Black Belt Magazine, November 1965
Master Tohei is the chief instructor of the Hombu, Japan's Aikido headquarters and has been instrumental in introducing aikido to Hawaii and the United States. Black Belt interviewed him recently to find out more about the movement of Aikido in the United States and the rest of the world.
Technique Without Ki, Says Master, is Not AikidoBB: How many times have you visited the United States?
Tohei Sensei: I've made five trips to Hawaii and two to California.
BB: Have you been to any other countries?
Tohei Sensei: No, but the Hombu (headquarters) has sent five instructors to Europe.
BB: Are you planning to visit other countries?
Tohei Sensei: No, I have too many students to teach in America.
BB: Is Aikido good for children?
Tohei Sensei: Yes, in Hawaii, the Aikikai teaches children from 8 years old up. They have about 300 children today.
BB: But don't you think it is too difficult for them to understand the ki?
Tohei Sensei: Yes, it is difficult, but they learn if the instructor can explain the coordination of the ki with the body.
BB: What is the best age to learn Aikido?
Tohei Sensei: I think about 8 years old.
BB: Don't you think that age is too young? Before they can really understand the ki, they'll be tired of the art.
Tohei Sensei: This depends on the teachings.
BB: To what extent?
Tohei Sensei: Some excellent university professors cannot teach children, only adults. Aikido instructors are the same. But it is a prerequisite that children have a superior instructor.
BB: Would you recommend Aikido for women?
Tohei Sensei: Yes.
BB: How about older people?
Tohei Sensei: Yes, for them also.
BB: Why aren't there more women and older people who practice Aikido? They seem to be enthusiastic at first but eventually fade out after taking a few falls.
Tohei Sensei: Because they are afraid to fall. One Aikido instructor realized this and started a special type of training for these people. His students just do exercises with the application of the ki under the Guidance of Police Lt. Shinichi Suzuki of Maui, Hawaii. They learned to flow the ki just as well as their counterparts who study the entire art.
BB: Do you think the main principle of Aikido is the ki?
Tohei Sensei: Yes.
BB: How many countries have Aikido dojos today?
Tohei Sensei: Aikido was taught in 18 countries five years ago, but I don't know the exact figures today-maybe 30 or 40 countries.
BB: Approximately how many person participate in Aikido today?
Tohei Sensei: About 100,000 I'd say.
BB: How many in Japan and Hawaii?
Tohei Sensei: Seventy to 80 thousand in Japan. About 1,500 in Hawaii.
BB: Is it easier to teach American beginners or Japanese?
Tohei Sensei: The Japanese seem to accept it more readily.
BB: In other words the Americans are more skeptical?
Tohei Sensei: Well, the Japanese are skeptical too, but they are easier to convince.
BB: Many readers want to know the differences, if any between the various Aikido groups, such as Hombu, Yoshinkai, Goshin, and others. Are there any differences?
Tohei Sensei: The techniques look alike but only Hombu applies the kit Without the ki, this, to me, is not Aikido. If you use physical force to do the techniques, your movements will not be natural.
BB: Are there many police forces using Aikido?
Tohei Sensei: Yes, Hawaii police departments have been using Aikido for many years and so have the Japanese police departments.
BB: What about the Japanese Army and Navy?
Tohei Sensei: Every military camp in Japan has an Aikido organization.
BB: I notice that you have been giving many exhibitions to the police in New York, Sari Francisco, Los Angeles and the other large cities. What were their reactions?
Tohei Sensei: They were very receptive to Aikido, but the problem in New York was how to teach 27,000 policemen. I remained only a short time in that city. The only way to teach 27,000 policemen is to have an instructor in each department.
BB: Recently we noticed a pocketbook entitled The Power of Aikido by Claude St. Denise that sells for 95 cents. Any comment on the book?
Tohei Sensei: I've seen this book and frankly believe the author doesn't know the principles of Aikido because such statements as: "More powerful than karate and judo..." is contrary to Aikido's teaching. The mountain doesn't laugh at the river because it is lowly nor does the river laugh at the mountain because it cannot move. Each art has its own good points end philosophy and never should we criticize any of the other arts. Such a book as this will only give a misconception of Aikido and slow its growth. I personally do not know the author, Claude St. Denise.
BB: If a police department wants to see a demonstration of Aikido how much will they have to pay?
Tohei Sensei: Nothing, I'll do it free anytime.
BB: Do you think Aikido can be applied to your daily life?
Tohei Sensei: Certainly! The most important concept of Aikido training is to applying it to daily life. Aikido teaches you to relax and that alone is beneficial. I wrote a book recently entitled How to Apply Aikido Principles To Your Daily Life.
BB: Is that book written in Japanese or English?
Tohei Sensei: In Japanese, but an English translation should be out soon.
BB: Could you give us an idea as to the main theme of the book?
Tohei Sensei: This book explains the details of ki. The first book tells readers how they can understand ki, how they can develop it, and how they can apply it to their daily life in sleeping, waking, eating, walking, and thinking.
BB: Do you actually concentrate or keep your one point 24 hours a day or are you like most people in the United States and only do it in the dojo (school)?
Tohei Sensei: I definitely keep my one point at all times. If you do it only in the dojo, you cannot develop your ki because the training you receive in the dojo is too short. Only an hour or two a day is not enough. You must do it until it becomes a part of you and you do it naturally - unconsciously like breathing. Too many beginners do not really understand and keep concentrating on the one point (a point 2 inches below your navel) almost in a physical manner. They look at their expanded bellies and think they are doing it right. They do not understand they must concentrate, not intensively, but calmly.
BB: Why is it that while the demand for Aikido instructors in the United States has gone up considerably there still seems to be a lack of dojos?
Tohei Sensei: Because there aren't enough instructors. If Aikido was only a physical art, you could easily teach a person to become an instructor. But because Aikido stresses the ki, the training takes much longer. Until an in- structor knows the art - physically and mentally - he can't do a good job. It would be like the blind leading the blind.
BB: Is it possible to study Aikido from a book for many of these people who do not have a dojo in their area?
Tohei Sensei: It is very difficult to understand the movements of Aikido from a book but you may be able to learn and apply the mental aspect of Aikido from a book. You must, of course, read the book thoroughly maybe four or five times, before you can really understand it. Then you must practice the movements and attempt to follow what you have read.
BB: In other words, you do recommend a person to study from a book if a dojo is not available?
Tohei Sensei: Yes, if a dojo is not available. But if one is, you should attend a good dojo because you'll be able to learn the finer points of the art which you may miss from a book.
BB: If I should read your book and misinterpret one of the techniques or exercises, and keep practicing it wrong, will that hinder my development later on when I join a dojo?
Tohei Sensei: No. When I visited Chicago a few months ago, four people from Ohio came to study under me and I was surprised because they knew the techniques quite well. When I inquired who taught them, they said that they had learned it from my book. One person would read while the others practiced the techniques. They didn't reveal any major faults in their movements. I'm glad that my book can help people who live in an area where a dojo is not accessible.
BB: Do you recommend any specific exercise for a student outside the dojo?
Tohei Sensei: Yes, a student should practice whatever he learned in the dojo. This will develop his technique much faster.
BB: Could you say how a student could be more conscious of the one point so he can develop his ki faster?
Tohei Sensei: I always teach in the dojo that you must apply your one point and keep applying it continuously until it becomes a habit. I even tell students to teach others so they can understand.
BB: Don't you think it is dangerous to concentrate on the one point while driving?
Tohei Sensei: Too many people misunderstand concentrating on the one point and nothing else. This is a misconception. Concentration of the one point means to keep your mind calm and after you receive that feeling to retain that feeling. Then you can drive your car or do anything else more safely and with better judgment.
BB: Will you return to the United States after this trip?
Tohei Sensei: Yes, I'll try to be back again in 1966 or 1967.
BB: Are you satisfied with the growth of Aikido in the United States?
Tohei Sensei: Actually, I'm flabbergasted by the growth of Aikido in the United States. I didn't think it would grow as fast as it has within the last four years.