On 21st March 1977, the first National Aikido Tournament was held in the dojo in the park of Osaka Castle. It was to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the establishment of Shodokan. Shihan was clearly delighted that the many people he wanted there had gathered from all over Japan. One in particular was a judo friend from long ago called Kujiraoka Sensei (9th dan). He seemed to have a very pleasant chat to Shihan, listened enthusiastically to Shihan’s explanation from beginning to end and watched right up to the closing ceremony.
One thing that Tomiki Shihan said during his greeting was, “The message of this tournament is to develop and spread the traditional Japanese jujitsu techniques as practised in today’s new training system. The techniques of the old styles of jujitsu are many and varied so judo alone is not enough to revive them. There are atemi waza (striking techniques) and kansetsu waza (joint techniques) that are used to throw or pin an opponent attacking from a range outside grappling distance. I recommend ample practice of these techniques in competitive aikido.”
Arriving at the place we were staying after the tournament he said with heartfelt joy, “Kujiraoka Sensei praised me today”. I didn’t know Kujiraoka Sensei well but according to Tomiki Shihan he was a very well educated man and one of Jigoro Kano Sensei’s favourite pupils. Apparently his judo was magnificent and very light. I think this must have been like being praised by Jigoro Kano himself. Seeing Shihan happy like this made all of the troubles and fatigue from before the tournament disappear like melting snow.
Higashi Sensei visits
In August 1979, I received a telephone call from Shihan, “Higashi Sensei and his wife are coming to Japan from New York so can you help them please? He graduated from Kokushikan University as you did so it will be good to meet him. By the way, I have invited Mr. Yanagi from Seijo University to be your uke so use him”.
Why was Mr. Yanagi my uke at that time? I couldn’t imagine why at all. I only needed to be Shihan’s uke, I didn’t think I needed my own. Well, the day came and I promptly took an early morning train to Tokyo and hurried to the meeting place which was the dojo in the Setagaya school building of Kokushikan University. In the dojo Higashi Sensei and his wife had already changed for practice and Shihan was waiting with his shirt sleeves rolled up.
I can’t help thinking that I was late because I was still tired and in very poor physical condition from a national aikido course held the month before in Akita. However, Shihan never allowed himself a holiday and always welcomed visitors from far away.
This was the first time that I had met Nobuyoshi Higashi Sensei. From 1960 he was a staff member of Kokushikan University and was the judo club coach while also receiving lessons from Tomiki Sensei. After that took up a post in America as an exchange professor. In 1976 he established the American Tomiki Aikido Alliance to spread and develop competitive aikido. Nowadays he teaches aikido in the physical education curriculum at New York State University.
Shihan often talked about maai (correct distance) in judo and aikido. He always explained the effiectiveness of judo to us by saying “In judo, you can throw an opponent whose legs are within range; in aikido you can throw an opponent whose legs are not within range” and “If an aikido player comes up against a 4th or 5th dan judo player then the aikido player will have no time to stand still”. He said that a person who trains his legs enough in judo will be excellent in aikido.
Because of this, much was expected of Higashi Sensei and Watanabe Sensei (Nihon University judo club member, graduated in 1960 and went to America in 1961 as a judo and aikido instructor). I had heard Tomiki Shihan and Oba Shihan mention Higashi Sensei’s name previously and I imagined a much bigger and strict person. However, when I met him I was surprised because he actually wasn’t much different in height to me and appeared to be very amiable. In time I dreamt of trying to teach overseas and felt very reassured because of him.
That was the first time that I found out that Mr. Takashi Yanagi was Shihan’s nephew. He was happy to be my uke and, after graduating from university, had good results in various tournaments. Nowadays he is the coach for the Kokushikan University aikido club.