Interview with Tanaka Tadamitsu Shihan
This interview was conducted in October 2000. Originally it appeared in the March/April 2001 issue of Aikido Today Magazine.Now in his 60's, Tadamitsu Tanaka Sensei is the instructor of Kodokan Dojo in Okazaki, Japan.
Sensei, your father studied with O-Sensei, didn't he?
Yes, my father told me that he was able to serve as uchi-deshi for O-Sensei for about 8 years.
My father was 18 or 20 - before I was born - he went to Ayabe [an Omoto Kyo center]. There, he did work, chores - whatever he was asked to do. He met Morihei Ueshiba and started to study Aikido with him. At the time, O-Sensei was in his late thirties or early forties.
Onisaburo Deguchi [a founder of the Omoto Kyo movement] had two people studying with him: my father and Morihei Ueshiba.
In my house, I have a scroll written by Onisaburo Deguchi. It is one of the things I am most proud of. He only wrote two scrolls like this one, and people still don't know where the second one is. The one I have is a precious treasure,
Your father had the reputation of being a very severe teacher. After the seminar you taught, people said they thought your teaching embodied peace and joy, and they remarked on your openness and warmth. How did you get from such a harsh influence to peace, joy, and openness?
Ah! My father was a person of a different era, a very different time. His severity resulted from his environment.
I was able to see both sides of my father, omote and ura. Everyone has an omote and an ura. Omote is what you present to the world, and ura is what you are but do not show to the world.
My father was also very intelligent, very wise. After studying with O-Sensei and Deguchi Sensei, when my father was still young, he went to the war in Manchuria and learned many languages. As a result, he was able to rise through the ranks in the military. Rather than becoming a warrior, he became a translator, and he was able to return to Japan earlier than many other people. Because so many people had died in the war, there were very few teachers in Japan. My father was told, " OK, you're now a teacher." After the war ended, people starting coming back. Since there were more teachers then, he joined the Chunichi Newspaper in Nagoya. That's when he started doing Aikido again.
My father was strict and severe, both physically and spiritually, the scariest of the teachers at [Aikikai] Hombu dojo, the most feared. He did not leave many openings for human contact. The young students do not remember him [or this very severe type of aikido], but those who are now 70 or 80 years old understand.
My father's grave is near Onisaburo Deguchi's and Morihei Ueshiba's.
Where were you during the war?
All the children were taken to the countryside where there were temples and shrines and rice paddies. My house was a little up in the hills, safe from the bombs. I was so young that I didn't understand what war was. I thought the bombs were beautiful, like fireworks. I saw Okazaki City burning.
In your opinion, do people appreciate the connection of Aikido to the Omoto Kyo?
The philosophy of 0moto Kyo is extremely complicated, made up from many different pieces. When Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei, was studying with Onisaburo Deguchi, one of the things he was studying was Aikido.
In the US, there are many different divisions in Aikido. Some people don't know about the Omoto Kyo. Most have never been to Kyoto or Ayabe, because they don't know about the connection. In Japan, too, many great Aikido teachers don't know that Aikido is connected to the Omoto Kyo.
What was Onisaburo Deguchi's attitude toward war?
He was opposed to a war - especially to world war. But at the end of WW II, we had a cleansing of the spirit of the world.
Onisaburo Deguchi taught many "not so powerful" people. The people in power were upset by this. Before the war, the important people - the powerful people, the politicians - were bad. Many people suffered under these politicians.
Aikido is sometimes called " the Art of Peace." Do you think that Aikido's emphasis on peace can somehow be traced back to Deguchi Sensei?
Deguchi Sensei said that we have to get rid of competition, winning and losing.
Before the war, the goal was to become so strong that you would never lose. Martial arts would compete against each other, and one would win while the other would lose. Then the loser would vow to defeat the winner. Onisaburo Deguchi insisted that we break that never-ending cycle of competition - that we create a martial art without competition.
When Morihei Ueshiba went to Tokyo, he had many conversations with Jigoro Kano [the founder of judo] and Hakudo Nakayama, a Kendo and Iaido sensei. He was able to discuss Budo with these great teachers. That's why, in Aikido, we have some Judo and some Iaido. These arts got brought in through this contact.
Under these influences, the spirit, the heart of Aikido was born. Aikido does not just use power and force, and it's not just practice, practice, practice. It involves contact with people of many different types. It is through this contact that we get the spirit of Aikido. The term 'Budo' does not describe a system for fighting, but the physical art of training better human beings through practice.
In what ways did O-Sensei change as a result of his contact with Onisaburo Deguchi?
After O-Sensei met Onisaburo Deguchi, his whole being changed. Before, he did Aikido for his own purposes - for himself. After he met Deguchi, he practiced Aikido so that he would hold other people important, see their worth. He taught for others, not himself.
Onisaburo Deguchi's influence was very important. He was born and raised in poverty. As he grew up, his conditions didn't improve. He had a tough life. He wasn't able to study, but he was incredibly intuitive.
When Deguchi was about 13, he went through a period of confusion and emotional turmoil. Unbelievable things happened. He was able to read difficult Kanji characters, ones that scholars had trouble with - the first time he saw them. Just walking along, he knew exactly when it was going to rain. He was aware of these things. No matter who he came up against, whether a politician or an academic, he could respond properly. His philosophy was that, strong or weak, people are people. If you've got the same feeling, you can get the same results.
Is love the feeling that you are talking about?
That term wasn't really used. It was Kisshomaru Ueshiba [ O Sensei's son and the second Doshu] who started to talk about "love."
Onisaburo Deguchi taught to be centered but also to move into people's centers, to be there, to connect. He was able to do that, but it is very difficult for normal human beings. Deguchi didn't call it " love." It was more a state of being, of centeredness.
What is it about Aikido keiko that relates to this idea?
In Aikido, you can't succeed at doing techniques if you're not doing them from your center. So, you can learn what it is to be centered by doing techniques properly. And, if a human is a little off center, it can be very bad. So, technique offers us a metaphor as well as a physical embodiment of spirit. Centeredness is the key both in being human and in doing Aikido.
Even though I listened to what my father said, I didn't fully understand his methods.
What I say comes from my own experience. For me, what is most important is that everyone practice with a smiling face - that people enjoy the Aikido experience. (Laughter)
Training, on and off the mat, is difficult for me, just as it is for everyone else. I use my head, my heart, and my center together. I take my problems from my head down to my heart, and I get my strength from my center. When I get to the office and find conflict (laughter), I talk with everybody and try to smile.
I'm a human being. In my head, like everyone else's, it's all a mess. But I have to embody the lessons I learn from Aikido. I cannot take out my frustrations on my wife and family. In Aikido, I can let go.
So, it's a release for you to go to the dojo?
It's a release - yes. The people there understand me well, and we practice, do Chinkon, and talk after practice. The whole experience helps me to let go of what has happened during the day, so that I can go home and have fun with my family.
Do you use Aikido at work?
Yes. The president of the company and I go at it. I tell him my true feelings, and he comes right back! (Laughter) We don't necessarily agree. After a few minutes, both of us reconsider. After about an hour, he comes over, and I tell him, with a smile and a handshake, that I said too much. Interactions of that sort are common, and Aikido helps with the people/relationship hurdles.
At work, many people come to me with their issues. It's very hard for me, but, with a smile, I talk about my colleagues' work, home, friend, and family problems. They even come to me with financial problems! (Laughter) Discussing these issues is difficult, but discussion diffuses the situation, releases the tension.
In your opinion, what's the most important thing to remember in running a dojo?
Integrity is important. Telling people to do this or that is one thing, but being centered and leading by example is another. That is the level beyond verbal training. You can teach nonverbally - with your whole being. Words are superficial.
A circle of harmony surrounds your dojo; I can feel it. But, if you look hard enough, you will find some sharp edges. You don't want those. You want curved, rounded edges. You want a warm atmosphere, not a cold one. In a cold one, everyone scatters.
When you get many people involved, some people will be fun to work with and some will not. In Japan, there are also plenty of difficult people. (Laughter)
Who's the best person to work with?
You shouldn't always do the same technique with the same person. Go to different people. Make sure you sometimes do your waza with the people you don't want to practice with. And while you're practicing, have some conversation. It's good for you and for your partner.
As an Aikido instructor, how should I deal with difficult people in the dojo?
Dealing with difficult people takes courage. I suggest that you talk with them. Initiate the conversation rather than waiting for them to come to you. Talk to them with a smile in your body, face, and eyes - not just in your words. Make eye contact.
Some people don't talk much. Some people don't greet me, and I don't get a good feeling about them. I force myself to initiate conversations with them. "How are you doing?" I say. When it's time to leave, I say, " Let's have some tea together." This is hard to do; you have to work at it. I'm always working at it.
Sensei, in the seminar you talked about the three points of the triangle....
Yes, the three supports: technique, heart, and language or etiquette. Harmony among these elements is the key to balancing them.
It's difficult to make a triangle into a circle. But, in the middle of the triangle, there's a central person: the teacher. Take advantage of the teacher's good points to turn your triangle into a circle.
In Okazaki, I'm at the center. I have a few other people there. As these people take advantage of each other's strengths, the circle forms.
How would you summarize your philosophy of Aikido?
That's a difficult question. I have looked in books, but I haven't found a good answer. The answer lies in working hard to find it; it's in the trying that you get it.
Aikido is a path that I started walking with my father when I was small. Although it has been a difficult road, I feel extremely fortunate. I have many good friends in Japan, and they teach me many things. I have tried to study, to understand, and to teach others.
Participating in this interview were several members of the Greensboro, NC, Kodokan Dojo: John Grinnell, Betsy Grinnell, Jay Speetjens, Gerald Hutchinson, Elizabeth Link, Leslie Kausch, Susan Dalton, and David Sears. Miyama Satoshi, one of Tanaka Sensei's students from Okazaki, was also present (as was Gerald and Leslie's three week-old son, Daniel).
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
Re: Interview with Tanaka Tadamitsu Shihan
Most interesting and thought provoking article .I would appreciate more info/perhaps videos of Tanaka Sensei. I like his views on Aikido. Thanks, Cheers, Joe.
Re: Interview with Tanaka Tadamitsu Shihan
Thanks for your kind words. You know, I don't know if any videos of Tanaka Shihan are posted. I'll see what I can find. I would like to be able to replicate his techniques, but more than that, I hope to one day be a centered, joyful person of integrity who can maintain my center, come what may. That takes work!!! I was glad to hear him say he works all the time at these things that seem (to me) to be so easy for him.
Re: Interview with Tanaka Tadamitsu Shihan
Very interesting interview. It takes us back to the basics, the center, and serves as a glimpse to the past. Loved the part about 'Love'
Re: Interview with Tanaka Tadamitsu Shihan
I've mentioned this idea several times, so, sorry, I realize I keep coming back to it, but it intrigues me. It's so simple and in other ways, it's remarkable. I've seen Tanaka Shihan laughing and completely at ease with the person who puts gas in his car and the exact same way with "important" people in his city. He's the same no matter who he's with and he treats everyone as important. I think that's what "center" is.
I was at a seminar years ago with Toyoda Shihan and he was teasing us, saying how centered we were on the mat, but then we cuss and carry on when someone cuts us off in traffic-- our centers are up in our throats. He did a really great impression!
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