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Some Preliminaries

I am not really sure when I first met Kazuo Chiba Sensei (to be referred to mainly hereinafter – with no disrespect at all intended – as CS). The place was in Chiswick, a suburb of London, at a dojo in Airdale Avenue called the Aikikai of Great Britain. The time was in the early 1970s and I was only in the third or fourth year of my aikido training. I was a student at Sussex University and travelling to this dojo involved a lengthy commute, with several changes of train. So I did not do it very often. However, I did it often enough to form some recollections of the other students and the type of training. Among the fearsome looking yudansha there was a Japanese student, named Minoru Kanetsuka (hereinafter MK), who sported a goatee beard and used to practice blindfold striking a jo against one of the pillars that supported the building – which also included a bowling alley.

The training and the atmosphere of the dojo were quite different from what I had become used to. My first teacher was also Japanese, a friendly man named Tao, who worked for the Japanese railway system and was studying for a master’s degree in transport economics. Training in the dojo was supplemented by cross-country running and was tough, but the toughness was more a matter of stamina and of discovering that there were muscles that one had not used before, especially when stretching and practicing ukemi. There were difficult techniques, to be sure, but there was never any question of whether one would actually survive any particular encounter with one’s partner or with the teacher. Training in Chiswick was much more intense. It seemed that every waza had to be applied with maximum effectiveness and the techniques were applied at a speed that I had not encountered before, so they were harder to learn. Weapons were also used and we regularly practiced uchikomi: moving in pairs up and down the dojo, which was long and rather narrow, with one attacking and other defending. CS was very fast and it seemed to make no difference to the speed whether his attacks were on his feet or on his knees. His yudansha, especially Michael Holloway and Margaret Hughes, bore the brunt of this training.

My experience in Chiswick was something of a blur, consisting of memorable episodes and memorable training partners, and ended when I accepted a scholarship to start a Ph.D. in the United States. The place was Harvard University and I had become sufficiently enthusiastic about aikido to ask my first teacher, now back in Japan, to recommend a dojo. The dojo was the New England Aikikai and was run by a close friend of CS, named Mitsunari Kanai. I did not meet CS again until I returned to England to continue my doctoral studies in London. By then things had changed in the aikido world. The Aikikai of Great Britain had become the British Aikido Federation and was now run by MK, CS having returned to Japan. While in the US, I made a plan to go to Japan, but the plan was put on hold until I had finished my Ph.D.

 

K Chiba and Europe

In 1975 I returned to the UK and joined the local dojo, Ryushinkan, which was headed by Minoru Kanetsuka Sensei. There followed five glorious years of intensive aikido training that hugely interfered with the completion of my Ph.D. thesis. For part of this time Chiba Sensei’s father-in-law and his wife stayed in England as a support for MK. Mr Sekiya often taught aikido and sword-work at the Ryushinkan Dojo and at the Tempukan Dojo in London. This dojo had been established by the older students of CS who wanted to maintain their own base. I understood the reasons for this, but for those of us who did not want to make a choice, there was no alternative but to train at both dojos. I became General Secretary of the British Aikido Federation and in 1977 it fell to me to organize the summer school in Nottingham University, with Chiba Sensei as the guest instructor. I had had knee operations so I could not practice, but it was a chance to meet CS again and renew our acquaintance, which in the years that followed gradually turned into a kind of friendship. I am not sure, however, that I was ever his student, even though his influence on my aikido training was immense.

The late 1970s marked a crisis for aikido in Europe and CS was closely involved—and since he was involved, I was involved also. Perhaps the best way of describing this crisis was as a clash of viewpoints about the worldwide organization of aikido organizations affiliated to the Aikikai. One side wanted close and tight control by and from the Hombu in Japan; the other side wanted a large measure of decentralization, with more autonomy given to continental groupings. This side used a very common argument, namely, that Japan was generally weak in international matters and the Japanese, including the Hombu, did not really understand foreign culture, which in this case meant how aikido was practiced and organized overseas. Chiba Sensei’s viewpoint was generally aligned with that of the ‘controllers’, but it was much more complex and he was actually battling on several fronts: he was trying to create an effective international department within the Aikikai Hombu – in the face of some resistance, and was also drawing up international regulations that would both govern the teaching and examining of aikido outside Japan and also restrict the freedom of Japanese instructors to travel abroad and teach wherever they wished. I was an active participant in this crisis, which led to a split among aikido groups in Europe and also among the Japanese teachers who led these groups. For me, this division among the Japanese teachers led to some unfortunate consequences and I was forced to make some hard choices as to whom I would support. Of course, in one respect there was no conflict at all: I supported CS, but there were some niggling questions that refused to go away.

 

K Chiba and the IAF

Unbeknown to me a preparatory meeting for forming the IAF had taken place in Spain in 1975 and the first IAF Congress took place in Tokyo the following year. In 1980 I attended the 3rd IAF Congress in Paris. The problems mentioned above turned into open conflict and the result was that the Congress could not proceed with the agenda. Two organizations were claiming to represent aikido in the same country and the group managing the Congress could not decide which organization had the vote. As IAF Assistant Secretary, CS had organized the Congress, but he was unable to manage such a deep split within the directing committee and among the Japanese instructors who taught the members. Because of the problems in Europe, CS and I had exchanged much written correspondence and I still have this, running to several tens of pages. Chiba Sensei had a distinctive style of writing in English and I can now understand – after years of living here in Japan – how precise and painstaking he was with his English correspondence. Since I already knew about the problems in Europe, I had a good idea of what would happen at the Paris Congress. The final coda for this abortive congress was an urgent request from CS to make the official minutes of the said Congress. The discussions had been recorded on open-real tapes that had been taken back to the Hombu in Tokyo, but had mysteriously been erased. Luckily, CS was a very canny assistant secretary and had secretly recorded all the discussions himself and I used these tapes to make the congress report. So I actually started working for the IAF well before I was elected to any position in the federation.

My plans to come to Japan had matured and Chiba Sensei wished me luck and also cautioned me that I would encounter many problems. His actual words were that I would “discover the truth about aikido in Japan.” He also gave me much valuable advice. One important piece of advice concerned which classes to take in the Hombu Dojo and I followed this advice to the letter. Another piece of advice was to obtain secure employment outside the world of aikido, which I found at Hiroshima University. An advantage was that university teaching left much time for aikido training, but a disadvantage was that Hiroshima was almost 1,000 kilometers from Tokyo, so visiting the Hombu would not happen very often. Until he left for the USA in 1981, Chiba Sensei and I had several meetings. Since territorial restrictions prevented him from coming to Hiroshima and teaching aikido, I used to visit him at his home in Hatake, or we occasionally met in Nagoya and had lunch at the hotel adjacent to Nagoya Station. On one occasion I visited the dojo in Nagoya where he used to teach and he gave a class. If I was going to Hatake, I would travel by train to Mishima and Kannami, and then CS would meet me, or we would meet in Tokyo at the Hombu and travel back together. He and his wife Mitsuko were perfect hosts and I occasionally met Kano and Kotetsu, who at that time was a small, sensitive boy, who very much liked to go fishing with his father.

In Tokyo CS also introduced me to Mr Seiichi Seko, the IAF General Secretary. Mr Seko was a strong supporter of the Ueshiba family and had played a major role in 1948, when the Aikikai renewed its legal status as an incorporated foundation. When I met him, Mr Seko had retired, but was working for the Boston Consulting Group. Like Chiba Sensei himself, he was one of those very bright Japanese who were seeking ways to prod Japan – and also the Aikikai Hombu – to adapt to the new postwar circumstances and grasp new opportunities.

In Hatake we would sometimes visit the temple of Chiba’s friend Hogen Yamagata and on one occasion I met a mysterious Jesuit priest there named Oshida, who had studied at the Gregorian University in Rome. Fr Oshida was chaplain to a convent of nuns and ran some kind of community in the rural north of Japan. At the temple in Kannami he gave lectures on St John’s Gospel. I do not know the reason for these lectures, but I do remember one discussion I once had with CS. We were standing on the platform of Kannami Station and Chiba Sensei talked about his moral values on conflict resolution and his attitude to death and dying. I remember two things about this conversation. One was that his attitude to death seemed very similar to that expressed by Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the Hagakure: facing the event without flinching and with no emotion. The other was that I asked CS if he had ever read St John’s gospel and studied the morality of turning the other cheek. I have no idea whether there was any connection between this conversation and Fr Oshida’s lectures, but I have never forgotten the conversation. I remember it because we were interrupted by a ‘blue train’: a sleeper express that thundered through the station on its way from Kyushu to Tokyo.

Chiba Sensei was very open about all the problems involved with the creation of the IAF. The initiative had come from some European aikidoka who also practiced judo and the Hombu were somewhat taken aback. At the time Kisshomaru Ueshiba was Doshu and he accepted this initiative, but also insisted that the first Congress should be held in Japan. When the IAF was founded, there was a seamless match between the Aikikai and the IAF and the keynote of the new federation was maintaining and promoting unity. All the overseas groups with a connection to the Aikikai automatically became members. However, the problems raised by the Paris Congress were epoch-making and led to a widening gap between the IAF and the Aikikai, in the sense that it brought out into the open the completely different structures of the two organizations. The differences were there to begin with and enshrined in statutes, but were exacerbated by the events in Paris, which eventually led the Aikikai to change its policy regarding overseas organizations.

When Chiba Sensei resigned as IAF Assistant General Secretary, he wanted me to resign also and to have nothing more to do with the federation. The niggling questions I mentioned earlier came up again and I had a major problem. I had an idea of what the IAF could become and felt that I owed it to Kisshomaru Doshu and Mr Seko to help in achieving this. So I rejected his suggestion that I should end all contact with the IAF. Actually, we had quite an argument and I gather that this upset Kotetsu somewhat, for CS told me he was quite sensitive. Chiba Sensei emphasized very strongly that the most crucial aspect of aikido was finding the right teacher and that if this did not happen, then one could not really claim to have started to practice the art. Of course, I had heard at first hand the famous story about his defeat at the hands of a kendoka and him picking up Doshu’s book on aikido and seeing the picture of O Sensei. I responded that I believed that his view of finding an art and a teacher was fine for him, but not for me. It was too much like a Wang Yangming-style of identifying intuition and action, without any critical thinking in between.

Actually, I had had occasion to dispute with CS before, when I was in the UK. It was a serious dispute, which cut right to the heart of a master’s relationships with his students. I believe he accepted my way of dealing with this problem, which was to prepare the ground very carefully, and then confront him directly. He made very careful notes on this occasion, which he dictated to me and which we both signed. I still have these notes and documents and they form part of my own ‘memory’ of him.

In 1981 CS moved to the United States. He occasionally mentioned an injury he had suffered to his back and he thought that the climate in San Diego would help this. I might have expressed some skepticism here, since it was clear that the way he moved when he practiced aikido showed that he had physical capabilities denied to ordinary mortals. In the connection of his move to the US, a few episodes stand out. One was when I took CS by car from the BAF summer school to the US embassy in London, where he received his visa. I parked the car near Grosvenor Square and we walked to the embassy, but suddenly he said we had to return to the car. He had seen the machines at the entrance that scanned for weapons and he always carried a knife. The knife had to be left in the car. CS looked somewhat sheepish and I must have looked a bit shocked – at a renowned exponent of an art dedicated to peace and harmony carrying a concealed weapon. The second episode was the drinking session in Tokyo a few days before he left Japan, which lasted until 5 the next morning. Yet another episode was a memorable trip to San Diego, after he had arrived and settled in the US. Chiba Sensei met me at the airport with Mr Mike Flynn and took me to his house. There was some aikido training – and I remember the distinctive way he did kaiten-nage on this occasion, which was followed by an evening of food and pleasant conversation with the yudansha, including the late Kensho Furuya.

I think that Chiba Kazuo Sensei will become a legendary figure in the world of aikido. Actually, he has already become a legendary figure, but the legend will augment itself with the passage of time. He is the last of the aikido Nephilim, those mysterious giants of the Old Testament, who were mortal and immortal at one and the same time. After meeting someone like him, one was never the same again, but the effect he had on people could be quite different. Some were immediately spellbound by him and in this connection I met some of the friends who knew and supported him when he first arrived in the UK, but never practiced aikido. However, I also knew many ex-students of K Chiba and one of my early teachers advised me never to go anywhere near him. For others he was the ultimate in a very concentrated dose of ‘kool-aid’ and they struggled to interpret every single thing he ever said as the enlightened sayings of The Master.

For a short but intense period I was privileged to be allowed to get to know him very well, and knowing him forced me to focus on many aspects of my own character. I regret that the last time I met him (in Tokyo, very near the Aikikai Hombu) was several years ago and that I never had the chance to repair, maintain, or develop the relationship I had before. It was not to be, but I will always treasure the memories that I have—of a very complex individual as well as a unique aikido master and teacher.

 

Peter Goldsbury

IAF Chairman

Hiroshima, Japan

 

 

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