Shizuo Imaizumi was among the last generation of students of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo on the 1960s. He later joined Koichi Tohei as a senior instructor for the Ki Society when the latter resigned from the Aikikai. Imaizumi relocated to New York City where he has taught for some 25 years. He is now chief instructor of the Shin Budo Kai, an independent organization he founded.
Shizuo Imaizumi Sensei
Editor: Sensei, many Japanese who began aikido in the early days did so after first practicing some other martial art such as judo or kendo. What were the circumstances of you beginning aikido?
Imaizumi: I mainly played baseball as a boy. I was born in Tokyo on December 13, 1938 and started playing baseball at the age of seven after World War II ended. Around 1951, I enrolled in the Kodokan on the introduction of my sixth-dan uncle, Eiji Yoshida, who was one of the coaches of the Nippon University Judo Club at that time.
Where was the Kodokan located in those days and what was the atmosphere like?
The Kodokan was located in a building situated on a corner in front of Suidobashi station on the Sobu Line. After my elder brother and I signed up, my uncle guided us to the men’s locker room. Then we entered a large dojo. I was surprised by the enormous size of the dojo because I had only seen a small local dojo before. Anyway, my uncle taught us falling and several basic judo techniques for about an hour. My uncle said that we would have to ask someone in the dojo about judo techniques at our next practice session there. The atmosphere was relatively quiet because the dojo was not very crowded.
How long did you practice judo at the Kodokan?
At that time I was living in Aoto in Katsushika, Tokyo and attending junior high school at the Hinode Gakuen located in Ichikawa, Chiba. It was quite inconvenient practicing judo at the Kodokan so my brother stopped training within a month. I continued practicing judo for about six months although I didn’t go there every day.
When did you start aikido training?
In April 1957, I enrolled in Waseda University where I majored in commercial science. As a freshman I took judo as a required subject for physical education. There were several judo instructors at Waseda University. My instructor’s name was Yamamoto Sensei. When I became a junior in April 1959, I took another required subject as physical education. I chose judo taiso (exercises) taught by Kenji Tomiki Sensei. I bought his textbook with the same title Judo Taiso. It was then that I heard of aikido for the first time. Soon I learned where the Aikikai Hombu Dojo was located. It was only about a 15-minute walk from Waseda University to the dojo. On May 2, 1959 I enrolled at the Hombu.
What teachers at the Hombu Dojo most influenced you during your early days?
I mainly practiced in the 3:00 to 4:00 pm class. Then I would remain in the dojo for free practice with the other students until the start of the the 5:00 pm class. Occasionally, I would attend the second class, too. As I recall I studied under Hiroshi Tada Sensei and Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei more often than the other instructors. I also learned from Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei, Koichi Tohei Sensei, and Kisaburo Osawa Sensei in the regular classes. Morihiro Saito Sensei used to come from Iwama to Tokyo on Sundays. I remember attending his morning class in the summer time.
There were several young uchideshi in those days…
Those I remember are Masamichi Noro, Yasuo Kobayashi, Yoshimitsu Yamada, Seiichi Sugano, Mitsugi Saotome, Kazuo Chiba, Mitsunari Kanai, and Yutaka Kurita. They would all practice in the afternoon classes. As I didn’t attend the morning classes in those days I don’t know the names of the other uchideshi.
When did you first see the founder Morihei Ueshiba?
One afternoon in May 1959 I had the opportunity to watch an aikido demonstration by O-Sensei at the Hombu Dojo during an afternoon class I was attending. In those days the dojo was in an old wooden building that connected to the private house of the Ueshiba family through a corridor. O-Sensei often appeared in front of us from his home.
I believe you were one of the founders of the Waseda University Aikido Club. Would you please describe how it was that the club was established?
There were several Waseda students who were practicing aikido at Hombu Dojo. In the spring of 1960, Akira Kuwamori, Tsuyoshi Takahashi, Tadaharu Wakabayashi, Kin’ichi Iwasaki and I decided to set up the Waseda University Aikido Dokokai on behalf of the Aikikai separate from the Tomiki-style group at Waseda. We consulted with Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei who was a Waseda graduate. Then we asked Hiroshi Tada Sensei, another Waseda graduate, to become our regular instructor. At that time, the Keio University Aikido Association already existed under the guidance of Koichi Tohei Sensei who graduated from that university.
Where there any particular books on aikido you read at that time?
When I started at the Hombu I bought Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei’s first book titled Aikido published in August 1957 by the Kowado publishing company in Tokyo. There for the first time I could read about aikido history. In September 1959, Tohei Sensei, then 8th dan and the chief instructor of the Hombu Dojo wrote his first book Shashin Kaisetsu Aikido (Aikido Through Photos) published by Toto Shobo in Tokyo. Master Tempu Nakamura, president of the Tempukai, wrote a wonderful preface for his sincere disciple. I bought the book when it was displayed in the book case at Hombu. Through this book I could study more fundamental subjects including ki principles, aiki exercises for the coordination of mind and body, as well as fifty aikido techniques. This book influenced my mental attitude toward aikido practice.
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