It Had to Be Felt #27: Inoue Kyoichi: "Pure Class"
Nothing Boring about Basics, at Least not at the Hands of a Master
I never spent much time with Inoue sensei while I was in Japan. He was the main Aikido teacher for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, and my only contact with him was at gradings and parties at the headquarters dojo. I only had the chance to be on the mat with him once during the first foreigners' gasshuku in 1994. His movement and explanations of Yoshinkan aikido were brilliant, but I was running around making sure everyone was being taken care of and didn't have much interaction with him. Nonetheless, I was always impressed with his presentation at the All Japan demonstrations. In my opinion, he was the only one that performed Shioda Gozo kancho's soft powerful technique in a way that didn't look fake.
I left Japan in 1995. I next met Inoue sensei four years later, as his translator, when he was the featured presenter at Utada sensei's 25th anniversary celebration in Philadelphia. He had just published a book in conjunction with Stanley Pranin of Aikido Journal. He went through the chapters in the book one after another, covering all basic techniques and movements.
There were many high-ranking people from all over the world at the seminar, and I thought we would all be bored to tears going over things we had been doing for many years. Boy was I wrong! Inoue sensei 's mastery of the basic movements and techniques had me so spellbound that sometimes I'd be watching him, thinking, " He is so good!," and then I would realize that everyone was looking at me waiting for me to translate what he had just said!!
I was one of his ukes during his final demonstration, and he was as brilliant as I thought. His timing was perfect, accompanied by powerful body movements, but most importantly, I never felt his hands. Over and over again, I would attack and find myself on the ground. He had the crowd eating out of his hands, but only the people who were his uke knew how truly powerful he was. He was sixty-five years old at the time.
He Just Melted and I Fell Over
At one point, I had the chance to be his uke for a basic nikkajo, and when he got in position to do the lock, I felt a trickle of fear go down my spine. I knew I was at his mercy. He had me in an inescapable position. I hadn't felt that for a very long time and it was magic!
Inoue sensei's technique felt much the same as other top Yoshinkan teachers, but if anything, it was softer - almost nicer, if that makes sense. His kotegaeshi created a smooth feeling of turning around your own shoulder, and while the pin caused no pain, there was absolutely no escape. His basic techniques displayed a real subtle form of kuzushi that I hadn't felt before, but when added to what I was exploring within my own technique, it made such perfect sense. For example, he had a remarkable ability to give you the feeling that you were always off balance in ikkajo. Although you felt that you could resist or stand up, it was impossible. Yet despite this sense of helplessness, you felt safe.
When you grabbed his finger, he would lock up your whole body and play you like a fish on a line until he decided to throw you. I've seen videos of him in the old days and he would really smack uke in the face hard (which I don't like), but when he did it to me, he almost cradled my jaw as he took me to the ground. He threw me very hard, but like Shioda Gozo Kancho, it was great.
He often displayed a concept called chikara nuku (withdrawing strength). When I grabbed him, all my energy just collapsed into itself, and I fell over.
On other occasions, he would sit in seiza and ask you to grab his wrists. He would make a subtle move, and you would just simply fall over to the side. Sometimes I would see ukes go flying but I think that was good acting. What I experienced was that whenever I grabbed him, he just melted and I fell over.
Once when we were doing this, I swear he just looked at me and smiled, and then I fell over without him moving. I'm a very good uke and would never try to make a teacher look bad, but when someone says grab and don't move, I don't unless they can move me. He inarguably did.
On another occasion, he was sitting in seiza talking about the importance of posture and he had me grab his shoulders and resist. I don't know what he did, but both of my legs shot straight backwards. I was laid out in the air, and landed flat in front of him. I have only felt that once before, when Shioda Gozo kancho did it to me at an Aikido Journal photo shoot.
A Class Act
In 2002, I returned to Japan for two weeks to perform at Takeno sensei's yearly demonstration in Yamanashi. Afterwards, I went right back to my old teaching schedule at the headquarters dojo. This was indeed an honor, but to be honest, everyone who was "supposed to" love me treated me like crap - except for Inoue sensei and Oyamada sensei. Inoue sensei twice invited me into his office to talk about aikido and life. He answered my questions directly, and even gave me a gift for my young daughter. He was supposed to teach the last Saturday that I was at the Honbu. I was looking forward to his class, but when he found out it was my last day, he asked me to teach in his place. He treated me with welcome and respect.
I again accompanied Inoue sensei, along with Chida sensei, when they taught in Hawaii in 2007. He taught a remarkable class to the Kona police. He taught basic Yoshinkan techniques, without changing a thing, yet made them accessible and totally creditable to the police officers
I had brought my wife and daughter to Hawaii, and I missed his last class to have a last breakfast with my family. I think many other teachers might have been offended about this, but he was graciously said "Have a wonderful time with your family. I'll see you in the afternoon." Pure class again.
Inoue sensei has since left the Yoshinkan and has formed his own organization. He still teaches at the age of 77. I hope that when I reach that age. I will be as strong, as skilled but most of all as humble, gracious and kind as he is.
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