Interview with Hiroshi Sagawa and 10th Gen Shihan Tatsuo Kimura – Part 1

Hiroshi Sagawa and Tatsuo Kimura

10th Gen Shihan Tatsuo Kimura and Hiroshi Sagawa,
Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sohan’s younger brother

“There are those who say that Morihei Ueshiba operated on a different dimension, but since I came to Japan two months after he died, I couldn’t experience Ueshiba Sensei’s technique personally. But I am glad to know that Aiki truly exists.”

– Aikido Journal editor Stanley Pranin, on visiting Yukiyoshi Sagawa,
from Discovering Aiki My 20 Years with Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei

Yukiyoshi Sagawa often accompanied his teacher,  Daito-ryu Chuku-no-so Sokaku Takeda, on his travels and was a contemporary of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, who was also one of Sokaku Takeda’s long time students.

Yukiyoshi Sagawa’s younger brother, Hiroshi Sagawa (佐川廣) was born in Shimo-yubetsu Hokkaido in 1909 (Meiji Year 42). He did not himself train in Daito-ryu, but he was raised in an environment in which both his father and his elder brother trained extensively with Sokaku Takeda.

Tatsuo Kimura (木村達雄) is one of three of Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sohan’s students to have completed the 10th Gen level of techniques (the techniques in Sagawa Dojo that Sagawa Sensei learned from Sokaku Takeda were organized into ten levels, or “Gen” / 元).

Born in Tokyo Japan in 1947, Kimura Sensei is a well known mathematician and professor at Tsukuba University. He published two books about Sagawa Sohan (宗範) that have been translated into English (the latter one only partially) – “Transparent Power (透明な力)” and “Discovering Aiki My 20 Years with Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei (合気修得への道―佐川幸義先生に就いた二十年)”. He also holds a third-dan in kendo and a fifth-dan in Aikido, which he studied under Seigo Yamaguchi (山口清吾).

This is part 1 of the English translation of an interview conducted in Japanese by Kuni Azumi (安積 邦) with Hiroshi Sagawa and Tatsuo Kimura that previously appeared in the popular martial arts magazine Gekkan Hiden (月刊秘伝 / “Secret Teachings Monthly”) in 2001.

You may also be interested in another interview with Kimura Sensei that appeared on the Aikido Sangenkai blog previously – “Yukiyoshi Sagawa’s Aiki, a true portrait of Transparent Power – Interview with Tatsuo Kimura, Part 1 and Part 2

Yukiyoshi Sagawa's Ryote Aiki

Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sohan demonstrates Aiki

Interview with Hiroshi Sagawa and 10th Gen Shihan Tatsuo Kimura, Part 1

If the seed of Aiki doesn’t exist…

Azumi: I would like to discuss a number of things along the theme of “Yukiyoshi Sagawa and Aiki”. It is close to three years since Sagawa Sohan passed away, but I still can’t forget the impact that I felt upon hearing of his passing. Later on I learned of the the story of his “final practice”, where he seemed to foresee his own passing and I was even more greatly astonished.

Transparent Power - Tomei na Chikara

“Transparent Power” (透明な力) – Japanese and English Editions

Kimura: I have promised (the publishing company) to include the story of that last practice when “”Transparent Power” is reprinted. ….Including Sensei, there were only five people there at the time.

Azumi: Was there some kind of special instruction….?

Kimura: I don’t know about that. (smiling) That is, even if that were that case, this is not something that you are able to do just because you have received instruction. That is because it is something that must come to a boil over time.

Azumi: “Come to a boil over time…”?

Kimura: I was often told this by Sagawa Sensei while he was still living. “Aiki, you see, Aiki has a ‘seed’. It’s because this seed exists that that it sprouts and develops rapidly. That is why one can understand whether someone has Aiki by the degree of their progress.”.

Azumi: “A seed of Aiki”?

Kimura: In other words, someone without Aiki can get to a certain limited understanding, but there they stop. When one has Aiki a bud emerges automatically, and that rapidly matures and continues to change with great vigor. When I had just entered the dojo Sagawa Sensei pointed to one of the sempai and told me that I should watch them and learn since they had just grasped Aiki. But one day after about half a year had passed I was told “He has no Aiki, if he did then he would be completely different by now”, and Sensei told me about the “seed of Aiki”.

Azumi: I see. But from the position of one who doesn’t understand what Aiki is, one starts to think “then how can one get ahold of this seed?”. I can’t think that it is something that can be obtained simply through exerting great effort…

Kimura: In Bujutsu it is difficult to progress without meeting someone who already has the ability to do it. Particularly with relation to Aiki, I think that it is absolutely impossible. It is necessary, indispensable, to take in information through the body. Once one experiences the sensation of such a body I think that they will be able to grasp that however much they read books or watch videos there is no way that they would be capable of understanding without that.

Azumi: Without directly experiencing the techniques of someone who already has the ability it is impossible to master Aiki.

Kimura: That’s what I believe. Leaving aside a genius like Takeda Sensei, without the feeling of it actually being done to them one will not understand. Because it is difficult even if one receives such techniques many times. Because over a period of twenty years I had such techniques done to me thousands of times.

Yukiyoshi Sagawa's Aiki Bojutsu

Yukiyoshi Sagawa’s Aiki Bojutsu

It must be preserved!

Azumi: In appearance I think that there are techniques that appear to be Aiki. However, it is difficult for us to distinguish them from those techniques done with real Aiki.

Kimura: As one’s level rises they come to understand the difference. When I first entered the dojo of course I was thrown by Sagawa Sensei, but also by the sempai. I was thrown with a single finger. I thought they they (Sagawa Sensei and the sempai) were both strong – but I didn’t understand the difference in their strength. However, after conditioning myself for three years there was a sempai that couldn’t apply techniques when I resisted. And that sempai was really strong! Even so, after five years had passed techniques became completely ineffective. It wasn’t just that person, everyone’s techniques became ineffective. However, just with Sagawa Sensei I would be thrown every which way (of course, that didn’t happen to just me). At first I thought inside myself, “Sempai that are that strong wouldn’t fly (when thrown) like that…it must be a lie! They must be holding back for Sensei.”. (laughing)

Azumi: That’s normal, isn’t it?

Kimura: However, as I continued to be thrown, and as I become stronger, I suddenly came to understand – “There is something essential about Sagawa Sensei’s technique that is completely different!”. That took me five years, to become clearly aware that Sagawa Sensei had Aiki. As I said before, when I was weak I had suspicions that sempai who were so strong could be thrown around like that, but although the sempai never batted an eye no matter what I tried, they couldn’t resist Sagawa Sensei at all and were just tossed about. I couldn’t remain unaware that those sempai were actually being handled like that.

Azumi: And so, became dedicated to grasping Aiki?

Kimura: I felt instinctively that if I said it out loud that nobody would believe me. That is, however one tries to explain the magnificence of Sagawa Sensei’s techniques, they far surpass common sense. For someone like me who is training but cannot even duplicate a single thing, especially in the current age, nobody would believe me, would they? Anybody can talk about it, but that won’t wash in Budo. It’s a matter of whether you can or cannot do it, that’s what’s important. For that reason, if I became capable of demonstrating it I would be able to say “Sagawa Sensei’s techniques were far and away greater then mine”, and have a platform to speak from. I thought that then I would certainly be able to communicate how incredible Sagawa Sensei was.

Azumi: So this was the force driving your training into those thousands of repetitions?

Kimura: Well…say that there were a lot of repetitions (embarrassed smile), that’s certainly the case.

Allowing the students to “experiment”!

Sagawa: Certainly there are levels in learning Aiki.

Kimura: Once one reached a certain level Sagawa Sensei would check the students (this only applied to special people) and give them some advice. It was said in a way that a normal person wouldn’t notice, but that the upper level people would understand. Sagawa Sensei would carefully observe those that were working seriously and say something to them.

Azumi: Was the advice something that one had to be of a fairly high level to understand?

Kimura: Everybody’s ability to understand is different. However much one tries to give an oral explanation there are some aspects that are difficult. Even if one uses the same words to explain, each person will take it their own way depending upon the suppositions and judgement of their own experience, so if one does not have the foundation for an explanation or they make an error then no matter how much one explains in words they will not be able to comprehend, it will be beyond their imagination. In one sense, words are an extremely inconvenient means of transmission, because especially in the experience of Budo the areas that cannot be expressed in words are quite large. There is no way other than actually experiencing the techniques.

Azumi: You mean “seeing is believing” (百聞は一見にしかず)?

Kimura: However, to speak truthfully, even seeing is no good. However much one tries to observe from the outside, in the end one cannot understand what it feels like without experiencing it directly. Particularly in the case of Sagawa Sensei’s technique, there is a completely different feeling when one receives them directly.

Azumi: But even if one learns through their body I think that there must still be a process of trial and error. It’s normal to expect that there are people who will think “That didn’t work, so next time I’ll try something different.” or “This goes against what I was taught, I wonder how Sensei would handle this.”, isn’t it?

Kimura: You may think it surprising, but Sagawa Sensei permitted a lot of experimentation and trial and error. To state it in the extreme, one was allowed to try anything.

Azumi: What? Anything was okay?

Kimura: For that reason, I tried many different methods. Always about eight different ones.

Azumi: That many?

Kimura: Thanks to that Sensei once said “Kimura-kun always tries a lot of different things”. (laughing)

Tatsuo Kimura demonstrates Aiki

Tatsuo Kimura demonstrates with the interviewer, Kuni Azumi
Kimura Sensei thought “If I rest my hand lightly like this (then
Aiki won’t work….)” and tried it on Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sohan
– the result was as shown above

Azumi: For example, what kind of things did you try?

Kimura: Essentially, I would say “What happens if I do this?”, “If this doesn’t work then next time I’ll try the opposite.”. Once I thought “Perhaps if I grasp lightly then the technique won’t work?”, so I tried laying my hand softly on Sagawa Sensei’s hand. It’s difficult to explain in words, I tried to replicate what Sagawa Sensei showed me at that time. *See photo above.

Azumi: That’s incredible.

Kimura: This was done to me. This was about three years after I entered the dojo….but I’m happy that I was able to imitate it. (smiling) This kind of thing happened many times, I was absorbed by Sagawa Sensei. It was really incredible!

Continued in Part 2, with more from Hiroshi Sagawa and a discussion of Yukiyoshi Sagawa’s interactions with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba…


Published by: Christopher Li – Honolulu, HI

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