Interview with Shigenobu Okumura (1983), Part 1 by Stanley Pranin

“It was because of Doshu Kisshomaru Sensei that the dojo was saved. Every time a fire bomb was dropped they put out the fire using buckets in order to save the dojo.”

The following is the first of two-part interview with Shigenobu Okumura Sensei, a Hombu Dojo instructor which took place on May 14, 1983.

Although I was born in Hokkaido I went to Dairen (major city in Japanese-controlled Manchuria before the War) when I was three. After that, I went through the public school system and also graduated from the University in Manchuria. My mother entered the Aikido dojo in 1933 eight years before I started my training. She is senior to me in Aikido by eight years. At that time I was practicing Kendo so I really wasn’t interested in Aikido. Whenever I went to the dojo I saw my mother doing simple suwari waza. After I entered the university and studied with Tomiki Sensei and 0-Sensei, I decided to practice only Aikido.

Was Tomiki Sensei the main teacher at that time?

Yes, that’s right. Tomiki Sensei usually taught. Ueshiba Sensei came to Manchuria from Tokyo every fall. Sometimes he came to our university and sometimes he came at the invitation of the Manchurian government. In our university, Aikido was a required subject. Our university was probably the first one among all the government universities to have this requirement. Kendo, Judo, Aikido, all three were required subjects.

Were there matches at that time?

No. It was long after the war that Tomiki Sensei started talking about matches. In the Kenkoku University period he was doing the exact same training as Hombu Dojo. After the war he developed an ideology intended to convert Aikido into a sport. I was opposed to the idea of converting Aikido into a sport and so I did not agree with Tomiki Sensei’s view. Although I was his student, I opposed him to the end in this point.

Did Tomiki Sensei hold that viewpoint at that time also?

Well, he was doing the same as Hombu. After the war, he took the position that it was necessary to transform Aikido into a sport in order to modernize it. We took the position that Aikido could be modernized without turning it into a sport. For example, in the case of zazen or iai, you can’t talk about winners and losers. In Aikido, one can proceed at his own pace, thus, it is equivalent to a “moving zen.” You can’t talk about who is first or who is second in these things. If anything, those who train religiously are the best… those who overcome themselves. There is that tendency now in general. Like cycling and jogging. Cycling is different from a bicycle race. Cycling is something which the family does together. Jogging is not running a marathon. One runs the whole distance at his own pace. These activities are becoming popular. These new things, which are not sports and which have no competition, are achieving popularity. However, like Judo and Kendo, Aikido is following the opposite course toward sports where there are losers and winners. What people are seeking now is something which doesn’t have such matches. This tendency is widespread.

Shigenobu Okumura Sensei demonstrating a jodori throw

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