Interview with Shimamoto Shihan - Warsaw, Apr. 22nd, 2012 (Eng.)

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It's true. The story began like 55 or 56 years ago. I remember a very small room – a little tiny dojo. My mates and I were poor students who could not afford paying for trainings. Osawa sensei saw that and he was very generous. He did not ask for money and sometimes he was even giving us some food. Actually he daily shared every sandwich he had.

PZ:
Did you also have a chance to meet Kaiso Ueshiba Morihei?

KS:
I was studying in Tokyo. Hombu Dojo is situated in the Shinjuku District, and I lived in the  Sendagaya District. It is about 30 to 40 minutes by train. Whenever I could afford the ticket, I was going to Hombu. There I had a chance to meet Kaiso and train with him. The O'Sensei's trainings were very early in the mornings so to be there on time I had to get up very early, if only I had money for the ticket. I wanted to attend those trainings as often as possible but not always I could afford it. Sometimes I just walked starting three hours before the training. Anyway, that was O'Sensei – the master of such charisma and charm that it was worth to dedicate oneself for himself and to his trainings .

PZ:
Was there anybody else in your way who had any particular influence on your aikido?

KS:
There were different senseis teaching in Hombu Dojo and I used to attend trainings with many of them. Sometimes it happened that I did not know a particular teacher and he welcomed me saying: „Oh, you have come from so far away – it's great”. And that was very valuable for me because I was learning cordiality and hospitality. Even though such sensei did not teach me directly, I got from him as a gift something very important for my personal development. I keep those memories in my heart and from such experience grows my approach to students during aikido trainings and seminars.

PZ:
Did you also train any other martial arts and why did you choose aikido? What was  the exact reason?

KS:
When I was in junior high school, in the second grade, I started karate. That was in Osaka. Till I finished my senior high school I trained karate in the evenings. At noon we used to play volleyball. When I started studying at the Tokyo University I was 1st dan and a black belt. There was a karate club at the university, but it was a totally different ryu (school), so I had problems with joining the club. Then a well-known university professor, Suzuki Kakuzen, a very notable scientist, who was taking care for the dormitory students, asked me if I had ever tried aikido. „There is a possibility to organize such trainings, maybe you could join?”. On the side I can say that he was a very good, warm and caring man thanks to whom I could live in the dormitory for six years. Normally it was impossible, one could only spend there one year. But professor Suzuki was also very gentle and easygoing. Every year he was saying: „Listen, we will find a room for you, you can stay longer.”

The same evening when he told me to try aikido I went around the whole dormitory (there were some 300 students) and when I found that 15 of them do not belong to any club, I somehow convinced them to start aikido. When I reported that to professor Suzuki, he called Osawa sensei. Osawa sensei said: „Ah, got it. In that case we will start tomorrow.” And in fact the very next day the history of aikido club at the Tokyo University began. Osawa sensei came with his assistant, Saotome, who is now a well-known aikido teacher in the USA. It was not a dojo in our present understanding, a separate room with tatami. That was just a lecture room. There were tables and chairs standing, we had to move them to the walls to get enough room for training. But it was enough because we wanted to train somewhere.

PZ:
Beside having one of the highest degrees in the world of aikido – 8th dan, you are also a priest of Soto Zen. How do you combine those two ways? What do they have in common, what are the differences?

KS:
Well, now my story will be slightly longer. Actually I've had three professions in my life. One of them is tied to the Zen temple, the other one is the aikido dojo and the third one was teaching at a junior high school in the Osaka Prefecture. The high school was public with    the time hours preset. Between my working hours I could go to my temple to do my priest duties, then in the evenings there was a time for aikido training. I did not teach any particular subject at the high school, I was a kind of educator taking care of the students. They were different personalities, of course. Sometimes they caused some troubles and I somehow needed to get close to them. One had to be very careful and it was not easy to find something in common,  to help solve their  problems, to change his attitude to school etc. That was where my other activities appeared very helpful. Those three things perfectly interlocked. Sometimes there were incidents like a phone from school during a training and I had to go to school immediately because some kid did something wrong and they had to call the police. In that case I had to stop the training and rush to the incident location.

Were there no connections between my three activities, I would have had much harder and I could not have continued for long. As an aikido teacher I had some respect at the school. Students knew that „this man”, this teacher is also an aikidoka and they felt they have to stay alert. When a boy was playing nasty and saw me walking by, he calmed at once. When there was a quarrel, it stopped immediately. When somebody was smoking by the corner and noticed me, he immediately put the cigarette down.

Once, I remember, there was some kind of holiday – there were many different street shops, sweets, games, plays and... fortune tellers. I didn't have any money on me, I was only observing the shows. Suddenly one of the fortune tellers told me to give him my hand. I said  I had no money but he repeated: „Show me your hand”.

He looked at it and said: „You probably are a priest in a temple... wait, actually you seem  to be a teacher, but why I see here that you have something in common with martial arts?” I thougth to myself: „How come can he know?” I think there must be something in it.

My life became like it did also mostly thank to the wonderful professor Kakuzen Suzuki, who treated me so honestly in the university dormitory.

PZ:
This year there will have been 50 years since you opened your dojo in Osaka. I hereby cordially congratulate you on this anniversary. That is a wonderful achievement. How do you plan to celebrate this event?

KS:

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