Interview with Chiba Tsugutaka, the guardian of Daito-ryu in Shikoku
Chiba Tsugutaka Shihan is one of the oldest practitioners of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu living in Japan today. He was a student of Nakatsu Heizaburo and Takuma Hisa, both having learned from Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda at the Asahi Journal of Osaka. Chiba Sensei has also studied in Hokkaido at the Daito-kan [大東館, headquarters of Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu] from Takeda Tokimune, the son of Takeda Sokaku, and he is therefore one of the few people to have received the teachings of the two main lines of Daito-ryu. Olivier Gaurin and I are fortunate enough to be Chiba Sensei’s students and he agreed to talk to us about his history, and to explain what is Daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu so that future generations of practitioners can understand what this mysterious art is, and where the techniques they practice come from. We went to Ikeda, on the island of Shikoku, and spent the day with our teacher to ask him questions.
Olivier Gaurin: Sensei, when were you born?
Chiba Tsugutaka: I was born in 1931, I am 82.
Olivier Gaurin: Where were you born?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Here [in Ikeda, Tokushima].
Olivier Gaurin: How did you start budo?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Well… because it was fun! It was when World War II started. The schools had been turned into cultural centers and some were teaching budo. Just next door, there was a dojo. They were doing judo and kendo. But kendo, with the sword, the armor, and all that, was kind of a pain, so I preferred when we were doing judo.
For the New Year, we had the hatsugeiko [初稽古, first training of the year]. These were a rare occasion to eat nice things because we usually didn’t have much. We deserved it because the judo falls were really painful. We used to throw each other pretty hard! That is how I started.
Olivier Gaurin: How old were you?
Chiba Tsugutaka: I was in elementary school [at age 7 or 8]. We used to wear the armor, and used the shinai [竹刀, kendo sword composed of four bamboo blades held together by pieces of leather], you know, the kendo gear. We just put on the gear like that, we did not have tenugui [手拭い, multipurpose towels that the kendo practitioners wear under their helmets] at the school. We just put the helmet on our bare head and whenever we got hit, it hurt like hell! (laughs) It was the same for the shinai. Inside, we put rolled newspaper between the bamboo blades, and tied them very tightly. When we got hit on the head or the forearms, it hurt a lot. That is how we used to practice.
Chiba Tsugutaka performing gyaku ude dori on Guillaume Erard
If you don’t give atemi, your partner won’t fall.
Olivier Gaurin: How did you get into Daito-ryu aikijujutsu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: After that I returned to judo but my sensei told me: “Judo is great but before, we used to have atemi [当て身, strike to the body]. If you don’t give atemi, your partner won’t fall”. So we started using atemi. And from there, he told me to enroll in another school, and it was Daito-ryu.
But soon after I got a letter from the army. It said: “Apt for armed service.” I was supposed to integrate the training for assault troops. I got the letter three months before the end of the war. It was an appeal for volunteers. To enroll, you had to undergo a physical examination, but by the time I got there, the Emperor had laready declared the surrender of Japan. That is what must have happened but I did not know anything at the time. These were strange times. I heard from someone that the war was over and I thought: “That’s it, we lost”.
Olivier Gaurin: Then you came back to Ikeda?
Chiba Tsugutaka: There was no point being a volunteer anymore. From then on, we had nothing, money was worth nothing.
Olivier Gaurin: Where did you start Daito-ryu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: I heard about a place where they practiced it, so I went to visit it. I was told that it was the office of someone named Nakatsu [Heizaburo]. He was a 6th Dan [Kodokan] judo.
Ueshiba Morihei was asked to come to teach at the journal because he knew violent koryu techniques
He was one of the six experts who went to protect the Asahi newspaper. The team had been put together by Ishii Mitsujiro because the newspaper had been attacked three times [by right wing terrorists]. Takuma Hisa Sensei was the head of security there. It is also the time when Ueshiba Morihei was asked [by Ishii] to come to teach at the journal because he knew violent koryu [古流, old school] techniques. It lasted for five years and from the sixth year, it was called Asahi-ryu. So the techniques that are in the Takumakai’s Soden [総伝, a collection of technical pictures shot at the Asahi Journal in Osaka. You can read a full analysis in an article I wrote about Soden for Aikido Journal.] corresponding to these first five years are those taught by Ueshiba.
From that point, Takeda Sokaku arrived and Ueshiba left for Tokyo. Ueshiba took his students with him. From then on, Takeda Sokaku took over the teaching at the journal. The rest of the Soden pictures represent that. So this is the start of the period with Takeda Sokaku and the master-to-disciple transmission with Nakatsu Sensei.
Students record of Takeda Sokaku dating from 1937 and showing Nakatsu Heizaburo’s name with the rank Kyoju Dairi (instructor)
these photos are not much use as learning tools, but just reminders of the forms
It was a long time ago but they had cameras that they used at the journal. Imagine that, click! click! This is how they took all these pictures, there must have been thousands of them, all of very high quality for the time. It is because they were at a newspaper that they could do it, but even there, people complained. There were gossips because they were using large amounts of film. They took pictures during the breaks. They did it by arguing that since the practice had been intense, Sensei had to go for a bath. And they took these pictures in the meantime behind his back. But I think that he probably was not fooled by it. They were taking pictures of techniques that they were doing for the first time so these photos are not much use as learning tools, but just reminders of the forms. You cannot understand these pictures alone.
A page of the soden
Then Nakatsu Sensei retired from the Asahi journal. Since he was from Ikeda, he came back here. He setup a small dojo in his chiropractic cabinet. It was in the waiting room, a very small place. It was about four square meters. On the other side, there was the treatment room. It was for those with dislocated jaws, hurt joints, and broken bones. There were no X-rays at the time, so you had to touch to make a diagnostic, based form experience. We had to make do with what little we had. We diagnosed like that and tried to put things back together. We used to secure the hips of the patient to prevent messing him up. It was like that at the time.
Olivier Gaurin: Did Nakatsu Sensei do any advertising to get students?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Not at all, he would never have done that. For him, anybody was suitable. It was always “Go ahead” with him. He liked to drink with someone, but there was not a lot of alcohol at the time, that was a the way to make him happy. So I brought some to him, telling him to use as he pleased, and he said “Thank you”. That is how I started.
Nakatsu Heizaburo surrounded by his students (back row, at the right: Chiba Tsugutaka)
Olivier Gaurin: How was the training there?
Chiba Tsugutaka: I knew how to do shikko [膝行, moving on one’s knees] and he used to say “One has to start with shikko“. I had done judo, kendo, and a few other things…
Olivier Gaurin: Your body was well conditioned.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, and I was amongst the tallest people at the time. We used to train in the field at the back over there.
Olivier Gaurin: Outside?
Now there are tatami so it is like practicing on pillows.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, on the ground. There were some stones so it hurt when we fell. There used to be a sewing school there, so sometimes, there were needles on the ground. It hurt a lot! (laughs) Now there are tatami so it is like practicing on pillows.
Olivier Gaurin: You never got injured?
Chiba Tsugutaka: We had nothing at that time, but the wooden floor was flexible enough so we were ok. We bounced like on cushions! We wanted a sandbag but we had no money, and it was expensive. So we used to take a big grain bag and fill it with gravel. We used to charge into it, like rugby players. We went that far in order to train.
Nakatsu Heizaburo’s Kyoju Dairi certificate signed by Takeda Sokaku (1937)
Olivier Gaurin: Did you get those scrolls from Takeda Tokimune?
Chiba Tsugutaka: I did go to Hokkaido, but all the the scrolls that you see here were written in Shikoku. They have them nowhere else, not even at Takeda Tokimune Soke‘s [宗家, headmaster] dojo.
Olivier Gaurin: Who owned those scrolls originally?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Takuma Hisa Sensei had them. Makita Kan’ichi also had them. He showed them to Hisa Sensei who said: “This is fine, there are no errors, you can use them for the Takumakai“. Regarding the original, there is not much to say except that it is hard to understand. The origin of the Aizu clan [clan of the Aizu-han region (会津藩) located in a feudal domain of the current Fukushima prefecture] is written. The historical origin of the manuscripts date from the Emperor Seiwa. The origin of Daito-ryu is often attributed to Shinra Saburo [Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (源義光, 1045-1127), a famous samurai of the Minamoto clan, also known as Shinra Saburo (新羅三郎)], but in reality, things started sooner than that.
Chiba Sensei’s scrolls
Olivier Gaurin: The history?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, that of Shinra Saburo, but in fact, you can see here that it starts before him. Nobody speaks about that usually.
Olivier Gaurin: Where is Takeda Sokaku on those scrolls?
Chiba Tsugutaka: This is where it starts with Takeda Sokaku. [Chiba Sensei points on the document] Here is Sokaku’s father, Uemon. Here is it written “Sokaku”, “Daito-ryu“, and so on…
Olivier Gaurin: What of the real beginings then?
Chiba Tsugutaka: It is difficult to know with certainty. We should start looking aroud the Emperor Seiwa, and track back the generations. Here are some of these techniques. Here there are 36 kajo [36 techniques of the hiden ogi (秘伝奥義), see definition below]. Here I do not understand, it is some ancient writing, I cannot read those kinds of old characters. It is the language of the Aizu.
Before, we did not show these scrolls to anyone.
Olivier Gaurin: You do not understand?
Chiba Tsugutaka: It is like a local dialect, a bit like that of Kansai, Kanto, or Tohoku, etc.
Olivier Gaurin: Should we look for answers in Aizu then?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, Aizu, in the Nakano prefecture. There is a Daito-ryu group there and the sanctuary of Shinra Saburo himself! Before, we did not show these scrolls to anyone. They were shown during the practice and put away immediately after. Today, in Wakimachi [see Chiba Sensei’s dojo’s website], the scrolls are carved in wood, so anyone who enters the dojo can see them.
Entrance of the Wakimachi dojo
Olivier Gaurin: How long ago did you go to Hokkaido?
Chiba Tsugutaka: I forgot! [laughs]
The one who taught me was Takeda Tokimune Sensei.
Olivier Gaurin: How old were you?
Chiba Tsugutaka: About 20 years old.
Olivier Gaurin: It was about 60 years ago then…
Chiba Tsugutaka: It is Makita Sensei who took me there. There was me, Makita, and two or three other students. There were four or five of us in total.
Olivier Gaurin: Did you meet Sokaku Takeda Sensei?
Tsugutaka Chiba: No, the generations were different. The one who taught me was Takeda Tokimune Sensei. It was when he was the director of the Yamada Suisan company. He taught in the city of Abashiri in Hokkaido. The teaching method of Takeda Sensei was “Do shikko“. His dojo, the Daito-kan, had about 30 or 50 tatami [between 50 and 80 square meters]. So I did shikko while he watched carefully. You had better not do wrong wrong because otherwise…
Actually, he was nice. Before, he had been a police officer and one day he broke the hand of a thief. He felt guilty and so after this, he left the police. He then went to the Yamada Suisan where he had family.
Olivier Gaurin: Did the Takumakai already exist at that time?
Tsugutaka Chiba: No, not yet. It was the period of the Kansai Aikido Club.
Olivier Gaurin: And also in Shikoku, was it the same?
Chiba Tsugutaka: In Shikoku, it was I who was the teacher.
The shoden (初伝, primary teaching) is the basic curriculum of Daito-ryu. It is organized in five catalogues [条, kajo] (ikkajo, nikajo, sankajo, yonkajo, and gokajo) that each contain between 12 and 30 techniques, for a grand total of 118 techniques. The aikido curriculum also harbors this organization around five principles [教, kyo] (ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, and gokyo) but contrary to Daito-ryu, an aikido principle is only materialized in the official curriculum by a single technique instead of several. For example, the aikido technique ude osae is very similar to the Daito-ryu technique ippondori from the ikkajo catalogue. > Read more about this
Olivier Gaurin: It was called Daito-ryu aiki-budo wasn’t it?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, that’s right, Daito-ryu aiki-budo. Takeda Tokimune was also doing aiki-budo. There was no Takumakai.
Over there, at the Daito-kan, we had to sign a registration form to be allowed to learn. It was the first time that we learned techniques up to the fifth kajo [五ケ条, gokajo, the fifth catalogue of techniques (twelve) of the shoden level (初伝, primary teaching)]. Before that, we only got to the second kajo [二ケ条, nikajo].
Olivier Gaurin: What kind of keiko were you doing at Tokimune’s dojo?
Chiba Tsugutaka: We used to do shikko and work on katatedori, ryotedori and also some katamewaza [固技, mastery techniques]. This is what we used to do, what we call warm-up exercises these days. Over there, they used to grab like that [showing with his hand], it was very different from the way we used to do it. These were exercises to learn how to act on joints by controlling the wrists. Before, we used to grab directly, flat like that. But over there, they first took hold from the small finger. So the hand that was being grabbed could not open up. It could not use any strength. We used to work like that, on controlling the wrists, we got control of the elbow.
That is what they made me do, as well as some grabs such as ryotedori. They told me: “Come over here!” I asked why and the answered: “Because we don’t do ken [剣, sword]”. They meant not like kendo. This is when I started to work with a big log of wood, as thick as a leg! We also used metal bars or wood logs, striking in rhythm. We used to strike like this to build up our muscle frame.
Chiba Tsugutaka and Guillaume Erard
Olivier Gaurin: This is also what Tokimune Sensei used to do in the morning right?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, I learned all of this by watching Tokimune Sensei‘s morning classs.
Olivier Gaurin: This work is important isn’t it?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, especially that particular way of twisting. It is not just about swinging like that [waving up and down]. You have to pinch like this and because the handle is so big, there is some remaining space that you cannot hold, like if you were waving a big pole. So you have to synchronize the pinching of each hand to have them together. You have to raise straight up.
Everybody ended up with arms as massive as Suzuki Sensei‘s. Suzuki Sensei never lost, not even against sumotori or judoka. When he grabbed you, you could not move. He would grab and the other guy would go flying.
Olivier Gaurin: What was the training schedule?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Takeda Soke started at five o’clock in the morning because he had to go to work at six o’clock at the Yamada Suisan company.
Olivier Gaurin: Did you continue at the dojo after six o’clock?
Chiba Tsugutaka: He would stop a bit before six o’clock and we would go back to the nearby hotel. We woud quickly eat our breakfast over there and then, Suzuki Sensei would teach us while doing some calligraphy on his own. It lasted until lunchtime. So that was about six hours of training until lunch time. That is why we could learn all that, it never stopped! All the classes, without a break. We could not even drink tea even though we really wanted some. We had all our meals at the hotel, in the morning, at lunchtime, and at dinner. In the evenings, Suzuki Sensei was teaching.
Olivier Gaurin: What part of the Daito-ryu curriculum did you learn over there?
one day, our names were written on the board as “Shikoku students”
Chiba Tsugutaka: With Soke we only learnt until the second kajo and when we finally managed to do the first and second kajo correctly, we pointed at the board and asked Suzuki Sensei: “We would like to also learn third and fourth kajo, would it be possible?” But he said that it was not possible because we were not deshi [弟子, pupil]. However, he spoke to Tokimune and one day, our names were written on the board as “Shikoku students”. Then he asked some deshi to start training with us too. We started to train with the others on that night.
Board containing the names of the students in Chiba Sensei’s dojo
Olivier Gaurin: Can you tell us about the Takumakai and the place of Shikoku within this organization?
Shikoku is authorized to use the four-diamond symbol of the Takeda. It is a sign of trust from the Daito-kan and Mr Takeda towards students of Shikoku.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Aikibudo was the art of the Takeda warriors. After this experience Daito-kan, we really had a lot of respect for Takeda Tokimune, and it was mutual. We really started to integrate the thinking of Takeda at this time. The proof of this is that Shikoku is authorized to use the four-diamond symbol of the Takeda. It is a sign of trust from the Daito-kan and Mr Takeda towards students of Shikoku.
The symbol of the Takeda family
Olivier Gaurin: Who decided on the name Takumakai?
Many proposals were made to name the study group but because we studied under Takuma Sensei, I proposed to use “Takumakai“
Chiba Tsugutaka: We wanted to find an official name for these koryu gatherings of mutual exchanges between students of Takuma Hisa Sensei and Nakatsu Heizaburo Sensei which were taking place at the Kansai Aikido Club.
Many proposals were made to name the study group but because we studied under Takuma Sensei, I proposed to use “Takumakai” [琢磨会, lit. Rally for Takuma]. These are administrative stories. The clerk wrote that it had been decided in Osaka following my proposal, but in fact it is a student of Nakatsu Sensei from Komashima who first came up with the idea. We received a request from Osaka to find a name, so after discussions between us, that name was proposed. It is not us who went to Osaka to tell them what to do, but they agreed to do what we suggested. Thus the name “Takumakai” was decided.
Olivier Gaurin: At this time, the techniques of Shikoku and Osaka were a bit different right?
When you mixed the techniques of Shikoku with others, it would become explosive!
Chiba Tsugutaka: Totally different! This is why Hisa Takuma thought that Daito-ryu from Shikoku should also be taught in Osaka. When you mixed the techniques of Shikoku with others, it would become explosive! Hisa Sensei finally decided he had to do it so he taught a few people the techniques of Shikoku. He told the people of Osaka: “wouldn’t it be more interesting if we merged the two forms ?” I certainly thought it would be. Look at this [Chiba Sensei hands us a small book].
Olivier Gaurin: What is it?
Chiba Tsugutaka: This is the manual of the Takumakai. Here are the rolls that belong to Takumakai.
Olivier Gaurin: Because they want to show that they have them?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes.
Olivier Gaurin: Originally, it is Tokimune Sensei who compiled these techniques right? This means that the techniques should be the same in both schools?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, the same.
Olivier Gaurin: But even if the names match, the means to do them are differents aren’t they?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, different. Hisa Sensei had received the Menkyo Minakaï no Kaigi [certification of the complete transmission and teaching license].
Chiba Tsugutaka and Guillaume Erard
Olivier Gaurin: Where did Nakatsu Sensei formally study Daito-ryu?
from these images, there is a part that can be understood, and a part that cannot
Chiba Tsugutaka: At the Asahi Journal with Morihei Ueshiba Sensei and Sokaku Takeda Sensei. The person at the top of the Asahi pyramid was Takuma Hisa Sensei but those who trained most regularly were those below him.
They took pictures of the movement immediately after seeing them demonstrated by Takeda Sokaku so they were not designed as educational references, but rather as an aid for memory. This means that from these images, there is a part that can be understood, and a part that cannot. This is why I do not think that the techniques called shoden were exactly like the ones you can see on the pictures of Soden. Tokimune Sensei thought the same thing. All techniques up to menkyo kaiden [免許皆伝, licence of complete transmission] were merely guidelines for practice. It was a way to combine the knowledge of both ju [柔] and jutsu [術].
I asked how long it would take to learn and I was told that 20 years would not be enough. However, I was sure that 20 years should be enough to learn the basics so I started to learn and copy it all, to immerse myself in the techniques again and again. This is where I realized that the way to do these techniques was different.
Olivier Gaurin: Regarding the grading system, how and why do we have changed the system from menkyo [免許, licence] system to dan [段, rank, grade]?
Chiba Tsugutaka: There were three levels of knowledge, shoden [初伝, primary teaching], and chuden [中伝, medium teaching], okuden [奥伝, deep teaching], and then there is hiden [秘伝, secret teaching], the secret techniques. This was the core of the teaching at the time, the technique began with that. But nowadays, even that is difficult to understand and that is why we moved to the dan grades.
Olivier Gaurin: Shoden was the equivalent of nikajo today, right?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, shoden was roughly equivalent to shodan [初段, beginning rank] and nidan [弐段, second rank] today.
Olivier Gaurin: What is chuden?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Chuden is only equivalent to sandan [参段, third rank].
Chiba Tsugutaka showing the scrolls to Olivier Gaurin
Olivier Gaurin: Sensei, from what point can we begin to understand anything about this?
There were more than 100 techniques idori, and only in idori. And after learning that, we should implement those techniques while standing.
Chiba Tsugutaka: From sandan to godan [五段, fifth rank], it is only yonkajo [四ヶ条, fourth teaching, containing sixteen techniques]. This means that you know the things which are written below [on the scrolls]. This [he points] is also taken into account. So if you know this, it is chuden. In the Takumakai today, ikkajo [一ケ条, first article, a group of 30 techniques] is shodan, nikajo [二ケ条, first article, a group of 30 techniques] is nidan, sankajo [三ケ条, first article, a group of 30 techniques] is sandan, but before, this list [the one at the back of the picture] did not exist, ikkajo was just that. Ikkajo, nikajo, sankajo, they were not as defined as now. We knew nothing about it. We knew just daiichijo [大一条], dainijo [大ニ条], etc. From here to there [he points to the scroll], it was the beginning, almost exclusively seated techniques. Today, it is called idori [居捕]. There were more than 100 techniques idori, and only in idori. And after learning that, we should implement those techniques while standing. We had to make the connection between what we had learned on our knees and what we were doing standing. This is how we learned. We did it for shoden, but also chuden.
Olivier Gaurin: So was the shoden program almost exclusively practiced on the knees?
we should not hesitate on the question of pain […] Otherwise, we cannot learn the essential points of these movements. If we do not, we cannot have confidence in the technical heart of Daito-ryu
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, with some additional things like kime [osae] [極め押さえ, joint locks] that we saw earlier. Otherwise, it would not have been possible because in idori, if someone pulls you, you collapse forward. In tachiai [立合, standing techniques], it is different, you just have to move the foot forward to restore balance. That is it.
So you learned all the general stuff, plus the Soden. But what really matters is the time spent and how the techniques are done. If you take the time to study, it will be reflected in the techniques. So at the beginning, you learn ten techniques, but at the tenth one, you forget. But even if you forget, there are at least two that you will remember. In five minutes, you can learn five techniques… you can learn a technique in two or three minutes.
The other day someone told me: “It hurts” so I said: “That way, you will remember!” In general, between the beginning and end of a course, painful techniques are the ones best remembered. That is why we should not hesitate on the question of pain in techniques such as those of the Soden. Otherwise, we cannot learn the essential points of these movements. If we do not, we cannot have confidence in the technical heart of Daito-ryu. If the techniques are performed in a sloppy way, we cannot get the essential roots of the techniques. And this way, we cannot understand kaeshi [返し, to return].
One day, Hisa Sensei decided to check the depth of my understanding of the techniques. He wanted to test me.
Regarding the technical part at the top [those in the top of the parchment], Soke used to say that because we did not understand, we should do only those of ikkajo that started on katatedori and ryotedori. We were told to hold like that, it was a secret. One day, Hisa Sensei decided to check the depth of my understanding of the techniques. He wanted to test me. He asked me to show him my aikinage [合気投げ, aiki throw]. I do not care about whether or not I get caught so I said: “attack me”, and when the attack came, I sent the guy flying pronto. So I said: “Next” but Hisa Sensei said, “Stop, you’re going to hurt each other.” Since that day, he never told me anything again. Even in Osaka during joint trainings, he made me sit next to him. He used to tell me: “You see, it will not do, these techniques are not very good are they?” I nodded, a little embarrassed, and he said: “Go, teach them how to do it correctly.”
Chiba Tsugutaka and Guillaume Erard
Olivier Gaurin: Is there a moral component to the practice of Daito-ryu aiki-jujtsu?
If one is magnanimous, then there is some ethical consideration in the technique, there is compassion.
Chiba Tsugutaka: If one is magnanimous, then there is some ethical consideration in the technique, there is compassion.
Olivier Gaurin: So it is only down to a personal conviction?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes.
Olivier Gaurin: It depends on one’s heart.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes.
Olivier Gaurin: If the compassion and the spirit of Takeda Sokaku, Nakatsu Sensei, and now you, Chiba Sensei, are all a bit different, can we conclude that the Daito-ryu is also different?
Chiba Tsugutaka: In the end, what are we talking about? At each period, different things happen. People’s ideas evolve and the spirit changes according to what happens at the time. If things did not change, no one would be interested, and these things would become irrelevant today. So if war broke again, it would be different.
Olivier Gaurin: But the techniques would not change right?
Chiba Tsugutaka: No they would not change. It is the spirit and the way to teach that can change.
Olivier Gaurin: What is the relation between Buddhism and Daito-ryu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: You mention Buddhism but it could be said of any other tradition. The question could be the same for you right?
Olivier Gaurin: Yes.
Chiba Tsugutaka: What I always say is: “Do it calmly” because we have to produce nervous sensitivity. We cannot just do it by our own will; it has to be done collectively. It is an important principle. Only then, is it Buddhism. The Buddhist character is wa [和, litt: harmony, peace, softening].
Olivier Gaurin: Does this imply that there is no deep meaning to be found?
This search for peace underlies this quest [of Daito-ryu]
Chiba Tsugutaka: Not at all! On the contrary, there is a lot of depth in the meaning of wa. One must achieve that wa, like in heiwa [平和, eace]. It is like in the song “To have peace, be ready for war”. This is the paradox we have to face to reach that peace. This search for peace underlies this quest [of Daito-ryu]. The meaning of the Showa [昭和] era is “to make peace shine” and the meaning of Heisei [平成] is “to become peace”.
Olivier Gaurin: So to go back to aikido and aiki-jujutsu, is there a difference of essence?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Aikido has do [道], which means a path. This idea of path means that there is a spirit in ai [合, to join]. Aikido is connected to the path of ai. We can think that it is spiritual or moral. In jujutsu, ju [柔] means “gentle”, “soft”, “tender”. Jutsu is the technique [術, a mean, a trick, an art]. It means that we are soft and we see the other as fundamentally soft too. So teaching and learning is manabu [学, in-depth study, same character as gaku, science]. The Japanese language is difficult! There is meaning inside meaning! The meaning of kanji [漢字, Japanese characters imported from China] is difficult.
Olivier Gaurin: Regarding the techniques with weapons, how does it work in Daito-ryu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: The meaning of ki [器] in buki [武器, wooden weapons] is that of “tool”, or “vessel” as in “cookware”. Buki is the warrior’s tool [the eight direction strikes]. When one uses the eight directions upon other people, the Buddhist term is katsu [勝つ],, “to win”. You scream “KA!” The opponent is then paralyzed. I throw my kokyu [呼吸, breath] at him. My spirit is throwing something. Something is getting out of me.
Olivier Gaurin: Does this mean that a weapon is not something that is separate from oneself?
Chiba Tsugutaka: This is because bu [武] does not mean to “fight” but “to stop the spear”. The “Bu” character is composed of two parts, hoko [戈], the “spear”, and tomeru [止], “to stop”. Therefore, bu means “to put an end to the fight”. As a consequence, the sword’s purpose is not for killing.
Chiba Tsugutaka and Guillaume Erard
Olivier Gaurin: What is beyond the mastery of a tool or an art?
Chiba Tsugutaka: You can generalize and anything can then become a tool, a weapon. The whole person can become a tool or a specialized art. Anything can develop as such from the extensions of one’s body. Even with simple chopsticks, I can target the eyes and turn them into weapons. This leads us to tachi [太刀], the long-sword. It represents what goes “beyond”. The specialized object can take many forms. Anything will do and can be turned into a weapon.
Olivier Gaurin: So should we understand that in Daito-ryu, the study of weapons is not a separate curriculum in itself?
Chiba Tsugutaka: No, it is all the same thing. When the attack comes, the hand is here to protect, but so can any object. It means that anything can do to protect yourself. This is why all of that is included in the scrolls over there [he points at the scrolls]. This is why if I give an atemi like this [with the back of the hand], in Daito-ryu, we can use uraken [裏拳, back of the fist] like this… The hand position that we studied last time was like this… I asked “Which one is omote [面, the visible side of things]?” But I got no answer.
Olivier Gaurin: Really?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, so I said: “What is ura [裏, the invisible side of things] then?” But I got no answer either.
So omote and ura are one and same thing. It is the same for the techniques.
Olivier Gaurin: But usually we see that omote…
Chiba Tsugutaka: What is written here means “gauntlet” [小手, kote], the back of the hand, its shell. Ko [小] is the back of the hand and the palm is sho [掌]. So there is no difference between omote and ura. Omote is the back of the hand and ura is the palm. We can show ura like this [waving his hand with the palm facing sideways]. If we do that it means “no, not that”. So omote and ura are one and same thing. It is the same for the techniques.
Olivier Gaurin: It is like two sides of a coin isn’t it? There is a head and a tail but it is still the same coin.
Chiba Tsugutaka: And it is the same for the techniques. It means that if we are using the back of the hand, we are using a weapon. But when we use the palm, it is to say “stop”. Even if you slap someone with the palm, it is not a big deal. We even do it to ourselves like that! [taps on his forehead with the palm of his hand] We do like this to ourselves or to others. You find this in Sumo too during the tsuppari [つっぱり, bumping] techniques.
Chiba Tsugutaka and Guillaume Erard
Olivier Gaurin: But can’t say these are weapons too?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, this is why I said that the two aspects were the same thing. Omote becomes a weapons and ura can become one too. Look, when we wave our hand to say no, both sides are in action, we don’t only wave the palm. This is what it means.
Olivier Gaurin: What are the technical roots of weapons in Daito-ryu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: I did [Shingenjiki] Shinkage[-ryu].
Olivier Gaurin: Shinkage-ryu…
Chiba Tsugutaka: Regarding the Shinkage influence, the source comes from Aizu. There are also a lot of techniques from Ono-ha Itto-ryu.
Olivier Gaurin: Did you practice Shinkage-ryu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: No, I mainly did Itto-ryu. So there is influence from these two schools.
Olivier Gaurin: What is the meaning of aiki [合気] in aiki-jujutsu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Aiki is the way to express kokyu [呼吸, breath].
Olivier Gaurin: So kokyu-ho [呼吸法] means that through our kokyu, we can direct the kokyu of someone else?
In aiki, there is ki [氣], it means that in kokyu, we will use the ki of inspiration and the ki of expiration.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, the partner breathes out to. Humans have to ventilate and it consists in inspiration and expiration, which of these is the most vulnerable phase? Inspiration is the weak phase. We are strong when we breathe out. In aiki, there is ki [氣], it means that in kokyu, we will use the ki of inspiration and the ki of expiration. The opponent’s breathing.
Olivier Gaurin: Does it mean that we can steal the iki [ [活気, vitality] of the partner?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, that too.
Olivier Gaurin: The opponent is devoid of his iki.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, that is right, it is the effect of surprise. It is like when you point with the finger, it blocks the breathing. We usually inspire from the nose and we expire from the mouth, but when we run a 1000m, we usually inspire and expire through the mouth. This is what comes into play in aiki. We use that all the time.
Olivier Gaurin: We often see that in Daito-ryu, for example during demonstrations, during a movement, we reach a state of unbalance, where the tensions are stopped, a state where iki is stopped.
Chiba Tsugutaka: This is what we call zanshin [残心]: “the remaining spirit”.
Chiba Tsugutaka with Olivier Gaurin
Olivier Gaurin: Oh, in that sense?
Chiba Tsugutaka: This is because there is always the possibility of a counter attack. There is also the case of tasudori [多数取り], when several people come to attack at once. In this case, we must take a guard straight away before the next one arrives, from behind or who knows where. So we usually head towards the opponent to protect ourselves from him. That is the original meaning of zanshin. If you look elsewhere, it is not good if someone else comes to attack and you don’t see anything. If I look at you, I can also see about 180 degrees, I can see on the sides too. So if an attack is coming from the side, I can, feel, perceive it. This is really kokyu, and if you did not have that… During training, we mainly work on grabs but in reality, we are separated and it is when the attack arrives that we do the technique.
little by little, we move away from the forms where the hands grab
Olivier Gaurin: On Ikkajo and Nikajo, we practice on grabs, but starting from Sankajo, we start working on intention.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, we allow ourselves to be grabbed, these are fixed kata [型, form] forms. So we study and memorize forms, and little by little, we move away from the forms where the hands grab. Then we switch to two or three opponents and learn to work within these conditions. We learn to be grabbed, we learn to throw etc. We learn to deal with these sorts of attacks in an aiki perspective. So the training becomes more and more vast. Actually, a human being does not need to be taught that, he knows how to do it. This is honno [本能], it is the instinct of aiki. The one who dodges like that can avoid threat.
Olivier Gaurin: Same for animals, like cats right?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, humans belong to the animal kingdom and animals have instincts. In aiki, this instinct is the ki.
Olivier Gaurin: But this does not show during training right?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes it does, if it didn’t, we could not do it. I will show you tomorrow.
Olivier Gaurin: In which sense was the word aiki used in the old times?
Chiba Tsugutaka: It is hard to know what people felt in the ancient times.
Olivier Gaurin: Yes, during the warring states period, it must have been very different, and then again different in the Edo period.
Chiba Tsugutaka: It is difficult to compare the sword work of old budo [武道, martial way] with today’s techniques where we use riffles or missiles. It was very different in terms of distance for example. It is a problem of period. Now there are riffles but before there was the bow and arrows. When we invented the bow and arrows, we had to invent the armor to protect against it. The problem was to figure out how to reach a man when he was mounted on a horse. Shooting at him was useless because he had a scale armor, arrows couldn’t get through. However, you could shoot the horse; that would work, the horse would fall.
Olivier Gaurin: So the problematic is that of weaponry right?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, aiki developed according to that.
Olivier Gaurin: Can we find the concept of aiki in other budo than aikido and Daito-ryu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Of course, there is but we can’t see it clearly. It is a problem of period but aiki is really present. These days we just talk more about kokyu and breathing. The kiai [気合, short yell or shout uttered when performing an attacking move] in kendo is the same. The fact of getting out of the way is aiki. Of course, we mainly see the fact of going fast. The menuchi [面打ち, strike to the front of the head] is typical of the current times, but this is because we use shinai that we can do that. Before, with a real sword, we could not fool around like that. So you would not point towards the other, the sword would be used in a more vertical manner, with a high guard, so that you could “give it back” [in the sense of kokyu described before]. This is why we used to train with big logs of wood, because it did not last a minute but two or three. This is why the high hassokamae [八相構, all (height) directions] guards were invented.
Olivier Gaurin: The techniques of sankajo and yonkajo come from there.
Chiba Tsugutaka: These movements are the reflection of these guards and this is how you control the other. We control in synergy the wrists, the elbow, and the bone structures of the shoulder. These are the techniques beyond sankajo.
Chiba Tsugutaka and Guillaume Erard
Kaeshi, “to give back”, is the ura of the technique.
Olivier Gaurin: These must be seen as sword techniques.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes, style is not what matters, the content is important. It is not because you imitate the form that it is good. If you don’t understand the essence, it is not good. If you don’t secure the movement, you get hit. This is kaeshiwaza [返し技, giving back techniques], this is aiki. People think that aiki is a technique of “doing”, but if there is a technique, ura is the throw back of that technique. Kaeshi, “to give back”, is the ura of the technique. Aiki is the ura of that technique. If you know how to do sankajo, then you can do that. Before we did not give sandan as easily and openly as that. Nowadays, everybody gets to 7th of 8th dan. There used to be chuden and okuden. This is a fundamental change. We used to say “Chuden will be unveiled but the secrets will be well kept”. It was a bit different wasn’t it?
Every teacher is a truth in himself. The real question is “How competent was that teacher’s own sensei“.
Olivier Gaurin: What is a good sensei?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Every teacher is a truth in himself. The real question is “How competent was that teacher’s own sensei [先生, the one born before]”. Everything stems from that.
Olivier Gaurin: That is what this scroll represents right? A lineage, a common source?
Chiba Tsugutaka: The irony is that it also implies a notion of one being just a puppet. To become the best, we have to become like a branch. We seek our original trunk in order to become a stronger branch. Therefore, we can say that we stem from that particular trunk. The only true question is whether we are a thin or a thick branch. The more the branches grow, the better, because then, the more the trunk grows with them, and as the trunk grows, so do the branches.
Daito-ryu genealogy of Chiba Tsugutaka
Olivier Gaurin: For me, it is the same problematic. Why am I here before you? It is for the opposite reason. I arrived from the bottom, and wondered which of the Sensei I knew was going in the right direction. Three of these teachers seemed to go in one particular direction and by following them inwards, I got to you Sensei. What you show are talking about now is the reverse view, the one that branches outwards.
Whatever happens, the first sensei that one adopts will remain one’s sensei
Chiba Tsugutaka: One has to think about how one can transmit knowledge and become a guide. That is the meaning of the word sensei. There are some teachers who do not know how to make the right guidance choice. When I let them do as they want, I can clearly that. Although what they do works for them, it won’t work as well for someone else. If we pay attention to this, we can correct the defects but it requires a lot of good sense. There resides the individuality of each of us.
As a student, when you start thinking things like: “In spite of my efforts, it doesn’t work”, just a few words with the sensei can get you unstuck. Just say: “Sensei, I did as you said but it doesn’t work, here look…” This is what you should say. You must become Human Beings! That is the meaning of deshi.
Of course, there are people who don’t get it because they just “cannot”, or they have not found someone to show them. This is at that point that the incompetent warrior starts doing impossible things.
There is a famous Japanese say that goes: “Whatever happens, the first sensei that one adopts will remain one’s sensei“. It means that if you follow a sensei for a while, it will be very difficult to change, so you’d better not get it wrong. The sensei should not reprimand the student, he should pay attention. Else, the student will think: “He gets mad at me but I can’t do it”. What is this reprimand about then? The sensei should say: “Look, this is not the right way to do it, you should do it like this instead”. It is easier that way, because he teaches as a fair man. This is the way that one brings knowledge.
Of course, there are people who don’t get it because they just “cannot”, or they have not found someone to show them. This is at that point that the incompetent warrior starts doing impossible things. It can’t be helped. Even I, if I was doing something impossible, I would get stuck. This is what happens when you make things up.
Olivier Gaurin: And on the other hand, there are true geniuses.
Chiba Tsugutaka: The best thing to do is to bring the way of the movements to the best of our ability. This is the true question. One must grabs one’s chance and attempt to become a good branch. The one who comes without this question, with or without an opinion, has to be taught this. This is the role of the teacher. If this takes place, it creates a connection between Human Beings [ningendoshi, 人間年]. Ningen [人間] is written like she “space” between people [or people within their own “space”]. This is what links them, there is a space between them. If this space wasn’t there, it would create conflicts.
Olivier Gaurin: There we get the link between the “puppet” and the “human being”.
Chiba Tsugutaka: Yes. This space, ma [間] represents the pedestal on which the human being is constructed. One must open this space, otherwise it gets distended. If the human being disconnects itself, he becomes part of the “mass” of people. All of this is pretty well put in the kanji characters…
Olivier Gaurin: Before meeting you, Sensei, I had practiced the fixed kata form with other Sensei. When I saw you, I thought that what you were doing was very different. Part of it was kata but the techniques had more life. In aikido, we talk about nagare [流れ, flow] when the techniques are performed with flow. Therefore, I wondered whether nagare was the ultimate form of Daito-ryu practice?
Chiba Tsugutaka: It is a question of character, some people are more or less agitated. What you must understand is that we used to train in very tight spaces. You have to think about this. It is very difficult to unbalance the partner when one can’t move much. This is aiki. If the partner comes back, one must retake ma; one’s distance [間合い, ma-ai, interval]. This is really important. In this situation, when the attacker comes, he only has to take one step, one step and a half max, to be able to grab. It is within that space that he is going to develop his attack and that it is the easiest to “enter”. Therefore, you have to wait for him. Which guard are you going to take? If one has to say it, the way that you adopt a guard will affect the way he will come, this is human isn’t it? See, if you take a left guard, he will come from the left. He won’t come from the front. This is an essential [極意, gokui] hidden point for doing it: there is no guard. The natural position [自然体, shizentai] will come and you will be able to counter.
Chiba Tsugutaka, Guillaume Erard, and Olivier Gaurin
Olivier Gaurin: What do you make of the interest manifested from abroad for Daito-ryu?
Chiba Tsugutaka: Nowadays, there seems to be an interest on the part of foreigners who come to Japan we have to cater for that need while continuing working. This is why I think that research only is not sufficient. We saw it clearly during our latest issues with the administrative office of the Takumakai.
Words are part of the folklore, they are only a kind of makeup.
Olivier Gaurin: Regarding the propagation of Daito-ryu in future, do you have particular hopes or plans?
Chiba Tsugutaka: A hope? It is a question of body, just like what we said before. My hope is that we can unite via training, and that Daito-ryu becomes a medium for encounters, fusion through the heart. This is how we could make it last. I teach two seminars per year and people come to absorb through their eyes the techniques of Shikoku which, once they are integrated, can help grow solid branches to that trunk and help the whole tree to grow. This is what I want. But first, we have to get out of the current mediocrity, because right now, much of these people think a bit too highly of themselves. Words are part of the folklore, they are only a kind of makeup.
Olivier Gaurin: Yes, my question was not very good, what i meant was: “What is your hope, not necessarily as a sensei, but as the Human Being, Chiba Tsugutaka?”
Chiba Tsugutaka: Until now, Shikoku’s Daito-ryu was a bit obscure, which allowed it to keep its specificities, but if it opens up, there is a risk that it loses itself.
Olivier Gaurin: So what is your personal opinion about opening Daito-ryu to foreigners and spreading it abroad?
Chiba Tsugutaka: For example, you and Guillaume practice with so much dedication and enthusiasm, that I hope you can manage to promote our approach in France or elsewhere, to show the techniques to people and help them understand beyond the few pictures that they have seen. It is always better to practice amongst human Beings. Because we need both to integrate ourselves and reach out to others. I think that we covered pretty much everything right?
Chiba Tsugutaka surrounded with Olivier Gaurin and Guillaume Erard
Olivier Gaurin: Yes Sensei, thank you very much!