training, and if they are passionate about it or not.

That is why I am very sorry that I don’t consider myself as a teacher. I don’t mean teaching is bad or I don’t like teaching (laughter).

Hombu: Yes yes, I think that is also a wonderful idea of teaching. As the last question, please tell us your theme and your goal in your Aikido training, Sensei.

Takeda Shihan: I am feeling ‘sumikiri’ (absolute clarity)… It is hard to explain. If your mind is clear, I think your body will move without your intention. Without depending on your will, but naturally according to the situation. If you are attached to one thing and staying in one place, it causes stress. It is not only in our training but you can refer to your life style. It is best to do everything freely. It is related to ‘sumikiri’. In other words, don’t be too eager.


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