|Kenji Tomiki Shihan's teachings - art and spirit
In August 1979, I received a telephone call from Shihan, "Higashi Sensei and his wife are coming to Japan from New York so can you help them please? He graduated from Kokushikan University as you did so it will be good to meet him. By the way, I have invited Mr. Yanagi from Seijo University to be your uke so use him".
Why was Mr. Yanagi my uke at that time? I couldn't imagine why at all. I only needed to be Shihan's uke, I didn't think I needed my own. Well, the day came and I promptly took an early morning train to Tokyo and hurried to the meeting place which was the dojo in the Setagaya school building of Kokushikan University. In the dojo Higashi Sensei and his wife had already changed for practice and Shihan was waiting with his shirt sleeves rolled up.
I can't help thinking that I was late because I was still tired and in very poor physical condition from a national aikido course held the month before in Akita. However, Shihan never allowed himself a holiday and always welcomed visitors from far away.
This was the first time that I had met Nobuyoshi Higashi Sensei. From 1960 he was a staff member of Kokushikan University and was the judo club coach while also receiving lessons from Tomiki Sensei. After that took up a post in America as an exchange professor. In 1976 he established the American Tomiki Aikido Alliance to spread and develop competitive aikido. Nowadays he teaches aikido in the physical education curriculum at New York State University.
Shihan often talked about maai (correct distance) in judo and aikido. He always explained the effiectiveness of judo to us by saying "In judo, you can throw an opponent whose legs are within range; in aikido you can throw an opponent whose legs are not within range" and "If an aikido player comes up against a 4th or 5th dan judo player then the aikido player will have no time to stand still". He said that a person who trains his legs enough in judo will be excellent in aikido.
Because of this, much was expected of Higashi Sensei and Watanabe Sensei (Nihon University judo club member, graduated in 1960 and went to America in 1961 as a judo and aikido instructor). I had heard Tomiki Shihan and Oba Shihan mention Higashi Sensei's name previously and I imagined a much bigger and strict person. However, when I met him I was surprised because he actually wasn't much different in height to me and appeared to be very amiable. In time I dreamt of trying to teach overseas and felt very reassured because of him.
That was the first time that I found out that Mr. Takashi Yanagi was Shihan's nephew. He was happy to be my uke and, after graduating from university, had good results in various tournaments. Nowadays he is the coach for the Kokushikan University aikido club.