Interview with Hiroshi Sagawa and 10th Gen Shihan Tatsuo Kimura – Part 3

Tatsuo Kimura and Seigo Yamaguchi in Karuizawa, 1968Tatsuo Kimura and Seigo Yamaguchi in Karuizawa, 1968

“That was how I entered the University of Tokyo and became a formal student of Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei beginning Aikido practice at Ikenoue located next to the Komaba-Todai-mae train station. During that time, I was often with Yamaguchi Sensei all day. He would many times say that his dream was to find some method to deal with any power no matter how strong without using strength. He said he was searching to find this method. At some point, this became my own dream. However, it was like the blue bird in the story of M. Maeterlinck, but it seemed that this was not something that could be realized in this world. Later, I will mention that such a method that answered Yamaguchi Sensei’s dream does indeed exist in this world.”

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

Yukiyoshi Sagawa often traveled as an attendant to his teacher,  Daito-ryu Chuku-no-so Sokaku Takeda, who was also the teacher of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. At one time, around 1956, an agreement was made for Sagawa to become an instructor at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, but he took exception to some remarks about Sokaku Takeda made by Morihei Ueshiba in an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun around that time and changed his mind.

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 3 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 and Part 2 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.

Aiki News 140 and 141 - Tatsuo KimuraAiki News issues 140 and 141 – Tatsuo Kimura and Yukiyoshi Sagawa

Interview with Hiroshi Sagawa and 10th Gen Shihan Tatsuo Kimura, Part 3

The Unknown Side Benefits of Aiki

Azumi: Clearly and unmistakably, the one who experienced Sagawa Sohan’s Aiki the most times must be Kimura Sensei, who is sitting right here. However Kimura Sensei speaks about Aiki, I think that it is of great interest even to those who are not training in Aiki, is that so?

Kimura: Once one experiences Aiki it sparks an incredibly strong interest. One becomes unable to be thrown by techniques without Aiki. In Sagawa Dojo there was a very large person who Sensei left completely untouched for about five years. Through that time, no matter how much he struggled I was able to throw him. Then Sensei said that he wanted to forge him into a strong member of the dojo. Sagawa Sensei began to throw him, and within two weeks most of the people in the dojo became unable to apply techniques to him. (laughing)

Azumi: Do things like that…really happen?

Kimura: Therefore, the meaning of those people who have been thrown by Sagawa Sensei becoming unthrowable becomes extremely important. However, Sensei would select people, so it’s not as if everybody in the dojo was thrown.

Azumi: Does that mean that something would happen inside their bodies?

Yukiyoshi Sagawa - Aiki AgeYukiyoshi Sagawa Demonstrates Aiki-age

Kimura: Hmm…what could it be? (laughing) But I can say this. In other words, it is that when one experiences Aiki one feels that it is a truly great way of being handled. When that happens it is that everything else becomes uncomfortable – that conveys a feeling of being forced, and the body becomes unwilling to accept it. As I said before, normally it is difficult to imagine that the techniques of people who can throw you with one finger, like the sempai in the Sagawa Dojo, become ineffective. Just the same, no matter how good a person’s techniques are, they are manifestly different from Sagawa Sensei’s. One doesn’t understand at the beginning. As one’s abilities gradually increase, the difference becomes clear. In time, the body completely refuses to receive other’s techniques – “that’s not going to work”. However, saying that one cannot be thrown and saying that one can throw another person are two separate issues. Just because one’s body has become strong doesn’t mean that one can throw a strong person.

Azumi: Yes, I suppose so.

Kimura: Further, in the magnificence of Sagawa Sensei’s bujutsu, there is one more thing that is not well known.

Azumi: Oh? What’s that?

Kimura: The body becomes energetic and invigorated.

Azumi: It becomes energetic?

Kimura: Yes. The effects are similar to the those things recently being called “healing”. (Translator’s Note: there was a “healing boom” in Japan starting in the 1980’s that spurred many products and services aimed at enhancing general psychological well-being.)

Azumi. Ah. Yes.

Kimura: Actually, when one received Sagawa Sensei’s technique it felt really wonderful. Even now, I think that must have really been healing. When one was thrown it penetrated right through into your core. It felt as if something was being purified. Strength would well up and one would become incredibly energized. In fact, a number of times during training after being thrown by Sagawa Sensei my head would start to start to work oddly well, and on the way home I would be able to solve mathematical equations (Note: Kimura Sensei is a professor of mathematics at Tsukuba University. Additionally, he is the mathematics department head!). This happened to me many times. (laughing)

Azumi: It seems as if there is an injection of energy…

Kimura: Yes! It feels as if a fire has passed through the inside of your body. Aiki passes through the body. It’s not external, it enters into one’s body so one becomes extremely energized. It’s natural, so one feels good. There is absolutely nothing that feels forced! However severely one is thrown. It feels like a technique that happens while one is still thinking “What!?!” (and they are already thrown).

Azumi: Do you think that Sokaku’s Aiki had the same kind of “side benefits”?

Kimura: Whether or not Takeda Sensei got to that point or not…I can’t say. Of course, the throwing the opponent instantly with Aiki that forms the foundation must be absolutely the same.

Sagawa: With both Takeda Sensei and my brother, when Aiki was applied one’s strength would be removed.

Kimura: Sagawa Sensei said that Takeda Sensei would throw with a conventional technique after removing their power (with Aiki), but there was even further development (by Sagawa Sensei) from there. He made a great discovery concerning Aiki when he was seventy years old. By the way, I first met Sensei when he was seventy-six years old, from that time – that is, from the beginning, he was incredible. (laughing)

Azumi: (laughing)

Yukiyoshi Sagawa

True Throws – the Intensity of the Last Practice

Kimura: When I was thrown by Sagawa Sensei, I experienced truly being thrown for the first time. Until that time I did Aikido and it felt as if I was taking ukemi, but with Sagawa Sensei’s throws I couldn’t understand where I would be thrown – at first it was extremely frightening. There was no way to prepare oneself, since one would be thrown flying in an instant it was a real surprise. In any case, it was all that one could do just to avoid hitting one’s head. Even so, at the last practice, just before Sensei passed away, I hit my head three times.

Azumi: In the at least twenty years that he taught you, there wasn’t even a slight decline in Sagawa Sensei’s technique?

Kimura: A decline? Although each time I thought that a superior technique was inconceivable, it was continuously the case that each time I went there was something that was clearly superior to the previous time. Furthermore, I had been building strength over that period of twenty years. In spite of that, the power of his throws never changed.

Azumi: However, you hit your head even up until that last practice shortly before he passed away? Even though you are one of only three 10th Gen shihan?

Kimura: That’s how intense that last practice was. I think that Sagawa Sensei probably staked his life on it for us.

Hiden Ashi no Aiki - Yukiyoshi SagawaYukiyoshi Sagawa demonstrating Hiden Ashi no Aiki (秘伝足の合気)

What is the Aiki Body?

Sagawa: Kimura-san probably thinks the same way, but his body was like steel – although one tried to immobilize him he could not be immobilized. If one goes up to here with an untrained person it’s all over, but with someone like Kimura-san it really can’t be applied. There were times that I tried to immobilize my brother, but I couldn’t do it, you know. It felt as if I were pulling on steel, it didn’t feel as if I were immobilizing him at all.

Kimura: One time we paired up like Sumo wrestlers and Sagawa Sensei told me to come at him.

Azumi: Yes…

Kimura: At the moment that we met there was a shock.

Azumi: Ei? What was it like?

Kimura: “Hey, hey, what’s this!?!”. That Sensei’s body was completely different from ours came through in a very real and emphatic manner. It felt as if I had grabbed on to some strange object. (In severe training) the body is really like steel…it felt as if I were touching something of a completely different quality, something with an extremely high density.

Azumi: The quality was completely different? Dense?

Kimura: In other words, how can I put this – his body density was completely different. It was so dense that it seemed as if one became like paper and flipped away when touched. This was when he was well past ninety years old! Anyway, he had an amazing body…it’s difficult to express it in words.

Azumi: I think that there are many readers who are curious about Sagawa Sensei’s body. Relating to that, it must have been in Sagawa Sohan’s later years, but there was a time when he injured his tendons from too much conditioning and was unable to turn off the faucet of a sink….

Kimura: That’s true. Sensei told me that in the end “I couldn’t do anything, all that I could do was throw people“. (laughing)

Azumi: He couldn’t do anything but throw people….. (speechless)

Kimura: He couldn’t even pull the tab on the pop-top of a can of juice. But although he couldn’t open a pop-top, when one was caught by that finger they couldn’t move (smiling)….”What’s going on?”.


Kimura: Even more mysteriously, in his very last years there were some times when Sensei’s walking was a little unsteady. He’d wobble around, and when others watched they would become a little bit worried. At that time he’d walk towards you with a gait that looked as if he was just about to topple over. After he sat in his wheel chair he’d say “Kimura! Come grab my legs!”. At first I held back, but sure enough (smiling) I was surprised to be thrown flying even further than usual. One more time, and this time I grabbed him strongly – and I was handled even more severely. ….Ahh, that really surprised me (embarrassed grin) – “What happened with Sensei’s legs? They were completely emaciated!”.

Yukiyoshi Sagawa - Ashi no Aiki, 1996Yukiyoshi Sagawa and Tatsuo Kimura – Ashi no Aiki, 1996

Azumi: Ahh (surprised). Since, to all appearances, a physical decline equivalent to his age can be observed, normally that would be inconceivable, wouldn’t it?

Kimura: So that means – they are the same legs, but the wobbling walk and the strength to throw a person flying are completely different things. One could say that the level of the principles behind their movements are different.

Kinji Sakuma Demonstrates ShikoKinji Sakuma (佐久間錦二) demonstrates the Shiko exercise
taught directly to him by Yukiyoshi Sagawa.
Sagawa Sohan would do these several thousand times each day.

Legendary Solo training

Azumi: From what I have heard, from the parade of anecdotes, he was overwhelming. However, behind the scenes of that severity, I have been told that there was special conditioning that Sagawa Sohan did alone and did not show to other people.

Sagawa: He was always doing those exercises! But it certainly seemed as if he didn’t want to be seen. And then he would note them in his diary each day.

Azumi: Was kind of things were written in his diary?

Sagawa: Things like the number of times that he had trained. What he did and how many times, how his suburi went, how much bojutsu he did, and things like that. He’d write that he did one thousand push-ups or today he did two thousand push-ups, and so forth.

Kimura: It (Sagawa Sensei’s conditioning) was usually in units of one-thousand. Actually, and it was only twice, I saw it myself.

Azumi: Is that right!?!

Kimura: I don’t know if I can talk about this…..(thinks for a moment).

Azumi: Please, please! (smiling)

Kimura: ….(embarrassed grin) It was a time right after I started when there were still very few students, only three or four. On the grounds of Sagawa Sensei’s home there was a spot basking in the sun that was just perfect. On that day I went a little earlier than usual to practice, and Sensei was doing some kind of exercise there by himself. That was the first time. The other time was when Sensei’s home was undergoing some construction. The gardeners were taking a long time to finish up, so he shook the numbness out of his limbs and started his own training right there. Later on Sensei said “I did my exercises right in front of them!”.

Azumi: What kind of conditioning did Sagawa Sensei do?

Kimura: …………. Actually, there were times that I heard (from Sensei) about his conditioning. But that was when the two of us were alone, and Sensei spoke of it unintentionally.

Azumi: What were the specifics?

Kimura: For example, “The bokken is really used like this…” – things like that.

Azumi: ………….

Kimura: However, his way of thinking was so completely different that I was surprised. Perhaps one could say that it was a completely separate thing from (the way of thinking of) conventional conditioning.

To be continued in Part 4, with a discussion what happened inside of Sagawa Sohan’s body…

Published by: Christopher Li – Honolulu, HI

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