Interview with Mr.Hiroyuki Aoki (Part4)
From Part 3
I’m sure that if we met each of them in person, they are wonderful people but…
They still won’t be worshiped, right? I’m just saying that we must become martial artists worthy of being worshiped, as a goal. And of course, I’m also imposing this on myself too, while insisting that we must also create such kind of martial arts. Japanese people aren’t very good at creating things. Japan is one of the leading countries in the amount of patents, and our country has created many great things that have gained international recognition thanks to for example, the hard works of factory workers in Ota district. However, the nation as a whole is not a very creative climate.
I created Shintaido, something that never existed in the world before. And now, I am teaching Kenbu Tenshin Ryu very passionately, which is a practice of Iai-Batto Kenjutsu based in Shintaido. Even so, people in the world respect the 20th or 30th grand master of a traditional style over my creativity, right? You can see that with the audience cheering joyfully whenever a Kabuki performer comes in. Of course, Kabuki performers also work hard to pass down their tradition, and that requires a lot of work. However, that is handing down of traditions, not creating something new to replace Kabuki. People who have created and developed something new do not become intangible cultural heritage. Only ones who hand down traditions do.
This is what I want to say to Judo, Karate, and Kenjutsu practitioners. It’s not good to be criticizing other schools all the time, and stop arguing about which schools are fake and insisting your school is the best.
Because people respect tradition, masters of Sado (Tea Ceremony) and Kabuki alike have gained so much respect from people, and people pay a lot to see ceremonies and performances. But nobody pays this much to come see us. And this is because the Japanese culture is not used to accepting new things. Tradition is honored more than creation, whereas in the United States and Europe, I feel very welcomed since people are open to new cultures while respecting tradition.
In Japan today, there are a number of highly advanced inventions in electronics, as well as edgy Anime and fashion that opens people up to new and innovative styles. Furthermore, I believe that many women coming to the forefront will help create a brand new culture for us.
So as I explained, I burned out between 39 and 40, and traveled around Central and South America for a year in my early 40s. Thanks to this trip, my heart, mind, and body had recovered, and I was able to teach Shintaido for another 10 years after coming back to Japan. I had also completed creating the Bojutsu practice system while traveling.
However, after I turned 50, I started having symptoms of severe back pain. As Budo training involves learning the Kata (forms) by imitating the master’s movement, I strongly felt I should not let my students copy me with this back pain. This is why I decided to retire when I was 51, handing everything over to the second master. After retirement, I was meditating a lot and studying ancient healing arts and therapies, and about 10 years flew by.
51 years old, that’s just about my age now. I cannot imagine a grand master like you who have dedicated yourself so fully to master this great art of martial arts retiring from that world.
I found out I have a strained spinal column crushing parts of my spinal nerves. I had a surgery at Tokyo Women’s Medical University Hospital when I was 66 and was able to cure that back pain.
When I turned 60, although I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, I started practicing Shodo (calligraphy) since I didn’t want to just sit down and do nothing. There are many schools of Shodo too, and I decided to pursue Chinese Shodo, the origin of Kanji, since Japanese writing includes Hiragana and Katana that have both originated from Kanji. Just then, I saw an advertisement in the train of a new school opening at Chugoku Shoho Gakuin (Chinese Calligraphy Institute), and became a member of the inaugural class.
Since the school was accredited by Shanghai University, I became a master of calligraphy certified by Shanghai University. I graduated in 3 and a half years, and studied Shodo theory like crazy after I graduated.
All the teachers at Chugoku Shoho Gakuin were all Chinese, so they couldn’t teach Shodo theory in Japanese that well. So I read a tremendous amount of books on Shodo covering 10 different types of writings starting from Kokutsubun (Oracle bone script), the very origin of Kanji from 3,500-3,600 B.C., to Seidokibun, Sekkobun, Tensho, Reisho, Mokuchikukan, Shoso, Sosho, Gyosho, and Kaisho, as well as books on Shodo theory written by Ko Yui avidly.
So did you learn Chinese Shodo mainly?
Yes. But I also learned a lot from Japanese calligraphy teachers. This is how I created my own Tenshin Shoho Juku (Tenshin Calligraphy School) based on all the things I learned from various teachers and books, including Shodo theory. I already had a solid background in Art History, so I combined Chinese Shodo, Japanese Shodo, and Art History. And since I’ve taught martial arts for many years, I applied that teaching method and integrated other more modern learning systems into my teaching style as well.
The core philosophy of Tenshin Shoho Juku integrates and blends together my studies of Art History and Chinese Shodo History, what I have established in my Shintaido career, and spiritual teachings of Christianity, Shinto, and Buddhism.
I am deeply impressed by my students that learn so fast whenever I teach them based in this philosophy. Many of my students have received grand prizes and awards (more than 260 in total) in International Calligraphy Exhibitions held in China.
The common thread that ties together everything I teach including Shintaido, Kenbu Tenshin Ryu (modern Iai-Batto Jutsu), and Tenshin Shoho Juku is the Tenshin Philosophy based in “Heaven, Earth, People, and Self are One (unity)”. This means to pay respect to the fundamental life force of the whole universe, the very source of all living things. It is to love and take care of the earth, its soil, and all of nature that has been created by this life force. It is to honor all life and love our neighbors from the bottom of our hearts. It is to be a healthy, bright, and free person with a liberated mind, and to praise our lives fully. This is most important.
I am very impressed the way such a wonderful philosophy lies at the root of learning Shodo. I know your Tenshin Shoho Juku students have their works displayed in the Promenade Exhibition at Shinjuku Station West Exit occasionally, and I believe it’s actually on now. I would definitely like to stop by later.
Yes, it would be great if you could stop by. We also have our annual exhibition at Nicchu Yuko Kaikan in Iidabashi. It’s amazing how much my students improve their skills every year.
When I was 24, I had gathered a group of practitioners to create a brand new martial arts for the modern age. I named the group “Rakutenkai”, and we practiced together intensely for about 5 years. However, most of the members who practiced painstakingly at that time left the group afterwards, as they initially thought I was a great teacher but they figured I’m a pretty chaotic person, and they ran out of patience with me. I’m sure each member had his/her own reasons for leaving, and many people say my students just could not stand the hard training anymore, but my opinion is different. The truth of the matter is, we had entered a new age. Just as a new culture is born, grows, matures, and decays, at the dawn of a new age, people from the previous generation could not adapt to the change and chose to leave instead.
Mitsuda san, let’s think about your friends for example. Your close friends from elementary school might have left you in junior high school, but then you must have made new friends in high school. But then maybe you didn’t see any of them anymore after graduating from high school even if you were so close to them at the time. It could also be the same at your workplace. But this is a natural thing because even a very close coworker, or anyone you had an intimate relationship with before changes overtime, including yourself.
And of course, not all my old students left me afterwards. For instance, Okada Mitsuru Sensei (martial artist) and Shinma Kayoko Sensei (calligrapher) have been practicing with me for over 50 years. Including overseas members, there are about 20-30 practitioners who have been practicing with me for over 40 years. So it’s just an excuse to put all the blame on me, and it’s a natural process that people are also renewed when a new culture arrives. A palanquin bearer cannot be a rickshaw-puller, and a rickshaw-puller cannot be an automobile driver. When a new thing is invented, new people are in charge. Therefore, when a culture or age changes, people inevitably change as well.
And with the changes of people, the culture and age also transitions. This means that the Rakutenkai members completed their Rakutenkai age. When I was 29 years old, I opened a new office under the name “Sogo Budo Renmei” with the hope to spread Shintaido more widely, but many members from Rakutenkai could not keep up with the pace already at that time. A bulldozer with tanks to level out the barren field must be replaced by cars once the roads are made. If you still drove tanks on the paved roads, it would be all ruined. In the same way, the reformers and people who maintain what has been made have different roles and characteristics.
I’m sure the Rakutenkai members were elite practitioners that had overcome intense training… On the surface, it might have seemed like just a change of name and office, but it seems that it sparked further change and development of Shintaido.
Both the culture and age had changed. Many people accused me for being too strict, chaotic, or fake, but I actually wasn’t that bad. Rumors say I dated many women overseas and made a few children here and there, but please take that as just a part of my hero myths or something.
To Part 5