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Interview with Kenji Tomiki (Part 2)

The following is the second and concluding part of an interview conducted with Professor Kenji Tomiki in January of 1974 at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.


I have a much clearer background now, a much clearer understanding of why Kano Sensei formulated and modernized the jujutsu techniques and what his goals were. And I also understand your efforts to modernize the jujutsu forms to work from a greater distance, rather than grappling. Could you, in the time we have remaining, talk about what it was that brought Kano Sensei, Ueshiba Sensei and yourself together? What made you spend time with each other to talk about budo? Was it true that Kano Sensei sent some of the top judo people to study aikido with Ueshiba Sensei? What was it about his art that was important? What was the association like in that period of time?

Well, yes, it was in the fall of 1927 that Ueshiba Sensei left the Omoto-kyo Headquarters in Ayabe and came up to Tokyo. That was just at the time I was a graduate student at Waseda University, and I acted as his uke, or actually, he made sure I took the ukemi! (Laughter),. Anyway, it was Admiral Takeshita who brought Ueshiba Sensei and Kano Sensei together. This Mr. Takeshita later became a deshi of Ueshiba Sensei.

You may remember that American President Theodore Roosevelt had acted as a go-between in mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. He was at that time pro-Japan and he became aware of the existence of jujutsu here in Japan, and actually became very interested in spreading it in America. He invited Kano Sensei’s number one student, a man named Yoshiaki Yamashita to come to America and teach judo. The person who acted as contact man for all of this was Admiral Takeshita. Later this same Takeshita invited Ueshiba Sensei to come up to Tokyo.
At first they trained at the home of Baron Nonomura and later they took over a billiards hall in the Osaki home of Duke Shimazu, installed tatami and had their first dojo.

Of course, all this time Kano Sensei had his Kodokan. He died in May of 1938 while sailing across the Pacific Ocean. The last time I met Kano Sensei was two years earlier in 1936 at the Kodokan. He knew that I had been researching aikido and encouraged me saying, “Though it must be difficult for you, please continue to study aikido as deeply as you can.”

Permit me to change the subject at this point. In modern psychology, science is attempting to discover if phenomena like telepathy and the sixth sense exist. Someone who practices martial arts for a long period of time realizes that he’s not only working on the physical level but that sometimes by adopting a certain mental attitude he can influence the attacker; that there is some element present which is very difficult to describe, but it is not technique. What are your feelings on the psychic areas? Is it possible to influence the power of your partner’s attack?

I have my doubts on that point. I deny it though there are people who say things like that happen. However, I don’t deny things like hypnosis or telepathy exist under certain spiritual conditions. In the case of budo there may be such things but they are the “outer limits,” the result of very extreme psychological (spiritual) conditions, situations where it is a question of will I live or will I die, and these are conditions that we simply don’t meet today. They just don’t exist, and it’s good that they don’t. It’s no good to fight.

I always take the educator’s point of view. The bujutsu of old were overwhelmingly dangerous. They were cruel and bloody. In sports, whether it is track and field or swimming or whatever, we have the world of real strength. The same strength but with the addition of cruel things made to cause injury (literally, “to make blood flow”). Thus, to make this something that is applicable to our own times we must remove these elements and make the arts into an armour that we wear for self-defense. In the case of judo we have to skip certain techniques, and then systemize movement. The problem is in that way of thinking.

We’ve actually come to an important point. There’s one thing I have a hard time explaining away and I am a skeptical person by nature, I like to see to believe. I don’t like to say, “Well, you know if he raises his hand all of his opponents just fall down.” However, I have in my possession films of Ueshiba Sensei. He takes a jo about 3 and ½ feet long and holds it out to his side. People come and push on it and he can hold them here from the side; from a perpendicular angle! That’s one thing. Another is this. He sits with his feet crossed underneath, hands relaxed three men come close before him and try to push him over. They can’t. Now either it’s all faked or people are doing it on purpose. If it’s true though I know of no physical principle which can explain those physical feats. This is why I wonder if what happened, was all faked or if he was at a very special “place?” I’ve seen these things on film with my own eyes…

This problem is one of modern physical education’s muscle training. It’s called isometrics. That is to say, by pushing or pulling you train either the outer muscles or the inner muscles. When you get perfect at this form of training you can hardly see any muscle movement at all during the exercise. When you can’t see any movement you are using the muscle very skillfully. But, in the educational field if you demand a similar level of perfection then you are making a big mistake. If anyone trains sufficiently it is possible to do it to some degree, but, of course, there are limits what a human being can do. Perfection is a problem of belief. Can we call it religious faith? If we have to disrupt our partner’s psychological state through some hypnotic technique it would not be a matter of religion as we usually think of the word. I for one, take the normal point of view that education appropriate for the general public is correct and I think aikido should be something usual, or normal, as well.
Because of the work of several important people like Kano Sensei, yourself, and others, the modernization of traditional martial arts was accomplished. The concepts of fighting, winning, of love, of developing harmony between the mind and the body, were woven together. The vehicle, the method that we use for teaching this to the individual is aikido training—our practice. Now, some of these principles are very important, not only in the training we undergo with different people but also because the principles can be applied to everyday relations with people. And also if a person at a very high governmental level felt very strong, very confident and was very sensitive to the person he was talking with I think some very interesting results could be produced at an international level or at a political level by applying the same principles. I’m sure you has some thoughts on this matter.

Let me start with my conclusion first. In Japan our budo of the past was something extremely bloody, vicious, and completely without bounds as to what methods or tricks one could resort to. Therefore, in viewing our present peaceful society and looking forward to a peaceful future, I think that “sportification” (kyogika), the conversion to competitive sport, is the best way to spread the outstanding points and the benefits of budo to the world.

Someone may form some sort of acting guild and spread or popularize it in the form of something like the samurai “cut-em-up” film. While you are working for your acting group you are learning to get along well with people. This is good for your health, don’t you think? Or you may go the route of Kenbu, the “sword dance”, and foster your art as a form of stage presentation and that’s fine, too, isn’t it? There is also the possibility of transforming the arts into exercise routines as was done in the case of Tai Chi Ch’uan, a fine exercise system from the anatomical standpoint. Anyway, there is no need to spread anything that is dangerous and cruel.
There’s only one thing, though. The martial arts actor is a character of fiction. He can single-handedly defeat 10 men. The hero can display wonderful strength on the stage, but in the dojo strength is a different thing. The dojo is again the world of real life strength. In order to filter out that part of budo which is simply cruelty, we organize and limit the previously unrestricted range of technique. This is because if we didn’t, how do you suppose we could ever proceed with the process of converting them to sports? I firmly believe that the change to sport is the ultimate way of giving birth to a new art form.

Ask some people why they do judo or kendo and you will get some who will answer that they train to be able to win a fight. Even so you will also find many who, like me, will say they practice for their health or to make more friends. Everyone has his own individual reasons and sense of values. But in the old budo there was only one rationale and that was to win in a fight. You have to keep the time period in mind.
Budo has always included the aspect of self-defense. Today we hear of violence in the streets. But should we use strength to counter this violence, we may end up in some legal trouble in our law-abiding society. Still even in a peaceful social context, there must be some form of appropriate means of protecting one’s self, and outside of using one’s strength, what way of defense can there be? This is why I think we have to put forth some form of technique that is designed for the present world and the future reality of society.

I also feel like this. Though the government should be the agency that fosters such a form of self-defense among its citizens, the police have been slack in this particular endeavor and we ourselves have to take up the initiative. It’s the same as if they just said, “You protect yourself”. It sounds like some third or fourth class country. A cultured nation with a high level of education shouldn’t really be in this kind of situation…

In our choice of the budo, the modernized budo, as an educational method, how can we make sure that the people we are teaching don’t become most concerned with winning, with the contest, with being number one in the school or winning the tournament? How can we guarantee that such things will not become their goal? Is it possible to be sure that they will realize, on the contrary, the true reason that they are training and that their betterment and their ethical or moral system is more important than trophies or belts or prizes and this sort of thing? What is a good way of guaranteeing that they’ll see the higher goal? How do you personally approach this problem of assuring that we don’t have young men coming in wanting to win all the trophies, but forgetting about what’s beyond.

This same kind of question was but to us by the Buddha. Competition, etc. is just an expedient. Like using candy as an incentive in getting your children to study is only a means to an end. Previously, while I was still working in the office of the Kodokan we took a poll of the children asking them why they did judo. Some said they hoped to be able to win a place in a tournament. Others dreamed of having a trophy, or being physically stronger. Some were made to go to the dojo by their fathers. Anyway, they had a lot of different reasons, you see.
“Why is Japanese budo so difficult,” you may ask.

Let’s take the sword for an example. In the past it was said to be used to cut down evil people who disrupted the peace of society. This eventually came to have the image of a kind of creed. Though it was something very religious it also had a realistic physical side, and on top of them both there was the esthetic aspect, viewing the weapon itself as a work of art. From these there were various other things including the moral side of swordsmanship. There were so many facets that if you are going to research the subject it is necessary to look at it from a variety of angles. I would like to say everyone who has some interest in Japanese budo, by all means invest the time to study it from the historical, philosophical, and various other points of view.

Until now it’s been very difficult to do budo research in English. There’s so very little written… I have another point that might be interesting. In the early days, Ueshiba Sensei could defeat anyone and was very strong because he was young and because he had trained very hard. But he also realized that as he became older and older his physical body would not be so strong and that someone younger, faster, and better trained would in turn defeat him. His concern was in finding an art, a martial way in which he could continue to grow as a person, as he went into old age. This was one on the areas that he tackled and tried to solve, too. Do you, Professor Tomiki, have some ideas on that area?

That thing called distrust is even more effective than what is called real strength. I think that chasing after something like that is really foolish. Humans have limits. Even the strongest of men will some day die; so I think it’s stupid.

More important than that, I think, is the ideal of building up something fine from the educational standpoint. If you are going to teach someone it is necessary that you actually show your forms, not just talk about them. Bur look at it rationally, it’s a completely different thing if you tell them that you are strong and everything you say is true and if they do like you say, they, too, will make progress. Take the 100 meters again. The coach of a person who can do it in 10 seconds doesn’t have to be able to match that performance. It is enough for him to be able to do it in 12 or 13 seconds. It’s the same in budo. If you become an instructor it’s quite a different course of action from working to be strong enough to take a tournament.

There is a notion called kan, (a kind of sixth sense or intuition). Hunters of old could tell if it was going to rain or get windy and other things like that even though they couldn’t explain them rationally. It was just a matter of long years of experience. In the same way, a sportsman, let’s say a baseball player, can tell how the next pitch will come. Old-time swordsmen like Musashi Miyamoto could “read” exactly how their opponent’s next cut would arc. This was one form of intuition (kan) that grew out of years and years of training. If you ever are able to accumulate enough research to reach that point you would certainly have a very precious prize.

I have always interpreted judo and aikido as being basically the same, unified thing. Technically, they are one. The most deeply studied aspect of Japanese jujutsu was that of battlefield grappling in armor (kumiuchi). During those times they would use sumo wrestling as the basic form of training. In the Kamakura period, this was known as Buke Sumo, (martial families’ sumo), and it is almost the same as the Sumo we can see to this day at the Kokugikan Sumo Arena. Today, Sumo is a sport, but previously it was an event used to raise support for the building of a shrine or a temple. In the late Muromachi period the dohyo, earthen arena or ring, made its appearance.

Before the war I had the opportunity to research old style Mongolian “Sumo” and I found it to be something like a mixture of Japanese judo and sumo. However, since they have no ring, a single bout may go on for 30 minutes or an hour and those who are watching eventually get bored with the event.

In sports, though, we are displaying our abilities to the assembled crowd and so we adopt a method of conducting the game that brings about some sort of a definite conclusion in a shorter time period, more in tune with our modern “speedy” way of life. I suppose as far as combining modern popularity with a long and distinguished history, Japanese Sumo hasn’t a match in the world. But I guess this all ended up being a joke.
During the Edo Period, the rigorous demands of the preceding “Warring States Period” gave way to a time when the majority of people spent their lives sitting in seiza on tatami mats and drinking green tea. Sitting like that people began to wonder what they would do if something unexpected should occur. It became necessary to develop ways of defending themselves by means of throwing needles or methods of avoiding the thrust of a short swords. In such confined situations what was called for was the thing we know as suwariwaza (seated techniques). Generally speaking, of the techniques developed during that long period 1603-1868 more than one-third are said to be seated. Truly, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Then suddenly, with the Meiji period, the need for bujutsu just disappeared and the waza (technique) became shaky. This was natural and to be expected, since it was no longer necessary to fight wars. Of course, we have no wars now and we won’t have any in the future either. For these reasons, it is no longer necessary to have budo. “Why then is it necessary to encourage them?, one might well ask. The answer to this question is one that we can get at through educational psychology. Most people today have little need for walking, let alone running. They are weak at climbing mountains, poor at swimming. This is a lamentable state of affairs. They are only advancing their heads. It is necessary to match intellectual progress with physical and spiritual development.
The human heart or spirit (kokoro) is something that gets weaker if it has nothing to do, it needs some sort of stimulation. One must have physical strength and the strong will to live. This is where education comes in. The thing that has been put forth to people all over the world as a training method for building up both spiritual and physical strength at the same time through the power of harmony has always been combat, the fight. Of course, we are not talking about simple minor quarrels.

Ueshiba Sensei was another who always talked of peace. Here again, we are speaking of a bujutsu that looks death straight in the face. In the fight (shobu) we are at the edge of death. The spirit that is facing death needs to possess a certain philosophy if it is not to lose its balance or composure. This is what made it become a sort of religious attitude. In the final analysis, religion is greatly concerned with the sacredness of life. As soon as human beings are born they are beset with the fears and uncertainty and the horror of death. The bujutsu (combative martial arts) are very concrete. They take violent power and with it they plunge into the realm of this uncertainty. The bujutsu rely on power to solve the issue through some sort of technique. But technique is a relative thing, not something absolute.

If one seeks to find a real sense of security, then it seems that there is only religion to turn to. Anyone who thinks in sober earnestness ends up taking a religious attitude. Whether it is a “sword and zen” or budo and religion, these unities have been spoken of since ancient days and they undoubtedly are exactly as the old sayings make them out to be.


Interview by Stanley Pranin
reference: http://blog.aikidojournal.com/2011/10/01/interview-with-kenji-tomiki-2/

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