AN INTERVIEW WITH CLYDE TAKEGUCHI SENSEI
from Aikido Today, May/June 2000
by Forrest Hainline, with Mark Matloff
Sensei, 1998 was a special year for you in Aikido.
Yes. It was the 25th anniversary of the Capital Aikikai. We had an anniversary seminar in October. Yamada Sensei came, along with Mike Mamura [6th dan, Milwaukee Aikido Club] and Mike Friedl [5th dan, Aikido of Ashland, Oregon]. Both Mike Mamura and Mike Friedl were my students "way back when."
Would you tell us a little about your school?
I teach in Silver Spring, Maryland. We have a good time, train well, practice, and have a lot of fun. We have a good time training with one another.
Let's go back. Where and when did you begin to study Aikido?
I started in Hawaii in 1957 or 1958, when I was about 14 or 15 years old. What fascinated me was the incorporation of breathing, weapons, and technique. Koichi Tohei Sensei had come to Hawaii in the early 1950s. He was the best Aikidoist I ever saw.
I started on the Island of Hawaii under Mr. Y. Iwasa and Mr. K. Takaki. We also trained with Mr. T. Nonaka, who was the Chief Instructor of the island of Hawaii. Later, when I was at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, I trained at the Waialae dojo under Yamamoto Sensei, and I eventually became one of the instructors. I trained with Mr. S. Yoshioka, Mr. Aoyagi, and many others while in Honolulu. The three main Aikidoists with whom I trained were Mr. Takashi Nonaka, Mr. Shinichi Suzuki, and Mr. Yokisei Yamamura Sensei.
What kept you with Aikido?
It was a good way for me legitimately to let off steam. I had a lot of frustrations from school. I could let off steam by practicing and training hard.
I came from a small, one-horse town. Aikido was the only art offered there at the time. Later, there were other martial arts — but my father said that, once had I started Aikido, I had to continue — that I couldn't just jump from one style to another.
What continues to attract you to Aikido?
The people, the philosophy, O Sensei's idea that Aikido is love and compassion. If you can show that love and compassion, your techniques improve. These attitudes will overflow off the mat into your daily life and into your workplace. The feeling goes out further and further from the dojo with a "ripple effect."
Has Aikido changed since you began training?
Yes. In Hawaii, it was rough. Many old Judo guys, Kendo people, and Karate people came to check you out. Now, Aikido training has been refined, especially ukemi. Ukemi has become quite nice and flowing. It's quite a bit different from the old "beat-'em-up" days.
Aikido training definitely has changed — but the people really haven't changed.
When did you leave Hawaii?
In 1967, I went to Madison, Wisconsin to begin work on my Ph. D. in Pharmaceutical Biochemistry.
Shortly after you moved to Madison, Koichi Tohei Sensei left Hombu dojo. With your background in Hawaiian Aikido, how did it happen that you affiliated with Hombu dojo and the [United States Aikido] Federation rather than with Tohei Sensei's Ki Society?
Hombu dojo was the founding place of Aikido. O Sensei had a good path, a good idea. The body and mind working together — philosophy and technique. I believed that Hombu dojo was following this path. I believe that, while the mind controls the body, you have to train your body in order to train the mind. Technique and philosophy work together. In fact, Aikido is unique in that it is the only discipline in which one can demonstrate one's philosophy, and show physically that it works. I was young, and I believed that I had more time to train physically. I thought that Koichi Tohei would place more and more emphasis on Aikido's philosophy.
Are the body and technique primary?
Technique and philosophy are both important. But you can't demonstrate the philosophy of Aikido — or even understand it — without experiencing, learning, and demonstrating technical proficiency.
Let's go back to Madison. When you moved there, were there any other Aikidoists?
Not at first.
Then how did you practice?
Every day, I practiced with bokken and jo. I did the 22-count kata that Koichi Tohei Sensei taught. I practiced pokes, blocks, and cuts — hundreds and hundreds of them. I practiced my breathing.
It's surprising how many people don't know how to breathe. When under stress, many people stop breathing. But, if you can't breathe, you can't do anything. If you do learn to breathe deeply — and learn to breathe deeply naturally — you don't stop breathing. If you can poke, block, and cut, you can apply this to all other aspects of Aikido.
I would also go to Milwaukee to teach and train with the students, and to Chicago, training with the instructors who were there then — Hirata Sensei, I. Takahashi Sensei, and Akira Tohei Sensei.
Did you begin a dojo in Madison?
I started a group in the 1970s. Mike Friedl was one of the students in that group who has continued to train in Aikido.
Have you continued with your weapons practice on your own?
Not much any more, but I have continued to practice my breathing. I believe that an effective martial art teaches you to fight with a weapon or without a weapon — and against a weapon. The principles of weapons apply to taijutsu techniques. In my opinion, you can see the difference in Aikidoists who regularly practice with weapons and those who don't. Weapons and breathing training make techniques stronger and truer.
Do you have regular weapons classes at the Capital Aikikai?
Yes. Two weapons classes a week. I also use the weapons as a tool for teaching because it is easier to visualize the sword movement than the movement of the mind.
Tell me about the founding of Capital Aikikai.
I came to Washington, DC, in 1973 for a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Health. Some of my students came with me from Wisconsin to help me move. Before I started, I met some of the other Aikido teachers and martial arts instructors in the area. Bob Noah was teaching a class in Rockville at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA near NIH.
I began teaching Monday and Wednesday nights, and Saturday morning. This continued in several different locations until 1993, when we moved into our full-time dojo. Now we have at least three classes every day.
Didn't you spend some time in Charleston, South Carolina as well?
In 1975, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, to teach at the Medical School. Mike Friedl joined me there after he graduated and traveled in Europe and Asia. We trained every day — mainly breathing and weapons. After a while, I started a dojo, which still continues in Mt. Pleasant under Alan Jackson. I continue to do a seminar there every few years.
I came back to D.C. in 1977. The Capital Aikikai had been kept going by some of my senior students, Dennis Ruth and Bob White.
Let's talk about balancing Aikido and life. You are a professional, a Ph.D. After working with the FDA for many years, you started your own consulting company. You have a wife and a daughter in college. And yet you've always trained and taught Aikido. How have you managed to do that?
Koichi Tohei Sensei used to say that three things were important: family, work or school, and Aikido, in that order. At different times in life, the order changes. Sometimes I've been able to train hours every day. Other times, I've had to concentrate on other things and could not train as often. But I've always trained. I've tried always to keep family, work, and Aikido in balance. (When I was in school, that was my work.)
Keeping things in balance means that, at times, one will have more importance, and get more attention and time, but each has to have its place. So I've never stopped doing Aikido. I've always kept Aikido in the balance. And I try to practice Aikido off the mat as well as on. You can train by yourself, doing breathing and weapons. Practicing has always helped me with my school or work and family, relieving tensions and keeping me feeling balanced.
How have you applied, and how have you seen your students apply, Aikido off the mat in their work?
In Washington, certainly, many of my students and I are involved in negotiations as a regular part of our work. Our students through the years have included lawyers, professors, scientists, mediators, consultants, home builders, students bricklayers, and government workers. Aikido surely helps negotiations: deflecting and redirecting attacks, blending.
Also, I don't particularly like to speak in front of large groups, but Aikido helps. Aikido, and breathing, has helped me be able to do this more effectively.
What gives you the greatest pride in looking at your students over the years?
To see students become good Aikido instructors, whether they have their own dojo, like Mike Mamura and Mike Friedl, or are teaching as a regular part of their life along with other careers.
I also like to see students applying Aikido successfully off the mat — dealing with people, mediating, arbitrating, negotiating effectively. To see students able to lead people and get them to do what you want them to do without bullying.
I like to see the change in people after they train. To see people learn to win over themselves, overcoming their own problems and anxieties.
What do you look for in your students — both in testing and overall?
As I said earlier, technique and philosophy are both important.
In testing, I definitely look for technical competence, both in demonstrating the technique and the ukemi. I also look for mental competence. How does a person deal with aggression, with the unexpected, with more than they might expect? The mental and technical merge in Aikido.
As I said before, in Aikido you can demonstrate that your philosophy works. You can show this by how you neutralize an attack, how you move off the line, how you rearrange the line so you control it. I look to see whether the student continuously has his or her mind extending out.
The interesting thing is how some students who are not physically strong have strong mental powers. You expect to see the mental side getting stronger as the student advances, even if they are not as strong physically. After shodarn, particularly, the techniques don't change. Shodan means that one knows the techniques. What changes is the mental ability to use technique and control oneself.
I emphasize that shodan means "beginner." At shodan, a student has the technical expertise to begin to understand Aikido.
Is it important to you that your students teach?
I have always emphasized teaching as part of learning Aikido. All my dan students teach. Once a month we have instructors' classes to work on teaching Aikido and discussing issues on teaching.
I believe a person doesn't really understand something, know it, until he or she teaches it — or tries to teach it — to someone else. It's one thing to be able to do the technique; it's a different thing to understand why you do something one way rather than another and to explain that to someone else. As you teach, imparting knowledge to someone else, your body is teaching your mind and your mind is teaching your body.
In America, especially, everyone asks, "Why, why, why?" This leads to a danger: some people talk a little too much. I say, "Talk a little; practice a lot."
What advice would you give a beginner?
What advice would you give an advanced student?
Keep training [laughs].
When you are a beginner, the training seems complicated and foreign. As you advance, you have to look at it each time as still new — so that you don't get complacent and take it for granted.
Training is an interaction between people. The technique involves both uke and nage. The uke always changes and the nage always changes. So, training is always different. You can think of it that way. You keep training to better yourself and your partner as well. The training is mutual — I sharpen up my partner, and he or she sharpens me up.
Also, people of many different kinds do Aikido — of different ages, different body types, different levels of athleticism and aggression. I always emphasize that students should train with as many different people as possible.
The more receptive you are to feeling people's attitudes on the mat, the more you can be receptive off the mat. Part of training is also training in honesty — to give an honest attack and provide an honest technique. That's one reason I like my students to attend seminars, to see other instructors, and to train with Aikidoists they don't ordinarily see.
What personal qualities do you value in an Aikidoka? Can they be cultivated?
In Aikido, you give yourself to your partner. You trust someone else with your body, your arm, your wrist. So, ideally, in the practice you cultivate trust of other people.
Over the years, you've had teachers of many different styles give seminars at your school, Capital Aikikai: Yamada Sensei, Saito Sensei, Bill Witt Sensei, Kanai Sensei, Mary Heiny Sensei, Robert Nadeau Sensei, Okimura Sensei. You've always kept good relations with these different Aikidoists, and you have maintained good relations with your students when they've gone to train with other instructors. How?
Aikido is like a mountain. There is one mountain, but there are many paths to the top. O Sensei took one path. The more people who do Aikido, the more the mountain is explored. The mountain may appear to be getting bigger and bigger, but it is still one mountain. All true paths get to the top.
Each student has to find a style, a path, that fits his or her personality and body type. The goal is the same.
I've always been very supportive of my students. And I've always wanted to expose them to various paths. Mike [Friedl] is good example. He was my student in Wisconsin, DC, and in South Carolina. He went to the west coast, and then he went to Iwama. Later he studied with Frank Doran and Hiroshi Ikeda.
All of these influences, including mine, have helped Mike find his own path.
It's the same for all my students. They have to find their individual paths to the top of the mountain. I'm a guide. They have to walk and see which path they feel comfortable with.
How did you meet Saito Sensei?
Through Mike. I went to California and stopped by the Oakland Dojo. Bill Witt was teaching. I liked what I saw, and Bill and I became friends. Mike then went to Iwama for a while. Then, a number of my students went to Iwama. So, when Saito came to DC in the mid-80s, he wanted to find out who this Takeguchi guy was who was sending him students. We met, and I saw that our styles were very compatible. Saito Sensei has taught at the Capital Aikikai a number of times.
You seem to be able to absorb and incorporate different styles.
The movement is a universal movement, whatever the style. If the universal movement is there, it doesn't matter what style you have.
This is true between the different martial arts. Many students at Capital Aikikai have dan ranks in martial arts other than Aikido. Everything they learn helps them understand the universal movement.
What do you see as the future of Aikido?
That's a good question.
Aikido has split several times, which is typical of martial arts. Whether it will come back together again I don't know. But I think that the philosophy of Aikido, O Sensei's philosophy of love and compassion, will definitely spread, regardless of the different styles.
Society has changed. People want and need a way to deal with themselves and correct themselves. Self-defense is learning how to defend yourself against yourself.
The future will be interesting. As the world evolves, people increasingly feel that society is changing. They increasingly feel lost in society. They are looking for ways to understand themselves and better themselves. Aikido provides a good way to do that.