“Now I have to continue to seek inspiration and knowledge from others, and to strengthen the mentor / disciple relationships I have with my students.”
Josh Gold: It was around 2004 that you were introduced to Kono Sensei, right?Matsuoka Sensei: Yes, this was a turning point for me and my aikido. He is not an aikido teacher by the way; he’s a martial artist and researcher. He focuses on researching martial arts from the ancient times, how legendary masters moved and how they did techniques. I was so happy because he pointed out how much I did not understand. Hahaha!
At that point you had already been doing aikido for almost 30 years, right?
What did you get out of your first experience with Kono Sensei? What were your impressions?
It’s very interesting. He asked me to throw him using ikkyo from a shomenuchi attack. I’d never had the experience with how he responded when I did ikkyo. And realized how much I didn’t understand the technique. In aikido we typically follow certain rules and movement conventions. He didn’t respond within those rules and conventions. As you know, according to budo, there are no rules in a life or death situation. So seeing how he responded and countered my movements provided me with a new perspective.
Yes, that’s right. The practice customs and conventions we follow in aikido are useful, and even necessary, for proper learning and training. However, I can see how looking outside of those boundaries allows us to see some deficiencies or areas that can be improved that otherwise might go unnoticed.
That experience really helped me understand my movements better. I realized I was relying too much on one body part and that’s why he stopped me. In other words, if I use my whole body by coordinating everything, like teamwork, that’s ideal. Since then, my body movements and my thinking about body structure and coordination has been changing. That’s the direction I’ve been shifting towards with my aikido. This is why that year was a real transition.
I’ve really seen a big change in your movements since then.
Big change. Of course I didn’t only practice ikkyo with him that day. We practiced for seven hours. Seven hours! He’s a very busy man so I really appreciate the time he spent with me. I went to his dojo at 2pm and before I knew it, it was 9pm. It went by so fast, but at the same time it felt like I spent two or three months with him. It’s a contradiction. That time I spent with him was so special.
Now you see him once or twice a year, right? Almost every time you go back to Japan…
That’s right. I can get some inspiration. If I lose the seeking spirit, I’m as good as dead.
So from 2004 until 2011 you really took the opportunity to learn as much as you could from Abe Sensei, Kono Sensei, and other martial artists in different fields… But in 2011, Abe Sensei, your mentor, passed away.
It was very hard for me when Abe Sensei passed away. He wasn’t there anymore. I had no mentor and it was a really weird feeling. But not only did I lose my mentor, I also had concern for my students from an aikido standpoint. Later, a while after Abe Sensei passed away, I was able to meet with Doshu in Tokyo. We sat down talked for about an hour. Doshu promoted me to 6th dan and I was able to establish a good connection with Hombu Dojo at that time.
You must really miss Abe Sensei.
Definitely. In the last few years without him, I’ve really wanted to be able to talk to him, ask him questions, and he’s not there. I also really feel sorry for him because now I realize how many stupid questions I asked him before. Hahaha! But I guess it’s always like this…
So what’s it been like over the last 4 years without him?
More responsibility. And I really miss the mentor / disciple relationship I had with him. That’s one of the main pillars of an art like aikido. It’s not just about technique or self-defense. The mentor / disciple relationship brings something really unique to the art, and to our lives. It’s probably like this in other arts as well, like music or acting. Now I have to continue to seek inspiration and knowledge from others, and to strengthen the mentor / disciple relationships I have with my students. I’m not saying I’m a good mentor, but I’m always seeking ways to be better.
Well, I think you’ve definitely created an environment where we feel your commitment to growth and improvement. It inspires us to do the same; each of us in their own way.
Well, listen – I still don’t know what aikido is and I don’t know the best path. I just continue seeking and sharing.
Your technical transformation, the stuff you’ve been working on – it’s amazing. Very powerful. And I think it’s great to see how you receive insights and inspiration not only from aikido masters, but world class masters in other arts. In addition to spending time with Kono Sensei, I know you also have an ongoing exchange with Kenji Yamaki, a Kyokushin Karate world champion, and with Dan Inosanto, who was Bruce Lee’s top student and is a legendary martial artist.I’m sure that it must be interesting to train with people at that level and exchange knowledge…
Definitely. How quickly they grasp concepts, and then incorporate them into their arts – it’s amazing.
This kind of exchange is very interesting. I really value my time and experience with masters like Dan Inosanto. So this way we can better confirm the things we are doing right, and we can also gain insight, maybe develop something new, a completely different way of approaching things we are familiar with. The power of cooperation is really profound.
Well, I’m glad we’ve been able to develop a solid group of instructors at Ikazuchi Dojo over the last few years that can support you, give you time to explore and research your aikido, and help transfer your knowledge to a growing group of our students.
Yes. It’s really great. We can all continue our journey together.
One other thing I find so interesting is that here we are in Orange County, California. Your first aikido teacher, Seagal Sensei, he started his aikido practice in Orange County when he was a teenager. Then he moved to Tokyo, and then Osaka, and then you met him there, and ended up back here.
Life is difficult to understand. What could happen is beyond your imagination.
Thank you so much for sharing your time and experience with us Sensei. We really appreciate it.
This concludes the eight-part interview with Haruo Matsuoka Sensei.
This interview originally appeared on the Ikazucho Dojo website and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Josh Gold.