Interview with Yoshimitsu Yamada (1) by Stanley Pranin

“At that time in the Western world, Aikido equalled Koichi Tohei.”

From Aiki News #90 (Winter 1992)

Editor: You were one of the earlier uchideshi at the Aikikai. What year did you start?

Yoshimitsu Yamada

When I joined as an uchideshi only Tamura Sensei and Arikawa Sensei were there. Yasuo Kobayashi was still in college. He came to the dojo every day. I entered when I was 17. I am 53 now, so it must have been 1955.

Was Doshu [Kisshomaru Ueshiba] still working for the Osaka Shoken Company?

No, he had just quit. When I joined, [Kisaburo] Osawa Sensei wasn’t at the dojo yet. He had stopped for a while and was doing business. Tomiki Sensei was still coming to teach once a week. Hiroshi Tada Sensei was already teaching in the afternoon.

Was Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei also there at that time?

He was there, but right after I joined he was sent to Burma.

I never had a chance to talk with Tadashi Abe Sensei. You are his cousin, is that right? What is your relationship?

Actually, I’m his second cousin. My father and he were cousins. However, my father’s parents passed away when my father was seven years old. My father was adopted by Abe’s family, so I called Abe “Uncle.” Even though they were cousins, they were raised like brothers.

Were you close to him?

Yes, quite close. Before he went to Paris, he wrestled at Waseda University.

He was in wrestling too?

Tadashi Abe (c. 1926-1984)

Yes, he was in the Waseda University Wrestling Club. He took wrestling because he never could beat Koichi Tohei Sensei. He said he wanted to study something new in order to beat Tohei. They were still close at that time, as uchideshi. When I was in junior high school, Abe’s home was in Osaka because his father was an important businessman in the Osaka area. At that time Tohei Sensei was teaching and living at the Suita Dojo in Osaka. One day Abe said to me, “Now, you are going to witness my challenge to Tohei.” There were just the two of them on the mat, and I was just a kid, sitting in the dojo, watching Abe and Tohei. Abe could do nothing.

Tohei Sensei controlled him completely?

Right. I still remember it. On the way back I said to Abe, “I thought you were the strongest.” He got mad again.

So you were just a little boy then?

I was in the seventh or eighth grade. Abe was so mad, the next day he took me out and put me in a kendo suit, even though I was little, and beat me up. It was very frustrating for him.

He started quite early in Osaka, didn’t he?

Group photo taken with members of the Kokodan at the Sugiyama Dojo. Front row, left to right: Hiroshi Tada, Kisaburo Osawa, Sugiyama, Morihei Ueshiba, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba; second row: Yasuo Kobayashi, Yoshimitsu Yamada and other instructors. (c. 1957)

I don’t know how he started. I know that his father was an admirer of O-Sensei and Tempu Nakamura Sensei. I can still remember the first time I saw O-Sensei, when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. Abe’s father, Kazo, was one of his admirers and supporters. All I remember is a brief image in my mind of some black thing moving around on the tatami. O-Sensei used to wear a black kimono for demonstrations. Abe’s father invited a lot of rich people to watch. At that time, budoka were like geisha, or like sumo wrestlers.

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