Interview with Seigo Okamoto Shihan (2)

Seigo Okamoto, head of the Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu Roppokai, studied under Kodo Horikawa, a top student of Sokaku Takeda. In the Daito-ryu world where secrecy and tradition are strongly emphasized, Okamoto Sensei has adopted an open approach. In this second installment of our two-part interview he talks about the Roppokai and its techniques.

Seigo Okamoto Sensei

Did you practice Daito-ryu at Kodo Horikawa Sensei’s dojo in Hokkaido while you were working?

I was never absent from the dojo until I left Hokkaido and came to Tokyo in 1977. I went up to Hokkaido again to participate in Sensei’s 88th birthday celebration. Sensei taught until he was 82 or 83, though he would do only one or two techniques. When I started practicing the art, he was about 69 years old and was very strict in the class.

How many students were there at the dojo then?

There were about 30 students in the Kitami Dojo at the time I entered. We used to use a private Judo dojo in town.

Horikawa Sensei passed away after you came down to Tokyo. Did you establish the Roppokai after you became independent?

That’s right.

When did Horikawa Sensei pass away?

I think he died on October 30, 1980. That year I was running my dojo as the Tokyo branch of the Kodokai. I established the Roppokai after he passed away. In the beginning, I was not planning to do so. I only wanted to support its activities. However, there were many difficulties in communicating with the people in Hokkaido because of the distance, so I decided to establish a separate group. It seems that in the Kodokai, they call the Sapporo Dojo the Sapporo Main Dojo and the Kitami Dojo the Kitami Headquarters Dojo.

What is the origin of the name “Roppokai”?

Roppo can be understood in a variety of ways, such as the roppo of roppogumi [six groups of chivalrous young men who used to wander the city streets in the Edo period]. Or it can be equated with the roppo from the kabuki term roppo o fumu of Benkei [a priest of the early Kamakura period and a famous retainer of Yoshitsune Minamoto. Roppo o fumu means to make one’s exit with bold gestures along the runway]. However, I usually compare roppo to gaming dice to describe techniques which can deal with any situation from any direction, top or bottom, front or back, right or left, like the faces of dice. But these techniques do not have square angles like dice but are round, forming six (roku) infinite circles. I am eager to get as many meanings as I can out of the term.

It seems that there are many differences among Daito-ryu techniques.

I have not often viewed the techniques of other schools. I have seen them only at the demonstration held by the Headmaster [Tokimune Takeda]. When I entered Horikawa Sensei’s dojo, there were some people from other schools who criticized his techniques when they saw them saying that he could not really execute a technique with such a small movement and that his students were very meek. However, I believe that there were no such stupid, critical men among the students, seniors and juniors alike of Kodo Sensei. We followed him because his techniques were real. However, there were many who could not continue their practice for long because they found the techniques too difficult.

I have learned a lot since I came to Tokyo. In the Roppokai there are some students who have practiced another school’s art for more than 20 years or who are instructors of another art, but they all recognize my art and are gradually making progress mastering techniques which I think is great. I really feel that I must continue to practice all my life.

Does each technique have a name?

Yes, but I don’t remember them very well unless I refer to the scroll. In class we use terms like ikkajo and nikajo, but usually we have terms only for basic techniques. When we practice applied techniques, the name as well as the kata (form) become very vague. It is very difficult to express the terms and meanings written in the scroll. A term such as hanmihandachi or kashiwade (clapping-hands) is easy to understand, but a technique like fure aiki (aiki technique executed by a mere touch) is not described anywhere in the scroll.

How many basic techniques do you practice?

There are about ten basic techniques. It takes a full three hours if you try to practice them thoroughly, such as when I demonstrate each technique first, explain it, and then have the students try it. But it is impossible to master these basic techniques perfectly in such a short period. However, once you have advanced to a certain level, you become able to execute aiki. There isn’t much aiki in basic techniques, but when you are able to execute them smoothly, you are able to execute aiki techniques.

Many people try to define the meaning of aiki in various ways. Some refer to the original meaning of aiki as the harmony between one and his opponent (ki ga au), while others say that the term aiki can be used for techniques which really work. I think that these are all correct. Everyone has his own way of understanding aiki and therefore everyone has his own way of expressing it.

Are there are some Aikidoka who try to learn Daito-ryu techniques in order to improve their own Aikido?

Yes, that’s right. I do not refuse anyone who comes to me. We have an Aikido instructor at our Osaka branch dojo. I think that he is probably utilizing the techniques he learns from us in his Aikido techniques.

As I mentioned, I refuse no one who comes to me, but I don’t stop anyone who leaves me either. This is my principle. However, those who come to me must conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. There are some people who come to me with an arrogant attitude as if to say I should be pleased because people like them have come to train while others come with an open attitude toward being taught. People come with many different attitudes. I accept anyone who comes in the latter manner.

You are teaching the art in a sort of modern way, in other words, more openly.

This openness sometimes causes the misunderstanding that I am selling Daito-ryu techniques cheaply and thus some people do not like what I am doing. However, I am not running this dojo for profit. Members are increasing naturally, just by word-of-mouth communication. What I hate most is when people who have paid the enrollment fee as well as the monthly fee quit after participating in only one class. It is all right for them to quit if it is because the techniques are too difficult for them. However, those who quit like this always criticize our dojo. I want them to stay at least for half a year or, if they can, until they are promoted to black belt. If they do so, I believe that they will gradually come to appreciate the art. I execute advanced techniques on them in order to get them interested in the art, but there are people who try to resist these techniques. Those who come from schools where only physical power is used are stubborn too. I allow university students to take one free “trial” class before they enter the dojo. I feel sorry for them to have to pay the enrollment fee from the beginning before they decide to enter the dojo. There are about six or seven student members.

Sometimes Aikido techniques are likened to the feeling of someone losing his balance when pushing a door which is suddenly opened from the other side. Watching your techniques, I see some kind of “whiplash” effect, that is, a situation where one receives a shock by being pushed back hard suddenly at the moment he makes contact.

In other words, in Aikido we execute a technique in the same direction of the opponent’s attack, while in your techniques I have the impression that you break the timing and rhythm of the attack of the opponent forcefully in the opposite direction. Is this a particular principle behind your techniques?

Yes, especially in randori techniques. Unless you get really close to your opponent, you won’t be able to get such perfect timing. It is difficult to do that from a distance. You can disturb the opponent’s timing just at the instant he comes to grab you. If you move too soon, you will end up stopping his attack completely.

It might be described as though a 100-volt current was going through the entire body rather than feeling as though one were being pushed by power. Such a shock causes a conditioned reflex.

Also, there is a technique which becomes really soft, that is, true aiki. You have to execute this technique not just with your fingers, but as though you were breathing with your whole body. You harmonize your breathing with your opponent’s. By doing so, he becomes stiff and his body becomes a part of yours. Thus, you are able to move without feeling much of his weight.

Did your practice method come from Sokaku Sensei or was it developed by Kodo Horikawa Sensei?

Well, I don’t know. I think you become able to do what I am doing naturally. Kodo Horikawa Sensei used to say: “Once you reach a level such as yours, you become able to execute your own techniques based on what I have taught you. I didn’t learn all the techniques I do now from Sokaku Takeda Sensei.” Once you master a certain level and grasp the key points you become able to execute techniques of your own. Then these techniques of yours gradually sprout branches.

Profile Of Seigo Okamoto Senaei

Born on February 10, 1925 in Yubari city, Hokkaido. He entered the Daito-ryu dojo in 1963 at the age of 38, and studied under Kodo Horikawa, one of the students of Sokaku Takeda. He received his 7th dan in 1974, and three years later he moved to Tokyo. In 1978 he received the Shihan license from Kodo Horikawa. After Horikawa Sensei passed away, he established Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu Roppokai in order to spread the art in Tokyo. He is the author of Daito-ryu Aiki Jujutsu, published by Sport Life Publishing Company.

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