Kenji Tomiki’s Teachings Art And Spirit

An encounter

It was the evening of Christmas Eve 1979. I was in Ogikubo Hospital in Tokyo visiting my teacher Tomiki Sensei who was fighting for his life. A choir from a nearby church was singing in the front yard of the hospital. While listening to the carols, he managed to ask me, ‘How are things at the dojo?’. I replied, ‘Everyone is working hard’. These were our last words. That night, his condition suddenly changed and he lost consciousness. The following day at 4.10pm, at the age of 79 years and 9 months, his life came to an end. Words cannot express my feelings at the height of the funeral service. I just couldn’t hold back my tears.

In this essay, I will tell you about the advice he gave me. I think there are many things that, through me, he wanted to say to all students. I will be pleased if this simple article is useful to everyone following our aikido.

An encounter

Tomiki Shihan was born in Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture but before talking about him, I would like to introduce myself.

My hometown is also in the North-East of Japan. I was born on 21st November 1947, the first of two sons of my father Hachiro and my mother Chiyo. I went to local primary and junior schools before going on to Yamagata Prefectural Senior High School in Yamagata city. I joined the judo club there and in the autumn of 1964 after watching the judo in the Tokyo Olympics on television I wanted to become an Olympic competitor.

At one summer training camp, members of Kokushikan University Judo Club came to teach us. We were surprised at their strength because however hard we tried we were completely unable to deal with them. But while teaching they were friendly and very kind. It felt as if they had become older brothers we could trust.

So, in the spring of 1966 I entered the Faculty of Law in Kokushikan University. At first I intended to join the judo club, but in the end I didn’t because a senior student from my dormitory recommended the aikido club. The first time I saw Tomiki Sensei was when he came to a club grading. There was a sharp glint deep in his half-opened eyes and my first impression was that he was a very frightening teacher. My encounter with him changed the course of my life.

Enthusiasm to found a budo society

One day in the autumn of 1968 something happened that had, as with my first impression of Tomiki Shihan, a very strong effect on my mind. He said to me, “Nariyama, would you give me some help tomorrow?” I had not long been selected as captain of the aikido club and his sudden request surprised me a little and made me nervous. However, I was reassured because other students from Waseda and Seijo Universities had also been called so I went with the feeling that it was not important.

The day came and I accompanied him to a meeting hall a little way up from Kudansha underground station on the way to the Japan Budokan. We arrived and had a look around for a while but I felt uneasy because I was the only one there. the meeting surprised me because many of the most eminent people in the world of Japanese budo attended. It was a strange atmosphere.

A short time later Tomiki Shihan arrived changed and ready for practice. I was told to take breakfalls for him and stood in front of him not knowing what was going on as it was completely without rehearsal. After what seemed a short time the demonstration began and was a comparison of judo and aikido techniques. The techniques were severe and I was surprised at his tremendous vigour. In kote gaeshi and other techniques as he threw me he let go completely. Also, there were no tatami on the floor, it was just covered with a few layers of simple mats. I suffered terribly, hitting my head and falling on my shoulders many times. All my previous judo and aikido practice couldn’t compare with the severity his techniques at that time.

Much later I learned that after this meeting Shihan worked as vice president on the committee that founded the Japan Budo Society.

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