FACE to FACE with Chiba Sensei

[Taken from http://www.ymcaaikido.com/IntChiba.html. Posted to fix the awful line wrap of the original page. Some corrections to grammar have been made. Japanese words have been italicised where appropriate.]

In August, 1998, Raymond Kwok participated in a seminar taught by T.K. Chiba Shihan (8th Dan Aikikai) from 15th – 21st, at Mejannes, in the south of France. He spoke to the Shihan about Aikido and other related issues.

Excerpts from the interview which first appeared in the 1999 issue of the Kuala Lumpur YMCA Aikido Club Magazine:

Raymond Kwok: Shihan, you entered the Hombu Dojo as an uchi-deshi in February, 1958. What influenced your decision to take up Aikido?

Chiba: Well, it’s a very long story. Previous to Aikido, I studied Judo and Karate a little bit of each and I became very unsatisfied, unhappy about both arts and started looking for something else. That was when I was 18, after I graduated from high school. One day, I came across an Aikido book in a local bookstore which was (the) first ever published in Japan society.

Raymond Kwok: “Budo”?

Chiba: No, “Aikido”. In the first page .. was a small picture of O’Sensei  … and I saw that picture and I recognized immediately that he is my Master that I had been looking for. I hadn’t met him of course. I had no idea what Aikido  as like. I had never seen (him) before. I had never heard of it before. That was my decision to go to see him. That’s how it happened. Actually, I did not care about what Aikido is. I was drawn to the picture of O’Sensei. That’s all  about it.

Raymond Kwok: So Shihan, when you were at Hombu Dojo, who were your contemporaries.

Chiba: First was Tamura Sensei, Yamada Sensei, then me ………….. then Kanai, Sugano, Kurita from New Mexico… Saotome later on, Tohei Akira, that’s about it. I think.

Raymond Kwok: Shihan, what was life as an uchi-deshi like in those days?

Chiba: Nothing else but practice, from morning to night that’s all about it.

Raymond Kwok: 3, 4 hours, 5, 6 hours?

Chiba: More than that … all day ……. 5 times a week but in between in our free time we practiced, taking care of the private lessons, group lessons.

Raymond Kwok: Of course, Shihan was very young at that time, but was it tiring?

Chiba: Ah, very tiring, I was exhausted. Japan was yet to recover from the ravage of the war; economy was still slow and people (were) still having difficult time, we only had simple food nothing much, rice and soup …

Raymond Kwok: So it was the spirit or kokoro [“heart”] that kept you going, wasn’ t it?

Chiba: Yes, Yes, very much so, I didn’t have any intention to become professional teacher … I think everybody else was more or less … the same you know. Everybody loved the Art … training – nobody was thinking about (becoming a) teacher.

Raymond Kwok: I read recently in Aiki Journal an interview with Sugano Shihan in which he commented that life as an uchi-deshi today is much easier than in those days because he said – in those days the uchi-deshi … “you have to do every class” whereas now some uchi-deshi… “oh this class … no, I’m too tired … I don’t want to do …”. Does Shihan have any opinion on that?

Chiba: Well, I honestly, I don’t know what the lifestyle is like nowadays you know … so I cannot compare … but besides our own training – physical training we had to take care of the dojo management, office, cleaning taking care of the Master’s family, helping, taking care of O’Sensei personally, shopping, washing, you know everything else – all the domestic work was in the hands of the uchi-deshi … it’s not fair to compare today’s deshi life and our time … the situation is totally different… Those days uchi-deshi and Master live together … now they are separate. So, I think that to begin with, to call “uchi-deshi” nowadays is I think … not correct. “uchi-deshi” means “house” student … “inside” … living together.

Raymond Kwok: So when Shihan was at Hombu Dojo, apart from O’Sensei, who were Shihan’s teachers?

Chiba: Our immediate teacher was Ueshiba Kisshomaru (present Doshu) then Koichi Tohei – Hombu Chief Instructor and various teachers .. Tada Sensei, Arikawa Sensei, all senior teachers.

Raymond Kwok: And Osawa senior?

Chiba: Osawa senior yes . That’s right.

Raymond Kwok: It is very well known that Shihan is very famous for very powerful technique – is this due to the influence of any particular one of Shihan’s teachers?

Chiba: You talking about me? (laughs) … no… I was influenced by all those teachers I had mentioned …

Raymond Kwok: Shihan, your teaching involves the use of JO and KEN especially for the senior ranks.

Chiba: Yes.

Raymond Kwok: I think that in the Hombu dojo now, they practically don’t do weapons anymore. So, who influenced Shihan’s method of teaching jo and ken?

Chiba: Well, directly from O’Sensei. O’Sensei used a lot of jo and bokken especially when you are accompanying or travelling with him. One Uchi-deshi accompanies him all the time. And I was one of them, and TAMURA Sensei , 2 of us … you have to study it because you have to take ukemi for him, with weapons. You have no choice. Saito Sensei, he does too, he lived with him for many years in Iwama.

Raymond Kwok: I understand from some people that O’Sensei never … systematically taught weapons. So was it very difficult for you (all) to absorb and try to understand?

Chiba: Very difficult.

Raymond Kwok: Is Shihan’s weapons teaching influenced by Iwama-style weapons?

Chiba: Not really, my personal experience is from O’Sensei – I think it is different from Saito Sensei. First of all, O’Sensei was not too young when I became his disciple. He was over 70 already. And this stage was different from time that Saito Sensei began to study Aikido under him …of course I do study my weapons consistently so my idea and my experience came into it, you know.

Raymond Kwok: You have been credited with starting the fuku-shidoin system in your teaching. Can you tell us something about it?

Chiba: Well, this is nothing other than based on Hombu Dojo’s international regulation. There are 2 categories of teachers … shidoin is generally entitled to grade up to 1st kyu. (Shihans will do) dan grade examinations.

Raymond Kwok: I understand that some of the uchi-deshi of O’Sensei in the old days would say that when O’Sensei was teaching he would say things that they had difficulty understanding – did you have that experience?

Chiba: Yes, I did.

Raymond Kwok: Do you have any personal stories about yourself with O’Sensei that you can share with us?

Chiba: First of all … I remember how beautiful he was, his full body, his full posture, the way he walked, the way he (sat) so perfect … in balance… I have travelled with him for trip … teaching tour. We had to ride taxi to get to the rail station. I had to go buy ticket he does not wait … he’d get out from the taxi and he’d just walk into the station without having a ticket, the way he walks is so beautiful … He can enter the station without having a ticket … nobody said anything … Then I have to buy ticket … It takes time … and I have to catch up, I have my bag, his bag in both hands. I carry weapons in my bag … somehow I have to manage, to help him … one hand holds the bag … I have to push him up … when he comes downstairs … you have to give your right shoulder so he can hold your shoulder and come down slowly … he does never wait. (When travelling) we always take adjoining rooms together. He sleeps in the main room, I sleep in the sub-room …… in between there would be sliding door … he was older, certain to get up and go to the toilet … when he moves into your room, steps in and you are asleep … that’s the end of it he’ll never use you again you know, because in a martial sense you are dead already – he can kill you so you have to keep awake all the time … you cannot sleep.

Raymond Kwok: . no sleep?

Chiba: … no sleep … for the first 3 years, because when he got up you have to open the door – sliding door … take him to rest room – help him with his business — wash his hands — bring him back to bed … you go back to sleep again, if you can sleep after days training … everyday training … travelling by train … and so forth for 2 weeks you get tired, tired… exhausted.

Raymond Kwok: What if he woke up and you didn’t know?

Chiba: He’d never accept that. We know. We are martial students – you cannot afford to sleep when somebody steps into … your room.

Raymond Kwok: So then in Shihan’s position, you would have to have the permanent zanshin all the time?

Chiba: Oh yes, he never make jokes … there is no oral communication between teacher and student in Japanese system. I don’t talk to him; he doesn’t talk to me. Longest trip 2 – 5 weeks, no talk. 2 weeks … complete silence … except “I want tea” it’s very strict that kind of teacher – disciple relationship. Those days it used to be like that in Japan. We even say, don’t step on his shadow, you know? …don’t sleep with direction of your feet pointing to your
teacher, you know, very strict.

Raymond Kwok: Shihan, this question may be a bit personal. Shihan has a formidable reputation for being very, very strong … in fact even before I came, I’ve heard a lot about Shihan, I’ve spoken to quite a few people and they say that if people are not careful … people in the past (have) got their arms broken … and people are very very fearful of Shihan … does Shihan have anything to say about that?

Chiba: I don’t know … well let’s put it this way – when I was a student at the Hombu Dojo – there weren’t many people around you know – biggest class was about 20 people. And most people who trained at the Hombu Dojo at that time were well-trained , established Martial Artists. They came there because of the fame of O’Sensei. They wanted to study Aikido under his instruction. They were warriors. Everybody was crazy in that passion of seeking
the path . We used to practice how to hurt people that’s all about it … no compromise.

O’Sensei used to be very angry at demonstration if Shihans did the the big round circular movements … He’d stop that kind of movement … he’d get really angry. It was very difficult to perform during demonstrations in O’Sensei’s presence. So what we did, we’d take him away to a separate room, keep him there … offer him sweets … he loved sweets, you know, Japanese sweets and young lady – pretty lady …. 2 or 3 … beautifully dressed and make him past the time because then he won’t be able to see what’s going on in the dojo. Because it’s so embarrassing you know … in the middle of a demonstration … he would stop it … many times…

Raymond Kwok: I understand that in O’ Sensei’s later years, when he was throwing people, there were people who said that you could not feel him throwing you ..like there was no effort ( on his part ) at all.

Chiba: Yes, it was. When one (reaches) perfection, it’s like that … not many people can do it. I have been taking ukemi for many years from him but I have never felt any pain?

Raymond Kwok: Never?

Chiba: Never, ever. Any technique he does to me – nikkyo, shiho-nage or kotegaeshi, it’s no pain.

Raymond Kwok: Why is that so?

Chiba: Perfection. Yeah, you lose balance but no pain. Any part of his body you touch, behind – whatever what part – “bang!” – impact – kokyu – he can concentrate his “chi” in any part of his body momentarily – “bang, bang” the moment you use force, it comes back to you – so you fall down by yourself! (Laughs).

Raymond: So, he was special?

Chiba: Special.

Raymond Kwok: My last question … what is the secret of Shihan’s power?

Chiba: Passion to the art. (laughs). I had sleepless nights just thinking of a technique for years and years and years you know, sometimes vision comes up in my mind, I wake up my wife, – “come up” and use her as uke. You keep working.