Interview with Minoru Hirai by Stanley Pranin


“Aikido was selected as an inoffensive, comprehensive term
to group together all of the yawara schools.”

From Aikido Journal #100 (1994)

Although almost totally unknown to Aikido practitioners, one of the most fascinating related forms of the art was created by Minoru Hirai. Hirai served as General Director of Morihei Ueshiba’s old Kobukan Dojo during World War II, and later taught his own unique form of Jujutsu based on the principle of circular taisabaki. Aikido Journal recently visited Hirai Sensei, now 91 years of age, at his home in Shizuoka and recorded the highlights of his thought-provoking conversation about Korindo and his martial arts theories.

Aikido Journal : You first met Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido, in Okayama before the war, I believe. Would you describe the circumstances?

Minoru Hirai : There was a match factory in Nishikawa, Okayama, and next to the factory was the house of an Omoto believer. I went there on business and Ueshiba Sensei happened to be present.

Ueshiba Sensei talked about his dojo, the Kobukan, and other topics for many hours. I had been learning Togun Ryu Heiho and as I listened to Ueshiba Sensei, I thought that what he was saying was quite unusual. That was our first meeting.

Later I met him again at the residence of a different person, someone who was not an Omoto believer. I heard that Ueshiba Sensei happened to be there so I went to see him. This time, Sensei suddenly invited me to come to Tokyo. The first time we met he had said nothing about the idea, but he extended an invitation at our second meeting. That was actually the beginning of our relationship.

I decided to go to Tokyo where Ueshiba Sensei had his dojo in Uchigome. Of course I was interested in martial arts, but I really did not think of the consequences. I think perhaps two or three months passed before I met Ueshiba Sensei the second time and we may have corresponded in the interim. In any event, I remember clearly going up to Wakamatsu-Cho where his dojo was located. When I look back, I think that our approach to both life and the martial arts was unusual. But I don’t know whether I was the unusual one or Ueshiba Sensei was!

However, I already had my own way of thinking about how to use the jo and ken. So it might be more accurate to say that meeting Ueshiba Sensei reinforced my own thinking about the theory of the circle. I came to be confident that I was not mistaken in my ideas on the subject. I was in my prime and spent a lot of time thinking about these things and naturally arrived at an understanding. I think Ueshiba Sensei had his own theories on the subject.

I believe you played major role in the name-change from aiki budo to aikido when you were a representative of the Kobukan Dojo to the Dai Nihon Butokukai (see side bar).

Minoru Hirai (1903-1998)

I was the Director of General Affairs of the Kobukan beginning around 1942 and I helped out Ueshiba Sensei in daily matters. “Aikido,” rather than being a specifically selected name, was the term used to refer to “Butokukai-Ryu” aiki budo within the Dai Nippon Butokukai. The headquarters of the Dai Nippon Butokukai was located in Kyoto and Butokuden centers were set up in all prefectures. Tatsuo Hisatomi from the Kodokan, and Shohei Fujinuma from kendo, were close friends of mine. The Butokukai was an independent, umbrella organization for the martial arts, and it also was in charge of martial arts in the police departments.

It was very difficult to create a new section in the Butokukai at that time. Mr. Hisatomi proposed the establishment of a new section including arts for actual fighting based on jujutsu techniques. The techniques of yawara (an alternate term for jujutsu) are comprehensive and also include the use of the ken and jo. I also made a number of suggestions and Mr. Fujinuma and Mr. Hisatomi understood my ideas. However, had I insisted on these things nothing would have been decided.

There was discussion within the Butokukai about the choice of a name for this new section. It was discussed many times in meetings of the Board of Directors, and particularly in the judo and kendo sections. We had to consider all of the different individual arts encompassed when we tried to come up with an all-inclusive name. It was decided to select an inoffensive name to avoid future friction among the different martial arts.

Dai Nippon Butokukai: Established in 1895 in order to promote traditional martial arts and cultivate martial virtues. The stated goals of the Butokukai were : to construct the Butokuden, a large martial arts hall within the precincts of the Heian Shrine in Kyoto; to hold a martial arts exhibition and tournament each year; to preserve, support, and promote martial arts; to collect classical weapons and military equipment and historical materials; and to publish a martial arts bulletin. Branch offices were set up in all prefectures of Japan and prefectural governors became the branch directors. In 1899, construction of the Butokuden in Kyoto was completed. Branch martial arts halls also called Butokuden were constructed in each prefecture. In 1905, a martial arts training school for teachers was established. This later became the Budo Semmon Gakko (College of Martial Arts). The Butokukai inaugurated a dan ranking system, and a refereeing system. It regulated the practice of kendo, judo, naginata, and kyudo, and gradually contributed to the modernization and spread of Japanese martial arts. During World War II, it came under government control, but after the war it was dissolved by order of the occupation army.

Mr. Hisatomi argued for his proposal energetically and explained that “aikido” would be a better name than aiki budo for this new section, because it would be better to stress the idea of “michi” or way. He proposed that the name “aikido” be used as term to designate an all-inclusive budo and I agreed with him.

In other words, the term “aikido” was a cover-all term that could include other things as well. Mr. Hisatomi’s idea was to intentionally select a name that would not be opposed by kendo or other martial arts, but rather an inoffensive, comprehensive term to group together all of the yawara schools. In the end, no one opposed this proposal.

Of course, this was certainly a big problem at the time. I can’t say anything more specific about it. Everyone should follow the path they believe in.

Were you close to the late Kisaburo Osawa Sensei of the Aikikai?

We were comrades. He was gentle, polite and truly a good man. We also did business together. I did my best at the Kobukai and then turned over my duties to him. I think he had a hard time. I asked both Seiichi Seko and Mr. Osawa to support Morihei Ueshiba Sensei when I left the Kobukai. I told them to work hard because the martial path was a difficult one. To my regret, both of them are gone now.

After the war, when I was working at a dojo in Itakura, Kenji Tomita, who was working for the police [and who was instrumental in preventing O-Sensei’s arrest following the Second Omoto Incident in 1935], came to my dojo and said, “Hirai Sensei, won’t you come back to the Kobukai and help Ueshiba Sensei again?” I answered that I believed in the path I was following and wanted to go my own way.

I haven’t mentioned it before, but I was associated with Mr. Tomita outside of the martial arts as well, and I used to see him at Prince Hosokawa’s house (the father of former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa) during the closing days of World War II.

So you left the Kobukan to follow your own path.

Actually, I had my own dojo called the Kogado in Okayama while I was still a member of the Kobukai. Later, I changed the name from Kogado to Korindo (see sidebar).

Hirai Sensei changed the name of his dojo from “Koga” to “Korin”. The word “Korin” is derived from Kannonkyo (one of the Buddhist scriptures) and it means to spread the light. Hirai Sensei’s Kogado, which existed until after World War II, was established before he met Ueshiba Sensei, and was the base of his martial art.

I understand that you also taught martial arts to the military police during World War II.

I was an instructor at the Army military police school. I published a book, which is now out of print, titled Rikugun Kenpei Gakko Taijutsu Kyohan (Army MP School Taijutsu Manual). Taisabaki is explained at the end of the book, but it really should be in front.

I was asked to help develop Taihojutsu (arrest techniques) for the police a year or two after the end of World War II, together with Hironori Otsuka (karate), “Piston” Horiguchi (boxing), and Mr. Kudo (judo). It was a major reform, and we presented the new arrest techniques at the Nakano Tax Office. Many police officers from all over the country who were trained in judo or kendo came to see the newly developed arrest techniques. Today, these techniques are a part of the regular curriculum.

This system of arrest techniques was developed with the cooperation of many people. We developed techniques to deal with many different cases such as someone armed with a pistol brought in from America. I took charge of the Yawara component and included some techniques to evade an opponent’s ki. I explained that Ki evasion techniques were important, but nobody listened to me! I told them that the aim is not just to be strong. Someone who claims to be strong is actually weak if he uses only strength. You can’t handle a real situation by using only force. It is important to deal with each situation case by case. This requires sensitivity and consideration. It is important to understand these points — however, you can’t just learn them because you’d like to.

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