WSKO Board Member
WSKO Official Instructor
Himeji Shirasagi Branch Master, Japan
Kobe Nagata Branch Master, Japan
Himeji Kogyo College Club Coach, Japan
-- Currently, you serve as branch master for two branches and coach to another. You've been serving as an instructor for a long time.
I opened Himeji Shirasagi Branch in 1965, and this is my thirty ninth year.
-- Does instructing at three branches mean that you teach every day?
Every day from Monday to Saturday, and there are events on Sundays too. I'm all the way up to my neck in Shorinji Kempo. Nine years ago we had the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake Disaster, and up till then I was teaching just as much as now. After the disaster, I actually thought about handing on the branch, but in the end I kept at it. Now I have time in the afternoon, but before I was a salary man, so every night I would finish my job and head straight for the dojo.
-- As a branch master, what is it that draws you to instruction?
I like Shorinji Kempo, and I knew Kaiso, so I felt there was no other path for me than this. Now Shorinji Kempo occupies my entire life. If I say it's my reason for being, that sounds like I'm putting on airs, but... I teach every day, but it's really not as hard on me as others seem to think. I've also stated publicly to my students that if I start to complain that I'm worn out or that it's getting too hard, then I'll take the initiative and quit Shorinji Kempo on my own. It's something I got into because I like doing it, so if I start bleating personal complaints, I think that's the time for me to withdraw. You see, this isn't something you do because someone tells you to. I do it because I like it, from root to branch.
-- What was your reason for getting started in Shorinji Kempo?
Physical strength. Even if someone hit me for no reason, I didn't have the courage to come back at them, so I was actually aware that I was weak and I wanted to get stronger. I was a 17 year old high school student. Someone I knew found the one branch in the city of Kobe for me. It was far from my home, but I joined in 1960. My mind was focused purely on getting stronger, and so I kept at it.
-- Were you already living in Himeji at that time?
Actually, I was born and bred in Kobe. At the time I wanted to spread Shorinji Kempo by opening a branch where there wasn't one, so I opened a branch in Himeji and commuted from Kobe. Himeji is an old castle town, so the martial arts were very energized. In the early days, there were all kinds of difficulties. But what was really tough was that the public transportation wasn't as well developed then as now, and it took three hours, round trip. Even so, I didn't see that as a hardship. If I had, I would have quit. At that time, I was completely taken with the art and the teachings, and I met Kaiso and felt his sense of mission, and I had a strong desire to be like that. Also, I myself was gradually getting better, so I was just hoping I could gather young people and teach them some of what I had learned, and I'm still doing that today.
-- How do you think you've changed because of Shorinji Kempo?
First of all, it was through Shorinji Kempo that I got that little fragment of confidence that says, "I can do it too," and I think that's changed me. Especially after I opened a dojo, I was in a position of responsibility, so everything was on my shoulders. I think that gave me a sense of responsibility.
-- Please tell us your impression upon meeting Kaiso.
I came to Hombu for my shodan test. At the time, all tests from shodan up were taken at Hombu. That was the first meeting for me. After the shodan test, we all sat around Kaiso in a circle, and he talked to us about different topics. I was immensely impressed by that. He talked about politics, the economy, and social trends too, but he also told us to have as much contact as we could with our superiors, told us how to live while we were young, and told us to get stronger and to make a good balance between our gains in mental and physical strength. He said if we did that, the confidence would come. That really struck home for me. Right then I made up my mind that I would keep to this path for the rest of my life. I started thinking I'd like to run a dojo myself around the time that I became a third Dan.
-- And you have been teaching for all those years since.
Looking back from the present, it seems like a long time, but from my self-centered perspective, the people around me get older but I always seem to feel as young as ever. And I'm 60 this year. Well, you're going to get older no matter what, so maybe it's better to stay young in spirit.
Nine years ago at the time of the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, the dojo was damaged, and all the equipment was burned up. I think that in this area my branch had the worst damage. The branch was closed for a while, but the kenshi who had been scattered by the disaster got together and said they wanted to revive training quickly. Frankly, there were other priorities, but... ten months later we re-opened. We rented a place to practice, keep things running despite the red ink, and here we are today. My home burned down completely because of the earthquake, and I was seriously injured. Most pressingly, my company had issued instructions for me to transfer to Yokohama. But I was already operating two branches, and I was the coach at the college, so I couldn't throw away what I had so carefully built up. I retired without transferring to Yokohama. I had lost both my house and my job, but I thought I should be able to get by somehow. I did get by. This might sound like posing, but I think that I was able to get to this point just on the sheer enthusiasm I put into my own Shorinji Kempo.
I tell people that if you can retire and still make ends meet, you should retire as early as possible - even if it's just a year earlier or a month earlier - and engross yourself in a path that you like. Of course, it all depends on the person's sense of value, but for me, I think it's better to start your second life earlier, before you get old. What I personally have today is all thanks to Shorinji Kempo, so I have no regrets whatsoever.
-- It seems like you are really living out a good life.
A person's life is only set when the nails are driven into the casket. I still want to go at it for another ten years.
-- Sensei, WSKO asks you to go abroad to instruct just about every year. The first time was for the 1984 European Regional Seminar, and you obliged our request by going to Paris.
That was together with Kawashima Sensei. I remember that the participants were very enthusiastic and I was young too, they had lots of questions and it was a good time. Since then, I've been dispatched abroad nearly every year, and wherever I go people are hungry to learn. In every country it's the same -- the kenshi have a brightness in their eyes and are having fun doing it. At the same time, you can tell in each region the sheer effort that a sensei has invested in spreading Shorinji Kempo by starting from the beginning. I get sent to a locale only after it has reached a certain fullness, and the words for practice are the same as we use in Japan which makes it easy, but it's the local sensei who has developed it that far.
-- Are there things that have been hard for you in instructing?
If I had to come up with something, it would probably be that I can't speak the local languages. Then, although this varies with the area, especially in Europe and America there are a lot of people who are bigger than most Japanese, and so it becomes study for me too. I'm not allowed the mistake of not being able to make a technique work. It's essential that I can apply the technique with certainty. At first, that's where the relationship of trust comes into being -- that's my theory. When I think about all the heavy demands on the sensei who have started from from zero in their areas, the technical side is definitely one thing, but the philosophy also has to be communicated precisely even though people's daily lives and culture are quite different. Without that, I don't think we would have grown as large as we have.
-- When you are instructing at a study session, what do you intend to communicate?
That would be the things we aim to achieve. I begin with nurturing people, then the patriotism to make your country better, and the appeal of Shorinji Kempo techniques. In lectures, I communicate to kenshi my desire that they continue for the long haul. It's exactly the same in Japan -- the fact that I can keep going owes a great deal to the way I've been blessed by the support and environment around me, and there's a limit to what I or anyone can do just from liking Shorinji Kempo. That's why it's key to make a good circle of friends and acquaintances. This is a fundamental principle of Shorinji Kempo. Doing Shorinji Kempo is fun, so you can keep at it long term, and that exerts influence on everything around you. Above all else continue for the long term. Even if it's slow going, and even if for some reason you have to give it up for a while, I want people, at some point, to start up again. Don't just say, "well, I used to be a third Dan, but now..." As much as you can, even if you only proceed slowly, I want you to keep going throughout the long haul. These words are for myself too. I think the kenshi who attend my lectures have been kind enough to find in those words a message for themselves.
-- The 2005 International Taikai will be hosted in Japan. Could you give us a message for the kenshi who will attend.
Since you are making the effort to come and deepen your study of Shorinji Kempo, I would like you to broaden your experience here. Do come to Hombu and see it for yourself. I hope you will take the opportunity to meet President Yuuki So of the Shorinji Kempo Group, Chairman Arai, and Representative Suzuki, and go home with your enthusiasm stoked higher.
(interview at the WSKO Secretariat office on January 24, 2004)