Osawa Hayato Shihan is one of the senior instructors of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. He is also the son of legendary instructor and Hombu Dojocho, the late Osawa Kisaburo. I am particularly pleased to publish this interview of Osawa Hayato Shihan as he one of the Aikikai instructors whose classes I follow most diligently. Osawa Sensei is a warm and soft-spoken individual, yet his techniques are surprisingly explosive and sharp. He considers however that achieving such levels of virtuosity can only be achieved via the strictest compliance with the fundamentals of Aikido. In this interview, Osawa Shihan takes the time to explain in details the various elements of his practice and he provides some of his views on modern Aikido.
Michael Thai: Sensei, when I say the word "Aikido", what is the first thing that comes to your mind?
Osawa Hayato: I would say I first think of O Sensei Ueshiba Morihei its founder, and then of course, I think about everything he has given to us through his art.
Michael Thai: At what point in your career did you decide to teach Aikido? What was your motivation?
Osawa Hayato: I actually never thought of becoming a professional, nor even just an Aikido teacher. I was just wondering what was the most suitable environment to practice Aikido, and the idea of entering the Hombu dojo came of itself. Things happened naturally.
Class at the Sengawa Harukaze Dojo
Michael Thai: What sort of state of mind must an Aikidoka be in when he enters on the tatami?
Osawa Hayato: This is a difficult question. I think that as practitioners, we must be willing to give everything.
I may be going slightly off on a tangent but when I was uchi-deshi, before going downstairs to train, I used to look at the picture of O Sensei to give myself some courage. It is bit of a heavy feeling isn't it?
Osawa Hayato Shihan demonstrating (uke: Irie Yoshinobu and Fujimaki Hiroshi)
Michael Thai: Looking at your work on the tatami, it seems that the speed is a key factor in your technical delivery. Is it really?
Osawa Hayato: Yes I think that it is something important, but more than speed, it is the keeping of the connection with the partner that is essential. In practice, the goal is to reach the essence of the art. However, during this research, we sometimes forget how to use the body. By focusing on simple movements, we not learn to use his body optimally, but we can also work on our attitude and our relationship with our partner.
So I would say that rather than focusing on speed, it is better to focus on optimizing our actions to weed out unnecessary movements. In this context, it is not necessarily a requirement to practice quickly but most importantly, we should not stop in the execution of the technique.
Class at the Sengawa Harukaze Dojo (uke: Harada Kenya)
Michael Thai: Do you recommend a particular type of work to develop kokyu-ryoku?
Osawa Hayato: I think that morote kokyu-ho and zagi kokyu-ho are good ways to do this. That said, there are several ways to approach the problem. Is it a work in relation to oneself only or a work in relation to oneself and the partner? For example, is it simply about achieving the release of one's own power, breath, in a split second? Or is it about mutually seizing this breath inside the technique within the partner's movement, at the moment when I place myself?
If we just think of it individually, it is best to repeat the simplest things like just completing the technique on a breath. But then there is also the need to catch the instant of breath with the partner and therefore, it also leads to a reflection on other points such as the movement of partner.
Michael Thai: Weapons techniques are not taught at the Hombu Dojo, can you tell us why?
Osawa Hayato: In fact, there is no official reason why we do not practice weapons at Hombu Dojo. Even if O Sensei practiced weapons, particularly at the Iwama dojo, he did not teach them systematically. Kisshomaru Doshu did not teach them either. Some instructors did teach some weapons forms but they were few and overall, I don't think that we can say that there was a generalized intention to transmit them within the curriculum of Aikido.
Perhaps the aim was to simplify the transmission of Aikido, but we cannot be sure...
Michael Thai: Do you recommend Aikidoka to study traditional weapons nonetheless?
Osawa Hayato: Yes I think it is a good thing. For techniques such as tachi-dori or jo-dori, the study of weapons such as ken against ken or jo against jo is essential.
Like Ju-justu, Aikido once comprised bare hands and weapons practice. Although today's Aikido now focuses on bare hands practice, I think that practicing Aikido techniques in the same way as with weapons (ken against ken, jo against jo, ken against bare hands, etc.) is a good thing. In the current teaching of Aikido at the Hombu Dojo there is indeed no formal weapons curriculum, this is why I think that it is a good thing to study outside to find a suitable education.
Michael Thai: Sensei, you ask your students to practice with flexibility rather than strength. What is the purpose?
Osawa Hayato: Power is also important... but if the body is not relaxed, power cannot be released. Being flexible means being able to move to a state of relaxation in a fraction of a second. So, the question is rather how to make the most of one's power in order to release that power in a fraction of a second.
Class at the Sengawa Harukaze Dojo
Michael Thai: You emphasize centering. In what is chushin important for achieving the techniques?
Osawa Hayato: First, we must find the correct posture and then, adjust the breathing, and finally arrange the kokoro. Even if we are not going as far as talking about kokoro, if the posture is not correct, there can be no progress, you can not have real relaxation. In order to use all of one's power in a fraction of a second, it is necessary to be fully relaxed during the fraction of a second earlier but if the posture is not right, then it is not possible.
Michael Thai: Is there a difference in the use of the body whether or not the techniques include the use weapons?
Osawa Hayato: Yes, a great deal of Aikido techniques indeed derive from the sword. On the other hand, there are also techniques that are more directly inherited from grappling arts, in particular sumo, so I guess it depends on what particular technique you are talking about.
Michael Thai: Do you make use of atemi?
Osawa Hayato: Without atemi, Aikido is not plausible. These days, the atemi have disappeared from Aikido. This is perhaps a bit strong but in any case, we have forgotten the meaning of atemi and for me, this is a problem.
Osawa Hayato Shihan
Michael Thai: How important is suwari-waza for you in Aikido?
Osawa Hayato: Yes it is important I think. We must keep in mind where techniques come from. This may take a little long but... Long ago, the samurai, used to go from home to go and serve in a castle and then to head back home in the evening, risking to attacked at every moment. The question was how to respond to these attacks, especially when inside the house where they spent much of their time in seiza. These are techniques that have remained today. Even now, in our time, it is important to consider that, otherwise, the techniques do not make sense.
Michael Thai: It is said that ikkyo is the first and last principle in Aikido... Are there really techniques that are more fundamental than others?
Osawa Hayato: Yes, I think so, ikkyo is an important technique. It is certainly the most fundamental of all even though other techniques such iriminage or shihonage that are also quite fundamental.
Class at the Sengawa Harukaze Dojo
Michael Thai: Modern Aikido owes much to the work of second Doshu, Ueshiba Kisshomaru, whom you have known very well. Can you, tell us about him?
Osawa Hayato: Rather than tell a story, I just want to say that this is someone I have learned a lot from. I have many memories of course... But simply, if Kisshomaru Doshu suddenly appeared there and now, I would immediately get up to take ukemi for him... That is my feeling, it would be natural... You see what I mean? I learned a lot from him and I am very grateful.
Michael Thai: What do you think of the mixed man/woman practice that is so characteristic of Aikido? Was it the will of the founder Ueshiba Morihei to characterize his art?
Osawa Hayato: Mixed practice is a very good thing. I do not know at all if it was the conscious choice of O Sensei but having an Aikido that can be practiced by anyone, elderly, children, women, and men is a good thing.
Due to this, there is however a risk that Aikido become less accurate, but I think that if we manage to keep stringent conditions for all in spite of the heterogenous nature of Aikido practitioners, then the techniques are more likely to thrive.
Class at the Sengawa Harukaze Dojo (uke: Isaka Yuichi)
Michael Thai: Aikido is now practiced all around the world and it is constantly changing, is it a good or bad thing?
Osawa Hayato: It is fine like that isn't it? (Laughs). Of course, as an instructor at the Hombu Dojo, I am concerned about the development of Aikido, especially as regards to the evolution of the content and sometimes I would like things to be more controlled at this level. Controlled is perhaps a strong a word... But, apart from that, things are very well as they are.
Photos kindly provided by Harada Kenya and originally published on the website of Sengawa Aikido Harukaze
Many thanks to Christopher Li and David Yap for their helpful comments and for helping to ensure a more accurate translation.