“When O-Sensei would return to Iwama, someone had to accompany him. It was easy to do, but it took a long time because you had to go back and forth between Tokyo and Iwama.”
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.
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.
Are there any episodes you recall from those days?
On May 14, 1960 a public demonstration was held in Yamano Hall in Yoyogi. I went to watch the demonstration and felt I would like to practice aikido much harder. In August of that year, Koichi Tohei Sensei was promoted to 9th dan. I remember that I attended the celebration of his promotion as one of the assistants at the reception desk. Then on February 28, 1961 I went to Haneda Airport to send off O-Sensei who was about to leave for Honolulu. This trip turned out to be the first and only one O-Sensei made to the United States. Many people came to see him off. Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei accompanied the founder. Koichi Tohei Sensei had already left Japan for Honolulu in preparation for O-Sensei’s trip.
In March 1961 I took part in the first spring training camp of the Waseda Aikido Club. We stayed at the Kumano Juku Dojo in Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture owned by Michio Hikitsuchi Sensei for about a week. Although we attended Hikitsuchi Sensei’s regular classes every day, Tada Sensei taught us during the day. I graduated from Waseda at the end of March. After that, in April, I got a job at Kobe Steelworks, Ltd. and moved to Kobe immediately.
Did you continue practicing aikido in Kobe?
Yes, I joined the Kobe branch dojo of the Aikikai. We met two days a week at the judo dojo of the Sannomiya Police Station on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Sundays we used the kendo dojo owned by Kazuo Yamahata, the director of the Kobe dojo, which was located next to his house in Ishucho, Kyogoku in Kobe. Mr. Yamahata had gradually become involved in teaching aikido to the students coming to practice there because there was no professional aikido instructor at the Kobe Dojo.
Did anyone from the Hombu Dojo come to teach at the Kobe Branch?
I was in Kobe from April 1961 to December 1964 and Tada Sensei visited Kobe and taught us on two or three occasions. Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei also came to Kobe. The highlight was an unexpected visit of O-Sensei to my class at the Sannomiya Police Station one Saturday afternoon. Do you know a Mr. Bucchi? He was the president of Alcan Asia Co. and a student of Hirokazu Kobayashi Sensei at the Osaka Branch dojo. I think Mr. Bucci invited O-Sensei and Kobayashi Sensei to Kobe on that occasion. After the special session by O-Sensei, I was invited to Mr. Bucchi’s house where a party was held for the founder. Mr. Bucchi was living in a scenic spot just above my company dormitory. After partaking of the cocktails and buffet there, I walked down the steep slope to my dormitory in about five minutes.
When did you become an instructor at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo?
In November 1964, I learned that Tada Sensei had left for Italy to spread aikido there. I also found out that Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei had started to publish the Aikido newspaper in 1964. After he left for France, Norihiko Ichihashi Sensei and Iwao Tamura Sensei took over the publication of the Aikido newspaper. Soon I joined them and we worked together. By the way, Ichihashi Sensei was teaching US servicemen at the aikido club at Camp Zama while Tamura Sensei taught at the Asaka Camp. I took over teaching for Sugano Sensei at the Tachikawa Air Force base in April 1965. All three of them could speak English. You are familiar with the Japanese system of teaching English. Besides studying English in junior and senior high schools and then at the university, I joined the Business English Association, one of the clubs at Waseda University. I studied typing, writing and speaking there.
Are there any recollections that particularly stand out in your mind from those days?
Let’s see. Kenji Shimizu Sensei and myself were the only instructors to attend the 6:30 to 7:30 class at the Hombu at that time. I got up at 4:30 am at my parents’ house in Aoto in Katsushika and went to the Hombu Dojo every day except Sunday. I did this for about a year and a half until I rented an apartment in Yochomachi, Shinjuku near the Hombu Dojo. When O-Sensei was in Tokyo, he used to appear at the first class. Kisshomaru Ueshiba or “Wakasensei” as we called him, would immediately stop teaching and make the students sit in seiza. O-Sensei would bow to the shomen and turn toward us. After exchanging greetings with us, he would begin his own morning exercises while talking to us. I often helped him do his exercises. Then he would start showing techniques. After O-Sensei retreated to his home, Wakasensei would hastily teach the class as if trying to make up for lost time.
Would you tell us more about O-Sensei?There was a small office next to the old Hombu Dojo. O-Sensei often came into the office through the dojo. I used to stay there after the morning classes until I rented an apartment room nearby in 1966. One day in spring 1965, O-Sensei came in and asked me to find something he liked in a newspaper. In those days the office had a subscription to the Hochi Shimbun. I would read a novel serialized in this newspaper every day for O-Sensei in a loud voice. The title of this novel was Niwaka—Naniwa Yukyoden written by Ryotaro Shiba. It appeared from May 1965 to April 1966 and was published in July 1966 by Kodansha. O-Sensei loved the hero of this novel. His name was Mankichi Akashiya as a boy and then he became Sahei Kobayashi as a man. So when O-Sensei came into the office he would always ask me what had happened to Mankichi! He would laugh heartily at a particular interesting event in his life.
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