FACE to FACE with Chiba Sensei
In August, 1998, Raymond Kwok participated in a seminar taught
by T.K. Chiba Shihan (8th Dan Aikikai) from 15th - 21st, at
Mejannes, in the south of France. He spoke to the Shihan about
Aikido and other related issues.
Excerpts from the interview which first appeared in the 1999 issue of the
Kuala Lumpur YMCA Aikido Club Magazine:
Raymond Kwok: Shihan, you entered the Hombu Dojo as an Uchi-deshi
in February, 1958. What influenced your decision to
take up Aikido?
Chiba: Well, it’s a very long story. Previous to Aikido, I studied Judo and
Karate a little bit of each and I became very unsatisfied,
unhappy about both arts and started looking for something
else. That was when I was 18, after I graduated from High
School. One day, I came across an Aikido book in a local
bookstore which was .. first ever published in Japan Society.
Raymond Kwok: “Budo”?
Chiba: No, “AIKIDO”. In the first page .. was a small picture of O’Sensei
... and I saw that picture and I recognized immediately that he is
my Master that I had been looking for. I hadn’t met him of course. I
had no idea what Aikido was like. I had never seen (him) before. I
had never heard of it before. That was my decision to go to see
him. That’s how it happened. Actually, I did not care about what
Aikido is. I was drawn to the picture of O’Sensei. That’s all about
Raymond Kwok: So Shihan, when you were at Hombu Dojo, who were
Chiba: First was Tamura Sensei, Yamada Sensei, then me .............. then
Kanai, Sugano, Kurita from New Mexico... Saotome later on,
Tohei Akira, that’s about it. I think.
Raymond Kwok: Shihan, what was life as an uchi-deshi like in those
Chiba: Nothing else but practice, from morning to night that’s all about it.
Raymond Kwok: 3, 4 hours, 5, 6 hours?
Chiba: More than that ... all day ....... 5 times a week but in between in our
free time we practiced, taking care of the private lessons, group
Raymond Kwok: Of course, Shihan was very young at that time, but was
Chiba: Ah, very tiring, I was exhausted. Japan was yet to recover from the
ravage of the war ; economy was still slow and people ( were ) still
having difficult time, we only had simple food nothing much, rice
and soup ...
Raymond Kwok: So it was the spirit or Kokoro that kept you going,
wasn’ t it?
Chiba: Yes, Yes, very much so, I didn’t have any intention to become
professional teacher ... I think everybody else was more or less ...
the same you know. Everybody loved the Art ... training - nobody
was thinking about (becoming) teacher.
Raymond Kwok: I read recently in Aiki Journal an interview with Sugano
Shihan in which he commented that life as an uchi-deshi
today is much easier than in those days because he
said - in those days the uchi-deshi ... “you have to do
every class” whereas now some uchi-deshi... “oh this
class ... no, I’m too tired ... I don’t want to do ...”. Does
Shihan have any opinion on that?
Chiba: Well, I honestly, I don’t know what the lifestyle is like nowadays
you know ... so I cannot compare ... but besides our own
training - physical training we had to take care of the dojo
management, office, cleaning taking care of the Master’s
family, helping, taking care of O’Sensei personally,
shopping, washing, you know everything else - all the
domestic work was in the hands of the uchi-deshi ... it’s not
fair to compare today’s deshi life and our time ... the
situation is totally different... Those days Uchi-deshi and
Master live together ... now they are separate. So, I think that
to begin with, to call “uchi-deshi” nowadays is I think ... not
correct. “Uchi-deshi” means “house” student ... “inside” ...
Raymond Kwok: So when Shihan was at Hombu Dojo, apart from O’
Sensei, who were Shihan’s teachers?
Chiba: Our immediate teacher was Ueshiba Kisshomaru (present
Doshu) then Koichi Tohei - Hombu Chief Instructor and various
teachers .. Tada Sensei, Arikawa Sensei, all senior teachers.
Raymond Kwok: And Osawa senior?
Chiba: Osawa senior yes . That’s right.
Raymond Kwok: It is very well known that Shihan is very famous for very
powerful technique - is this due to the influence of any
particular one of Shihan’s teachers?
Chiba: You talking about me? (laughs) ... no... I was influenced by all
those teachers I had mentioned ...
Raymond Kwok: Shihan, your teaching involves the use of JO and KEN
especially for the senior ranks.
Raymond Kwok: I think that in the Hombu dojo now, they practically don’t
do weapons anymore. So, who influenced Shihan’s
method of teaching JO and KEN?
Chiba: Well, directly from O’Sensei. O’Sensei used a lot of JO and
BOKKEN especially when you are accompanying or travelling
with him. One Uchi-deshi accompanies him all the time. And I
was one of them, and TAMURA Sensei , 2 of us ... you have to
study it because you have to take UKEMI for him, with weapons.
You have no choice. Saito Sensei, he does too, he lived with him
for many years in Iwama.
Raymond Kwok: I understand from some people that O’Sensei never ...
systematically taught weapons. So was it very difficult
for you (all) to absorb and try to understand?
Chiba: Very difficult.
Raymond Kwok: Is Shihan’s weapons teaching influenced by Iwama-style
Chiba: Not really, my personal experience is from O’Sensei - I think it is
different from Saito Sensei. First of all, O’Sensei was not too
young when I became his disciple. He was over 70 already. And
this stage was different from time that Saito Sensei began to
study Aikido under him ...of course I do study my weapons
consistently so my idea and my experience came into it, you
Raymond Kwok: You have been credited with starting the FUKU-
SHIDOIN system in your teaching. Can you tell us
something about it?
Chiba: Well, this is nothing other than based on Hombu Dojo’s
international regulation. There are 2 categories of teachers ...
Shidoin is generally entitled to grade up to 1st Kyu. (Shihans will
do) dan grade examinations.
Raymond Kwok: I understand that some of the Uchi-Deshi of O’Sensei
in the old days would say that when O’Sensei was
teaching he would say things that they had difficulty
understanding - did you have that experience?
Chiba: Yes, I did.
Raymond Kwok: Do you have any personal stories about yourself with O’
Sensei that you can share with us?
Chiba: First of all ... I remember how beautiful he was, his full body, his full
posture, the way he walked, the way he (sat) so perfect ... in
balance... I have travelled with him for trip ... teaching tour. We had
to ride taxi to get to the rail station. I had to go buy ticket he does
not wait ... he’d get out from the taxi and he’d just walk into the
station without having a ticket, the way he walks is so beautiful ...
He can enter the station without having a ticket ... nobody said
anything ... Then I have to buy ticket ... It takes time ... and I have to
catch up, I have my bag, his bag in both hands. I carry weapons in
my bag ... somehow I have to manage, to help him ... one hand
holds the bag ... I have to push him up ... when he comes
downstairs ... you have to give your right shoulder so he can hold
your shoulder and come down slowly ... he does never wait.
(When travelling) we always take adjoining rooms together. He
sleeps in the main room, I sleep in the sub-room ...... in between
there would be sliding door ... he was older, certain to get up and
go to the toilet ... when he moves into your room, steps in and you
are asleep ... that’s the end of it he’ll never use you again you
know, because in a martial sense you are dead already - he
can kill you so you have to keep awake all the time ... you cannot
Raymond Kwok: . no sleep?
Chiba: ... no sleep ... for the first 3 years, because when he got up you
have to open the door - sliding door ... take him to rest room -
help him with his business --- wash his hands --- bring him back
to bed ... you go back to sleep again, if you can sleep after days
training ... everyday training ... travelling by train ... and so forth for
2 weeks you get tired, tired... exhausted.
Raymond Kwok: What if he woke up and you didn’t know?
Chiba: He’d never accept that. We know. We are martial students - you
cannot afford to sleep when somebody steps into ... your room.
Raymond Kwok: So then in Shihan’s position, you would have to have the
permanent Zanshin all the time?
Chiba: Oh yes, he never make jokes ... there is no oral communication
between teacher and student in Japanese system. I don’t talk to
him; he doesn’t talk to me. Longest trip 2 - 5 weeks, no talk. 2
weeks ... complete silence ... except “I want tea” it’s very strict
that kind of teacher - disciple relationship. Those days it used to
be like that in Japan. We even say, don’t step on his shadow, you
know? ...don’t sleep with direction of your feet pointing to your
teacher, you know, very strict.
Raymond Kwok: Shihan, this question may be a bit personal. Shihan has
a formidable reputation for being very, very strong ... in
fact even before I came, I’ve heard a lot about Shihan,
I’ ve spoken to quite a few people and they say that if
people are not careful ... people in the past (have) got
their arms broken ... and people are very very fearful of
Shihan ... does Shihan have anything to say about that?
Chiba: I don’t know ... well let’s put it this way - when I was a student at
the Hombu Dojo - there weren’t many people around you know -
biggest class was about 20 people. And most people who trained
at the Hombu Dojo at that time were well-trained , established
Martial Artists. They came there because of the fame of O’
Sensei. They wanted to study Aikido under his instruction. They
were warriors. Everybody was crazy in that passion of seeking
the path . We used to practice how to hurt people that’s all about it
... no compromise.
O’Sensei used to be very angry at demonstration if Shihans did
the the big round circular movements ... He’d stop that kind of
movement ... he’d get really angry. It was very difficult to perform
during demonstrations in O’Sensei’s presence. So what we did,
we’d take him away to a separate room, keep him there ... offer
him sweets ... he loved sweets, you know, Japanese sweets and
young lady - pretty lady .... 2 or 3 ... beautifully dressed and make
him past the time because then he won’t be able to see what’s
going on in the dojo. Because it’s so embarrassing you know
... in the middle of a demonstration ... he would stop it ... many
Raymond Kwok: I understand that in O' Sensei's later years, when he
was throwing people, there were people who said that
you could not feel him throwing you ..like there was no
effort ( on his part ) at all.
Chiba: Yes, it was. When one (reaches) perfection, it’s like that ... not
many people can do it. I have been taking ukemi for many years
from him but I have never felt any pain?
Raymond Kwok: Never?
Chiba: Never, ever. Any technique he does to me - Nikkyo, Shiho Nage
or Kotegaeshi, it’s no pain.
Raymond Kwok: Why is that so?
Chiba: Perfection. Yeah, you lose balance but no pain. Any part of his
body you touch, behind - whatever what part - “bang!” - impact -
kokyu - he can concentrate his “chi” in any part of his body
momentarily - “bang, bang” the moment you use force, it comes
back to you - so you fall down by yourself! (Laughs).
Raymond: So, he was special?
Raymond Kwok: My last question ... what is the secret of Shihan’s power?
Chiba: Passion to the art. (laughs). I had sleepless nights just thinking of
a technique for years and years and years you know, sometimes
vision comes up in my mind, I wake up my wife, - “come up” and
use her as Uke. You keep working
T.K. Chiba Sensei in a pensive
Raymond Kwok with Chiba