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
                           your contemporaries.

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
                            it tiring?

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” ...
                    living together.

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.

Chiba: Yes.

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?

Chiba: 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

                                                 The End
T.K. Chiba Sensei in a pensive
 Raymond Kwok with Chiba