Earlier in my aikido life, I trained regularly in the UK and became one of those people found in most aikido organizations who ‘do' things, like organizing dojo training schedules and weekend seminars, and keeping contact with other dojos. I did not ask to do this and I was not really appointed. Things needed to be done and I did them. My doing such things became so accepted that if there was a problem, the refrain was usually, ‘Ask Peter. He will know what to do.'
Organizing transportation for weekend seminars was one such task and on this particular occasion the seminar was to be given by Masatake Fujita. The resident Japanese instructor was Minoru Kanetsuka, but we knew all the other Japanese instructors who resided in Europe and some of them had given seminars in the UK. Masatake Fujita was an unknown figure and it would be his first seminar in the UK, but Mr Kanetsuka told us that he was his sempai
at university. He explained that they had both been students at Takushoku University in Tokyo. I learned later that Takudai was renowned for the severe training in its martial arts clubs, but in aikido it was a Yoshinkan stronghold and Kanetsuka had been a regular university uke
for the legendary Gozo Shioda. Masatake Fujita did aikido, but trained directly at the Aikikai Hombu and eventually became a sort of secretary-cum-amanuensis to Morihei Ueshiba himself. I had actually seen Mr Fujita before, when I trained at the New England Aikikai in Boston. During my time there, two eminent Hombu personages had passed through, one of whom was the Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, who was on his way to Hawaii. The other was Kisaburo Osawa. Mr Fujita was the assistant and sometimes took uke for the eminent visitor: we lowly junior students knelt in awe and watched the spectacle unfold. Later, we were allowed to ask the visitors respectful questions.
Back in the UK, the regular pattern for weekend seminars was training from noon on Saturday onwards, followed by a long Sunday session. On this particular occasion Fujita Sensei would be teaching all the sessions for a total of about eight hours. I made an important mistake of organization, but it was a very illuminating mistake: I had forgotten to appoint a designated uke
for Fujita Sensei. I was a junior yudansha and Fujita Sensei decided that I would perform this role myself. So I was the default uke for the duration of the whole seminar.
Up to this point I had taken ukemi from K Chiba, M Kanai, M Kanetsuka and much more occasionally from other Japanese instructors resident in Europe. So I had developed a reasonable idea of the ‘architecture' of the main aikido waza
: the preferred way of attacking -- and what happened if you made a mistake; the follow-through; the preferred way of ukemi --
and whether you could actually make a choice; and the effectiveness of the final pin or joint lock. In our local dojo we devoured the Traditional Aikido
volumes then being published by Morihiro Saito (and especially explored the combinations given in the chart on pp. 8 and 9 of Volume 3). There was always plenty of time for free training outside the official classes. In this respect, however, I think that our dojo was no different from many others with young and enthusiastic junior yudansha, who had enough time to train every day.
Fujita Sensei presented a new variation of the waza architecture and as I gained more experience of taking ukemi for him over the years, I recognized certain elements that were his trademarks, invariably repeated on the occasions when he gave aikido demonstrations. He always started with the same set of katate tai-sabaki
exercises and used these as the basis for whatever waza he taught. One of his trademarks was a large spiral movement for irimi-nage
, with him spinning uke across a horizontal and vertical axis, and culminating in an almost vertical projection with contact maintained right down to the mat. Something similar was done with the projections known as kokyu-nage
and requiring a back ukemi, but in this case there was less of a spiral movement: one tended to go up occasionally and then straight down, almost drilled right through the mat and not just on to it. Over the course of this first weekend seminar, however, I was treated very carefully and occasionally given whispered advice—in monosyllabic English—on how best to take ukemi. However, I was also being tested and Fujita Sensei gradually increased the tempo of the waza and also the size of the spirals and the intensity of the downward projections.
This seminar was the beginning of a lasting friendly relationship, one reason being that Fujita Sensei was Technical Adviser to the British Aikido Federation in the UK and very often came to BAF summer schools. Two episodes stand out here. One was the raucous parties that were held at the end of the summer school, when everyone let their hair down after a week of hard training. It was traditional to play tricks on certain people like general secretaries and visiting teachers and I myself remember being put fully clothed in the shower by certain Scottish aikidoka, with Fujita Sensei's active participation and encouragement. Another was when I took my father to a summer school. Dad looked on with some bemusement as I was subjected to the familiar spirals and vertical projections: my father was a quiet sedentary type and had heard of aikido, but he had never seen in his son put in such a situation and appearing to enjoy it. We stayed in a hotel in Chester and Fujita Sensei enjoyed the thoroughly unhealthy traditional English breakfasts that were served there: porridge, fried eggs, black (blood) pudding, bacon, sausages, bread dipped in the fat, followed by toast and marmalade.
When I came to Japan, the friendly relationship continued and one reason was that my place of residence would be Hiroshima and I would train at the central dojo in the city. I discovered that Mr Fujita actually started the Hiroshima dojo when he was a Takudai student and that he was one of three Hombu instructors who regularly visited the dojo to give seminars, the other two being Hiroshi Tada and Seigo Yamaguchi. I further discovered that he was a close friend of the local chief instructor, who had taken over the running of the dojo from unsavoury characters associated with local yakuza
and had requested the support of the Hombu. So when I came to Japan, it was Fujita Sensei who told his friend that I was coming to Hiroshima and so I regularly met him—and took ukemi—on his visits here. Sometimes he gave up his place to other teachers and so it is due to Fujita Sensei that I was able to experience the aikido of Rinjiro Shirata and the weapons work of Morihiro Saito (though I had met Saito Sensei a few times before, in Europe and the USA).
Among those who regularly took ukemi for visiting instructors, Fujita Sensei acquired a reputation for being dangerous -- and I saw later that this was not confined to the UK. Since K Chiba had been the resident instructor in the UK, senior yudansha well understood the crucial importance of good attack and good ukemi: but you still were never quite sure what would happen. The danger with Fujita Sensei was similar, but manifested in a different way: you knew what would happen, but were not quite sure when. On one occasion I saw a 4th dan holder knocked almost unconscious because he did not realize that the large spiral and vertical movements were going to occur and had not developed the resources to cope with them. This yudansha had never trained with Fujita Sensei before, but insisted on taking ukemi because he was the only Japanese present in the middle dan range and felt he had an obligation to uphold Japan's martial culture. We, on the other hand, were more junior yudansha and foreigners to boot, but possessors of some crucial practical experience and we saw a disaster about to happen. This yudansha thought that it would be a ‘normal' demonstration, just like he had often experienced with his own teacher, but he was mistaken. At the very beginning of the demonstration, after the usual katate tai-sabaki exercises, Fujita Sensei set up one of his trademark kokyu-nage projections and piled his uke into the mat. There was a pause, the yudansha staggered to his feet, but had difficulty in regaining his balance and clearly could not continue, so the demonstration continued with some of us who were more experienced. We all saw what had happened and I remember thinking that, no, I would not have taken ukemi quite like this 4th dan had done: there was too much dancing around and he was not sufficiently ‘grounded'.
The occasion was a large international gathering, in the presence of Kisshomaru Doshu and several senior Japanese instructors -- and their reaction was most instructive. They all thought that ‘Fujita had done it again' and blamed him for not treating his uke more gently. Over the years I had seen Chiba Sensei's demonstrations at international gatherings, but the more violent encounters never elicited this kind of reaction, so I suppose they really blamed Fujita Sensei for something else, perhaps for breaking the 和—wa
: the exquisite ‘harmony' that is supposed to permeate aikido international training seminars and show the superiority of aikido when compared to combat sports. Or it might have been straight prejudice. Fujita Sensei, on his part, made some private remarks about expecting a yudansha with the rank of 4th dan to be able to take ukemi from people other than his own instructor. He also added that he had expected some sort of feedback -- a kind of resistance, even -- from his uke throughout the encounter and did not receive it. From experience I knew exactly what he meant and I thought back to that first seminar in the UK. I had been progressively stretched, much to the amusement of my yudansha colleagues at the seminar, but I had also been progressively taught how to take ukemi in such a way that he could practice his preferred way of aikido without having to worry about harming his uke. He had made such an assumption with the 4th dan uke, but this had unfortunately proved to be false. He was to blame for the incident, but in his own mind the blame was tempered with a belief that it had not been entirely deserved.
The reaction of the other Japanese instructors to Fujita Sensei's demonstration was significant for another, more disconcerting, reason that I discovered later. In my aikido life I have met virtually every overseas Japanese teacher who has claimed to be an ‘uchi-deshi
' of the Founder and I became uncomfortably aware of a certain rivalry, rather like the sibling rivalry in large families. Those who I talked to were unanimous that Fujita Sensei was never an ‘uchi-deshi.' He was the secretary, in the office, and practiced in his free time, but he was never in this charmed inner circle like the ‘real' deshi and I sensed a certain negative reaction to the influence he wielded in the Hombu. He maintained his path up through the dan ranks and was quite high up on the list of Hombu senior instructors, but I had the impression that some thought he was there under pretences that were not exactly false, but certainly open to another interpretation. I have been present at other discussions among Morihei Ueshiba's postwar deshi
and they put great weight on the very fine Japanese distinction made between uchi
(outside) and kayoi
(commuting). The point was that Fujita was none of these. Even after Kisshomaru Doshu told me himself that O Sensei had no postwar uchi-deshi and he himself had no uchi-deshi at all, the distinction between the Elect and the hoi polloi was still maintained, for they all quite rightly prized their own close relationship with Morihei Ueshiba very carefully. Fujita Sensei did, also, and it was he who, with Sadateru Arikawa, put Morihei Ueshiba's rather rambling oral discourses into some semblance of logical order and prepared them for publication.
On another occasion I was in Sweden for an international gathering and our Swedish hosts had planned a demonstration, in which they hoped all the visiting Japanese instructors would participate. I was astonished to see that most of the visitors refused and our hosts were acutely disappointed. They approached Fujita Sensei, who was the Hombu delegate at the meeting, and asked if he would give a demonstration. He had not expected to be asked, but readily accepted and added that he wanted to choose his own uke. He asked me directly if I would be his uke and we were taken back to the hotel to collect keikogi
. Fujita Sensei's demonstration was the final one and all the Japanese instructors were sitting in the audience, speculating what he would do to his uke this time. The speculation gleefully increased when they saw who his uke was. However, those wanting to see fireworks were disappointed. The demonstration followed the usual pattern, with the katate tai-sabaki followed by the spirals and the projections into the mat. I knew what to expect and there were no incidents.
One of the distinctive features of Fujita Sensei's aikido is that there are certain waza that he never does and in this respect it is interesting to compare his aikido with that of another senior instructor of similar rank, but with quite a different background. I mean Hiroshi Isoyama. For example, I have never seen Fujita Sensei do koshi waza
or the ganseki
throws favored in Iwama and I suspect that the reason is that for him they are not basic waza. He swears by basics and so his seminars and demonstrations tend to follow a predictable pattern. Seminars always tend to follow a ‘theme' and usually exploit the possibilities offered by his basic sabaki movements against grabs and strikes. I remember a memorable training session in Hiroshima, where there was only one waza practiced for the whole time. This was shoumen-uchi ikkyou
, but the attack had to be omote
, made at full speed and with as much power as uke could muster. It took some time for everyone to realize what had been asked for, but the training was very exhilarating.
Of course, Fujita Sensei's knowledge of his basics is very thorough, but it is the way he interprets these basics that makes his aikido rather predictable, on the one hand, but extremely interesting, on the other. Fujita Sensei is quite well built, but is extremely soft, a quality he shares with other senior instructors like Hiroshi Tada and Seigo Yamaguchi. So attacking him was rather like attacking a block of soft rubber. He was also able to focus a lot of power on a single point and this is the reason why his projections were so powerful. His timing was usually spot on, as was the way he set up what I called earlier the ‘architecture' of the waza. Isoyama Sensei is known for his direct irimi-nage projections, but I have rarely experienced this type of irimi-nage from Fujita Sensei in all the years I have known him. What he does is set up his uke for a projection that is quite as direct and ‘in your face' as Isoyama Sensei's, but is vertical, down to the mat, rather than horizontal like the ‘clothes-line' throw.
Since Fujita Sensei was secretary of the Hombu Dojo and I was secretary of the IAF, there were many occasions where we attended the same events. In 1986 there was an IAF meeting in Italy. I was included in the delegation that went from the Hombu, which also included the present Doshu, Seiichi Seko, Mitsuyoshi Ishihara, Hayato Osawa and Masatake Fujita. This was the first time I was part of a Japanese group and we met at the Hombu Dojo and were seen off by Doshu and Osawa Sensei. Fujita Sensei took the role of kanji
, or organizer. He collected all the passports and air tickets and assigned our seats. He and I sat together and we fully availed ourselves of the excellent Air France inflight service. I think we talked for the entire flight. It was during the IAF meeting that we heard that Minoru Kanetsuka was critically ill in hospital and Fujita Sensei decided that he had to go and visit him. He told me this directly and I think he was hoping that we would go together. We eventually did, but this time I took the role of kanji
. We went to Oxford, paid a visit to Kanestuka Sensei, who was in hospital preparing for chemotherapy, and eventually returned to Paris. On the return flight to Japan I was given an inside view of the Hombu's organizational structure, but especially of all the feuding groups and factions that existed therein, including the relationships with the Japanese instructors residing overseas. I already had some idea of this, but Fujita Sensei laid it all out in great detail. I had cause to use some of this knowledge a few years later, but probably not in the way that he intended.
The IAF holds a general congress every four years and the official reason for holding it in Japan is to allow the instructors residing overseas to visit Japan and recharge their cultural batteries, so to speak. An exception was made in 1992, however, when the Congress was held in Taipei. I was IAF General Secretary and it was my responsibility to organize this vast meeting with Paul C N Lee, who was President of the Republic of China Aikido Association (ROCAA). At IAF Congresses it is customary to have aikido training seminars and to hold a demonstration in which representatives from all the member nations participate. The arrangements for the aikido seminars and the demonstration were the responsibility of the host country, in this case the ROCAA. During one meeting at the Hombu, attended by Mr Lee, Fujita Sensei and myself, Kisshomaru Doshu had appeared and urged us all to exercise great caution, but to me his warning was about as obscure as Dumbledore's warnings to Harry Potter. Fujita Sensei was a close friend of Mr Lee and fully understood the very difficult conditions under which the ROCAA was operating, but I had no idea of these conditions and was unprepared for the explosion that was about to occur.
After the arrangements for the Congress had been publicized, certain Japanese overseas instructors sent fax messages to the Aikikai requesting the dismissal of two officials, on the grounds that they were responsible for organizing competitions in aikido, at a congress that was about to take place. One official was Fujita Sensei, who was the Hombu Dojo Secretary; the other was myself, the IAF Secretary. These fax messages were received by Fujita Sensei in the Hombu office, who promptly sent copies on to me.
The Congress took place and the atmosphere can best be described as taut. The wa
, so important at international aikido meetings was certainly there, but underlying this was a tension that sometimes appeared at meetings as straight conflict. I was in a very difficult position, however, for I had discovered independently that the condition imposed by the local Olympic committee in Taiwan for the operation of aikido by the ROCAA was that they had to hold aikido demonstrations that could be seen to outsiders as competitions, with judges holding up scorecards after each demonstration. The Aikikai had known about this condition for several years, but had remained silent and it was only now, with an impending demonstration that would be attended by officials of the local Olympic committee, that it had become an issue. I happened to have lunch with Doshu one day and warned him that I had no intention of resigning and that I would have to explain to the entire Congress that the Aikikai had known all along about ‘competition' aikido in Taiwan and had done nothing about it. This lack of action would certainly be construed as approval and would cause a conflict that might have the same consequiences as Tohei Sensei's departure from the Aikikai. Doshu pursed his lips and answered that he did not want any explosion at the Congress (the problem of wa
arising again), but he added that ‘Fujita does not understand international matters.'
Both Fujita Sensei and the present Doshu, who was Hombu Dojo-cho at the time, gave up their positions in the Hombu to ‘take responsibility.' I had also been pressed to do this by the instructors who desired my dismissal, but I refused: I was not a Japanese and did not intend to be treated like one in this instance. Of course, I could be voted out of office by the Congress, but I would not resign for a problem I knew nothing about and had no responsibility for. I found out later that Fujita Sensei was extremely unhappy and aggrieved about this. I stated earlier that he was a close friend of my own teacher in Hiroshima and the latter's recounting of the whole episode, with his emphasis on ‘Peter's escape', could have come only from one source.
However, I do not think this unfortunate episode did lasting damage and I will end these musings with one more happy reminiscence of Fujita Sensei's aikido training. On Friday evenings at the Hombu, the final class is usually taught by Doshu and occasionally other Hombu instructors would join in the practice as ‘students'. The appearance of Arikawa Sensei was usually an occasion for some trepidation, but on this occasion I happened to be training with Mr Giorgio Veneri, then IAF Chairman, and Fujita Sensei appeared. He saw us, came over, and made up a threesome. It was a very interesting hour. Giorgio is very tall and strong and trained in judo before starting aikido in Italy with Hiroshi Tada. Fujita Sensei also did judo, for his father was noted as an eminent judoka and had introduced his son to O Sensei. Fujita Sensei made it as hard as possible for us to do anything and then took great delight in piling us both into the mat with his spirals and vertical projections. Kisshomaru Doshu occasionally came over, smiled, and wandered off: it was clearly an excellent example of wa
at the international level. One thing I discovered, though, through the nikyou
pins, was that Fujita Sensei's shoulders were a little less flexible than they were before ---- and another was that I had learned to resist successfully some applications of yonkyou
Fujita Sensei had a stroke a few years ago and is now in a Tokyo nursing home. It is unlikely that he will ever practice aikido again. He has a huge international following, especially in Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation, and this is the result of an initiative made by the same Giorgio Veneri. Mr Veneri once called attention to the need for spreading aikido to countries outside the traditional ‘West' and in this he was supported by European aikido practitioners like the late A H Bacas -- and also by Fujita Sensei, who agreed to lend his technical expertise. For a number of years Fujita Sensei regularly traveled to the Netherlands and used these trips as a springboard for many aikido seminars in the vast region lying between Europe and East Asia. The fact that so many of these countries now have flourishing aikido organizations is in large part due to a man who was usually in the shadows, but was known as a great fixer, who was always available if needed, and was one of the unsung heroes of postwar aikido. As someone once said of another mutual aikido colleague, "He has been my friend for forty years."
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
Peter Goldsbury (b. 28 April 1944). Aikido 7th dan Aikikai, Emeritus Professor at Hiroshima University, teaching philosophy and comparative culture. B. in UK. Began aikido as a student and practiced at various dojo. Became a student of Mitsunari Kanai at the New England Aikikai in 1973. After moving back to the UK in 1975, trained in the Ryushinkan Dojo under Minoru Kanetsuka. Also trained with K Chiba on his frequent visits to the UK. Moved to Hiroshima, Japan, in 1980 and continued training with the resident Shihan, Mazakazu Kitahira, 8th dan Also trained regularly with Seigo Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Tada, Sadateru Arikawa and Masatake Fujita, both in Hiroshima and at the Aikikai Hombu. Was elected Chairman of the IAF in 1996. With two German colleagues, opened a small dojo in Higashi-Hiroshima City in 2001. Instructed at Aiki Expo 2002 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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