First class at Hombu after my arrival in Tokyo.

Leaving for Japan

Summer 1977

In 1976, Chiba Sensei had been recalled to Japan from England by Hombu, which needed his linguistic capabilities as they sought to solve the problem of Aikido’s unruly development around the world. Back in Tokyo, he started to train in Iaido under the guidance of Mitsuzuka Takeshi at the police headquarters dojo in the Yotsuya district. Enthusiastic about this teacher, he suggested to Tamura Sensei that Mitsuzuka Sensei be invited to teach the Iaido classes at the various French summer camps of the year 1977.

It was at one of those camps that I first encountered Mitsuzuka Sensei, which turned out to be another big awakening for me. Mitsuzuka Sensei was accompanied by his wife, and I was involved in their transportation from one place to the other. They didn’t speak French or English; I didn’t speak Japanese. But contact was established; a connection was made. I discovered another face of Japanese people, something different from what Tamura Sensei or Chiba Sensei had shown.

At the end of the summer, after Mitsuzuka Sensei and his wife headed back home, I decided to travel to Japan to study Aikido at Hombu and Iaido with Mitsuzuka Sensei. I quit my job as a schoolteacher, gathered whatever little money I could, and got myself a one-way ticket to Tokyo on Korean Air.

Having informed Tamura Sensei of my project, I was advised to confer with Chiba Sensei, who would be teaching at the San Sebastian seminar in the Basque country in early September 1977.
As soon as I mentioned my intention to travel to Japan, Chiba Sensei immediately opposed it and asked me to abandon the idea. In his own words, there were already too many foreigners (mostly French) at Hombu, and they were a major headache in his activities there.
I could not but mention to him that I had already bought my ticket.

Mitsuzuku Sensei and his wife at their home in 2006.
Mitsuzuku Sensei and his wife at their home in 2006.

October 1977

I landed in Tokyo on October 4, 1977, at Haneda Airport (Narita Airport was not yet operational).
Margaret Marcano, a student of Chiba Sensei who had recently moved to Japan, welcomed me and agreed to house me for a few days. Daniel Boubaud hosted me for the next few weeks and helped me find my first jobs as a technical translator.

If I remember correctly, October 4 fell on a Tuesday. The following day, I called the Chiba residence. Mrs. Chiba informed me that Chiba Sensei was in Nagoya, where he taught on a monthly basis in a dojo he had helped establish during his uchideshi years at Hombu Dojo (Tashiro Dojo []). He was to return in time for his Friday class, his only class at Hombu. I thus waited until Friday, October 7, to visit Hombu Dojo.

On that day, Chiba Sensei helped me register at Hombu (vouching for me) before leading me to Doshu’s house to introduce me. My first class in Japan was to follow. I did not know anyone yet. The class was not crowded: a few foreigners (American, mostly) and a handful of Japanese.
After the warm-up exercises and the first demonstration by Chiba Sensei, I bowed to the person sitting to my right. My partner turned to be sort of a beast, and he wouldn’t give me a chance to do anything. The more the class went on, the more I was reflecting that I should have bought a return ticket (something I could not afford to do), and thinking that if this man was representative of the general level at Hombu, I was in trouble. I also noticed that some of the other foreigners training nearby were openly laughing at me.

After a little while, Chiba Sensei stepped in, speaking in Japanese (I learned later that he asked my partner to spare me, as it was my first class at Hombu). After class, in the changing room, I was told by the other students that my partner had been Shibata Sensei, a teacher at Hombu well known for his dynamic and vigorous style.

At that time, Shibata Sensei was teaching the Thursday afternoon three o’clock class. This was poorly attended, given the time of the day and the reputation of its teacher, but I made a point of attending. During the years that I spent in Japan, Shibata Sensei was to play a major part in my training and in my study of Aikido.

Taking ukemi for Shibata Sensei, early 1980s
Taking ukemi for Shibata Sensei, early 1980s

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