Tada Sensei

Tada Sensei Interview

Originally published on

AJ: Sensei, I understand that you began aikido after entering Waseda University?

Tada Sensei: Yes, but because of the war I was unable to enroll in the dojo until March of 1950.

I also believe you began karate when you entered the university, and later felt drawn to aikido….

Actually, I didn’t do that much karate, although I do hold a dan ranking. At first I was practicing both arts, but I began spending more time practicing aikido, and it became impossible to do both. It wasn’t that I thought one was better than the other, but rather that I admired Morihei Ueshiba Sensei greatly. I had known him through my father since I was a boy.

In 1942, I was in Shinkyo (present-day Chang Chun, Manchuria), but I just missed Ueshiba Sensei’s performance at the famous Kenkoku University Tenth Anniversary Martial Arts Demonstration. My cousin, who is one year older than me, told me it was a fantastic demonstration. Apparently hardly anyone could take Ueshiba Sensei’s ukemi. They weren’t just being thrown, it was if they were being shocked by high-voltage electricity.

In issue number four of Aikido Tankyu [a periodical published by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo], you wrote that you were very surprised and impressed by Ueshiba Sensei’s unusual way of thinking.

When I enrolled in the dojo I was twenty years old, and Sensei was sixty-seven or so, a difference of about forty-seven years. But he threw me so easily no matter how strongly I attacked, that there seemed, in that respect, to be no difference in our ages at all. Looking back on it now it seems perfectly understandable, of course.

In any case, he had a unique air about him and he was filled with an unusual energy. I felt I had met a true martial arts expert.

Did you enter the Tempukai at the same time you began aikido?

When I entered the Hombu Dojo most of the people training there were members of either the Tempukai or the Nishikai. Of course, at the time there were only six or seven people at the dojo. Among them were Keizo Yokoyama and his younger brother, Yusaku, both of whom were students at Hitotsubashi University. Yusaku spent the last years of the war in the naval academy and entered the university after the war ended. It was he who introduced me to the Tempukai and the Ichikukai. After that another person taught me about fasting exercises. These practices, along with the teachings of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, became the basis of my training.

I was introduced to the Tempukai in June of the same year that I entered the Aikikai. Tempu Nakamura Sensei was then conducting monthly study sessions at the Gekkoden of Gokokuji Temple. Like the Aikikai, the Tempukai did little to promote itself publicly, and people became members of the Tempukai through the introduction of other members. I met Tempu Sensei and after I heard what he had to say, I joined immediately. Tempu Nakamura (1876-1968)

Were Ueshiba Sensei and Tempu Sensei acquainted with one another?

Yes. It was before I enrolled in the dojo, but it seems they had met once through an introduction by Tadashi Abe’s father, who was both a member of the Tempukai and a student of Ueshiba Sensei. Originally, the Tempukai was known as the Toitsu Tetsuigakkai (Society for the Study of Unification of Medicine and Philosophy), and it focused on the unification of mind and body. I participated in many of Tempu Sensei’s experiments, so I came to know a lot about him.

How long were you active in the Tempukai?

Until I went to Europe in October 1964. Tempu Sensei passed away in December 1968. During my six years in Europe, Morihei Ueshiba Sensei and Tempu Sensei, as well as my grandfather, all passed away.

I’ve heard that Tempu Sensei was an expert with the sword.

Yes, he was an expert in Zuihen-ryu battojutsu. He took his name, Tempu, from the Chinese characters “ten” and “pu” used to write the name of the Zuihen-ryu’s amatsukaze form, at which he was particularly skilled. Tempu Sensei was a descendant of Lord Tachibana, the daimyo in Yanagawa. The martial arts were so popular in Yanagawa that it ranked with the Saga clan of Kyushu, which was famed for the book titled Hagakure [a classic text on bushido, dictated by Tsunetomo Yamamoto in 1716]. The content of Tempu Sensei’s speeches was quite distinctive in that most of what he said originated more from his actual experience than from any intellectual process. Ueshiba Sensei was the same way. Ideas generated on an intellectual level don’t have nearly the same power to draw people.

Could you please tell us about the Ichikukai?

A man named Tetsuju Ogura was one of Tesshu Yamaoka’s last uchideshi. During the Taisho period, students and followers of Ogura together with members of the boat racing club of Tokyo Imperial University (present-day Tokyo University) created a society that practiced misogi (austerities, ritual purification). It was under the direction of Masatetsu Inoue. In the beginning, the Ichikukai gathered on the 19th of every month, in commemoration of Tesshu Yamaoka’s death on July 19th, so that’s why it was called the Ichikukai [ichiku in Japanese can mean “1 and 9,” I.e., 19].

When I joined, the meetings were held at an old Taisho period dojo in Nogata-machi in Nakano. From Thursday to Sunday we sat in seiza for about ten hours a day, chanting a passage from a norito (Shinto prayer), putting as much of our entire being into it as possible. It was something akin to chanting a mantra. After passing through this initiation you became a member, and then you could attend meetings once a month on Sunday. There they did a chanting exercise called ichiman-barai, which consisted of ringing a hand-bell ten thousand times. The sound of the bell doesn’t become clear and sharp until the movement of the hand becomes automatic. Many of my top students in the aikido classes I teach now do this practice.

Did you train with the ken or jo?

There was a period when O-Sensei would get angry when students in the dojo tried to train with the ken or jo, and he forbade them to do it. Later, though, he began teaching such things. As a child I had practiced a tradition of Japanese archery that has been passed down in my family. I also used to practice kendo in junior high school. This was during the war so it was not at all sport-oriented. After I began training in aikido I would practice swinging the ken against a tree near my home.

Personal training is important no matter what art you practice. You should create your own training program, starting with running. In my twenties and into my thirties I used to get up at 5:30 every morning and run about fifteen kilometers. When I finished that I went home and practiced striking a bundle of sticks with a bokken (wooden sword). In those days the houses in Jiyugaoka were much further apart, so I could make as much noise as I pleased. I trained using the method of Jigen-ryu, which I had learned from O-Sensei at Iwama. It’s said that in the old days the warriors of the Satsuma domain [in Kyushu] would strike a bundle of brushwood ten thousand times every day, but I could only manage about five hundred at best. At first it made my hands go numb, but after a while I was able to strike a large tree with no problem. I’ve had my students at Waseda University and Gakushuin University train in this way. I find it to be one of the best training methods for aikido.

Of course, it’s not good to use excessive physical power. Just hold the bokken-or even an ordinary stick made of green wood-lightly and squeeze with the little finger and ring finger at the moment of impact. Speed and the ability to squeeze the fingers closed properly will develop naturally. This type of gentle practice is important, because if you practice using a lot of power all the time, you may end up throwing and applying joint techniques too strongly, and this can be dangerous. In Lido, Venezia, Italy, 1968

It’s unfortunate that the limited space in our modern dojos doesn’t allow for much of this sort of training anymore. I’d like to gradually reorganize things to make such training more accessible.

What I have just described is a basic way to practice striking, but footwork, hand movement, and the development of ki through kokyuho are other important elements of one’s personal training.

You studied Morihei Sensei and devised your training method based on what you observed?

Yes. It is very important to observe your teacher’s personal training method very closely and learn it well; otherwise you may draw hasty and wrong conclusions and end up doing meaningless or mistaken training. In any case, you need to review what your teacher has taught you and attempt to discern something that represents the basic lines of it; then practice that over and over until you can do it. In this way you create your personal training method.

I think if you want to become an expert at what you do – whether it’s martial arts, sports, some kind of art, or whatever – then you need to train at least two thousand hours a year while in your twenties and thirties. That’s five to six hours a day. It probably depends on the person, but most of that time will be spent in personal training. After training on your own you can come to the dojo to confirm, try out, and work through whatever you’ve gained.

Using a tree as your aikido training partner is a very good way to practice training with power because you can strike much more forcefully than you could if your partner was another human being. It’s not appropriate to train recklessly hard when your partner is a person; you should spend that time working to develop correct, clean, razor-sharp lines.

Did Ueshiba Sensei ever talk to you about Daito-ryu or Onisaburo Deguchi?

Ueshiba Sensei always spoke very respectfully of his own teachers, including Sokaku Takeda Sensei and the Reverend Onisaburo Deguchi. The thing I remember most clearly from his talks about Daito-ryu is that he said he thought that it had a very excellent training method. After practice O-Sensei would often come back into the dojo and talk to us about various things.

I believe Ueshiba Sensei talked about religion, specifically about the Omoto religion….

Yes, and sometimes I understood quite clearly what he was talking about, while at other times it completely baffled me. But he also said to us, “This is just my way of speaking; I want each of you to understand what I am saying on your own terms, explore it deeply, and transmit it in words appropriate to the times.”

Aikido is more beneficial to humanity than is generally realized, even when viewed from the perspective of someone like myself who specializes in aikido. In 1952, when I graduated from the university all of my friends were rather surprised at my decision to specialize in aikido, probably because it was so soon after the war. For me, however, Ueshiba Sensei’s aikido embodied the essence of Japanese culture and I saw it as something that could be very important to Japan in the future.

In actuality, however, aikido seems to have found its footing in Europe more quickly than in Japan. Still, when beginning with a blank slate like that, in a completely different cultural context, aikido training is impossible without a clear understanding of what aikido is and what the goals of training are. Without these it’s like jumping onto a train without knowing in what direction or to what destination it is headed. In other words, it is important to have a clear direction to aikido training from the very beginning. As far as deciding on training methods, it is unrealistic to ask people who want to train two or three times a week to train in the same way as people who want to train for several hours every day. It’s enough to have people train in a way that is meaningful for them within the context of their individual lifestyles. Those who want to become experts or who really want to explore aikido deeply, however, need to be very clear in their minds about where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

I can’t say anything about what is wrong or right as far as training methods go. Most martial artists are not in a position to criticize the techniques of others, for there are too many cases in which someone who appears somewhat weak turns out to be extraordinarily strong