Interview with Peter Goldsbury – Part 1: From Aikido in the UK to Academia in Japan
Peter Goldsbury is one of the few Aikido instructors who have successfully settled in Japan and managed to have a proficient command of the written language.
Peter Goldsbury is 7th Dan Aikido instructor who has been serving as the president of the International Aikido Federation since 1998. He has been living in Japan for many years and holds the emeritus professorship in philosophy at the University of Hiroshima. He has studied Aikido under the guidance of some of the greatest Japanese instructors including Chiba Kazuo, Kanai Mitsunari, Kanetsuka Minoru, and all the teachers of the Hombu Dojo including Yamaguchi Seigo, Tada Hiroshi, Arikawa Sadateru, etc. Peter Goldsbury has also been operating his own dojo in Higashi Hiroshima since 2001. In the first part of this interview, he reflects on his Aikido beginnings and explains how he integrated Japanese society.
Guillaume Erard: How did you start Aikido?
Peter Goldsbury: When I started, I didn’t have any idea of what Aikido was supposed to be. It was a martial art of some sort, it was Aikido. You go on the mat, you are thrown, and so on… it was interesting. I did not practice it for a particular reason, it was something interesting to do. I got to know the teacher, he told me about this strange martial art based on love. I was studying philosophy at the University of Sussex and I thought “this is not possible”, so I dismissed it. He was a 3rd Dan, he had been captain of the club in the University of Tokyo. He invited me onto the mat and I think he used shihonage, I remember going down immediately and thinking “oh, very interesting”. His English wasn’t very good, I think, so he showed. It is a way of teaching that I have become more accustomed to over the years. He showed without much physical or verbal explanation. It was very attractive.
The idea was that you had a kind of physico-physcial relationship with the person you were training with and if he attacked, you were supposed to emerge in an advantageous situation. If you were the attacker, the situation was reversed so it was really quite fair. There was no competition at all. Of course, we weren’t particularly fit even though at the time, I was doing long distance cross country running so I had plenty of stamina but there were some muscles that didn’t really get exercised.
I found out afterwards that he was attached to a dojo, which I think would normally be thought of as rather right wing in Japan, politically…
Guillaume Erard: Aren’t they all?
Peter Goldsbury: Well they are, but that one especially so. It was right wing proudly displaying it, in the Shiseikan Dojo. So, at the time that he practiced with us, he was concerned to portray the Emperor and the Emperor system in a way that he thought had to be understood by non-Japanese. We didn’t either really understand it, or we what we understood, we didn’t agree with, because we had also read our history of World War 2 and made our own conclusions, aided by parents and friends who actually fought in the war (laughs). I still know him, we are friends, we still correspond from time to time, though he’s got older now. He went back to Japan and I started going to the dojo of Chiba Sensei in London.
Entrance of the Shiseikan
Guillaume Erard: What were your impressions of Chiba Sensei?
Peter Goldsbury: Chiba Kazuo Sensei was quite different, the way he taught, the way he practiced, and the way he handled himself. I think he felt himself as the closest thing to a traditional Japanese Samurai. The way he interacted with his students, to my mind, was problematic. His own students wouldn’t agree at all, he was a fantastic teacher, and OK. And then I tried the resolve the contradictions… well, the clash of temperament between those two.
Chiba Kazuo throwing Peter Goldsbury
Guillaume Erard: I understand that you also studied in America for a while…
Peter Goldsbury: My subject area was philosophy and I had decided to begin at the beginning and I was studying ancient Greek philosophy, pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, stoics. But to do that properly you need Greek, but Sussex didn’t offer Greek so I went to America. I got a scholarship at Harvard University in the classics department.
Guillaume Erard: Did you train there?
Peter Goldsbury: Well, my initial Japanese friend who was a teacher approached the Aikikai and gave me the name of a teacher named Kanai Mitsunari Sensei, who was Chiba Sensei’s school friend. And again, he was quite different as well. He wasn’t trying to be a Samurai in any sense of the word. He was practicing, he liked it, he’d been sent to teach in America, which he did, he didn’t like the politics and simply got on with practicing. He also did Iaido with a few of his Japanese yudansha.
Chiba Sensei and Kanai Sensei (1954)
Guillaume Erard: How long did you stay in America?
Peter Goldsbury: I had two years there, why, because Harvard was a very political university and my supervisor went back to England so I decided to follow him back and went to the University of London. The teacher there was a man named Minoru Kanetsuka. I was at University College London and there was a dojo at the college so I was able to resume my Harvard-type existence. I trained and did my PhD as well, that provided a good balance. I got my Shodan in London from Kanetsuka Sensei.
Kanetsuka Minoru and Peter Goldsbury
I then became a kind of junior instructor in the main dojo in London. We had to keep a diary of what we taught, it was a very conservative setup. We always began with a big warm-up and then shomenuchi suwariwaza ikkyo, then hanmi handachi, and only then we would other taijutsu techniques. In the second part of the class we would do weapons. Kanetsuka Sensei had a makiwara, you’ve seen mine outside in the garden, and we would do uchikomi, uchikomi, uchikomi, taimenuchi… At the time, he was attracted to the style of Saito Sensei, because the books had come out at and he was studying them. Only later did I find out that there were political issues, there was Iwama, and there was Tokyo…
Guillaume Erard: Did these teachers all influence your views about Aikido?
Peter Goldsbury: The experience of training in America was different from the experience of training in England, which was different again form the experience of training with Taho-san the first time. Then going back to England again and seeing Kanetsuka Sensei, who was Chiba Sensei’s successor if you like, and the problems he had with Chiba’s own students who were senior. His Aikido was very nice, very good, but I kept thinking well, what’s an Aikido Sensei supposed to be, what’s he supposed to do, what were the job descriptions appart from learning the techniques and teaching them? You know, what you’re supposed to be, especially now that some of the more traditional Shihan complain that it is too much of a business.
In some sense their idea is that it must be some kind of a vocation. All of my teachers, in fact, with no exception, have been Japanese. One question is, “Is your focus of Aikido on the technique or on the teacher?” You practice Aikido to learn techniques or whatever, waza, I think, is a better word, I don’t like the word technique really. In my own case, finding a teacher was really secondary because it depended initially on where I was, then I would look for a dojo and go learn from the teacher in the dojo. Other people did not do this, other people found a teacher and kept with that teacher for most of their Aikido lives. Some people would say that unless you find a teacher that you like and you fit, you cannot really start. I do not really agree. I think that the way you go to a dojo and learn about the art, the way the art fits you and the way you fit the art is different from person to person. I found it useful to learn basics from three different teachers, because it was a good learning experience but I never focused especially on one.
This is another thing about Aikido, you do not stop training and you do not stop learning something. As I got older I had to rebuild the way I practice, because I am no longer a 20-year-old, or a 30-, or a 40-year-old, so you have to do this. To my mind, it is the principles defining the art that are the most important, and not the teacher who manifests the art at any one time. Different teachers have different ways of doing it, and that is OK, not a problem, but my focus is not. In a way, it is chiken and egg I suppose. You go to the dojo and you learn what you can learn form the teacher in the dojo, and from other people, and that adds to the stock, if you like, of your Aikido knowledge, however you want to call it. With Chiba Sensei, I did find people who believed that Chiba Sensei was a fantastic teacher, as he was, but he was the only one, other teachers were not really a factor, and I did not share that view.
Guillaume Erard: What brought you to Japan?
Peter Goldsbury: When I was at Harvard, I had plans of going to Japan. The reason for this is that I bought a book called Aikido written by Kisshomaru Ueshiba. I think you know the book, in English, with photographs of a young Chiba and a young Tamura taking ukemi. In the book, there was an explanation of the founder and Aikido, ans so on. Training in Japan seemed attractive.
I had been told by Chiba Shihan: “Do not go to Japan just to practice Aikido”. He said: “Go to Japan with another means of support, another reason for existing than Aikido”. That was his advice and I followed it. It meant finding a university because I thought it was very difficult to go and work for a company, and I am an academic. So I did this and eventually I was offered positions, and the one that I chose was at Hiroshima University, so I came here.
Guillaume Erard: How did you integrate in Japan?
Peter Goldsbury: This house had been lived in by a professor. I have an arrangement such that I do not own it but I partly own it, I rebuild it when it needs rebuilding. The neighbourhood is a traditional Japanese neighbourhood and all the neighbors have been here also for many years, so I am known as the foreign teacher. I am Sensei basically in the neighborhood, everybody knows who I am. I became embedded if you like. To do this, you need Japanese, there is no question. Hiroshima is not like Tokyo where you can get away with very little Japanese, you need Japanese. There is a very strong dialect also and I had no idea what my Aikido teachers were saying to me for the first few years.
Guillaume Erard: Did you train at the Tokyo Hombu Dojo at that time?
Peter Goldsbury: When I came, a colleague took me to Tokyo and I went to the Hombu. I had met Kisshomaru Ueshiba in America before. Very interesting… What I mean is in America I was practicing hard right. Kisshomaru’s way was very smooth and very circular, he was very frail in many ways, and clearly, he knew what he was doing. I had not talked to him so when I met Kisshomaru in Hombu, I went to the house next door to the dojo, I was invited in and I was with Fujita Shihan. I found out later that Fujita Shihan had actually started the dojo in Hiroshima when he was a student at Takushoku University. So he went back a long way with the teacher here whose name was Kitihira Sensei.
Fujita Masatake and Peter Goldsbury on their way to Europe
So I met Fujita Sensei and we had a little tour of the Hombu and then we went to the house and I met Kisshomaru. We sat down and had some tea, his wife brought tea and okashi (snacks). We had a talk, he was very happy that I came to Japan and was in Hiroshima, unfortunately it was a bit far away from Tokyo but he hoped that I would come to the Hombu as often as possible and practice.
My colleague was translating. When we had finish the interview and we were walking the narrow street form the Hombu to the mai road, I asked him and he said: “Well, I’ve got mixed feelings about this actually. Yeah it’s Aikido. The martial arts have a very negative sort of chachet in Japan so if a daughter of mine wanted to marry a Hombu Dojo Shihan I would have big problems.” And I thought “oh, very interesting…”
Guillaume Erard: How was you practice in Hiroshima?
Peter Goldsbury: One thing I did is to stop teaching Aikido, I went to the dojo. Fujita Sensei had told the teacher here, and I began to go to the dojo, I became a member. I became independent, for want of a better word, in around 2003 or 2004. So 25 years or so, I trained in that dojo, probably, all the time. So that is long period of time under one teacher I think. When I first came I can remember: “Oh, they’re doing it quite differently”. It was rather old-fashioned. I saw Kitihira Sensei do stuff that I had never seen before. That was very interesting, it was very sharp, straight Aikido, lots of atemi. One thing that was interesting is that three Shihan would come from the Hombu every year. There was normally Friday, Saturday, and Sunday training sessions. The spring seminar would be run by Tada Sensei, the autumn seminar, by Yamaguchi Sensei, and then in-between, there would be a seminar with Fujita Sensei but he would sometimes give up his place to another Shihan, and so Rinjiro Shirata came down here once and later, Saito Sensei as well. I knew him from before so I was able to partner him for sword work on the Sunday. That was a very good kind of background.
Saito Morihiro and Peter Goldsbury
Kitihira Sensei is now 8th Dan I think. For example once, he stopped everybody and said: “OK, now let’s do iriminage” and for two hours, we practiced iriminage. He invited all the senior Yudansha to come on and show what you did. We all said: “Oh, look at the feet, and the hands, and the head, it’s very interesting, its iriminage but it’s all different”. I was also invited and I went up. We were doing it the way you cut down, make a circle, and then throw, just like Kisshomaru used to do it. The way I moved he said: “You’re moving the same way as we are”. I think my feet… I was somehow going forward rather than going backwards. Now, I was amazed because Kitihira Sensei had no problem with actually asking everybody to show and then stealing, borrowing, using what he saw, and that to my mind was a very good way.
Tada Hiroshi watching Peter Goldsbury
Kitihira Sensei was unusual in the sense that he did not expect us to imitate his waza. It was very difficult to do sometimes and he was quite old, his ukemi was not very good because he was not young, but he was quite strong and he was also learning. I have not met him for a good while but he used to practice and research all the time. So to my mind, that was a good dojo to go to.
Guillaume Erard: So that was a little bit like at Hombu?
Peter Goldsbury: I do not know, the Hombu is the Hombu, and I have heard conflicting stories about training there. In the Hombu, there are a large number of teachers. I suppose you are meant to go to all the classes but I suppose eventually you tend to favor one or two teachers over the others. Arikawa Sensei once told me very proudly that there were very few students in his classes. I did not ask him why because it was pretty obvious why, after seeing him on the mat (laughs)! Anyway, he did not mind this, but here, Kitihira Sensei always taught.
Guillaume Erard: Did you take on responsibilities during these 25 years at the Dojo?
Peter Goldsbury: Eventually, I would sit with him when the Dan examinations were held because I would always ask people to do things that they had not prepared for. He found that entertaining in many ways because there was always a panic, I would ask for something, especially the students, and they hadn’t practiced it and they would go: “Oh he is asking this…” so there were little groups behind the main line up, frantically practicing so that when their turn came they would know. And of course I could see it so I always asked something different that they hadn’t prepared for (laughs).
Guillaume Erard: So if doing techniques in different ways was accepted in the dojo, how about cross-training in different places?
Peter Goldsbury: Kitihira Sensei did not like students going to other dojos, he made that very clear. I happened to be teaching in another university titled Hiroshima Shurei Univeristy, I was a part-time teacher and there was an Aikido club. Now i would not do this but initially I went and I asked a colleague about Aikido and they said: “Oh we’ll go and practice”. So I went and met the instructor, who was a student of Nishio Sensei. Then I met all these other people who came form the main dojo and said: “Peter, don’t tell anybody that I practice here, keep it secret”. I thought: “How very interesting, yes well…” and I did of course. It was Nishio Aikido. But I could not train. If it were found that that I was training there, there would have been a terrible explosion.
Nishio Sensei was a very interesting person, quite different. I can remember once with a certain Hombu Shihan, being told in great details why Nishio Sensei both was and was not a Hombu Shihan. The intellectual gymnastics were really quite interesting. One of the reasons why I got to know him quite well was that as I told you, there was a dojo in Saijo, Higashi Hiroshima. That was started by two colleagues of mine. A lady named Carolin Funck, I met her first, she had come to Hiroshima University and she was in the same faculty as I was. They were there with her husband Werner Steinhaus. Now, they said: “Peter, we need to open a dojo, why don’t you open a dojo?” And I said: “Well, you know…” I was actually quite happy training in Kenshibu as it was, the main dojo. But I encountered problems because the two Germans had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do. I was regarded as the senior of the three and Kitihira Sensei and I sort of gradually fell apart in this respect. That caused me to think about issues like: “Well I’m doing my Aikido, and not his or theirs” so those were questions I had not really thought about before.
But I agreed to start a dojo, we eventually worked out a common framework so that when we opened the dojo, there’d be no major conflict in how we actually taught the classes because the dojo was going to be run be the three of us, not by one. So that is how it has worked. I think we are in our twelfth year now. So now, the membership is about 50 and of those there is about 20 there at any one time. Well in one sense it is a typical local dojo, there are no non-Japanese students except for one man who is Korean, and I think there is a Chinese as well, but the teachers are all foreign and I do not think I know any other dojo that is quite like this, where really, I am the chief instructor, but Carolyn and Werner instruct together. So it is really a dojo where the teaching is shared. So the students also learn to see three different ways of doing it. Because I have trained for so long, it just sort of comes out. I just do what I do and sometimes, I forget the rules that we agreed. Sometimes I do not do ikkyo quite correctly in the way that they have established but they know, the students. We now have, oh I think that the senior students are now third Dan. So it has followed the typical trajectory and the only difference is that the dojo is a general dojo for Japanese people and all the teachers are foreign. To my mind, it is a very good situation. How it will continue, I don’t know. I have no plan to go back to England but I cannot see myself training when I am a hundred if I ever live that long. So it might well be that the students will take over and that is fine, we have enough students who want to do this.
Guillaume erard: Are you affiliated to Kenshibu?
Peter Goldsbury: When we built the dojo, initally, the prefecture association approached us and said: “Your dojo is in a very specific situation, hadn’t you better be independent?” I asked the Hombu and Doshu said: “No, keep it a member of Kenshibu for a moment, join the normal, the local organizaton”. And we did but, stresses and strains, we somehow changed. So to my mind, it would have been better to be independent from the beginning, and eventually it happened. It happened, really because I was very noisy in informing Hombu about what was going on. Eventually, they said: “Go your own way” and I received permission to hold Dan grades examinations and great, that’s how it followed. Now that set a precedent and it is more generally accepted that if a Hombu Shihan comes and does a seminar, then they will invite you from the other dojos which are not directly in that group.
Guillaume Erard: Are you involved with other dojos?
Peter Goldsbury: When I stared practicing in Japan, in Hiroshima, I practiced with the other dojo members and I got to know a few people. One with whom you will meet, I have practiced for years. His name is Motooka and when I became independent, he wanted to be independent too. He has the idea of keeping the old type of Aikido alive somehow, much more traditional, the way it was taught 40 or 50 years ago. He thinks that has changed, and I do not think I can deny this, that it has changed in some respects. Anyway, he wanted to know how to do it and whether he could follow the same pattern as I did so I took him to the Hombu once and introduced him to Doshu and we talked. I think we met Osawa Sensei who was in charge of the Japanese Dan structure and what not. He said: “You can’t give your own Dan ranks yet but what you should do is ask somebody who can”. So I was asked if I would go to the dojo to be the chief instructor, and I was a bit… I said yes but, it was a bit difficult because he was actually senior to me in terms of Dan rank and here was I going into his dojo. Motooka-san was eventually given permission to give his own grades, to recommend promotions. The arrangements are that he does the Kyu grades and I do the Dan grades. He has his own way of practicing, as I had mine, and so it then occurred that the best thing to do is weapons.
Guillaume Erard: What weapons system do you teach?
Peter Goldsbury: I had picked up from training with Chiba Sensei, especially going to summer schools in America, I had learned the 31 jo kata and I had learned the paired kata, and also the 13 awase, kumitachi, and so on. Kitihira Sensei had some serious rank in jojutsu and had learned weapons yes, no question, but he did not practice weapons very much. I think he believed what he was told by Fujita Sensei that by the end of his life, O Sensei did not actually use weapons, now I have no idea whether that is true or not. So he did not teach weapons very much. Now I had been brought up, from the very beginning, the man who came form Tokyo University did weapons as well, and I discovered in Europe, that every Japanese Shihan had his own weapons system and so to my mind, that is very strange, that they do not do weapons in the Hombu but everybody does outside, and of course in Iwama.
So we started teaching weapons and I started teaching the kids the 31 kata. So if you go to the dojo this evening early enough, you find them in English, “1, 2, 3, 4…” as they go from 1 to 31. So it has worked. His dojo is Futabanosato, the main dojo so we have a relationship with our dojo so that our students are members of both.