John Brinsley, Birankai Teachers’ Council Chair and Chief Instructor, Aikido Daiwa
June 5 marks the sixth anniversary of Chiba Sensei’s passing. While I was not his student, I was fortunate enough to train irregularly at the San Diego Aikikai for about three years. In his memory, here is a recounting of one weekend with this remarkable man.
In November 1961, O-Sensei and Kisshomaru Doshu gave a demonstration in Nagoya, Japan’s industrial heartland, to inaugurate the opening of the city’s first Aikido dojo. Hombu then dispatched 21-year-old Chiba Kazuo to be its first teacher.
The Tashiro Dojo was and is unusual because it jointly teaches Judo and Aikido. It was founded by Tashiro Keizan Sensei, a Judo 8th dan who became acquainted with O-Sensei and wanted his own students to learn Aikido. Chiba Sensei spent several months teaching there before returning to Tokyo, and in his wake other Hombu teachers were sent to Nagoya, including Kanai Sensei.
When Chiba Sensei moved back to Japan from the U.K. in 1976, he renewed ties with Tashiro Dojo. He taught a seminar there in 1979 and again several times in the mid-1980s after moving to San Diego. There is footage of him teaching in Nagoya during a trip he made with several of his San Diego students in 1986, with Juba Nour Sensei taking ukemi. The connection was such that several Tashiro Dojo students traveled to San Diego to practice on at least two occasions.
In November 2002, Chiba Sensei traveled to Nagoya to (belatedly) mark the 40th anniversary since he’d first taught there by giving a two-day seminar. I went down from Tokyo with Didier Boyet and a few others, including Miyamoto Sensei, who was only able to attend the Friday class. Also there were Murashige Teru and Robert Savoca, who had arrived from New York only a few hours earlier. We were warmly welcomed by Dojo-cho Wada Akira Sensei, now an 8th dan, who had begun Aikido under a very young Chiba Sensei.
Tashiro Dojo is old, musty and not large. There were probably 50 people on the tatami that night and another 10 either sitting or standing watching in street clothes, despite a complete lack of audience space. Not everyone had enough room to stretch out during Sensei’s warm-up. But once training started, it didn’t matter.
Most of the hour-and-a half keiko was suwariwaza. I had never seen Chiba Sensei teach in Japan before, and he was in his element. He practiced with his old students, taking ukemi as they exhausted themselves trying to move him, and was expansive in a way that was different from classes at the San Diego Aikikai or at seminars. He wore Robert and Teru out, however. Both of them had skin scraped off their shoulders from all the ikkyo ukemi, in part due to the hard tatami. Practice was in very close quarters, and the windows fogged up thanks to the steam. I got to train with Miyamoto Sensei and Wada Sensei, which was terrific. I remember looking over at Didier and seeing him grin as his partner struggled to throw him.
Saturday’s keiko was in the prefectural budo center (virtually every town of any size in Japan has at least one), a much bigger space. There were at least 100 people on the mat from various dojo. Chiba Sensei taught a body arts class, focusing on aihanmi, and then did some basic bokken waza, which was new for many of the participants. Once again, Robert and Teru shined in taking ukemi. Not everyone stuck around for the second part of the class.
Then Chiba Sensei gathered everyone and talked a bit about his youth and finding Aikido. Much of what he said – as far as I can remember – echoed remarks he’d made elsewhere, but one comment stuck. “All I really wanted was a place where I could sleep, eat and train eight hours a day,” he said. “Where I was very fortunate was that O-Sensei was there. I probably could have been happy doing Judo or Kendo, but he was the big difference.”
Saturday night, several of us accompanied Sensei to an onsen – a hot springs inn. Unless it’s for a romantic getaway, there are really only three things to do at an onsen: eat, bathe and drink. After arriving, we spent a long time in the bath, followed by a beer or two. Then we had a wonderful meal, which was probably served around 7 p.m. and lasted at most an hour or so. Which of course left the rest of the evening for two things: drinking and bathing. Did I mention drinking?
My roommates for the night were Didier, Robert, Teru and William Gillespie. My memory for some of this is hazy, but I’m pretty sure at one point either Sensei came to our room for a bit or we visited his. Either way it was nice. Things went downhill from there, particularly when the five roommates returned to the bath at some ungodly hour, and did drunken Sumo. A word of advice: never do drunken Sumo with Teru in a bath (or any other place). The long and short of it is I ended up with a nice purple eye, thanks to a blow to my face.
The next (same?) morning, looking and feeling very much the worse for wear, we straggled to the bath before breakfast. And despite our states at the time, Didier, Robert, and I all have strong memories of what we saw as we entered: Ishii-san, who had begun Aikido under Chiba Sensei four decades before as a teenager, washing Sensei’s back. Public bathing remains a strong part of Japanese culture, and it’s not uncommon for a younger person to wash an elder’s back. But seeing it then touched me deeply as a gesture of devotion.
It also recalled another episode in Sensei’s life. When Kisshomaru Doshu passed away, Chiba Sensei wrote a memorial in which he recounted how much Doshu had meant to him and the Aikido world. In it, he writes about how he quit Hombu in 1979 over some disagreements and went to live in the Japanese countryside. One day, without warning, Doshu arrived at the Chiba family’s home. The two men spent the night at an inn, where they shared a meal and a bath and Sensei washed Doshu’s back. “I believe he came to make sure I was all right,” Sensei wrote.
That struck me as I made my way behind Ishii-san and Chiba Sensei as silently as possible, and left me ruminating while nursing my head. And it stays with me as I think about the legacy Chiba Sensei left to his students and the dedication he inspired. I hope he rests in peace, secure in the knowledge that he touched a great many people, and in so doing changed their lives.
Darrell Bluhm, Founder and Chief Instructor, Siskiyou Aikikai and Cultivating Connectedness Webinar Moderator
Much of the credit for the conception, organization and
presentation of the two webinars must go to Rob Schenk, Chief Instructor of
Aikido Institute of San Francisco, and technology wizard. Rob initially
proposed the idea of Birankai North America holding webinars and offered his
expertise to the organization to make them happen, serving as host to both
Personally I’m grateful to Rob for prompting and supporting
us in creating a means to remember and honor Chiba Sensei with the first
“memorial” webinar on June 6th. I felt strongly it was important that we, as a
community, could come together during this challenging time in remembrance of
While I was involved in planning that event, I participated
as an audience member and greatly enjoyed hearing the stories and comments of
my colleagues and friends. For me it was a healing balm to the feelings of
sadness and emptiness that still arise within me as I continue to miss Sensei’s
physical presence in my life. I was also encouraged by the level of
participation and general enthusiasm expressed during and after the event.
The success of the memorial webinar led to a desire to host
a follow up event, in part, to create an opportunity to address some of the
questions that remained unanswered from the first webinar. We chose to focus
the discussion on Chiba Sensei’s development of bokken and jo practices and
their integration into the whole of his Aikido “curriculum”. This choice was
stimulated by the reality that for many of us, our weapons practice is what sustains
us during this time of social distancing where the physical contact we’re
accustomed to is not readily available.
The selection of panel members was made with the intention
to select teachers with extensive weapons training and experience working
directly with Chiba Sensei. The panel clearly met that criteria and were able
to provide a lively and entertaining conversation. This time I did have the opportunity to
participate actively in the event as the “moderator”, a role that proved much more enjoyable than I imagined!
It’s my hope that we will continue to hold these kinds of webinars going forward, with a wider level of participation and structured to address the needs and interests of our teachers and general members.
Coryl Crane Shihan, Chief Instructor and Founder, North County Aikikai and Chiba Sensei Memorial Webinar Host
The June 6, 2020 commemoration of our inspirational and much loved teacher, Chiba Sensei, was a moving, visual, and experiential journey into his life. He came alive again for us all. The Zoom webinar connected over 100 people from 10 different countries around the world. Many had trained with Chiba Sensei and knew him personally, while many were second generation and knew him through their teachers and his reputation. Five years since he passed on June 5, 2015, and here we still think about Sensei and the effect he had on our lives.
The webinar started with a moment of silence during which time, and each in our own way, we could remember Chiba Sensei. We then saw his 2008 video interview with Lori Stewart, and it felt for me like I was sitting at that table with him while he talked about shoshin, beginner’s mind, and his relationship with the metaphorical, unobtainable Princess, that was his Aikido – the treasure he lived his life to protect. Next, we were immersed yet again, watching Sensei in action on the mat, in a selection of video clips highlighting his always dynamic, powerful, and physical presence.
But what better way to know Chiba Sensei, the teacher, than through the personal memories and direct experiences of those students who spent many years in close and intense training with him. Webinar participants were invited to ask questions of four panelists: Archie Champion Shihan, George Lyons Shihan, Roo Heins Shidoin and Leslie Cohen Shidoin. The panel answered wide ranging questions from, “What was it like to take ukemi from Chiba Sensei?” to, “What was he like as a person?” The responses were unique in each case. What became apparent, however, was the panelists’ shared common bond of love and respect grown from a life-changing relationship with their teacher.
From this first webinar, which had more questions than there was time to answer, ideas for a follow-up webinar soon grew. Held on July 18, Darrell Bluhm Shihan moderated our second webinar on Chiba Sensei’s concept of connectedness, with panelists Didier Boyet Shihan, Diane Deskin Shidoin, Dave Alonzo Thierry Diagona Shidoin, and myself. There were 52 attendants from 6 different countries.
We very much hope to build on the interest generated by Chiba Sensei’s memorial and open up discussion on subjects of interest to you all. Please let us know what and who you would like to hear more from.
Gassho, Coryl Crane, North County Aikikai, 8/14/20
We did ikkyo, shihonage, kotegaishi to confirm the importance of basics. You know training can be kind of boring – year after year the same thing, over and over. That’s what it is – nothing exciting… it’s just like a meal you eat every night, night after night. If it’s something very exciting you get sick. A healthy meal is sort of a boring meal – no excitement…
All of Aikido is to work with your body. The body is the foundation for everything. Work with your body…
Of course, Aikido is not limited to a mat space like this. There is a huge world out there, what I call big Aikido or big dojo. Practice Aikido principles within the big Aikido, right out there! That is what true Aikido is.
T.K. Chiba, from Oct 2, 1998 lecture at Siskiyou Aikikai, Ashland, Oregon
The atmosphere of our contemporary lifestyle surrounds us with a multitude of tools and equipment, an unprecedented variety of conveniences. Yet the complaint is often that it is difficult to find a place where one can study or acquire competence in some discipline. All that a person needs is “a sincere willingness to study.” If one truly wishes to study, one can do so under any circumstance.
Chiba Sensei’s essay from the 1998 Summer Edition of Sansho, entitled “Food and Diet” is both philosophical, noting the body and earth are inseparable, and practical, as Sensei offers clear guidelines to eat a healthy diet which sustains us in our practice.
In this unprecedented time, facing the challenges of a global pandemic, with our normal rhythms disrupted, attending to what, when and how we eat is especially important. We are all faced with how to maintain our practice, outside our dojos and without (physical) contact with our training partners. If, as Sensei says, working with our body is the foundation of our training, and as Shozo Sato reminds us, “A willing heart is the dojo”, we can use this time – wherever we are – to grow our practice. Refining our diet can therefore be an important element in our personal study during this predicament.
Many of us who practiced with Chiba Sensei directly received his instruction on diet – recommendations which closely resemble those of writers Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Alice Waters and many others. In his book Food Rules, Pollan sums up his dietary advice in seven words: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Pollan elaborates his first rule with, “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. As you will read, Sensei would offer, “Eat food, as whole as possible, from what is seasonally available where you live”.
Sensei’s quote above observes how our approach to training and to eating can be similar: with an attitude of reverence and adherence to basics, without too much attachment to what’s exciting. As part of our series on becoming more antifragile, I hope Chiba Sensei’s reflections encourage you to practice big Aikido, to seize opportunities for growth where you can, even at places like your dining table.
– Darrell Bluhm Shihan, Ashland, Oregon 1 May 2020
My basic philosophy of Diet is “Shin Do Fu Ji: Body and earth are inseparable.” Shin (body), means the physical body and presence, the “being.” Do (earth) is the multitude of conditions that comprise the “being,” including the environment, locality, and seasons. Fu Ji (inseparable), means that body and earth are one. This philosophy corresponds to the concept of the circulation of energy: Human beings absorb energy from other entities through eating, and create new entities with the energy we take in. This view also parallels the Buddhist concept of reincarnation — the foundation of the Buddhist view of the cosmos.
All life forms depend on the presence of other life forms. We exist in a continuously flowing cycle of life in which we eat other life forms, absorb their energy as a source of our life force and create other life forms with the energy we have absorbed. The reincarnation theory of Buddhism is not only an abstract concept of rebirth to another life, but also a reality happening before our very eyes. We must recognize the fact that all the life forms we consume are a necessary sacrifice to maintain our lives. This recognition is fundamental and is the wellspring of reverence toward life. Through it, we gain awareness of the importance of self-sacrifice in our own lives as well.
To restate this philosophy as a simple universal law applicable to all life forms: “Respect others!” Reverence toward life can be manifested through three principles of recognition: (1) Know what is enough. (2) Do not waste. (3) Do not devour. These are the principles of eating. These three principles point to one central theme: We should sacrifice more than what we need in the universal flow of life.
These principles of recognition lead us to the importance of mindful chewing when we eat. Chewing well is important because of the physiological necessity of absorbing nutrition, but it is also significant because it creates a quiet dialogue with the life forms being sacrificed. Through this dialogue we unite with other life forms. Only then are we able truly to taste the essence of the sacrificed life forms.
The Eastern and Western views on this subject are quite different. Christianity teaches us that God and human beings are in separate domains, and that humans and other life forms are also in separate domains. It teaches us that other life forms are created for humankind. This is a very “human centered” view of the universe.
Buddha taught that “Weeds, trees, the earth and all creation can have Buddha’s nature.” In this view, not only human beings, but also weeds, trees, earth and rubble may have Buddha’s nature!
Similarly, Shinto religion teaches us that there are eight million gods in the universe. This means that from a Shinto perspective, we see gods within all life forms as well as in natural phenomena. In Buddhism and Shinto, humans are not above all other creatures, and therefore cannot do whatever they wish to other life forms.
Now let’s return to my basic theme, the “Shin Do Fu Ji” philosophy. First of all, the actual practice of the philosophy — in other words, the fundamentals of diet– should be based on the earth. This means that the food you consume should be based on the life forms indigenous to your locale, i.e., life forms which grow in the same environment in which you live. Moreover, you should eat food in season (spring, summer, fall, winter). The advancement of refrigeration technology and worldwide transportation allows us to eat anything at any time. Without being conscious of it, we eat foods from all over the world, even if they are not in season locally. In this day of modern convenience, we need to pay particular attention to the food we consume.
Second, you must eat food which is as close to its original form as possible. Thus, when you eat rice, eat genmai (brown rice). When you eat wheat, eat unprocessed flour. When you eat fish, eat it whole, as much as possible. Small fish should be eaten as they are (head and all). Large ones can be cooked with skin and bones intact. If you eat vegetables, eat roots, leaves, stems and flowers. In short, you should basically eat foods which are processed to the least extent possible.
Third, eat foods that still have life (ki) in them. The question you should ask is whether what you are about to eat will grow if you plant it in the earth. Is it alive? (Does it have ki?) Eat food that is as close to this state as possible. Examples of these foods are root vegetables, beans, unrefined grains, seaweed and seeds. They are closest to the ideal foods. In the case of fish, the basic method of cooking should be cooking whole (head, skin, flesh and bones). Dried or smoked fish, deep fried fish, small fish tempura, etc., are ideal methods of fish preparation.
You should be careful about meat, however. Meat can be appropriate for people in cold climates. On the other hand, we Japanese have been vegetarians for a long time and have a rather short history with the practice of eating meat. Consumption of a large quantity of meant has physiologically harmful effects on us. We have a longer small intestine than Europeans (because we were traditionally vegetarians). Therefore meat remains in our bodies longer, and the decaying meat acidifies our blood.
When you eat meat, also eat colorful vegetables, potatoes, and drink red wine to balance the meat’s extreme acidity. Most meat in today’s marketplace is artificially raised. Thus, most chickens are diabetic because they are crammed in a small area without freedom of movement and fed high calorie feeds and antibiotics. When it comes to fish, yellowtail tuna, which most Japanese love to eat, tastes completely different when naturally caught in the ocean than it does when farmed. If you must eat meat, to the greatest extent possible select kinds that are raised in a natural environment. Lamb is close to the ideal meat in this sense.
The reason why I fish so frequently is that I don’t trust the fish that are available in markets today. Prepared filets can be washed too much, to the point where nutrients have been washed off the meat. Also, they are no longer a totally balanced food since they are missing heads, bones and skin. They have no power to harmonize.
The importance of diet is that it is the foundation of the creative development of life and living. We must not neglect what kind of food we consume. The conscious choice of diet is also a concrete way to recognize and feel one’s participation in the law of universal nature.
It is important to understand that each individual must choose his or her best diet with comprehensive study and actual experience, based on the customs, seasons and climate of the area where he or she lives, his or her profession, individual body constitution and characteristics, family environment, etc.
Take, for example, a man who has physical flexibility but who lacks muscle and body strength. If I describe flexibility versus strength as negative (-) versus positive (+), he is too much on the negative (-) side. In order to regain the ideal balance in his body, he must include the following items in his diet: high quality protein (grains, beans, naturally raised meat or fish), a variety of vegetables (burdock, carrots, radish, turnips, yams, onions, potatoes, etc.), and all kinds of seaweed. They are positive (+) yang foods. Consumption of these sorts of foods will offset his strong (-) tendency. In addition, he should include high quality vegetable oils and salt, such as sesame oil and natural vegetable oil and neutralized salts such as sesame salt, miso (soy bean paste) and umeboshi (pickled plum). These are (+) foods. Even if he doesn’t like fish bones, smelt and smoked whitefish — when broiled well — are good companions to beer. Ancient Japanese wisdom created miso soup with dried small fish in the soup stock.
It is a well known fact that during the Russo-Japanese and Sino-Japanese wars, Japanese soldiers’ body strength (stamina) was number one in the world — even though, based on European standards of nutrition, it should have been among the worst because of their “poor” diet, from a European point of view. Nowadays the simple traditional Japanese diet is being reevaluated in light of contemporary nutritional excesses.
As I mentioned above, diet is the foundation of life activities. At the same time, as we are social animals (beings), it is the foundation of harmony among people. The consumption of food should have a social aspect to it. Excessive insistence on a certain kind of diet may disrupt harmony in groups and within your family. In your association with food you must keep flexibility in mind during those times when you are the host who provides food for others, as well as during those times when you are the guest who is treated to a meal. It takes great internal strength to practice this middle-of-the-road lifestyle. It is a difficult road to travel — that of clearly knowing the foundation of your own diet while having a sense of balance and understanding of how to harmonize with other people in society. My own motto is: “Harmonize yet do not get swept away.”
The article “Structure of Shu, Ha, Ri, and Penetration of Shoshin” was first published in the 1989 Winter edition of Sansho, the Aikido Journal of the USAF Western Region. Two more articles on Shu-Ha-Ri followed, which were transcribed from interviews between Chiba Sensei and Shibata Sensei.
The article below was written when Sensei was a fully mature teacher with a clearly developed methodology to his teaching. Having taught Aikido for nearly 30 years, Sensei presented his understanding of “shoshin”, beginners mind, in a clear and powerful way. In his last advice to us, his students, in 2015 he returned to this frequently referenced principle, admonishing us to never lose our beginners mind.
Sensei’s later essays on Shu-Ha-Ri expanded upon the concepts below, striving to help students assess their current and future levels of development. He wrote, “I am writing about Shu-Ha-Ri to help students understand where they are in terms of the stages of advancement in training. By developing ‘eyes to see’ what stage they are in, I want them to grasp what direction to take in their future training.”
This article and the principles presented in it introduced elements of Sensei’s teaching that he continued to develop through his life. They are central to what he gave us. Please read with an open heart and an open mind.
–Darrell Bluhm Shihan, Ashland, Oregon, 2 January 2020
Among those words we commonly use and supposedly understand are those that, when paid close attention to in order to define their meaning, reveal how unclear and obscure our understanding really is.
Perhaps the word shoshin, which is commonly used by martial artists, is one of these. It is understood that Budo (martial art) begins with shoshin and ends with shoshin. Budo, therefore, cannot be understood without first having a clear definition of the meaning of shoshin.
What follows is a description of the meaning of the two Chinese characters that make up the Japanese word shoshin: The character sho means first or beginning. The character shin means mind, spirit or attitude. The two together have been translated as “beginner’s mind” and indicate the mind (spirit or attitude) of a complete beginner when starting Budo training. This is marked by modesty, meekness, sincerity, purity and a thirst to seek the path.
In Japan, Budo discipline is commonly recognized as, or expected to be, severe and hard, requiring many years to master. Within shoshin one finds a spirit of endurance, sacrifice, devotion and self-control. Why do the Japanese see Budo training in this way? (In contrast to the American attitude where, in general, it seems that pleasure and enjoyment come first.) The Japanese understand that it is impossible to master the art without the determination to go through many years of training, passing through various stages and being required to go to one’s physical limit and sometimes even beyond. The Japanese also recognize that in the final completion of the physical mastery of the art, there is spiritual realization that can take one further.
The state attained through spiritual realization, the highest state of Budo, is often expressed as mushin, the state of No-Mind. It is represented by the image of a clear mirror reflecting everything that comes before it exactly as it is. The state of No-Mind reflects everything that passes in front of it, whether coming or going, without interference of will or self-imposed view. However, there is an important distinction between a static mirror and this active state of mind. The active mind responds spontaneously and simultaneously to the reflected image without attachment or interference, right or wrong, gain or loss, life or death. What makes this state more difficult to attain is that it requires physical motion (technique) to simultaneously accompany the mind responding to the images reflected upon it.
The state of mind like a clear mirror — the state of No-Mind — may be attained through other spiritual disciplines such as meditation. What makes Budo unique, however, is found in the simultaneous and inseparable embodiment of mind and the physical motion (the technique.) This stage of training is known as the Sword of No-Mind or the Sword of No-Form, or even as the Sword in a Dream. Only when this stage is attained is one’s art considered complete.
Shoshin is the mind or attitude required to follow the teaching. This implies sincerity, modesty, meekness, openness, endurance, sacrifice, and self-control unaffected by self-will, judgment or discrimination. It’s like a piece of pure white silk before it is dyed. It’s also an important condition for the first stage, in which a beginner learns to embody the basics precisely, point by point, line by line, with an immovable faith in the teaching.
Shoshin, however, is not only the state of mind required for a beginner, but must be present throughout every stage of training. The manifestation of shoshin therefore varies depending on one’s status: whether a beginner, intermediate, or advanced student. What’s most important is that one becomes, ultimately, one body inside and out, finally developing into Mind of No-Mind. This is the completion of Budo training.
One’s determination to hold firmly onto beginner’s mind is a key factor in the completion of one’s study. But how difficult this is to do! That determination is very vulnerable to being destroyed by fame, position, rank, or being lost through haughtiness or conceit.
Like everything else, shoshin encounters and experiences various challenges and can retreat, weaken, decay, or break down. It also can become clearer and stronger.
It’s vital to maintain a strict, self-reflective attitude throughout study to prevent shoshin from decaying or breaking down. It is necessary to be decisive, crawling out from a crisis not just once, but twice, three times, to keep on going. Loss of shoshin means the stopping of growth, and this almost always happens where and when one does not recognize it. This is a characteristic of losing shoshin. It is both a sign and a result of human arrogance.
If arrogance is the main cause of losing shoshin, modesty, its counterpart, is necessary to maintain it. A modest mind is one that recognizes the profoundness of the Path, knows fear, knows the existence of something beyond one’s own reality, while continuing to grasp one’s internal development.
Shoshin is also an idea strongly associated with self-denial, while arrogance is founded upon uneducated self-affirmation and superficial self-assertion. In many senses, self-denial works like a mid-wife to stimulate the birth of a true richness of heart. Paradoxically, while self-denial broadens, the reflection and understanding of human nature deepens.
In general, the difference between Americans and the Japanese lies in whether hardship or pleasure/enjoyment are anticipated in the study of Budo. This seems to be largely due to differences between the two cultures.
There still remains a strong influence from medieval ideas within all Japanese traditional artistic disciplines, including Budo, as well as within the present day Japanese consciousness.
It is largely because of Yoshikawa’s work on Miyamoto Musashi that Musashi’s life is deeply appreciated by the Japanese people. He has now become a long-standing national hero. This is not only due to an appreciation of his accomplished swordsmanship, but also an appreciation of his austere way of life, which deeply moves Japanese consciousness. A similar respect can be found in the attitude of the Japanese people towards O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido. Despite the differences between Musashi and O’Sensei (the Zen influence strongly characterized Musashi’s life, while Shintoism influenced O’Sensei), what is common to these two gigantic individuals is the depth of their self-denial.
It is necessary to pay strong attention to the profoundness of this self-denial because it contributes to the birth of an even stronger self-affirmation.
Self-denial is a vital force that contributes paradoxically to the development of humankind. Through self-denial, one can attain cosmic consciousness and achieve greater self-recognition by transcending the restraints of the ego.
This process is basic to the progressive development/structure that is commonly understood within the traditional artistic disciplines, including Aikido. However, before I enter more deeply into this subject, I would like to touch briefly on the meaning of kata.
Role of Ki in the Practice of Kata
The study and disciplines of kata are the fundamental and common methods found throughout the traditional Japanese arts, such as the tea ceremony, flower arranging, painting, calligraphy, dancing, theater and Budo.
Kata has been translated into English as “form.” However, “form” seems to cover only one part of a larger whole, superficially limited to the physical appearance of kata.
While form covers only the physical part of the whole (the visible part of kata), there is another element that works within, which is invisible in nature. It is the internal energy associated with the flow of consciousness (ki). There are schools to be found in the old records of budo which describe kata as the Law of Energy, or the Order of Energy. Kata, therefore, does not limit its meaning merely to its physical appearance. Its appearance can be taught and transmitted physically with reasonable effort, as it is visible. However, the internal part requires a totally different perspective and an ability to master it. Since it cannot be seen physically, it cannot be taught but must be sensed and felt.
Ki, for instance, as a manifestation of control and flow of consciousness, works jointly with physical energy inside and outside of the body within kata. It is sensitively associated with the quality and combination of opposite elements that integrate and exchange: purity and impurity; brightness and darkness; wholeness and emptiness; contraction and expansion; positiveness and passivity; hardness and softness; lightness and heaviness; explosiveness and quietude; speed and slowness, and the like.
Kata comes into being as an organic life form when the two opposing elements, inside and outside, harmoniously integrate within a martial necessity. The kata then breathes, manifests, comes into being, and dies at the moment of execution. One must then let it go.
Furthermore, what makes kata significant is that it is deeply characterized by a school, especially a school’s founder, as well as the school’s successive personalities and experiences. Ultimately it crystallizes as a particular philosophy, which is then passed down to its successors. This is the heart of the school.
In its original form, kata is described as combative motion (against an enemy) and is the accomplishment and collective essence of each school. It results from the pursuit of efficiency, economy, and rational thought in any given circumstance.
By being exposed to — and trained in — kata, under a methodology unique to a school (or teacher) for a number of years, one can learn the physical forms and internal order of energy as well as being penetrated by the heart of a particular school.
Although the foundation of Aikido training is based on the repetition of kata, its approach is much freer and more flexible than in the old schools. It can be said that it is kata beyond kata. The reason for this can be found first of all in the positive fact that Aikido draws a wide diversity of people to it, compared to other budo disciplines. However, on the negative side, this contributes to a superficial overflow of individualism.
The second reason can be found in the fact that the Founder himself repeatedly transformed and changed his art and in particular its physical presentation. These changes were synonymous with his personal development and age. Without doubt, this is one of the reasons we see the different styles of kata, or different ways of expressing the essence of the art, among his followers. These students completed their training under the Founder at different periods of his life.
This continual development of Aikido is clearly due to the Founder’s endless exploration of the Path, a search with which, I assume, he was never satisfied. The best way that I can describe his attitude in this regard is that he used to tell his followers that if they advanced fifty steps, he would advance one hundred. I’m convinced that it was truly his intention to encourage his younger followers.
Although there appear to be differences in the approach to kata between Aikido and other arts, the mastery of kata still carries substantial weight in our study. It might, therefore, be helpful to describe the three progressive stages that appear in the study of the traditional arts that exist in Japan. Some of these I will illustrate with the hope that visualization will help the reader grasp them more fully!
in the Study of Traditional Art
The first stage is known as shu, and can be translated as follows: to protect, defend, guard, obey, keep, observe, abide by, stick to, be true to. From these definitions, the characteristics of this particular stage can be said to be: protection (by teaching), observation (of teaching), keeping one’s eyes open (on the teaching.)
As one can see, there are two factors: one a subjective issue, the other objective. For example, to be protected (by the teaching), to be defended (by the teaching), and to be guarded (by the teaching) all refer to defense against external negative influences, and from falling into danger and making mistakes. These are all objective issues. On the other hand, to obey the order (of the teaching), to observe (the teaching), to stick (to the teaching), to be true (to the teaching), are all subjective, internal issues.
Technically, what is characteristic of this stage is the learning and embodiment of the fundamentals through the repetition of kata, exactly as they are presented, without the imposition of will, opinion, or judgment, but with total openness and modesty.
This is an important basic conditioning period both physically and mentally, wherein all the necessary conditions are carefully prepared for the next stage. Physically, this is the time when various parts of the body are trained — joints, muscles, bones, overall posture, how to set the lower part of the body centered around the midsection, the use of gravity and its control, the balanced use of hands and footwork, etc.
Mentally, one learns how to focus and concentrate attention on any particular part of the body at any given time, how to generate internal energy and its natural flow through the use of the power of the imagination. Furthermore, one learns faith, trust, respect, endurance, modesty, sacrifice, and courage, all of which are considered to be virtues of udo.
There is no set time or period to this stage. It all depends on the strength, quality, ability, and capability on the parts of both teacher and student. Generally speaking, however, it does not have to be too long, say from three to five years. Needless to say, this is said on the assumption that one trains earnestly, trains every day, and makes training the first priority of that time of one’s life.
The stage that follows shu is known as ha. The definition of ha translates as: to tear up, rip, rend, break, crush, destroy, violate, transgress, open, burst
As these definitions indicate, this is a rather dynamic stage in character and strongly leans toward negativity and denial. However, paradoxically this negativity leads progressively to self-affirmation.
The stage of shu, described before, is centered on the denial of individualism. That which then develops afterwards is a stage of self-affirmation, which is based on denial of the first stage, shu. A new horizon then opens up. It requires a totally different perception in order to grasp the whole meaning of what is happening at this time.
This stage demands careful preparation by both teacher and student. The strength of the teaching and deep insight and recognition of the potential of the student by the teacher, and the ceaseless and earnest study carried out by the student in response to the teaching, are essential. This is not a superficial self-assertion or pose of individualism, because its strength comes from having been through the flame of self-denial.
Technically, this is also the stage when it is required to rearrange or reconstruct what the teacher has taught. This includes the elimination of what is undesirable, unnecessary or unsuitable and allows new elements to be brought into the study as food for growth. These changes are based on the true recognition of self, together with accompanying conditions such as temperament, personality, style, age, sex, weight, height and body strength.
This is the stage, spiritually or mentally, when it is necessary to have a high mind of inquiry and self-reflection. More than anything else, it is required to attain a true and unshakable understanding of oneself as an individual. In other words, it’s necessary to have a clear vision of one’s own potential and the best possible way to stimulate it. This might require that one abandons or denies that which is already an asset or strength in one’s art. In this stage, in particular, gaining does not necessarily mean being creative, but often means losing or abandoning, and this plays an important part in the process. It is indeed a difficult task to carry out and one often does not see its necessity due to lack of true insight and courage.
Due to human nature, it is indeed difficult to deny what one already has, especially when it’s considered to be a good part of one’s possession. This is where most people get stuck and cease to grow. It is a matter of insight and perception in relation to the true recognition of self. In relation to human growth, this stage is still the period of the infant and youth and therefore still comes under the wing of the teaching and the teacher. Another, very significant part of this stage, is moving from the complete passivity of the previous stage to active responsibility for one’s own training.
What happens in this stage is that the one who gives (on the part of teaching — an external effect) and the one who receives (on the part of the student — an internal effort) simultaneously contribute towards the birth of individualism. It is exactly like the moment when the baby bird within the egg begins to break the shell from the inside as the parent bird helps to break through from the outside. If the time is not mature, the death of the bird results.
Again, there is no set time or period for how long this stage takes. However, this is an important transitional period. Grow from infant-youth to a complete, fully grown individual appears only after this stage.
The final stage is known as ri. The definition of the character is: separation, leave, depart (from), release, set free, detach.
As the definition indicates, this is the time of graduation. The completion of one’s study is here, though it isn’t the end of study. In this stage, one is given recognition as a Master of the art, as well as recognition as a complete individual, independent in the art. Obviously, in this stage, one has to acquire every required technical skill, knowledge and experience, and a dauntless personality. Spiritually or mentally one no longer depends or relies upon external help or guidance. One depends upon one’s own continual inquiry. This is the stage where one may begin to see the Mind of No-Mind, or the Sword of No-Mind, through an as-yet misty horizon.
Needless to say, to attain this stage takes work and study that is beyond expression in words. This is where one liberates the self from external reliances, including one’s teacher, until cosmic consciousness, the Mind of No-Mind and the Sword of No-Sword, are revealed. And it is the state of shoshin with its continuous growth that is the key to its attainment.
I’ve given a brief description of shu, ha, and ri with their progressive development and structure. However, these three stages do not necessarily set up in mechanical form with clear boundaries between them, although their progression and transformation are basically acknowledged through a certificate given by the teacher.
Referring the above system to the present ranking system practiced in today’s Aikido, the stage of shu is applicable up to the rank of third Dan, the stage of ha up to fifth Dan, and the stage of ri to sixth Dan and above. Obviously it doesn’t apply to everyone’s rank, for both negative and positive reasons. The quality of rank is often questionable; and then there is the genius, someone who is not necessarily restrained by any system.
One who has attained the stage of ri is considered to be a master of the art. He/she has become one of the successors of the Path who stands as the embodiment of the art to all others. Obviously, one is still regarded as junior to one’s teacher within the line of transmission. Nevertheless, one is equal to any other master, including one’s own teacher, in responsibility to continue to transmit the art to others. And by this continual transmission of responsibility the art develops through further generations.
Whether the above-mentioned system is still practiced in today’s Aikido in Japan, or whether it is workable here in the United States where culture, life-style, and way of thinking are so different, is not my present interest. I am convinced, however, that this system still carries profound value for today’s society, as it presents deep insight into the growth of humankind. Furthermore, it clarifies the responsibilities of the teacher and the student, thus contributing to the establishment of an ideal relationship between the two.
Whatever changes American Aikido makes in the future, it will still require a close association with Japan. This is not limited to the technical level, but is meant more broadly from a cultural perspective. Culture exists as an undercurrent within the art wherein knowledge, wisdom, experience, and insight with regard to human growth through physical and spiritual training can be found.
Seeing all change as creative development is a dangerous concept, especially when this is given affirmative recognition based on the superficial assertion of one’s own creativity. Equally dangerous is the harsh demand for independence of the art based on political or racial reasons, or giving too strong an emphasis on the differences between two countries (East is East, West is West . . . is an extreme attitude). This is important, especially as American Aikido as a whole is still considered to be in its youth.
Change is unavoidable and only natural. However, it is illogical to think only of change while not recognizing those things which do not change. Changes derive from differences. Their counterpart — no-change — comes from something common and unified between the differences, through which the value of the art becomes a universal asset or property of mankind.
Whether one places importance on a part that changes or on a part that does not change, it’s necessary to have a delicate balance. Ultimately, it is shoshin which will bring about both a deeper insight and a sense of balance.
In the final analysis, it is perhaps shoshin that American Aikido as a whole needs, to be truly creative and independent in the future.
Darrell Bluhm, Founder and Chief Instructor, Siskiyou Aikikai and member of BNA Senior Council
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a future book presenting Chiba Sensei’s extensive writings on aikido, some of which will be republished in Biran Online over the coming year.
In traditional Japanese artistic disciplines such as Budo, it is understood that the teacher/student relationship is the means through which the transmission of the art (or Way) occurs: the art is transmitted directly from the body/mind of the teacher to that of the student. The articles in this collection of writings by Aikido master Kazuo Chiba must be understood in this context. The wisdom expressed here emerges from the effort to transmit the art of Aikido — not in the abstract, but as a living breathing force from one person to another. The commitment and passion that characterizes Chiba Sensei’s teaching can be found in part in these writings, but the reader unfamiliar with the master himself should try to appreciate the intensely physical and personal nature of his life’s work. Those of us fortunate enough to have studied directly with Chiba Sensei knew that he taught by example and through his ability to recognize each of us as a unique being.
The word sensei, Japanese for teacher, literally means “one who walks on the path before me”. Chiba Sensei embodies this. When I first began training with Chiba Sensei upon his arrival in San Diego in 1981, we practiced in a yoga studio that required us to put down and pick up the tatami mats before and after each class and clean the hardwood floors with damp rags. The latter was accomplished by holding the rag to the floor with both hands and then running across the floor, pushing the rag from behind, back and forth until the surface was clean. This was a strenuous enterprise, following an always exhausting training. Chiba Sensei would join us and when one of us would ask to relieve him of his rag he would refuse, stating, “It is my privilege to clean the dojo”. Once the routine for cleaning the dojo was established, Sensei eventually left the task to us, as there were many other demands on his time.
In his everyday teaching, Chiba Sensei never asked his
students to submit to any rigor that he himself had not undergone. This offered
little solace to us as students because Sensei’s arduous physical training was
legendary (one mile of bunny hops, 3,000 continuous sword cuts, extended and
intense periods of meditation and self-purification training). While his commitment to his own practice was
uncompromising, he tailored his expectations of his students, taking into
account age, temperament, health and each student’s level of commitment,
challenging and inspiring us toward our development but never in a by-rote or
The responsibility of a teacher is to recognize his or her
students for who they are and help them awaken to their own potential within a
given discipline. This is inherently different from a parental role in which
one is responsible for the nourishment and daily care of a child, while the
deeper manifestation of who that child is, is by proximity hidden from the
parent. The parent is too close to the child and their own emotional
attachments and expectations cloud their perception. A teacher has a more objective and detached
perspective to see into a student. In the Japanese martial tradition that Chiba
Sensei followed, the teacher does have a responsibility to the spiritual
nourishment of the student.
The requirement for achieving that obligation within this
tradition is that the teacher must possess the eyes to see deeply into the
student along with “the heart of the Buddha and hands of the devil”
with which to awaken him or her. An outsider observing an interaction between
teacher and student may only witness
“the hands of the devil” and not appreciate the compassion that
underlies the action. This aspect of
Chiba Sensei’s teaching was linked to his commitment to sustaining the roots of
Aikido training that lie in its historical and living relationship to
Budo. Aikido, as created by its founder
Morihei Ueshiba, is directed towards cultivating the harmonization of self with others (enabling individuals to act
responsibly in a civil society), rather than the capacity to survive by any
means in combat, which was the objective of past martial training.
The founder’s son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, furthered his father’s work promoting Aikido as a highly ethical discipline, cleansed of many of the more vulgar aspects of martial arts, yet true to Aikido’s source, Budo. On the surface, the martial essence of Aikido can be difficult to recognize, especially when it is presented in its most flowing form, with large circular movements, graceful and elegant. Seen this way, it appears unrelated to the martial imperative to recognize where, when, and with what technique to kill an opponent.
Chiba Sensei brought the martial essence of Aikido closer to
the fore, clarifying the highly rational and structured elements of his art,
yet faithful to the deeper, more instinctual processes at work in each vital
martial encounter. Within the crucible
of his own dojo, he created the conditions for transmitting this art to his
students, forging their bodies and characters in the fires of daily training.
The use of story, song, poem and philosophical discourse as
a means to further the understanding and accomplishment of students has a long
tradition in Japanese martial arts.
Chiba Sensei’s writing draws from a deep well of literature from his own
cultural tradition as well as sources outside.
Having lived in Europe and the United States for over 35 years, he was
also familiar with much of western philosophy and literature, such as the
writings of Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and others. He always encouraged those of us who were his
students to express ourselves in writing, exposing us to Japanese literary
resources and prompting us to look within our own cultural traditions for
inspiration. Within the first months of my training with him he requested that
I read “The Swordsman and the Cat” from the appendices of D.T.
Suzuki’s Zen and Japanese Culture and
submit to him an essay based on my reactions to the story.
Every time one was tested for advancement in rank under
Chiba Sensei’s direction, an essay on some aspect of training was required.
While he encouraged students to draw from cultural literature as an influence
for thinking and writing about Aikido practice, he was most pleased when the writing
reflected an understanding of self and circumstance that had emerged directly
from training. The writing presented in
this volume represents knowledge distilled from a lifetime of training, a
knowledge not limited to the intellect but one deeply connected to the body and
the deeper and richer recesses of being.
For those readers who are not practitioners of Aikido or who
have never had the opportunity to experience Chiba Sensei’s teaching directly,
the essays offered in this volume can serve as an opening into a master’s
world. The photographs and reproductions
of Chiba Sensei’s brushwork that accompany the writing can widen that aperture
and deepen your appreciation. If a
picture is worth a thousand words, then to feel the touch of a master is worth
a million pictures. For those of us who
practice Aikido, these writings are a source for deep reflection and an
encouragement to continue moving on our own path towards a deeper appreciation
of Aikido and the unique miracle of our own lives.
Editor’s note: this article was previously published in Sansho, April, 1987
Anyone who thinks that putting more
hours into training will necessarily result in greater achievement in the art
is thinking like a child. Fundamentally, it is a materialistic attitude and
doesn’t lead anywhere but to an unsolvable problem. We can’t avoid moving, day
by day, closer to the grave.
Many people think that through training they can make their bodies responsive and controllable; that they’ll be able to move them as they wish. I don’t deny that this is an important part of learning. However, it is only part of it. A part that is only relative to a greater factor which one should be more aware of. This, I think, is more important: to develop an introspective attitude in training, with a more serious eye to self-examination. This is a matter of the quality within one’s training.
To recognize the imbalance, disharmony, or disorder within one’s system, sensed within the body, as well as between the body and consciousness, is a starting point for one’s growth. This is where a conversation or dialog begins to happen between the body and consciousness. As the dialog develops, awareness becomes more clear, and one begins to recognize a natural power or potential ability which has, until then, been hidden.
Instead of adding an external element to the body, one needs to see what is already within. More importantly, consciousness itself (the way one perceives things), begins to change along with the discovery of the true body (as opposed to the body that one changes according to will.)
The important and unique thing that makes Aikido what it is, is that progress moves in proportion to the discovery of a natural power which is already within each individual, together with an organic, dynamic core, which helps the body function in harmony and as a whole.
It is the kind of path where one progressively encounters the true self with wonder and joy. The “estranged self,” hidden with its inexhaustible potential, lies undiscovered by many people who die without knowing that it even exists.
In many ways, rightly or wrongly, our bodies are the product of our consciousness. In order to discover what that is requires close self-examination within our training. It isn’t a path where one adds more and more information, details, power, etc., externally and endlessly, to the “too much” that is already there.
Touching upon this subject in a profound way, according to Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen: “Buddhist practice through the body is more difficult than practice through the mind. Intellectual comprehension in learning through the mind must be united to practice through our body. This unity is called SHINJITSUNINTAI, the real body of man. It is the perception of everyday mind, through the phenomenal world. If we harmonize the practice of enlightenment with our body, the entire world will be seen in its true form.”
Finally, the discovery of the true body of man, with its value and beauty, is beyond comparison with competitive values, but rather stands on its own within each individual. Thus, the only conclusion is for Aikido to be non-competitive. I’d like to add another Zen master’s words in this regard — a master from Vietnam whose lecture (given at Smith College in New Hampshire, Massachusetts) I was fortunate enough to attend. During a question and answer period, a woman stood up and asked him what he thought of the meditation system practiced by the Quakers. He answered, “How can you compare the beauty of a cherry flower with that of a rose?”
An article in the series Transition: the Next Generation of Leadership
I have not
been on the mat for 16 months and I have been retired from Birankai leadership
for the same amount of time, yet here I am writing an article for Biran…still
volunteering for an organization that I am no longer involved with. I began volunteering for Chiba Sensei in 1992
and I never stopped until December 2018.
Over those 20 years I easily spent 15,000 volunteer hours for Birankai
and Chiba Sensei, probably more, I never counted. It is worthwhile to analyze what motivated me
to volunteer in order to understand what it would take to attract a new
generation of leadership.
Wanting to give back to Sensei – Despite being a confirmed lifetime klutz, at 33, I began training in earnest. As my commitment to my training increased, my teacher took my training more seriously. He started using me for ukemi and paying attention to my progress on the mat. Because he, as my Teacher, took me seriously, I took him very seriously and felt compelled to give back to him and to the organization that he had established.
It was fun – I enjoyed volunteering. I had a chance to be creative and use what I
was good at. For years I was the junior
ranked aikidoka amongst very talented senior ranking practitioners in the
room. They were much better at aikido
than I was but I had something to offer that they perhaps did not. Very talented athletes are not always the
best at things outside of their art/sport.
It was really fun to offer my skills to people that needed help. I felt good about my talents and myself, as
they were needed. People volunteer
because they get something out of it. I
got a seat at the table and companionship from people that I am still close
with. We had lots of fun along the way
working on issues and took time to laugh at each other and the process along
I was addicted to aikido, it became
my life – Sensei had
us training so hard and intensely that we couldn’t think about anything else;
we became completely present in our training.
The outside world disappeared while we were on the mat. I became addicted to this level of training. I trained 10 hours a week and it became the
center of my world. It followed
naturally from this that I gave something back to my addiction, my world; I
would not have been capable of only taking.
Family – While training and volunteering,
the people that I was spending time with became like family. To this day I count among my closest friends
in the world the people with whom I trained intensively and with whom I helped
to shape Birankai. Even in my departure,
I tried to leave people in place to replace me so as not to let my family down.
I was asked and then I asked others – Before Ismail Hasan Sensei (Aikido
of London) left the Kenshusei program at San Diego Aikikai, he asked me to
volunteer. He was taking care of the family he was leaving behind. I agreed. Next, Elizabeth Beringer asked me to be on the
USAF-Western Region Advisory Council.
In later years I asked others to volunteer, they also became longtime
volunteers. Lyons Shihan had married and
was busy running his farm when I asked him to take on a fundraising project and
later to join the Board of Directors; Peterson Sensei was busy with his family
and military career when I asked him to join the Board of Directors; and Cohen
Sensei was busy with her family when I
asked her to volunteer to help with the fundraising job and later to became
Summer Camp Coordinator. They all made
positive contributions and changed the face of our organization because someone
asked for their time.
So, what does this history lesson
Training must be intense and martial to attract people to become long term practitioners of aikido. – In order to get people to show up several times a week to the dojo and to subsequently volunteer I think they need to become addicted to the art. The only way to do this is with very intense training. However, a caveat to this is that for various reasons that have been outlined by other people in other articles, the population of aikidoka is aging and we are not attracting as many young people to the art as we used to. With that in mind a serious commitment should be made by Birankai Teachers to develop an aikido that is both highly martial and low impact. Notice that there are very few post-menopausal women that remain in Aikido, and yet in earlier years women make up a large percentage of our membership. We need to develop a type of training that remains intense and yet that people are still able to do as bones and joints age. Get and keep people addicted even in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond.
Build community that people want to
belong to and therefore are motivated to volunteer for at the dojo level and at
the organizational level. – Without the charismatic leader that attracted me to Aikido it is
difficult to attract students to become involved beyond the dojo level. Chief Instructors should consider using
summer camp as a way to attract their students to become involved with and bond
with the larger organization. Attending
summer camp can help people feel that they belong to the larger “family” and
thus hopefully motivate them to volunteer for the organization.
Ask people to volunteer. – It works. Most people like to be noticed and to think
that their contribution might matter.
Cultivate leadership and volunteers.
– Chief Instructors should cultivate volunteering as an expression of
and a deepening commitment to one’s Aikido practice. Birankai leaders should consider how to
cultivate an environment in which volunteerism is expected and acknowledged at
every level and rank in the organization.
This will help broaden the pool of volunteers.
Take time to have fun along the way. – Don’t try to do too much
organizationally that you don’t leave time for your volunteers to play. Meetings should have time for a joke or prank
or two and not be only about business.
Recognize the necessity of volunteering. – Note that many years ago we had over 1,000 members in Birankai. Our current organizational structure was built on that level of membership. A larger membership enabled the organization to support paying an Executive Director and providing a stipend to support some other organizational jobs. We have dwindled to 645 members now. The lower level of people paying dues will mean that finding volunteers is more crucial than ever…somebody else is not going to take care of it…the organization needs you. Volunteer to help with something. Email Deb Pastors at email@example.com if you can give as little as 1 or 2 hours a month to help with the many tasks it takes to keep our village running and continue to spread the art of our beloved TK Chiba Shihan.
Didier Boyet Shihan started studying with Chiba Sensei in 1977, spending an extensive amount of time with him in Japan, Europe, England and San Diego. Boyet lived in Tokyo and trained at Hombu Dojo from 1977 to 2016 – he currently lives in Paris and travels the world teaching Aikido seminars. The following is an edited transcript of several conversations between Boyet Shihan and Liese Klein in Tokyo in March of 2016. Some of Boyet Sensei’s experiences are also related in the upcoming biography The Life-Giving Sword: Kazuo Chiba’s Life in Aikido. Boyet Sensei will be the featured guest instructor at 2018 Birankai Aikido Summer Camp, July 20-25 in Tacoma, Wash.
Tell me about your arrival in Tokyo in 1977.
I arrived on Oct. 4, a Tuesday, and on the 7th, I joined Chiba Sensei’s class. I came a little bit early: He signed me up at the dojo then he took me to Kisshomaru Sensei’s house. Then he took me to his class, I changed and sat down in the dojo. There were very few people, maybe 12. When everyone bowed in, the only one left to train with was this Japanese guy. We started training and I thought, ‘This guy’s trying to kill me!’ I’m thinking that I can’t take it, I’m going to die! That was Shibata Sensei. I had very long hair at that time – for iriminage he grabbed me by the hair. After class everyone was laughing. I was a very weak shodan. Then I started going to Shibata Sensei’s class and he sort of liked me. We were eight people in this class at 3 pm. The class was very wonderful, it was very dynamic but basic, basic.
How did you first meet Chiba Sensei?
I first met Chiba Sensei during the Tamura Sensei Summer Camp of 1973 or ’74 in Villefranche-de-Rouergue, France. I believe that this was Chiba Sensei’s first visit to France although he had been living in England since 1966.
When I saw Chiba Sensei practice for the first time, I said ‘Oh my god.’ It was raw. There was violence but I never saw it as violence, I saw it as something raw, mainly, He hadn’t polished anything yet. I was totally subdued by that. After this Summer Camp I tried to attend as many seminars and classes that he conducted as far as I could.
He returned to Japan from England in 1976; I met him September of 1977, in San Sebastian (Spain), where he was conducting a seminar with [Nobuyoshi] Tamura.
Chiba Sensei was 36. He had so much fire. He would go to class to practice, not to play around. I practiced with him as a partner at that seminar in San Sebastian. I remember doing nikkyo with him, suwariwaza for maybe 30 minutes. I couldn’t eat for a whole week; I couldn’t use my hands anymore. Just like two pieces of wood. He’d take you all around the mat, drag you.
I told Tamura I wanted to spend a couple of years in Japan. Tamura said I had better talk to Chiba and he would introduce me at Hombu. We had a special lunch in San Sebastian. Chiba said, ‘No, there are already so many French people who give me trouble every day, I don’t want another one.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I already brought my ticket!’
How did you start Aikido?
I was living south of Paris, in a city called Tours where I landed a job in 1971. I had just moved to the city and did not know anyone there. I went to see a movie but unfortunately that day was the movie theaters’ day off. So, here I am, in front of a closed movie theater and I noticed that there was another guy who, like me, did not know that movie theaters had holidays. We joked about it and sat in the next café for a drink. In that place, there was a small TV hanging on the wall and showing, you won’t believe it, an episode of a documentary about Japanese martial arts dedicated to Aikido. I had never heard of Aikido and I was not interested in Japan or the Far East for that matter. But it struck me and the next day I called the city hall to find out if the small city of Tours had an Aikido dojo. And it did and the clerk knew about it. I immediately started to train.
My first teacher soon took me to Tamura Sensei. I really liked Tamura Sensei’s Aikido, he was extremely dynamic. Tamura Sensei didn’t have a dojo in Paris, he never did. He was working for the French Aikido federation, going one place to another every weekend. I got my shodan in 1976. Around that time, Chiba urged Tamura to invite Mitsuzuka Sensei to
France to teach Iaido. Tamura Sensei would always do a couple hours of Iaido at seminars, and I knew shoden [basic forms]. I got to drive Mitsuzuka Sensei around in the summer of 1977, all over Europe. Mitsuzuka Sensei was very Japanese, he behaved abroad like he did in Japan –Tamura and Chiba behaved differently. Mitsuzuka Sensei would come to a seminar, people would practice for a couple of weeks, and he’d give them third dan or fourth dan! The other Japanese teachers would go bananas. ‘These guys are going to go open a dojo!’ In Japan, fourth dan is nothing.
Did many Europeans appreciate Chiba Sensei?
Some people, not a lot. It was completely new.
Tell me about the private classes with Chiba Sensei at Hombu Dojo.
Chiba Sensei was back in Japan after 10 years in England, and he had already a clear view of what he wanted to do. To do it, he needed people to work on. The private classes had started a few months before I arrived. They were on Tuesday and Thursday at 1 pm. We used the small tatami room on the fourth floor; the door was closed for total privacy. We started at 1 clock, but most of the time it went on for at least two or three hours. The foreigners were Paul Sylvain, Lorraine DiAnne, Meik Skoss, Dee Chen, Bruce Bookman, Jay Dunkelman and two Scottish guys. Shibata Sensei would usually join in. Sometimes the door would crack open and a head would come out and say ‘Dame, dame dame!’ [Wrong, wrong, wrong!] that was Yamaguchi Sensei. He’s in his suit, he was teaching in the morning, suit and necktie. He would take over and show us what to do. Chiba Sensei loved it.
Chiba Sensei was enthusiastic in the private classes. He was not the same as he was in Europe. He was very approachable, he liked jokes. He loved these private classes.
It was rough because everybody was scared, even though in four years there were no accidents, no serious injuries in the private lessons. It was really tense. There was tension on each side. We were so eager to learn and he was so eager to teach.
What kinds of things was Sensei focusing on in those classes?
He would bring in Budo, a thick book written by O-Sensei before the war. We went through the whole book, one page or a couple of pages a day. He would put the book on the kamiza; he’d turn to it and look at it again. It was really like a laboratory. For us it was a great way to learn things. Then bokken, weapons work. Lots of it.
When did you start training in Iaido with Takeshi Mitsuzuka Sensei?
As soon as I arrived in Japan. I went through Chiba Sensei, he said OK, come to the dojo. We went to the Iaido dojo in Yotsuya Sanchome, the old one. Chiba Sensei officially asked Mitsuzuka if I could join, he introduced me and asked him if he would agree to take me on as a student. Everything was under Chiba Sensei’s tutelage. Chiba Sensei always practiced Iaido. At one point Chiba Sensei told us he got hurt during a trip with O-Sensei and O-Sensei left him in an Iaido dojo somewhere in the south of Honshu. He had to practice Iaido to get his back better. He also collected swords; he had many in Japan.
I went three times a week to Yotsuya police station to train in Iaido with Mitsuzuka Sensei. You could do it at Hombu but it had to be secret, you had to hide yourself. Chiba Sensei was practicing Iaido on his own at Hombu – he couldn’t come to Mitsuzuka Sensei’s except on the weekends because he was so busy. He cut himself once so bad, all by himself upstairs. We were changing in the locker room, he came down he had his hakama around his arm, blood was dripping from the hakama. He said, ‘Go clean!’ He disappeared, went to the clinic for stitches. He had cut a vein, it was pissing blood. We go up there and there is blood all over the stairs going to the fourth floor. We open the door and go, ‘Oh shit.’ The white mat was covered with blood. We spent about two hours with cold water and rags until it disappeared.
We knew that if [Kisabura] Osawa Sensei, the dojo-cho, saw the mess he was going to be so pissed. He was very against doing any weapons in the dojo: When doing bokken, we had to close the windows so nobody could hear the noise of the weapons.
What was it like to practice with Kisaburo Osawa Sensei?
Osawa Sensei had a class on Friday at 5:30, and he gave that class to Chiba Sensei. I would go to his Wednesday morning class and he used me for ukemi every time, but he never addressed me. In his class, Osawa Sensei did everything slow, he would show things very, very slowly. He would slow down like slow motion. It was very beautiful. There were mostly Japanese in class; he never talked to foreigners and I don’t think he liked them. He was an old-style Japanese nationalist. Right after the war, he had a bar in Shinjuku. When the dojo started to grow again in the 1950s, Doshu went to pick him up.
Why were foreigners so drawn to Chiba Sensei at Hombu?
We understood what he was doing. We were just there to train. We were not supported by our own federations but we asked for it. We had no money – nobody wanted any money, we didn’t care about it. All that we wanted was to train, train, train, train.
We often went out with Chiba Sensei. He talked a lot; he liked to practice his English. He liked his group. He told us stories of his time with O-Sensei. When O-Sensei would come down from Iwama, he would arrive at Hombu and he never said anything. He would show up at Hombu and pick up somebody to go with him as kaban-mochi (bag-carrier). I remember Chiba Sensei saying that he knew O-Sensei was coming when he saw [Yoshimitsu] Yamada running and closing himself up in a closet so O-Sensei would not see him and take him on a trip!
Being a kaban-mochi was very hard. After O-Sensei arrived, he would say, ‘You!’ and he would leave. You have to pack your stuff and then grab his stuff and run after him and he’s gone to the station and he doesn’t have tickets! They would take the cable car from Nuke Benten [transit stop near Hombu Dojo] to Shinjuku Station. Chiba Sensei used to say you had to go into the train cars and find a place next to or in front of a beautiful girl. O-Sensei loved to talk to beautiful girls, and you had to go from one car to the other and find somebody alone. Otherwise you’d have to persuade who was sitting next to her to move aside.
As kaban-mochi, you never talked to O-Sensei because he’s up there. [Gestures above his head.] You don’t talk up.
Check out this great newsletter put out by Birankai Europe in both English and French. Our Birankai North America newsletter, Biran, will be available at Summer Camp with great articles on the theme of “The Art and Science of Aikido.” Also find out in detail what the Exam Committee is looking for in tests — make sure someone from your dojo picks up your copies!
As we approach the publication date of “The Life-Giving Sword: Kazuo Chiba’s Life in Aikido,” I’d like highlight one important facet of the book – it’s not just about Chiba Sensei. At close to 400 pages, this book attempts to profile an entire generation of Aikido pioneers. These are the young Japanese men who left Hombu Dojo in the 1960s under the direction of Kisshomaru Ueshiba to heed O-Sensei’s call to build “bridges across the ocean” and bring Aikido to the West.
Using Chiba Sensei’s writings, historic materials and in-person interviews where possible, I’ve attempted to profile many of these men and tell their stories of struggle and triumph in Europe, the U.K. and the Americas.
The book also explores the foundational role of several of Chiba Sensei’s most important sempai: Koichi Tohei, Morihiro Saito and Mutsuro Nakazono, along with influential teachers like Tadashi Abe, Kenshiro Abbe, Sadateru Arikawa, Kisaburo Osawa, Seigo Yamaguchi and Hiroshi Tada. These men, along with Kisshomaru Ueshiba, shaped the Aikido and careers of Chiba Sensei’s generation and continue to influence many across the Aikido world.
Life as a direct student of O-Sensei at both Hombu Dojo and Iwama is also explored in-depth in a section on the early careers of the post-war generation. Throughout the narrative, several of Chiba Sensei’s close colleagues, especially Yoshimitsu Yamada, Mitsunari Kanai and Nobuyoshi Tamura, are discussed in detail as they developed their own dojos, organizations and teaching styles. As far as I know, this is the first full-length treatment of this period of Aikido history.
Sign up now to reserve a first-edition copy of “The Life-Giving Sword: Kazuo Chiba’s Life in Aikido.” You will be notified as soon as copies are ready for sale and directed to an online purchasing page.
(Active Birankai North America members will be notified automatically, but if you want more than one copy, please submit the form below.)
The mat was packed for all three days of the Chiba Sensei Memorial Seminar at Brooklyn Aikikai June 1-3, 2018. The event featured instructors George Lyons Shihan of Bucks County Aikido, Toko (Jenny) Flower Sensei of Athens Aikido and Ryugan (Robert) Savoca Sensei of Brooklyn Aikikai.
From Lyons Sensei’s closing remarks on June 3, 2018:
“I’ve been running through my memories of meeting an extraordinary person, Chiba Sensei. What do I remember about those days? Much of it is just in my body now, as best as it can be. I’m working to cultivate that so hopefully it’s alive in me. Chiba Sensei said once: ‘Until you’re a master of it, you’re a slave to it.’ That one kind of stuck with me.
“Discussing the teacher-student relationship, in many ways we struggle to understand it. Right up until Chiba Sensei’s death I was trying to understand it. Even now, I work on it, even though he’s gone. Of course I don’t think he’s gone, in some way.
“It is the problem of authority, giving over to an authority. In my opinion I think it’s not surrender to it but more transcending it, if that makes sense to you. At first it might feel like you’re surrendering to your teacher. But hopefully we’re going past that. You’re not going to be a slave to your teacher, that’s the not the intention. The intention is to let go of something, and to transcend it. Then you’re free to do whatever you want. And you’re probably very grateful, as I am. So you are master of it.
“You are supposed to stand on the shoulders of your teacher. Your teacher is someone you have always put up, so it’s a difficult idea. Somehow maybe we can drop something and you can reach your teacher for the first time, as a full grown human being with full potential.
“Funny, but we somehow put something in the way. It’s human nature. I see it on the mat in just basic things. When I say, ‘Don’t move your feet like that, do this.’ They say ‘Hai, Sensei!’ and they do the same thing they did before. It didn’t change one bit. I’m a human being too so I make the same stupid mistakes. When we do that, I think we just can’t hear it yet. Eventually you can, you can hold more. When you finally hear it, you say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ [Laughs.] This comes to the point of training over time. In farming you can’t pull the shoots up early to make them grow faster. It takes time. If you pull the shoots up, there’s nothing there.
“In the same way, when you’re practicing it takes some time. It has to mature. It’s just the nature of things. You come to the dojo every day, every day. ‘What’s the point of this? I can’t do ikkyo one more time, I’m out of my mind.’ You keep doing it until something gets out of the way. You make every effort that you can until you realize that all that effort is getting in the way. It’s a paradox you have to solve yourself, everybody does.
“I’m really pleased to be here with you to celebrate the life our teacher. For you guys, be careful because the stories get bigger and bigger as time passes. It was incredible times, but we tell stories…
“This is the time. Now is the time. This is our time. It’s fun to hear stories about the past, but when you’re sitting around with a bunch of people talking about the old days, be careful. This is the day. Today is the day. We’re proud to be here with you, proud to know you, and may we carry on. ”
This article originally appeared (circa 1993) in issue No. 70 of Terry O’Neill’s Fighting Arts International, a magazine published in the United Kingdom. The interviewer was one of Chiba Sensei’s long time students, Arthur C. Lockyear.
Sensei please tell me how you came to study Aikido?
Well, I was very keen on the martial arts from when I was little, and I decided early on to train seriously in at least one of them. I began with Judo and stayed for four years. I then moved to Karate.
You trained at the Shotokan headquarters I believe: what was the training like there?
Oh, I really loved it, it was a very hard spirit in the training, very satisfying, I liked it a lot. Nakayama Sensei was the Chief Instructor but I did see the Master, Funakoshi Gichin on a number of occasions. I joined the Japan Karate Association about a year before Master Funakoshi died I remember that there was a big ceremony to mark his passing.
Where any of the present-day Shotokan Masters there at that time?
Yes. Nishiyama Sensei, Okazaki Sensei and Kanazawa Sensei. Kanazawa Sensei was first Kyu then, or maybe 1st Dan, I’m not sure. Asano Sensei was 3rd Kyu level and Kase Sensei was there also.
Was there anything in particular that converted you to Aikido?
This is an interesting interview of Chiba Sensei (by Stan Pranin) that was recently posted in the Aikido Journal.
By STANLEY PRANIN
A Historical Interview with Kazuo Chiba Shihan
(February 5, 1940 – June 5, 2015)
As a young man of eighteen, Kazuo Chiba took one look at a photograph of Morihei Ueshiba in a book and knew that his search for a true master of budo had ended. Now 8th dan and chief instructor at the San Diego Aikikai, Chiba recounts episodes from his years as an uchideshi, and provides a detailed explanation of the concept of shu-ha-ri, as well as explaining his own view of the modern aikido world.
Aikido Journal: Sensei, I understand that you began martial arts with judo and later switched to aikido. Perhaps you could tell us about the way things were in those days?
A young Kazuo Chiba
Kazuo Chiba: Well, I liked budo quite a bit, especially judo. One day I happened to find myself in a situation where I had to fight a match with one of my seniors who was a nidan. He was a fine person who had taught me quite a bit about judo ever since I first entered the dojo, and he had been good to me in matters outside the dojo as well. He had a small body but he did marvelous judo, and could throw larger opponents without using any power. He used a lot of taiotoshi (body drop) and yokosutemi (side sacrifice) throws of a caliber you don’t see much anymore. He was very fast, too. He used to beat me all the time, but then…………..
Most of us are back home – the bruises are fading and the gis have been washed. Time to reflect on Birankai Aikido 2016 Summer Camp, which ended with a lively session of tai no henko led by Dave Stier Shihan of Green River Aikido on Tuesday morning.
Stier Sensei was the topic of some truly moving testimonies at the farewell party the night before, when his students told of his dedication to helping those of all abilities and body types master Aikido.
“I just wanted to be a student,” Stier Sensei said, describing the trajectory of his training after the sudden death of his teacher, Paul Sylvain Shihan. Stier Sensei went on to lead an impressive closing class to 2016 Birankai Summer Camp.
Another longtime student, Frank Apodaca Sensei of Deep River Aikikai in North Carolina, was recognized earlier during camp: Birankai has recommended that he be promoted to shihan rank.
Apodaca Sensei was a long-suffering kenshusei when I arrived in San Diego, a veteran of the legendary “Pressure Cooker” and “Suffering Bastards” eras. His ukemi was death-defying to this newbie, especially when he would get up seemingly in one piece after Chiba Sensei demonstrated ushiro ryotedori sutemi waza, also known as “the roadkill technique.” (Chiba Sensei would rear back and flatten him like a bug.)
By the time I got there in the mid-1990s, Apodaca Sensei was a stern taskmaster in morning class and an even more stern leader of sesshin and other events at San Diego Aikikai, a link to a harsher past. Time spent as dojo-cho in Portland, Oregon, and Lansing, Michigan, seemed to mellow him out, and by the time Apodaca Sensei established Deep River Aikikai he was a supportive and open-hearted teacher.
For me, the best thing about 2016 Birankai Summer Camp was gaining new appreciation for these two men, working often without recognition in recent years to transmit Chiba Sensei’s (and Sylvain Sensei’s) Aikido.
With teachers like these in our ranks, Birankai is in safe hands.
The book was completed before Chiba Sensei’s death, but there was no opportunity to present the “finished product” to Sensei, the true subject of the book. It was my honor to present the book as a gift to Mrs. Chiba at a memorial event.
Later in 2015, Tzechovoy Sensei added a new, final chapter: “Ki No More” — a moving farewell to our founder which, I feel, penetrates to the heart of Sensei’s teachings. After some discussion, we decided to share it with you here on BiranOnline. (Please click on title below for Word document.) The chapter will be included in future editions of the book.
For everyone who has been to at least one Birankai summer camp, what’s the first thing that you remember about your first camp? Perhaps it’s all the people you met, the parties and gatherings in the evening, or, of course, the hours of classes a day that left you feeling either successful, or desperate for an ice pack and some ibuprofen. Everyone has their memories, and the special moments that made summer camp not just a seminar, but also a family reunion that makes the bumps, bruises, and traveling well worth it.
My first summer camp, held this past July at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., was nothing short of fabulous, and I promise I’m not saying that just to make my Sensei happy. When I first arrived at camp, I came in with the rookie naiveté that I was in pretty good shape and four hours of class a day wouldn’t be that bad.
Oh no, not the case.
By the third day I would have given anything for a hot tub and a five-hour nap, and let’s not talk about how my bottle of pain meds was quickly dwindling. But what my discomfort taught me, and what I think our teachers are always trying to impart, is how vital it is to relax and use our whole body at all times, and certainly if something is in pain. If my shoulder was hurting, then I had to adjust for it, relaxing my arm and remembering that my hips and legs were really useful things.
When I was throwing someone twice my size, and fatigue and soreness were starting to set in, it wasn’t enough to just muscle my way through and hope my upper body was strong enough to throw my partner. Everything had to come together with grace, speed and power, something Miyamoto Sensei demonstrated every time he stepped onto the mat.
Speaking of Miyamoto Sensei, one thing that I, and many other people I talked to were impressed by was his ability to constantly adapt to whatever his uke gave him. Even if it wasn’t the technique he initially had in mind, Miyamoto showed what mental and physical fluidity looked like when doing, and changing, a technique.
For me, particularly since I’m still very new in Aikido, every class had something new to learn. Familiar techniques, such a katatedori suwariwaza ikkyo, had to be approached differently because I was practicing with someone I’d never met, and so I had to learn how to move in a way that worked with them. The weapons classes were immensely beneficial, especially Frank Apodaca Sensei’s weapons class. He emphasized cultivating “the eyes to see,” which I took as meaning not just watching and stealing the technique, but also seeing and feeling the energy with which someone moves. I once read that proper form is essential, but without technique and heart put into the form it’s all mechanical, and much of what I believe Aikido to be is lost.
In the midst of all of our training, I was so thankful that the 2015 summer camp was to be the first camp I attended, because it allowed me to attend the Celebration of Life memorial for Chiba Sensei. Even though I was never able to meet Chiba Sensei, I could very clearly feel how special a teacher he was, and just how much he mattered to people all over the world. The memorial was lovely, and the reception held after, with all of its singing, dancing and conversation was exactly what I think Chiba Sensei would have wanted us to have in his memory.
Leaving camp, what I didn’t fully realize till a few days after, was when people speak of the Aikido or Birankai family, they aren’t exaggerating in the slightest. Camp allowed me to meet people from dojos across the country and even the world, and knowing that almost wherever I go I can find a dojo where I will be welcome, makes the world feel just a little less daunting. So thank you very much to everyone who helped make my first camp a marvelous experience, and more importantly, officially welcomed me into the Birankai family. I look forward to many more summer camps in the future.
On January 3, 2015, members of Birankai dojo Fearless Heart Aikido in New Hope, Penn., participated in “1,000 Cuts for Charity Suburi-thon.” Participants committed to make 1,000 suburi cuts with the bokken and to find sponsors who would pledge a contribution for each cut.
Prior to the suburi-thon, none of the students had completed more than 100 or 200 cuts; some barely knew how to hold a bokken. For most students, a thousand cuts was pretty daunting. However, they rose to the challenge, practicing their cuts and building their endurance in the weeks leading up to the event.
Fearless Heart Aikido Chief Instructors Helen Tai and John McDevitt organized the fundraiser to celebrate the dojo’s two-year anniversary. The celebration provided an opportunity for the students to push themselves beyond their perceived limits, to improve their cutting technique, to work together toward a common goal, to have some fun, and to raise money for two very worthwhile charities.
One of Chiba Sensei’s many gifts to the Aikido community has been his weapons system, and we teachers vowed to further polish and emphasize our bokken and jo work at this year’s Birankai Summer Camp.
Below is the full text of an essay by Chiba Sensei first published in a 1999 issue of our Birankai newsletter. Also posted here for the first time are videos from Chiba Sensei’s advanced weapons class at the 2011 Birankai Regional Seminar at Long Mountain Aikido in Granby, Mass. (The second video is at the bottom of the text.)
Many people have asked me about the relationship between body arts and weapons training in Aikido. Most of those questions were influenced by the opinion (either positive or negative) towards weapons training by professional Aikido teachers, both those who positively incorporate weapons training in their Aikido practice and those who do not. These opposing practices inevitably create confusion among Aikido practitioners Continue reading “Chiba Sensei on weapons”