From Aikido Journal #106 (1996)
A.J. How did you get started in aikido?
Endo Sensei: I knew nothing about the art until April 1963, shortly after I entered Gakushuin University. I was hanging around the campus when one of my sempai (seniors) asked me if I would like to come and have a look at the university aikido club. We went down to the dojo and I ended up starting that same day. They made me do shikko (knee walking) and about 200 squats. I’d done some judo in high school, so I wasn’t particularly out of shape, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to do 200 squats. I vividly remember my legs simply refusing to move when I tried to climb the train station steps later that day.
Did the university recognize the aikido club as an official athletic club?
No, it was still viewed as an informal group. Gakushuin University is a relatively old school with a strong sense of tradition, so it has always been difficult for new clubs to gain official recognition. First they have to prove their seriousness and prospects for longevity. The club wasn’t even recognized as semi-formal until three years after I became its fourth captain, and it took another 10 years after that for it to become an official athletic club. All told, it took about 20 years for it to go from an informal group to full-fledged club status.
Who were the instructors at that time?
The very first shihan to teach us was Hiroshi Tada, but he left for Italy in September of my sophomore year. Mitsunari Kanai, who taught us for about a year, replaced him, and later we had Yasuo Kobayashi for six months or so. Soon after I graduated and entered the Aikikai, I myself was sent back there to teach.
I understand that after four years of training as a university student, you decided not to enter the work force, but to become an aikido professional instead.
Japanese university students generally begin the job-hunting process in June of their senior year. By the beginning of July most people have decided on a position. When that time came for me I had mixed feelings about what I wanted to do. I remember the first day I arrived in Tokyo from my hometown in Nagano. I was riding the Yamanote loop line around the city from Ueno, and I could see the clusters of tall office buildings going by as I passed stations like Tokyo, Yurakucho, and Shimbashi. I remember thinking, “Well, I guess I’ll be working in one of those buildings someday.” But the more I practiced aikido, the more it fascinated me, so when it came time to find a job, I had a hard time deciding what I really wanted to do with my life. I did actually receive an informal job offer, but after thinking about it for a while I decided I wanted to pursue aikido instead.
It must take a lot of courage for a new university graduate to forego a promising career, especially in Japan.
You might recall that from around 1960 Japan’s economy began to take off. I graduated in the midst of that boom time in 1967, so there were plenty of employment opportunities available at large firms, even for someone like me. I must confess I didn’t study much at university, although I became an avid reader. Even when I did manage to get to class, I would fall asleep after about 10 minutes [laughter]. In fact, I think I probably slept through most of my classes. The rest of my time I spent in the library. At lunchtime I went to the cafeteria to eat and then back to the library. At 2:00 o’clock I slipped out to make the 3:00 o’clock practice at the Hombu Dojo, then back to campus for practice at the aikido club.
You seem to have been at the school a lot, but I’m having a hard time deciding if you were a serious student or not [laughter]!
I probably spent so much time there because I had nowhere else to go [laughter]! During my first year I decided that if I were able to do well in at least eight out of 14 classes, then I would put some effort into studying. I only got one pass, though, so I sort of gave up right then. I knew I needed reasonably good grades to help me get a decent job later on, but I figured if I trained as hard as I possibly could in aikido I could use that to appeal to future employers. It was a pretty naive way to look at it.
You do seem to have had your own agenda and ambitions.
I guess you could say I had my sights set on my dream. People often told me I was a dreamer. They asked me why I chose to do something as seemingly useless and unrelated to anything else as aikido when I had perfectly good prospects to land myself a so-called “respectable” job. But I thought that working hard at aikido was something commendable in and of itself. I saw no reason why I wouldn’t be able to support myself, but I figured that even if things didn’t work out perfectly, I still wanted to make the effort to better myself, if even a little, so I threw myself heart-and-soul into my training. To encourage myself I used to sing songs about youth and individuality and self-actualization. You know a “My clothes may be poor but my heart is gold,” sort of attitude [laughter].
Members please log in here to continue…
Already a member? Login below…