Interview with Yoshimitsu Yamada (2) by Stanley Pranin

From Aiki News #91 (Spring 1992)

The New York Aikikai’s Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan promotes an orthodox standard of basics in his aikido teachings, books, and recent video, yet maintains a flexible balance within the diversity which makes up the United States Aikido Federation. In this second of two parts, he reveals how he is able to accomplish this, and offers his thoughts on injuries, training in Europe, and the many aikido people he has known.

Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei

Sensei, would you talk a little about how you approach teaching? How do you handle the beginning level of instruction?

In my dojo normally we have all mixed classes. The beginners come, they pay attention. If I’m teaching, I’ll just ask someone to give them some help doing the basics.

When you first went to America, do you remember that list of 50 techniques that Tohei Sensei had? You were already in the States when that was the basis of what we were supposed to teach.

I didn’t follow his teaching method.

The Hombu Dojo has, especially in the last ten or twelve years, changed its system too, and simplified the curriculum. Lots of techniques have been eliminated from the basic core. What is the main body of techniques that you like to teach?

It may have changed a little, but basically I still follow the way I learned, the way I practiced when I was at Headquarters under Doshu.

Actually I see similarities between you and Saito Sensei in style.

You think so? It’s because I like the orthodox way. When I was at the Hombu, I liked Saito Sensei’s movement and technique. I didn’t study under him personally or directly, but I attended his class. I liked his dynamic movements.

I try to maintain an orthodox standard. I don’t want to create anything myself. I don’t want my students to get confused when they attend someone else’s class. I believe that as long as they have a standard of basics they won’t be confused. Unfortunately, some students, when they go take another shihan’s class, don’t know what to do at all.

I’ll never forget, one time we had an instructor’s seminar in California, and one fellow who had been to Japan taught a technique according to the way about five different teachers taught it. I wanted to see his style.

I believe you later published a second book and you’ve recently done a video.

That was a big hit. Everybody wanted it, although it is only an introduction. They want me to continue with a series. It was done professionally and everyone has complimented it.

If someone reading this article wanted to order it, how would they do it?

They can order directly through the federation office, via Susan Wolk. She’s the secretary of the USAF. The way we run our federation, as I have said, is very loose. We have the US Aikido Federation as an umbrella, to present ourselves to the International Aikido Federation. But actually our activities are divided into four divisions because of the size of the country: the East Coast, Midwest, California, and Hawaii. Fortunately, each division has a shihan. I am in the East Coast, myself Kanai and Sugano. In the Midwest there’s Akira Tohei, and in California. Chiba. I just leave Hawaii people alone, because it is too complicated there.

We operate regionally and we don’t bother each other. Before, when there were no other shihan, I had to take care of everything. Now, each region has a shihan, and I have to respect their ways. The USAF as a body is very flexible, and it has no regulations; it’s just a big umbrella. The federation itself has no power. It just handles transactions and communications to Headquarters.

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