Something rather amusing happened to the AIKI NEWS staff recently during an interview which is perhaps symptomatic of the ambiguity surrounding this publication. We had just completed a nearly three-hour taped interview with a grand old gentleman who kindly and patiently did his best to respond to our many questions concerning 0-Sensei and the history of Aikido. As we were beginning to collect our belongings, he then turned the tables and asked a question which caught us totally off guard. His query: “By the way, who are you?”
Indeed. Who are we? In the past we have simultaneously been mistaken for the “Voice of Aikikai Hombu Dojo,” the “Iwama News” and the “0-Sensei Fan Club Newsletter”. Well perhaps it’s time to tell the story of how it all started. Probably the initial impetus which eventually led to the publication of AIKI NEWS was my first trip to Japan during the summer of 1969. It was a mere two months after the death of the Founder. I had almost cancelled my plans out of sadness and disappointment at not being able to meet 0-Sensei. I was at that time a lean, impoverished, but eager university student, largely ignorant of Japanese ways. There are those who would question whether or not there has been any fundamental change, but at least it can be said that I am no longer a university student! I remember in my excitement taking a taxi directly from the Haneda airport to Hombu Dojo. Now that’s enthusiasm for you!
One of my main goals over and above a large dose of training was to begin to gather materials books, articles, photos, films and so forth dealing with 0-Sensei and the top teachers of Aikido out of little more than personal interest. I found that since I was unknown, possessed of very limited language skills and rather naive about proper conduct in this society that my success in gathering such documents was quite limited. After ten exciting and frustrating weeks in Japan it was time to pack my bags and return to the States where induction into the Army and basic training awaited me.
Since at that point the United States were enmeshed in the Vietnam war you can imagine were I was sent. Why, of course, Ethiopia! No kidding, I actually spent 18 months at a communications base in the northern part of the country. This was followed by one year in Monterey, California at the Language Institute after which I returned to civilian life. I decided to settle in Monterey and that is where AIKI NEWS first saw the light of day in April 1974.
Let me describe how it all began. A good Japanese friend and Aikido student of mine, Dr. Katsuaki Terasawa, agreed to under-take with me the translation of 17 articles entitled “Kawaridane Nihonjin” (Unusual Japanese) which had appeared some years earlier in a Tokyo newspaper. I had received copies of part of this series of biographical articles on 0-Sensei from Dr. Robert Frager and luckily, found the remaining instalments in the National Diet Library in Tokyo during a brief visit in 1973. We translated one article after another and ran off mimeographed copies which were then distributed to practitioners of Aikido in the area. As it turned out they were eagerly read by American Aikidoists hungry to learn more about 0-Sensei and the origins of the art. Since I found this sort of research work personally very rewarding, it occurred to me that perhaps a modest newsletter could be built around this series of articles as this sort of material seemed to have a fairly wide appeal. And so it came to pass.
The first issues were very modest indeed. Eight or so pages typed on an IBM electric typewriter. Early readers were fortunately very understanding and supportive of our efforts. We muddled through the first years with distribution gradually expanding from the local to the national level with even a handful of Japanese subscribers.
Shortly after my coming to Japan on a more or less permanent basis in 1977 I made the decision to change to a bilingual format. This transformation of the magazine was not met with universal approval by English readers or by the Japanese. I nonetheless stuck to this choice for reasons I have never explained before in print. Perhaps this is a propitious moment.
One of the principal reasons for the Japanese-English format was that most of our source materials for the publication are in Japanese. I have always approached this work with the eyes of an historian. It is my sincerest hope that the materials preserved in AIKI NEWS will survive long after we all are no more. If the Founder’s key concepts are to have any lasting impact they must be documented and disseminated now while materials are still accessible. Also, the fact that the original (in most cases, Japanese) text appears side by side with its translation will guarantee that questions of accuracy and interpretation can easily be resolved. Thus,the Japanese language is the means for the preservation and crystallization of the Aikido tradition. English is the vehicle to insure its transference intact to other cultures, and hence, its internationalization. Another less obvious reason for parallel texts is that this assures that Japanese and English readers alike will be aware of each other’s presence and role within the context of the Aikido movement. Finally, the bilingual format is the means through which I am able to communicate with a number of Japanese senseis whom I especially value, something which might not otherwise be possible due to the limitations of my language skills and the strict hierarchical social structure which delineates the roles of teacher and student.
Now, what about the content of AIKI NEWS? On what basis is material selected? Of course, practically anything and everything having to do with 0-Sensei can be found in these pages: photographs, biographical articles (for example, the chapter summaries from the 0-Sensei biography by Doshu), his personal writings and so forth. In the centerfold we present a “Tech-nical Notebook” by Morihiro Saito Sensei who is my personal teacher and a man for whom I have great respect both as an individual and exponent of the art. I hope that readers with different technical orientations and allegiances will understand and respect this situation and will find sufficient other materials in AIKI NEWS to pique their interest. As a matter of fact, sooner or later you are likely to find an indepth interview with your sensei (or at least your sensei’s sensei) in this publication.
Another section which, though newly introduced, I hope will prove informative is entitled “Heard in the Dojo”. While its limits are not strictly defined, we are attempting to provide a flow of information concerning Aikido activities from a wide range of sources. Consequently, one might find several paragraphs describing activities of the Aikikai Hombu, the Yoshinkan,. the Yoseikan, the Ki Society, the Manseikan, etc., the publication of books on Aikido and related topics in practically any language, Aikido events abroad and so on. Although, as is to be expected, quite a bit of feuding goes on among the various Aikido groups and organizations, AIKI NEWS has and will continue to ignore these manmade partitions and provide a format for a diversity of viewpoints. However, we do not promise to avoid political topics entirely, but we will focus our efforts on defining existing problems, hopefully in an objective manner, with an eye toward avoiding a repetition of the same pitfalls in the future.
One final word regarding what is often perceived as the “neutrality” of AIKI NEWS. This term is quite frequently used in a positive sense to define our position with respect to the various schools of Aikido. I would like to suggest that the word “independent” might be more appropriate because we, like anyone else, have opinions, biases, preferences. It has nonetheless been our experience that communicating with people with viewpoints which differ from our own can be both stimulating and informative. We may not have ended up being persuaded by their arguments, but we have invariably parted friends and with an understanding of how they arrived at their beliefs. This is something of no mean value. It is sometimes said that one does not really understand another’s viewpoint unless he can verbalize it in terms that the latter agrees are accurate. This is one of the goals we have set for ourselves and we hope that our “independent” attempts at the exposition of these many viewpoints will enrich your understanding and enjoyment of the art.