Interview with Hiroshi Sagawa and 10th Gen Shihan Tatsuo Kimura – Part 2

Tatsuo Kimura Sensei Instructing

Tatsuo Kimura Sensei Instructing

“Sagawa Sensei entered the world of Aiki when he was 17 years old. However, his younger brother Hiroshi Sagawa, said, ‘My brother could throw anyone when he was 17 years old, but it was after he became 50 that he reached Takeda Sensei’s level where the hands of his opponent no longer let go.’…..Mr. Hiroshi Sagawa, Sensei’s brother, also told me that when Sagawa Sensei was young, he continued training and would say, ‘Although everyone says that only Takeda Sensei can do techniques using Aiki, Sensei is also a human being so it must absolutely be possible for me to understand Aiki.'”

– Tatsuo Kimura
  Discovering Aiki My 20 Years with Yukiyoshi Sagawa Sensei

Yukiyoshi Sagawa was a long time student of  Daito-ryu Chuku-no-so Sokaku Takeda, who was also the teacher of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

Yukiyoshi Sagawa’s younger brother and favorite sibling, Hiroshi Sagawa (佐川廣), was born in Shimo-yubetsu Hokkaido in 1909 (Meiji Year 42) into a family 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 2 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 wish to read Part 1 before reading this section.

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 and Kimura Tatsuo

Yukiyoshi Sagawa and Kimura Tatsuo in 1985

Interview with Hiroshi Sagawa and 10th Gen Shihan Tatsuo Kimura, Part 2

Sogawa Sohan and the Venerable Morihei Ueshiba

Azumi: But I’ve heard that you had a number of difficulties when you entered Sagawa Dojo, didn’t you? Although you thought “This is the Bujutsu that I have been searching for!” when you first laid eyes on Sagawa Sensei and immediately decided to enroll, Sensei only said “But I won’t teach you!”.

Kimura: Yes (embarrassed smile). At first when I was refused, I thought that I would just stand there under Sensei’s eaves and wait, like something out of a story. (laughing) But then I thought that in the present age that would just be a nuisance. At the end of my desperation I decided to write a letter.

Azumi: A letter?

Kimura: Because I had already been refused once I really agonized over the content of the letter. Well, this is what I wrote. “I think that there is such a thing as fate in this world. I believe that if I had known of Sagawa Sensei first that I would not have done Aikido. Additionally, Sagawa Sensei does absolutely no advertising of any kind. For this reason there was no way that I could have known about him, and to be refused for doing Aikido in this case…”.

Azumi: Was the reason that you were refused that you had been doing Aikido up until that time?

Kimura: Shortly before I started, there was a person who was a fourth dan in Aikido. However, just as Sagawa Sensei was at the point of teaching them they were told by their Aikido teacher to become an instructor and they quit Sagawa Dojo. Just before that a long term student who had practiced Karate for fifteen years quit as well…that number of years matched my fifteen years in Aikido exactly. (embarrassed smile) Sagawa Sensei must have felt that we came from bad roots. (laughing)

Azumi: Perhaps that’s right! (laughing)

Kimura: In addition to that, at our first meeting I made bold speeches about how incredible Ueshiba Sensei was in front of Sagawa Sensei. At the time I certainly didn’t believe that Sagawa Sensei had surpassed O-Sensei long ago. It may be that it was thought “This is suspicious, he must have come to steal my techniques”. (laughing)

Azumi: Or he must be a spy… (laughing)

Sagawa: In this connection, my older brother said that he went to Ueshiba Dojo in order to test whether or not Ueshiba-san could do Aiki when he was around thirty years old, but Ueshiba-san resisted training with him. Eventually he did, but my brother said that Ueshiba-san just grabbed desperately, pushed and turned red.

Transparent Power - Tomei na Chikara

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

Azumi: That story certainly appears in “Transparent Power“, doesn’t it?

Sagawa: So, and this wasn’t written in Kimura-san’s book, sometime later he partnered with one of the students, one named Yukawa-san. Well, my brother threw that person many times, more than ten times. It seems that at first Yukawa-san was stubborn and came to attack my brother, but as he was thrown over and over he gradually came to accept being thrown. After that Ueshiba-san was training with that person and my brother said “Yukawa took ukemi well, so it looked as if his throws were more brilliant than mine (laughing)”. When I heard that I thought that Ueshiba-san might be beyond my brother, but listening to Kimura-san’s stories…

What was Behind Sagawa Sohan’s Blistering Anger

Kimura: Sagawa Sensei’s force of personality was incredible, wasn’t it? Especially when he became angry about the state of one’s technical progress… (embarrassed smile) Yes, that was explosive! I experienced that kind of thing many times. Later on, before training I had the custom of always drinking coffee with Sagawa Sensei while we discussed various things together (Note to the editorial staff: this custom continued for over seventeen years, until Sagawa Sensei passed away). One time, as we were drinking coffee as usual, Sensei suddenly shouted “For the last two months your progress has stopped!” – that was really frightening. Whenever work was busy and I wasn’t doing my solo training for a week or so I would soon get scolded. That was always straight on the mark. When I would try some kind of conditioning that I had devised myself, even though I had said nothing to Sensei about it he would say “Stop that training you’re doing”… was really incredible.

Azumi: He must have been sharply perceptive, but it’s incredible – honestly, it’s difficult to believe.

Kimura: It’s true, all of it. It’s impossible to overstate talk of Sagawa Sensei – that’s how incredible he was. Rather, there are many stories that are even more surprising. As far as I am concerned, when put in words the actual events come across as being less then they were, so I feel as if I don’t even really want to speak about them.

Azumi: When I speak to members of Sagawa Dojo they tell me that it was extremely frightening when he became angry. How did your brother appear from your perspective?

Sagawa: I didn’t have a frightening image of my brother myself, even though he may have displayed harsh face with regards to Bujutsu. But he never nagged me, his younger brother, or tried to interfere with me in any odd ways just because we were brothers. Our father was a person like that. Father experienced many hard times, and it may be that he wanted to allow his children to do as they liked. I went to two universities, going to Waseda University after leaving Hokkaido University, but my father excused even that selfishness. I was never told that I couldn’t go out on the town at night, I was free to do anything.

Azumi: ….?

Sagawa: Even so, it’s not as I was doing anything bad!

Azumi: No, no, I didn’t say anything! (sweating)

Sagawa : Well…I would go to friend’s houses and stay late, that’s about it. Because I can’t drink alcohol. It may be that we saw what our father was like and naturally developed the same kind of relationship between us.

Kimura: When I asked Sagawa Sensei about his siblings he’d just go on and on about Hiroshi-san. I never heard anything about any of his other siblings, I heard a lot about Hiroshi-san.

Sagawa: As I mentioned before, in the past I often partnered with my brother during training (embarrassed smile), and perhaps he cared for me because of that.

Azumi: What kind of stories did Sagawa Sensei tell about Hiroshi-san?

Kimura: Stories about the chicken, and Hiroshi-san’s hands…”If only they were as big as my younger brother’s…” he was burning with envy! (laughing)

Sagawa: My brother’s hands were very small.

Kimura: Although one wouldn’t think that, they way that they were conditioned. (embarrassed smile)

Sagawa: Yes, that’s true. I think that he conditioned them and they became strong. During the time that he was in Hokkaido, there was a student of his who was a fifth or sixth dan in Judo, that person had thick arms. My brother would grumble that if his hands were as large as mine it would have been easier to hold on to him. (laughing)

Azumi: Sagawa Sensei grumbled!?

Kimura: In any case, from my discussions with Sensei I was left with the impression that he took his younger brother Hiroshi-san under his wing.

Hiroshi Sagawa, pinned with one finger

Hiroshi Sagawa and Kimura Tatsuo re-enact
Yukiyoshi Sagawa’s one-finger pin

Anecdotes of the Master Sagawa Sohan, Heroic Exploits

Azumi: Hiroshi Sensei, are there any memories of your brother’s Aiki that left an impression on you?

Sagawa: One time my brother said to me “With one finger I will make you unable to move”. Inside myself I thought “Hold me down with one finger? That’s absurd! There’s no way that’s possible”. However, (making a gesture) like that I was thrown with the most natural feeling in the world. I was put down face up, with my arms turned up against my back. When that was done my own body held down both my arms, and I couldn’t move at all. My brother pressed down firmly on my head with his little finger and said “Try getting up!”. I couldn’t get my body to move, so there was no way that I could get up! (embarrassed smile) If the truth be told, the first time that I realized how incredible my brother’s techniques were was when I brought a friend to see him.

Azumi: What do you mean?

Sagawa: During the time that were were in Maruyama (Sapporo), I had a friend who was a fourth dan in Judo and had never lost a fight. I thought that this guy would be able to give my brother some opposition, and so I took him brother’s place. My brother was around thirty years old, and I was around twenty two or three. His name was Shinji Toba (鳥羽信次), and he had three swirls in his hair. (laughing) In Sapporo he’d fight with the young gang toughs and he had a violent temper. They actually crossed hands, but when he came on to my brother he was handled like a complete child! So that rough man turned bright purple and was made small. He wasn’t any kind of opposition.

Azumi: A Judo fourth dan handled like a child…

Sagawa: That man, Toba, had a match the previous year with a strong Judo sixth dan, but however strong a fourth dan Toba was there was no way to expect that there was any way that he could defeat a sixth dan opponent. However, he was strong in his will to avoid defeat, entered his opponent’s opening and, throwing him over his back, dropping him into a choke.

Azumi: Wow!

Ude Hishigi Juji Gatame

Ude Hishigi Juji Gatame
“Judo Kyohan” (柔道教範) 1913, by Sakujiro Yokoyama and Eisuke Oshima 

Sagawa: So what did my brother think, paired with that Toba? He took ukemi when he was thrown, and then while lying down he stretched out one hand and had him apply Ude Hishigi Juji Gatame (腕挫十字固). Anyway, he was the kind of man that you couldn’t predict what he would do, so I suddenly became worried as to whether everything would really be alright.

Azumi: That’s true, isn’t it?

Sagawa: However, when my brother said “OK?” in no time at all he stood right up. So that means that his opponent was hanging down from him. And that wasn’t all – he would have his opponent put the lock full on and then say “OK? I’m going to start!” and then just pull his arm out of the lock.

Azumi: How could he do such a thing? How did it work? Kimura Sensei…

Response to a Judo-ka

How did Sokaku and Sagawa throw strong Judo players?

“This was a question of mine for many years, so I had to ask these two people. As Hiroshi Sensei explained Kimura Sensei said “It must be like this…” – and here it is! As far as I can tell, it must be that the Judo-ka are sent flying instantly as they come to grab. Certainly, this prohibits the Judo-ka from executing a technique, and it may be that this is contrary to the expectations of the Judo-ka, who is expecting to stay in close contact. They may have been a simple challenge as opponents for Sokaku and Sagawa in their matches with other styles.”

-Kuni Azumi (shown above with Kimura Tatsuo)

Kimura: During the Second Gen direct transmission workshop Sagawa Sensei lay face downwards and said “Try holding me down!”, so I twisted Sensei’s arm up behind his back and held him with both hands in a way that he would certainly be unable to move. However, just as I thought that I heard Sensei’s voice say “OK?” from below “Bang!” – I was thrown. So I can visualize that story, but, well…. (laughing)

Sagawa: Students other than Kimura-san have also said things like “Before I realized it I could see the ceiling, and then it felt as if the tatami was in front of my eyes in the next moment.” when being thrown by my brother. It was while hearing those stories that I began to think that my brother’s techniques were those of a master, that they weren’t necessarily just overacting, that they must be the real thing.

Azumi:He had an incredible memory…

Sagawa: If we talk about that then we must also talk about Takeda Sensei.

Azumi: Sokaku Takeda Sensei?

Sagawa: As you know, Takeda Sensei could not write, but his powers of memory were something extraordinary. “I taught this student up to here, I taught that student up to the XX technique of XX kajo.” – he remembered this things so sharply that it was frightening.

Azumi: Since he couldn’t write, he must not have been able to record any notes, right?

Sagawa: My brother really admired him for that reason “Hundreds, no thousands, of students and he would never (forgetting what he had previously taught) teach a duplicate technique.”.

Kimura: Sagawa Sensei also could have been called almost abnormal (laughing), he had tremendous powers of memory. It just felt to me as if they declined just slightly (compared to what it was previously) about two or three years before he passed away. Even then, I think that it was when Sensei was 87 (Showa year 63 / 1988) that he said “Kimura-kun, recently my memory has been getting worse”, and when I asked him why he said “I can’t remember the street that I used when I visited my friend in Showa year 19 (1944)”. He treated it as something that would be remembered as a matter of course. (embarrassed grin) At the time I couldn’t say anything but “Sensei, whatever you say…”. That is, it was something from more than forty-four years ago, wasn’t it?

Azumi: Rather one would wonder if something like that could even be recalled… However, perhaps that incredible memory was also part of Takeda-den (Translator’s Note: “the transmission from Takeda”). Aiki, incredible powers of memory, long life, the vigor of his anger, Takeda and Sagawa Sensei had many very interesting commonalities, didn’t they?

Continued in Part 3, with a discussion of the unknown side benefits of Aiki…

Published by: Christopher Li – Honolulu, HI


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.