By Richard Wagner, Chief Instructor, Palm Beach Aikikai
[Editor's Note: This interview with Clyde Takeguchi was made at the seminar at Palm Beach Aikikai in December 1999. Special thanks to Richard Wagner, and to Bill Bresnihan who made the videotape from which this interview was transcribed. ]
Q: We are at Palm Beach Aikikai in West Palm Beach Florida with Takeguchi Sensei. He is the leader of Capital Aikikai in Washington, D.C., and we wanted to talk to him about Aikido and his experiences in Aikido. Sensei, when did you first learn about Aikido and when did you begin Aikido?
CT: I learned about Aikido in the mid-50s and I started in 1957 or 1958.
Q: How old were you at that time?
CT: About 1! A teenager.
Q: Was it a local dojo?
CT: Yes it was a local dojo. Our instructor had learned for a little while in the big town in Hawaii, in the city of Hilo, and the came to where I lived and started a dojo in a small Buddhist church. That's where I started to practice.
Q: Did you witness any demonstrations?
CT: It was a small, one-horse town. I can't remember if there were any demonstrations, but it was the first martial art in that area. There was kendo about 10 miles away in another town, and of course Hilo had judo, kendo and some karate as well.
Q: As a young student did you jump right into Aikido? Did you go every day and train regularly?
CT: In my small town it was the only thing in town. It was close, and we didn't have a car. You could walk to the dojo, practice and walk back home. It was definitely the thing to do.
Q: And the origin of the Ki Society was at that time?
CT: No, there was no Ki Society. It was just Aikido. Koichi Tohei came to Hawaii to teach Aikido in the early 50s and was part of a health group. He was brought over by Nishishiki, one of O Sensei's friends who had this health group and it was through that group that he came to Hawaii. There were others as well. Like karate people from Okinawa they had a hard time because it was considered a martial art and in Hawaii at the time there were a lot of fights on the street with a lot of different martial arts. It was like the Wild West at the time for martial arts.
Q: So you were learning martial techniques in a health club?
CT: In the old days you needed a sponsor to come to the US and they were the sponsors for Tohei Sensei.
Q: And you trained regularly for how long?
CT: High school and then college and then I left to go to school in Wisconsin.
Q: Was there the ranking system we are familiar with today?
CT: Yes, from 5th kyu and up. It was white belts and black belts. Actually in Hawaii they started the colored belt system because that was the way the judo system was.
Q: So you earned shodan in Hawaii?
Q: And then you went off to Wisconsin?
CT: Actually when I went to school I was a sandan and in Wisconsin I didn't do much Aikido. I didn't start a dojo but I practiced in Chicago and Milwaukee. I had to go to school, so I couldn't be a student and do Aikido at the same time. It was a little difficult but I tried to go to Milwaukee and Chicago when instructors came to the area and I spent a lot of time in Chicago. When I first went there. There was Hirata who was the chief instructor there and when he left Takahashi took over and after he passed away Akira Tohei came over, so I was there during that whole series.
Q: When was it that Akira Tohei came over?
CT: I can't remember. I left to go to Wisconsin in 1967 so Tohei Sensei must have been there in the early 70s.
Q: So you did your graduate work there.
Q: So you were a student all those years when did you finally start your own dojo?
CT: I helped teach at a dojo at the University of Hawaii, a few miles from the campus, where my dorm was. When I went to Wisconsin I went to Milwaukee to help teach at the dojo there. I practiced in Chicago and when some of the students came to Milwaukee I decided to start a dojo. It was in the 70s when I started a dojo there. Then I came to DC to work for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a postdoctoral student. Then after a few years I went to Charleston [South Carolina] to work at the medical university there and then I went back to DC, to work for the Food and Drug Administration. So then I started a dojo in Madison then one in DC and then one in Charleston as well.
Q: So the official opening of Capital Aikikai was in...
Q: In what capacity did you work at the NIH and the FDA and what is your degree in?
CT: I have a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical biochemistry. I went to the NIH as a postdoctoral student in the pharmacology research associate program and after my time there I was offered a job in South Carolina to do teaching and research in the pharmacology department. I didn't like the south so I moved to DC for a better job at the FDA writing regulations for food ingredients and food additives.
Q: Did you have any experience in any other martial arts?
CT: A little judo maybe prior to Aikido. It wasn't anything formal, just taking ukemi. In the old days senior judo students just threw you around. In Hawaii Buddhist churches and Shinto churches had kendo and judo clubs. Judo was taught in Hawaii quite a bit in churches because the ministers were martial artists, and the churches had all the mats and a big enough space to have training.
Q: Were you there when O Sensei visited Hawaii?
CT: I was in high school when O Sensei came. My instructors were the ones who took all the falls. Instructors came from other islands and we also had a kids class with about 70 kids when O Sensei gave a class, a demo. He practiced with all of the students. It was amazing to see him take falls for all of the students. It was fascinating. Tamura Sensei was his uke at the time.
He did demos in different parts and we were all still white belts and we had to do demonstrations. I remember this friend and I practiced what we were going to do for demos and at the demo he didn't do what he was supposed to do so it was chaos. Just chaos. After that we decided not to plan demos. Whatever comes you have to take. The main thing was being prepared and after that the demo will come. To this day I don't plan demos and the main reason was that one day. It was terrible, and it was right in front of O Sensei. My impression of it was that we preformed terribly. I hate to think of how we looked. Since then I hope I look better at demos.
Q: Fortunately it wasn't testing.
CT: I haven't thought about it in a long time. To top it all off it was on the other side of the island and I though no one knew us but my mother was from that area. Some of my mom's friends saw me. I don't know if they say how bad I did but they told my mom they saw me perform there. I think I felt very embarrassed and I did it in front of O Sensei. He must have thought we were a bunch of students who didn't know much about Aikido.
It was interesting to see O Sensei. He looked just like my grandfather. This old man got on the mat and threw Tamura Sensei like he was a feather. Then Tamura Sensei threw my instructors around like they were nothing. People couldn't move Tamura Sensei. We called him the stone wall. To think my instructors threw us around, and Tamura threw them around and O Sensei threw him around. It was an amazing demo by O Sensei, when though he was old, to see how powerful he was. He still had a presence. He definitely had a presence, especially on the mat.
My instructors told a story of how they took him up to the volcano while he was visiting, and while they were driving up he said there was an earthquake, even though nobody else felt it. When they reached the top they asked the rangers if there was an earthquake and they said there was at about the same time O Sensei mentioned it. You would hear stories like that and it seemed like he was one with nature. Whatever it was, he was an unusual person.
Q: What year was that he visited?
CT: I left in 1967, it must have been in 1959 or 1960. I can't remember. It was definitely a long time ago.
Q: About Capital Aikikai. How big was it in the beginning? How many students did you have?
CT: My first class had about six students. One of them is still practicing with me. A few others who started with me are still practicing around the U.S. We started at the "Y" and went to a gym at a private school for a few years. It was 19 years before we had a rented dojo. DC is quite expensive and the other thing was to have a core, a nucleus of students to have a supportable dojo but I think we have enough to do that. It is definitely good to have your own dojo.
Q: How big is it?
CT: We have 50 to 60 members, and 30 or so practice regularly.
Q: Do you have children's class?
CT: Children's class is on Saturday, once a week and varies from about 10-25.
Q: Do you senior students teach them?
CT: Yes I use that as part of their training as well. They teach but they also learn to control themselves and how to handle kids, because adults are just big kids.
By Richard Wagner, Chief Instructor, Palm Beach Aikikai
[Editor's Note: This interview with Clyde Takeguchi was made at the seminar at Palm Beach Aikikai in December 1999. Special thanks to Richard Wagner, and to Bill Bresnihan who made the videotape from which this interview was transcribed. The video will soon be available in the marketplace.]
Q: So it sounds like you train your senior students in a way like an uchi-deshi program but with no real live-in students though.
CT: No, no real live-in students.
Q: Are you traveling a lot lately? Are you doing a lot of seminars?
CT: I keep saying that I don't, since I definitely have a job that keeps me busy. I try to go to 2 or 3 a year. I had a chance to go to 2 or 3 this fall butÉ. I try to make accommodations but sometimes the job gets in the way of Aikido. It's difficult.
Q: Are you teaching about 3-4 seminars a year?
CT: At our dojo?
Q: No, that you are traveling to and teaching at.
CT: Well, this is my second year here. (At WPB Aikikai) I go to Oregon with Mike Friedl, one of my students from Wisconsin. I visit there every year or so. I go to Charleston every 2-3 years. Alan Jackson is the chief instructor there he tries to bring me in with people from the area. Then I have a few other students elsewhere. I guess I go to Toronto every other year or so and a few other places that invite me.
Q: When did you first meet Yamada Sensei?
CT: Well, in Hawaii they have a black belt seminar once or twice a year. Yamada Sensei was on his way to New York and he stopped over at one of these seminars. Usually at those seminars Koichi Tohei was there and there were some university students.
I remember Yamada was throwing those university students very well. Yamada Sensei was very fast, very impressive. He flipped those guys around, and I was very impressed. I didn't see Yamada Sensei again until years later after I had been in the Midwest and went to the East Coast.
Q: When did Yamada Sensei first come to Hawaii? What year was that?
CT: It must have been '64, '65, or '66. I'm not sure. The early 60s, I think it was.
Q: Then you met up with him in the states later?
CT: Yes, when I came to the East Coast. I think I might have met him in the Midwest but I really didn't get to know him until I cam to the East Coast.
Q: That would be when you formally established Capital Aikikai?
Q: But didn't you initially have an affiliation with the Ki Society, or at least some training with them?
CT: No. But unless you consider that Tohei Sensei started the Ki Society and I trained with him when he was with Hombu dojo. When they split I was already in Wisconsin so I have never been with Ki Society. I trained under Koichi Tohei in Hawaii and it is inevitable that my style resembles Koichi Tohei Sensei's style somewhat but I stayed with Hombu dojo and USAF.
I definitely think it was a good decision at the time. Any time there is a split they don't show what is similar, rather they show what is different. I thought that Koichi Tohei would emphasize the philosophical part and Hombu dojo would emphasize the technical part, and although I was interested in the philosophical part I think the technical part is important. It is also important to be part of headquarters and O Sensei's style, so I took that path. I was accused at times of sitting on the fence, of doing this and that, but I definitely think staying with Hombu Dojo was a good decision.
Q: What then, is your philosophy? In what direction do you take you dojo?
CT: What direction?
Q: How do you like your dojo to be? How would you like your dojo to be known? What do you tell you senior students? What direction do you guide them in with their Aikido with their training and especially their philosophy?
CT: Definitely what O Sensei taught, that Aikido is love. Aikido is a martial art, but it is a benevolent art in a sense, and so the idea is to balance the philosophy with the practice. Aikido being a martial art, you have to train by taking the falls as well as doing the throwing. You have to do both sides because complete Aikido is that you have to know both sides and to understand one you have to do the other. One reason why even now I train I think that doing both gives you a complete understanding of the complete technique and of the art. As you get older you may not be able to do it as easily as before but there are other aspects of it that you realize after some time.
Q: Speaking of your teaching, your instruction, what is it you want your younger, beginning students to walk away with. They obviously don't have the length of training and don't understand what Aikido can offer to the same depth as your senior students, so what do you emphasize with your beginning students.
CT: I don't teach beginners any more in my dojo, but I try to emphasize ukemi, that's the basic foundation for Aikido. Aikido is also movement, so you have to know omote and ura, irimi and tenkan your directions, I guess front and back, just the basic exercises, those are the basic foundation. Put those movements together and you have a technique. The fascinating thing about Aikido is there is an unlimited number of techniques depending on the people. Slight differences make techniques look different. But knowing a lot of techniques is not the object. I try to emphasize understanding the basics and the advanced techniques will come.
Q: When do you first begin teaching weapons?
CT: Anyone is welcome to take weapons from the beginning. Aikido is a very weapons-oriented martial art and it is important to move to higher levels of understanding Aikido. I don't think it's essential but I definitely think the training is worth it. I use the weapons now mainly as tools, tools for understanding Aikido because I think that as a weapon you won't use these anymore. People use guns, among other things. Of all the weapons we use the tanto is more like a modern weapon of choice. People use knives and smaller-type weapons as a whole. I think that weapons training is good, it gives you a different, better understanding of techniques.
Q: So you would say you incorporate weapons into regular training instead of a weapons class.
CT: It's good to have weapons class separately, but as technique itself is weapons oriented technique it should be one in the same.
Q: What kind of instructions do you give to your senior students.
CT: We've instituted an instructors class for quite a few years and we are emphasizing going back to basics and trying to discuss problems people have had in teaching. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to some things, so it's just sort of a shoulder to cry on so people understand that teaching Aikido is not like teaching a course at school, it's a lot different.
There is a lot more physical interaction so how do you deal with different types of people, different types of students: younger students, older students, do you teach only technique? How much do you teach philosophy? We have themes, on ukemi, on flow, on moving forward. Different sorts of things as an emphasis for training.
Also instructors class is a place at least where they all can take the ukemi so in a sense it is a harder training because the competency level is quite high. You have a chance to practice with other instructors and senior students as well so even if you do the basic techniques it is a different level of basic techniques.
Q: Do you teach henka waza and kaeshi waza?
CT: Yes, and I use that as part of some of the exercises. I think that Aikido is weapons oriented and also a multiple person martial art in that you deal with a person one on one, even when there are multiple persons. You can't deal with all of them, you have to deal with one at a time. The person that is closest to you, the one that attacks you first is the one you have to deal with so the interaction is always a one on one interaction.
I think part of the training is on the mat and part of Aikido is understanding to do that off the mat, and part of the interaction, the randori or the one on one, if you can use that for dealing with people off the mat, or in the workplace or with the family, I think that's where Aikido has the best benefit.
But also the other thing is that dealing with friends in the dojo, there is a certain distance of familiarity and if you deal with people in the workplace, it might be a little closer in the family it is much much closer so the Aikido, the interaction is quite a bit different. With your family, spouse, kid, brother, compared to friends or working friends or someone from Aikido there is a different level of closeness and familiarity, the interaction changes as well.
You can see that in Aikido when there is someone that you practice with a lot, you can do a lot of things you would not normally do with other students. If you had a beginner, you would be much less willing to take chances so how you deal with people on the mat, you should be able to do the same thing off the mat. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen too well, but it's still part of the training. I think that is why Aikido is very fascinating, on the mat, you can get to a certain level but off the mat you can show how you apply it in your daily life at work, especially at home, that's the hardest thing to deal with. You can yell at your kid and after that you think "Oh, Jesus, I lost my cool" but by then it's too late and how can you deal with that. That's difficult.
Q: Sensei, with all your travels, all your experiences, where do you think Aikido is today in the big picture, in the United States and worldwide?
CT: I think that American Aikido is one of the best worldwide. I think Americans, especially in Hawaii, have been training in Aikido since the 50s and I think that there is a lot of Aikido knowledge in the U.S. American Aikido has been very fortunate to have a lot of shihans come to train here. We have Yamada Sensei, Kanai Sensei, Chiba Sensei, Sugano Sensei; Akira Tohei was here. There is a lot of Aikido all over in the U.S. alone, and the training level is quite a bit more than when I was growing up, when it was rough. It's definitely interesting.
The ukemi has changed. It's much more stylistic now. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know. Time will tell. Worldwide, Aikido is very popular in Europe, in Asia, in Russia. Aikido has a universal note, a common note that allows everyone around the world to practice it, as long as you keep it in a commonality I think that it will grow much, much more. The world is changing. It will be interesting to see what happens.
O Sensei thought that Aikido was training to see how to love one another and that he could have world peace with the use of the philosophy of Aikido. I don't know if it will be in my lifetime, but that's a good thought. I don't know how long it will take for world peace, much less training on a universal scale. There have been factions of Aikido since Aikido has grown, whether they will continue to break apart or coalesce.... it's a dynamic thing. A lot of other martial arts have done the same thing. Aikido is not that different, but hopefully it will be.
Q: Sensei, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share your thoughts and memories with us.