Roy Suenaka and Morihei Ueshiba were involved in several Aikido challenges
Second part of a well received article dealing with a not so advertised facet of Aikido history: here we have famous Aikido teachers launching or accepting challenges just the way any of us would
by SIMONE CHIERCHINI
Read 10 Famous Aikido Challenges
1. MORIHEI UESHIBA vs SOKAKU TAKEDA
You mentioned the Zen in Aikido, can summarize the personal and spiritual journey of Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido?
Master Ueshiba was a man who could not walk until he was seven years old, he was very frail. So he wanted to become strong, because he was also quite small. I’m not a very tall man but he was still ten centimeters shorter than me, he was about 1m55, no more. Gradually, through certain movements, he became stronger and stronger. In order to learn dodging, some students used to throw stones at him or beets, and he was trying to avoid all that. This is how Tai Sabaki was born. But the way of Ueshiba, not the spiritual route, but the physical one, was that he met many masters.
In Hokkaido, for example?
Yes, Hokkaido, but before he went to many dojos. We wandered around and when he saw a master at work, immediately, he asked for a test to see if he could beat him. He beat a lot of them and he said, I have nothing to learn from people I beat. One day in Hokkaido, he met a teacher named Takeda. It was behind an inn, in a small room, he saw the master and was very surprised to see he was doing a lot of dodging.
How could he know that it was a master?
He was told that it was master Takeda, coming from such school. He saw his work and asked him immediately if he could fight against him. There, something extraordinary happened, the small body of Ueshiba was thrown around sixty times in a few minutes. He had found his master and began to work with him. Takeda took him as student, but he taught him only 5 minutes a day, not even that. The rest of the day, he had to wash his master and prepare his meals. That is Japan, you do not pay, but you have to give of yourself to the master. It does not happen in Europe.
2. T.K. CHIBA vs GANGSTERS
“Well a gangster attacked me with a knife once in Japan. He lunged for my belly, so I blocked him with Gedan Barai, and broke his arm with Kata Katamae. On another occasion I was in Paris with Noro Sensei, and we visited a night club together. I was having a drink in one room and Noro Sensei was sitting in another room playing cards, or something. Suddenly there was a terrible commotion from where Noro was, so I went in to see what was happening. It was a fight. An old gentleman was lying on the floor and a young man was kicking him. It was terrible there was a lot of blood on the floor. I think he would have killed him, so Noro Sensei said to me “Chiba, sort that out!” He did not want to get involved. (Laughter). I took hold of this man, and stopping his attack, I asked him what he thought he was doing. He spoke to me in French, so neither of us understood and so I pulled him outside… then something happened. My body reacted and I threw him down with Osoto Gari, the judo technique. He hit the ground very hard and I heard a clatter of metal. It was then I realized that he had pulled a knife. My awareness had been such that I reacted to the situation from my subconscious. This guy was a gangster from the Pigalle area and that was why no one stopped him. He was well known apparently . . . but not to me! It made no difference who he was”.
3. MORIHEI UESHIBA vs NAVAL OFFICER
“One day a naval officer visiting Ayabe decided to challenge Morihei to a kendo match. Morihei consented, but remained unarmed. The officer, a high-ranking swordsman, was naturally offended at this affront to his ability and lashed out at Morihei furiously. Morihei easily escaped the officer’s repeated blows and thrusts. When the exhausted officer finally conceded defeat, he asked Morihei his secret. “Just prior to your attacks, a beam of light flashed before my eyes, revealing the intended direction.”
Source: Ueshiba, Kisshomaru, Aikido (1985), Tokyo, Hozansha Publications
4. ROY SUENAKA vs OKINAWAN PUNK
“There was this one local guy who came in, wearing street clothes and said he studied Kobayashi-ryu, which I was familiar with, because it was a system founded by Chihana Chosin, who was a very great teacher. That‘s all he said, ‘I study Kobayashi-ryu’. He didn’t even give his name. So I said, “Well, okay . . . what are you trying to tell me?” Then he showed me a big cut on his hand.
“We punch rock, stick our hands in glass… that’s how I got this cut”.
“That’s really stupid, you know? There’s other ways to get tough”.
“Well, then, what’s this? This doesn’t look like it works. You guys move like you are dancing”.
“Well, we can take care of you if we have to”.
“You mind showing me?”
It was an outright challenge, and you don’t walk into a dojo and do that, not at that time. So I said, “What do you want me to show you?”. I was ready to just blast him then, but he was a fairly young guy, maybe just a little older than me, and he looked pretty crisp, pretty sharp.
“Why don’t I punch you and see what you can do?”
I knew my ma-ai… he came in with a punch and kicked at me, real fast, and I pivoted out of the way and boom! I hit his face, broke his nose, and grabbed his hand, executed kote-gaeshi and broke his wrist. So he got up and I said, ‘What would you like to see now?”
Source: Roy Suenaka, Complete Aikido: Aikido Kyohan -The Definitive Guide to the Way of Harmony, 1997, Tuttle Publishing
5. MORIHEI UESHIBA vs 6 MARKSMEN
Talking about weird things, let me talk about an extremely strange event. This is also something I actually witnessed with my own eyes. One time an official from the munitions department of the army, together with 9 military personnel, came to visit the Ueshiba Dojo. They came to watch the wonderful art of Aikido that they had heard about. These people were arms inspectors. They tested new weapons and judged whether the sights were accurate or not. Their shooting ability was Olympic level, and I noticed that they hit the target every time.
Ueshiba Sensei, who had done a demonstration before these people that day, had claimed “Bullets cannot reach me.” I had, of course, previously heard that when he was in Mongolia he had avoided the bullets of horse-mounted brigands, but this was quite different.
The inspectors’ pride was hurt and they were quite angry.
“You’re sure that the bullets won’t touch you?”, they asked.
“Oh, no, they won’t.”
“Then would you like to try?”
They took him at his word and promptly arranged the date that they were to meet at the Okubo Army Shooting Center. Before the date, they made Ueshiba Sensei write officially that he had agreed to become a living target for the army officers and got him to place his fingerprint on the document. As a further precaution and verification, they took the document to the army court. Therefore, even if Sensei was shot and killed, nobody could lodge a complaint. The appointed day arrived, and a military car came to pick Sensei up to take him to the shooting area in Okubo. Mr. Yukawa and myself accompanied him. Naturally, Sensei’s wife was very anxious and beseeched him to change his mind. but Sensei kept replying light-heatedly, “It’s all right, they will never hit their target”.
Mr. Yukawa and myself were also very concerned; to the point where we were wondering if it wouldn’t be wise to make funeral preparations. When we reached the shooting area, another surprise was waiting for us. I was expecting only one gun to be aimed at Sensei, but we discovered that six men would be firing pistols at him. The best range for pistols was 25 meters and, normally, a target in the shape of a human is placed at this distance. This time, however, Ueshiba Sensei was standing there in place of the doll. The six men then positioned themselves, aiming at Ueshiba Sensei. While staring at him, I kept thinking helplessly that twenty-five meters is a considerable distance, and was wondering what on earth Sensei could do from there.
One, two, three. The six revolvers fired at the same time and a cloud of dust whirled around us. Then, suddenly, one of the six marksmen was flying through the air! What had happened? Before we could figure it out, Sensei was standing behind the six men, laughing into his beard.
We all were bewildered. I really and truly could not understand what had happened. Not just me, but everyone present was so stunned that we could not find words to express our shock. The six inspectors were not yet convinced and asked if Sensei could do it again. “All right” he answered indifferently.
Once again, the six barrels were aimed at Ueshiba Sensei and were fired. This time the inspector at the edge of the group flew into the air. In exactly the same way as before, Ueshiba Sensei was standing behind the six inspectors before we knew what was happening. I was dumbfounded. That time I had promised myself to watch carefully in order to see exactly what Sensei was doing. But even though I had tried very hard, I was completely unable to see how he had moved.
Facing Ueshiba Sensei were the barrels of the six revolvers which had been fired. This far I could remember clearly, but the next stage, where Sensei had moved the distance of 25 meters and thrown one of the six marksmen, I simply could not understand. I couldn’t find any explanation for other than “God techniques.”
On our way back I asked, “Sensei, how could you do such a thing?”, and I received the following answer.
“Before the explosion, as the trigger is pulled, a flash like a golden ball flies off. The actual bullet of the revolver comes later, therefore it is easy to avoid”.
6. MORIHEI UESHIBA vs MASTER HUNTER
One of my acquaintances, Mr. Sadajiro Sato, was a hunter from Yamanashi Prefecture. He was known as a master of gun hunting. For example, hunters usually aim at and shoot pheasants when they are descending to the ground. At this moment it is said that their flying speed is around 200 kilometers per hour. If the pheasant is shot in the head it will drop straight to the ground, but if the bullet hits the body it will fall a long way away. Accordingly, hunters would try to aim for the head, which is not an easy target to hit. The point is the Mr. Sato would hit the head every time he shot – he was the master of masters.
One day I told Mr. Sato the story of Ueshiba Sensei avoiding the six revolvers. “Even if he did that I am sure he won’t be able to avoid mine,” said Mr. Sato confidently. “A human head is much bigger than that of the birds that I am used to shooting. I cannot imagine missing that.” Having said that, Mr. Sato came down out of the mountains to challenge Ueshiba Sensei. I accompanied him to the Ueshiba dojo and told Sensei that Mr. Sato wished to challenge him. Sensei accepted the proposal.
I watched carefully, and a bit anxiously, as Sensei sat down in seiza at the far end of the dojo while Mr. Sato took distance and aimed. And then just as he was on the verge of pulling the trigger, Sensei dropped his head in recognition and said, “Wait! Your bullet will hit me! Your thoughts are undistorted, and clearly you want to hit me. From the beginning you’ve known that you are going to hit your target. I cannot avoid the gun of such a man, you are a true master!”
Mr. Sato returned happily to his mountains.
7. JASON DELUCIA vs STEVEN SEAGAL
From the time I was very young I always wanted to study it, but where I was from the best I could do were books, and Aiki-jujitsu which a great number of policemen had to use. The first very intense exposure I had to the traditional Aikido environment was due to an open invitational challenge which Steven Seagal had published in Black Belt magazine in which he stated, ‘Anyone who wants to fight me come to my dojo and be prepared to fight to the death!’
In 1992 I answered that challenge. I drove 3000 miles to LA, got an apartment, and straightaway went to his dojo with a copy of the magazine and a written reply as well as my physical presence. His chief instructor Matsuoka Harua had to answer for it in his stead.
My assertion was that if he was going to make statements like that to bolster his popularity then he should back it up. He never did. So every morning and every evening for about six months I observed his classes. I learned a lot that way. No question of honor that Matsuoka Harua had given me more technical knowledge and politely tolerated my presence at every single class he taught.”
8. T.K. CHIBA vs SERIAL CHALLENGER
When I returned to Japan from England, in 1978, a man issued a challenge to us. But Hombu Dojo refused it, despite his persistence.
(…) As I said he was persistent, and every few weeks he would return to challenge us. Each time I had to explain that we could not accept. I think that the man was not quite “right” in the head. Anyway, eventually I personally had enough of him and accepted his challenge. We arranged to meet and sort it out. I insisted that we agree not to press charges in the event of serious injury and we exchanged letters to that effect. I told him as a martial arts teacher I was prepared to die if need be. Well we met and I initiated with offence, moving directly to him and I struck him first. This threw him back against the wall and as I came to him he jumped on me: he was like a tiger. I then finished him with Nikkyo. He had had enough by then. There was much blood and he was on the floor screaming. That was the last challenge he offered us – it seems that he did not expect an Aikidoist to initiate an attack.
9. FUMYO TOYODA vs CAR ROBBER
“Toyoda sensei was attacked while driving. A man came up and stuck a knife into his partially opened window to threaten him. He relaxed completely, kept one-point, kept weight underside, extended ki, rolled up the electric window on uke’s arm, and drove down the street. I would have liked to have seen the pin”.
Copyright Simone Chierchini ©2015
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