Aikido Today Magazine
#67; Vol. 14, No.1; January/February '00
By Cody Lewallen
Sensei, why did you start Aikido?
Shihan: When I was younger, I lived in Kobe City.
day-really, every day- I was a victim of one of those dirty old men on
the trains- you know, the ones who like to touch women. I took
classes of many sorts in those days, including classical ballet, and it
would be dark when I returned home. But, even in the daytime, I
would get on the train, and there would be one of those dirty old
men! Men would follow me all the time. I'm telling you the
truth! I was scared. So, I learned Aikido.
I hated men back then. But now I like them!(winks)
I was weak-willed and very feminine back in those days, and I couldn't
get away from those guys!
Cody: Do you have any
thoughts for women studying Aikido?
Shihan: From the beginning, when I started martial arts,
common feeling was that they were for men only. That discouraged
me. I found it best not to think about the issue.
women are completely different, right? Men have more muscle and
are very strong. But the more muscle you use, the slower you
learn good technique-or the faster you forget it.
students, and especially as women, it is important to learn how and
when to use muscle. It's important not to rely on it. A
year into my training, my technique was awful. I was still trying
to compete with men who wee much stronger than I was. I fought
and fought, refusing to give in or to look weak. I used as much
strength as I could muster to finish my technique and look strong. In
the process, I broke almost every bone in my body-arms, wrists, knees,
and even fingers.
Eventually, I had to quit for half a year. I felt completely
discouraged by the dojo's "men only" attitude.
people struggle and use all their strength, they forget that Aikido is
not fighting. So, they are not doing Aikido. Fighting your way through
a technique and trying to look strong, you forget good technique and
throw your respect for your partner into the trash.
Respect for your partner is key to good technique, but it is very
difficult to master.
who think they're doing Aikido by using all their energy and trying to
look strong should take up running or power lifting- or they should
just go and do ukemi by themselves somewhere.
Cody: At least, if they
played "ukemi solitaire," they would understand how their partners feel!
Shihan: Learning to care for your partner is vital.
why in my dojo everybody does ukemi- even the Cheif Instructor.
some dojos, the teacher doesn't do any ukemi. He just stands
around showing how strong he is "teaching". He's something like a
bak-seat driver. He's not really important to the operation of
things, and it would probably be better if he wasn't there at all!
course, if an instructor is elderly, it's understandable that he is not
going to want to be thrown around. But you see instructors who are in
their 20's strutting around, and slamming people like they own the
place. Maybe they do own the place. But it's just not right.
Aikido instructor I saw on the Internet was so fat that, if he were
thrown, he would be killed! I am not saying that all fat
instructors are unskilled- but if you can't teah ukemi and care for
your partner by example, something's wrong.
I don't think I am the
toughest woman on the planet, but I am skilled. I'll try to
continue practicing and teaching until I die. I always want to
think about growing.
Everyone thinks that Steve(Seagal)is so
powerful because he is so tall. That's not quite right. He
is also highly skilled. O-Sensei was very short. Can you
imagine how awesome he would have been if he were as tall as Steve?
are times when short people can't do some of Steve's techniques.
If ou got on your knees and did his sankyo as though you were a short
person, you would open yourself up to a knee in the ribs. So, I
do it a different way. It doesn't matter. After all, people
don't continue to pay me their Aikido dues just because Steve is my
Cody: Speaking of Seagal
Snesei- where did you meet him?
Shihan: We met at the L.A. airport. It was July
there was an Aikido seminar going on. A huge group of Aikido
students were waiting at the airport for (Koichi)Tohei Sensei to
arrive from Japan.
When I met Steve, he had long hair, and he
was very tall and skinny. (Chuckles) I hate that type-skinny with long
hair. I was frightened: he looked like a Japanese ghost! And he
had on one of those Hawaiian shirts- the real bright ones, you know?
Later, when I got to know him better, I noticed that he had very
attractive eyes, and his way of speaking was nice and soft.
said he was going to go to Japan. He had received some money from
an insurance company because of a knee injury he got in Karate.
the seminar, I visited the Aikido dojo where he was studying. I
watched him test for shodan. (I was a nidan at the time) Tohei Sensei
conducted the test.
Cody: How was Seagal
Sensei received as an instructor in Japan.
Shihan: Oh, it was a big deal. He was the first
be the head of a dojo in Japan. It was big news. The TV and
the newspaper people came, and not just the little stations or
papers. After that coverage, we got more students than we knew
what to do with.
Cody: Was Seagal Sensei
an Omoto practitioner at the time?
Shihan: Steve said he wanted Omoto poeole to perform the
ceremony for the Tenshin Dojo. My family was not Omoto. We
got introduced to Omoto through a "friend of a friend"-an American who
had been living in Japan. After being introduced to Omoto, we
were granted the name "Tenshin" by the top man of Omoto at the
time. He also did the "Tenshin" calligraphy, which is at the
front of the dojo next to O-Sensei's picture.
I remember asking
Steve whether it was okay with his family for him to change his
religion, and he said, "It's no problem." I asked him
again,because I thought it was a big deal to change your religion, and
he again said, "no problem; don't worry." He said that he had read a
book in America on Omoto and that he believed it.
Cody: What was it like
after he left?
Shihan: Well, one of the uchideshi took over the classes.
to kick this man out, because he was not sincere and because he created
a lot of trouble. He would lie to the other students, and he
tried to get them to dislike me.
I had to train a new
uchideshi. I selected a person who was a lot lower in rank and a
lot younger than many of the senior students, but I could see he was
very eager to learn. I knew he would succeed.
Cody: Was Seagal Sensei
supportive when he left?
Shihan: Well, he left very gradually. He would go to
America and run his dojo there. And, as you know, he was into the
movies. But, once he was gone, he was gone.
When he left and
I chose a new uchideshi, the students left too. I had to start
all over. It was very hard.. Some days, I would go to teach
class, and only one person would show up. On top of running the
dojo, I had to raise my children. I don't know how we got
by. Sometimes we could only afford cheap brown rice for dinner.
Cody: What kept you going?
Shihan: I think the thing that got me through those rough
was the love of my children. My kids got older and got into show
business, and somehow i finally got on top.
Another reason for my
success is my students. If I hadn't had such good, loyal
students, it would have been impossible to make it to where I am now.
Cody: I've heard rumors
of mobsters and other problems. Can you tell me more about that
problems you ran into?
Shihan: You can read about that in my book! By the
there are any ATM(Aikido Today Magazine) readers out there who have any
ideas about how I can get my book published in English, please E-mail
Cody: Can we talk about
your book a little? What can we expect to find inside it?
Shihan: Inside lies the foundation of my Aikido-the
that spawned it, some in the form of essays and some in the form of
Shihan: For example, meeting Steve, our divorce, how we
baby, raising our two children, their careers and movie debuts, and
some very basic, important points on Aikido.
Cody: I definitely look
forward to receiving your book. -There's one last thing I would like to
ask you about: ki.
Shihan: If you use all the strength and power we were
about earlier, you will not understand ki. To understand ki, it
is very important to feel.
Cody: Feel what?
Shihan: Anything. For example, if somebody is
acting nice to you, you have to know whether it is coming from their
Another example- if someone comes at you with a knife, you
shouldn't concentrate only one the knife. You will not feel the
speed of the attack. You need to look at the attacker's whole
body ad feel his motion, intention and ki.
You must flow like water. As water flows downstream, it does not
fight against instinct.
you're always using strength in your Aikido, you will not be sensitive
enough to feel. Just as the water does not flow upward, it is
unnatural for us to train at the risk of our lives with as much
strength and machismo as we can muster. Training taht way, you
can not truly learn to feel.
As you walk down the street, somebody
gives you the stiff shoulder. If your're thinking "I'm strong,"
you crash hard, and whoever is stronger wins. But, both of you
get sore shoulders.
Flow like a stream; blend like a door that is
pushed open. This is "tenkan." Don't fight your partner's
ki. Feel it.
Fujitani Shihan (7th dan) is the
instructor at the Aikido Tenshin Dojo in Osaka, Japan. She has been
teaching Aikido for 40 years.
Don't put off something as important as yourself.
Call or E-mail now!