While I was living in Japan, I had the pleasure of speaking with a diminutive, elderly lady on two occasions. She was not your typical senior citizen. She had a bright light in her eyes and an infectious smile. Her stories held me transfixed as she spoke to me of her youth and devotion to training in Aiki Budo.
Decades earlier, Takako Kunigoshi was a phenomenon in Morihei Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo, known as the “Hell Dojo.” She dived into training with the rough young uchideshi of the day, and charmed everyone with whom she came into contact. She was treated the equal of everyone else, neither asking nor giving any quarter.
Miss Kunigoshi also left her mark in aikido history as the illustrator of the 1934 technical manual titled “Budo Renshu.” She captured the essence of Morihei’s prewar technique with her artistic sensibility and left for posterity an intimate glimpse of the times.
Interview with Takako Kunigoshi,” by Stanley Pranin
Editor: Kunigoshi Sensei, when was it that you first became involved in Aikido?
I started in January of 1933, the year that I graduated from school. I was then able to continue up to a little before the air raids began over Tokyo. At one time I had been asked to teach self-defense to female employees of a company located next to the famous Kaminari Mon (Thunder Gate) of the Asakusa Temple in Tokyo’s old town district. I went there with the grand daughter of Yakumo Koizumi (the well known Meiji period author better known to foreign readers as Lafcadio Hearn), Ms. Kazuko Koizumi, and we would teach there together. She is dead now, however. Then the air raids started and there were always warnings and alarms and things were getting a little dangerous so we had to stop. We never got to train very much there…
Editor: I imagine there weren’t very many women among the deshi in those days.
There were only two of us! The other woman was two or three years younger than myself. I received New Year’s greeting cards from her up until a few years ago. Even now it seems that her nephew is going to the dojo. But as you said, in those days not many women went to train. Ever so, Ueshiba Sensei never made us feel different by changing things “because you are a woman.”