Interview with Aikido Shihan Masando Sasaki, Part 2

Masando Sasaki Funeral

Funeral for Masando Sasaki Sensei, February 20th 2013
Tojo Ceremony Hall in Tsurugaoka, Saitama – attended by more than 700 people
The plaque to the right of center reads “Aikido Doshu Ueshiba Moriteru”

合氣は宇宙法則の陰陽結びの道で
美しく投げ美しく受身を取る稽古から
切磋琢磨の和の武道である

Aiki is the Way of the universal principle of In-Yo connection
Throwing beautifully in training, falling beautifully in training
Assiduous cultivation of the Budo of Peace

-Masando Sasaki Sensei

Hiding in the mountains while chased by the CIA

Masando Sasaki (佐々木の将人), 8th Dan, passed away on February 15th 2013 at the age of 84. He was one of the early post-war students of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, entering Aikikai Hombu Dojo in 1954.

He was a colorful character, and often controversial. Concerned with the course of Japanese political affairs, he set up a spy school together with some former members the of the Nakano spy school (Morihei Ueshiba was an instructor at the Nakano spy school until 1942). Exposed in the United States through an article in Time Magazine, he was forced to resign from the Japanese Defense Agency.

This is the second part of a three part English translation of an interview with Masando Sasaki that was published in a collection of interviews with students of the Founder published in Japanese as “Profiles of the Founder” (開祖の横顔) in 2009. You may wish to read Part 1 of the interview before reading this section.

There was a short introduction to “Profiles of the Founder” in the article “Morihei Ueshiba – Profiles of the Founder“.

Previous postings have featured English translations of interviews from that collection with Nobuyoshi Tamura sensei (Part 1 | Part 2), and Hiroshi Isoyama sensei (Part 1 | Part 2). 

佐々木の将人先生

Masando Sasaki Sensei instructing at Aikikai Hombu Dojo

Interview with Aikido Shihan Masando Sasaki, Part 2

(English translation by Christopher Li)

Q: Where in Nagoya were the draftees sent?

A: We were sent to construct aircraft at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (三菱重工) plant in Nagoya. I wanted to become a member of the Special Attack Units (*特攻隊 – the forces used for suicide missions such as the kamikaze dive-bombers), but at least I got to build airplanes.

Q: How old were you at that time?

A: I was fourteen. I was a child, so I went eagerly, thinking that I would be able to construct entire airplanes, but I only made screws. (laughing) While I was doing that the war ended.

Q: So there was a little time between when the war ended and your meeting with the Founder. What were you doing during that time?

A: During that time, and even now, I liked carpentry. Isn’t it a good feeling to plan something out and then construct and complete it? Even now there are a lot of things that I made myself here and there.

Q: Is that so?

A: It was when I was doing carpentry that a nail went flying and I lost all vision in my left eye. When I introduce myself I say “I lost the vision in my left eye through an ‘accident’ (‘jiko’), this is a real ‘introduction’ (‘jiko shokai’)”. (laughing)

Q: (laughing) Sensei, how old were you when that happened?

A: I was nineteen, it was right after the end of the war. After that I did a lot of different things, in order to eat. Running a used book store, bringing paper to Tokyo from the countryside, etc. I really made some money that way! That’s because it was a time when there was no paper. At that time they were building up the new middle school system, so I painted blackboards, and sold rice on the black market. Don’t write this down! (laughing)

Q: Everyone was doing these things at the time, weren’t they?

男はつらいよ フーテンの寅さん

Poster from “Tora-san, His Tender Love” – 1970
(男はつらいよ フーテンの寅 / Otoko wa Tsurai yo: Fūten no Tora)

A: Even now, when I am asked to give lectures, their roots of the lectures are in the that street vendor’s sales pitch. I was like that vagabond Tora-san in the movie “Otoko wa Tsurai yo”. When I was pitching books on the street in Ueno I’d say (*adopts a very slick tone of voice) “Gather round, gather round – a reference book for students – medicine for those with weak eyesight – a gift for the afterlife for Grandfather and Grandmother” – there is a specific pitch of voice for each.

Q: (surprised)!

A: It’s really hard to stop someone who’s walking down the street and sell them something. You have to write it all down first and memorize it. At first it was a struggle, but I began to enjoy it after I got used to it. Even now, I love it more than Aikido. (laughing) After that I entered the National Police Reserve (警察予備隊). That was Showa year 25 (1950).

Q: Isn’t the National Police Reserve the predecessor of the Self Defense Forces (自衛隊)?

A: That’s right. You couldn’t join the National Police Reserve if you were missing an eye, but I thought “Somehow it’ll work out” and cheated on the examination. (laughing) That’s how I was able to join up.

Masando Sasaki Shihan

Masando Sasaki Sensei demonstrates his trick
for passing the eye examination for the National Police Reserve

“When they said right I held up the right hand,
when they said left I held up the left hand.
They didn’t say anything about which eye… (laughing)”

Q: It’s a wonder that you weren’t found out! (laughing) How many years were you in the National Police Reserve?

A: Two years. I joined up because after two years you could receive a 60,000 yen severance payment. That was a lot of money at the time! WIth that money I entered Chuo University. At Chuo University I entered the Department of Economics, then for graduate school I entered the Department of Law. Humans become the way that they think they will. Even though I was missing an eye I entered the National Police Reserve, even though I spoke no English I entered the university. Anybody can build a house if they have the money, it’s more interesting if you build a house without any money.

Hiding in the mountains while chased by the CIA, meeting Tempu sensei

Q: After finishing graduate school in the Department of Law, didn’t you even want to enter the legal profession?

A: I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I was thinking about going into politics. At that time a Sempai (senior) that I was living with suddenly died of a heart attack. I wonder if you could call it fate – I began to think “What is the purpose of human life?”.

Q: How old were you at that time?

A: 30 years old. It was an event that was a turning point in my life. Around that time I formed a spy school and a terrorist organization.

Q: Were you planning to subvert the government?

A: Well…a lot of things were going on. So, I thought that it was for the sake of the country that I was forming the spy school, but we were found out by the American CIA and I ran away into the mountains. There was an article with photographs called “The Spies of Japan” published in the American magazine “Time”.

Q: Unbelievable! What about Aikido during that time?

A: I was just doing it as a hobby.

Q: Weren’t you kept busy carrying bags for the Founder?

A: Carrying bags started after I became an Aikido Shihan!


Continued in Part 3…

Christopher Li – Honolulu, HI      

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