FACE to FACE with Yoshiaki Yokota (横田愛明) Sensei
Yokota Shihan is a professional Aikido Instructor at the Hombu
Dojo, Japan where he teaches on Thursday and Friday. He led the
2002 South – east Asia Junkaishido tour during which he stopped
by and taught a seminar at our Dojo. He was assisted by Hiroyuki
Namba Shidoin (4th Dan).
Now ranked 7th Dan, Yokota Shihan spoke to Raymond
Some excerpts from the interview which first appeared in the 2003
issue of the Kuala Lumpur YMCA Aikido Club Magazine:
RK : You started Aikido in 1970 and entered the Hombu Dojo in 1977.
Why did you choose Aikido?
YY : First, I started Judo at the age of 12. I became Captain of the Judo
Club while I was in Junior High School. I could not make the
minimum weight limit required. My coach was constantly asking me
to eat more but that was difficult and I couldn’t make it. So that
made me think of choosing something else.
I loved Budo, so I did Karate. Now at that time, I was also a little
interested in Aikido. At my High School, there was an Aikido Club. I
was about 15 then and I wanted to do Aikido. So I did both - I did
Aikido in the day and Karate at night. I did Karate for about 7 years.
Later, I became Captain of the Joosai University Aikido Club in
Saitama - ken. At the University my teacher was Masando Sasaki
Shihan. 7 years after I started Aikido I entered Hombu Dojo as an
RK : But why did you choose Aikido as a career?
YY : I liked it. Aikido technique is difficult - that fired up my interest in
RK : In spite of the fact that it was difficult, you were interested in it?
YY Well, Judo was difficult too; and in Karate, we were always training
for tournaments - I found studying the difficult Aikido technique more
challenging; the Karate I was doing always concentrated on winning
in tournaments. Aikido has plenty of techniques ... it is challenging
because its origins as a Budo requires study. I started Aikido
because it fascinated me..
RK : What level did you reach in Karate?
YY : Shodan, but I stopped doing it after I entered Hombu Dojo.
RK : For how long were you an Uchi deshi at Hombu Dojo?
YY : A long time, even now I am an Uchi deshi, but I only lived in the
Dojo for 2 years. “Uchi deshi” means one is a professional - a
private student. We are Doshu’s private students; the regular class
student on the other hand, is “soto deshi”.
RK : Where do you teach Aikido?
YY : I teach 7 days a week. I teach at the Tokyo Merchant Marine
University on Monday; at the Medical Defence Centre on Tuesday;
at the Asahi Culture Centre on Wednesday; the Fuji Film Company
Club on Thursday; at the Hombu Dojo on Friday and Saturday;
and at the Culture Centre in Funabashi city on Sunday. I also teach
a special private class at the Hombu Dojo.
RK : What is private class?
YY : Special practice ... well there is actually nothing special about the
waza - its just different from the ordinary class - there are about 20 -
RK Do you travel overseas often?
YY : Yes, I have been all over, to Europe - England, Italy, Holland,
Belgium, East Europe - Bulgaria Rumania, Hungary. I have been to
Yugoslavia too, although not anymore because of the war.
I have been sent on Junkaishido tours to the Baltic States of
Estonia, Latvia apart from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan.
I have also been dispatched on JAICA visits overseas to Australia,
New Zealand; Papua New Guinea, China.
On some trips I have accompanied Kisshomaru Doshu.
RK : Your technique is fast, powerful and effective. In this aspect, who
influenced your approach to Aikido?
YY : (Chuckles). No, no…When I started Aikido as an uchi deshi, Chiba
Sensei was teaching at Hombu Dojo. Shibata Sensei was my
sempai. Miyamoto Sensei too was also training and living together
at Hombu Dojo that time. So, when we trained together, I learned
from Chiba Sensei, Tada Sensei, Arikawa Sensei ... these
teachers influenced my Aikido. Chiba Sensei’s influence on me
was very strong. Technique wise - it was a mixture of what I learnt
from various teachers like Kisshomaru Doshu, Osawa (Kisaburo)
Sensei, Tada Sensei, the late Ichihashi Sensei. In fact I knew
Ichihashi Sensei from my University days. I also learned all kinds of
Aikido technique on my travels all over.
RK : Do you think Aikido is capable of being used for self-defence?
YY : Of course, some of it can be used as such. From the Budo point of
view it can be used for fighting of course.
RK : Some people criticize Aikido because they say that there are too
many movements ... that therefore it is not effective for self-defence.
YY : Like a dance?
RK : Yes.
YY : Movement is good for health ... The more movement there is, the
better it is from the health point of view. But in Aikido the
“opportunity” to attack is just in an instant. That is included inside the
waza. Training is done slowly. But in reality where fighting is
concerned the opportunity to attack is just in an instant ... for
example in Irimi Nage the moment of entry is that instant.
I teach Aikido slowly, then quickly. The Irimi - entry ---for example in
Ikkyo --- first you pin the opponent slowly, then you pin the opponent
in an instant after entering. A lot of training is required for that.
People who don’t know Aikido just see what appears to be a
dancing movement. They don’t know what is inside the technique.
People who don’t know Aikido cannot understand this.
Like in Irimi Nage, you go round and round and then “pow” you
throw him. But in reality, you can’t turn. Once you have entered
“pow” you throw him. All this is included in Aikido practice. The real,
effective elements are in there, but because people who don’t know
Aikido, don’t see it, they think it is just a dance.
So for example when you teach a student, it is difficult for him to turn
initially. But gradually with training you can go faster.
Because of that, in Aikido, we don’t have kamae.
RK : That means - when you train in Aikido ... the “issatsu no shunkan”
is something you have to detect yourself.
YY : Yes.
RK : In self-defence, that is the one moment you have to find and
take advantage of....
YY :Yes, that is difficult. Therefore sometimes, we practise slowly,
sometimes we practise quickly. So in ukemi, you have to feel, you
have to learn to avoid being hit.
Ukemi is about escaping. If you are no good in ukemi, if you cannot
take ukemi, you cannot understand Aikido. Receiving ukemi and
throwing (technique) are both equally important. I always do it
slowly, gently ...
With different teachers like Miyamoto Sensei, Seki Sensei, the
technique will be slightly different. All of us are from the Hombu
Dojo but because of the difference in personality, this will be
reflected in our Aikido. You can’t be a carbon copy of someone
else, that would be boring because of the difference in body size
RK : How has Aikido changed your life?
YY : Well, having chosen Aikido, I have made lots of new friends
everywhere. If I had became a sarariman instead my circle of
friends would only be confined to those in my office.
It is a good thing to get to know so many people.
RK : No regrets?
YY : No, I am very happy in fact.
RK : What is your ambition in life?
YY : To do a bit more Aikido. I am 47 now. I have only about 13 years
more to do good Aikido. When you reach 60, you become weak.
Arikawa and Tada Sensei of course are exceptions, they are still
Yokota Sensei in deep thought
Yokota Sensei at YMCA
Yokota Sensei with
Interviewer at the K.L. Tower