[Interview] Tanimoto-Sensei’s Background – The Journey to Establish Aikido Aishinkan

Hello, this is Ogawa, the dojo chief. This time, after the training session in Kyoto, I had the opportunity to interview Tanimoto-sensei, a founder of Aishinkan. I asked him about his background and the establishment of Aikido Aishinkan.

As we chatted in an izakaya, the conversation has a casual feel, so there might be some parts that are a bit difficult to follow. Please bear with me. (I conducted this interview while enjoying some beer, so it’s a bit like a tipsy interview 💦)

I hope this interview allows many people to get to know Tanimoto-sensei better!

The operating philosophy of Aishinkan Kyoto and Osaka, “Enriching the lives of as many people as possible through Aikido”, was born from Tanimoto-sensei’s thoughts on Aikido. I believe that understanding the backbone of this philosophy will deepen your connection even more.


Why and How Tanimoto-Sensei Started Aikido?

合心館京都 御所南道場近くの居酒屋にて・・・
合心館京都 御所南道場近くの居酒屋にて・・・

Thank you for today’s practice. This time, we’ll be conducting an interview with Tanimoto-sensei.

I’ve got the recording device ready, which I bought on Amazon, just like that (laughs).We can chat casually, and I hope to hear your story like a casual conversation.

Is it okay to speak normally?


So, first of all, why did you start Aikido? I heard that you didn’t engage in much physical activity until around the age of 20…

I had been frail since I was a child, even sitting was exhausting, probably due to poor internal organs. Also, I had stuttering, which was embarrassing, making it difficult for me to speak in public. So, I wasn’t very active until around 20. At that time, a doctor recommended exercise to me.Until I encountered Aikido, I had no hope in life…

I used to run a watch shop, and every morning before work, I needed an IV drip; otherwise, I wouldn’t have the energy to last the day. However, going for the drip meant losing the entire morning. It was impractical.

So, one day, when the doctor, probably a female, who always examined me heard my complaints, she said, “In this state, my future is kind a hopeless…” Then she suggested, “How about trying some exercise? Since it requires patience to exercise alone, I think it would be good to join a class somewhere.”

So, I thought about checking out Aikido.

I see, you were recommended to exercise by a doctor. Why did you choose Aikido at that time, considering Aikido wasn’t as well-known as it is today?

My older sister was involved in extracurricular activities at the nearby community center, and they practiced Aikido there. So, I was already familiar with Aikido. I couldn’t keep up with other martial arts like karate. Aikido didn’t require much strength; so every men and women can do it.

So, I thought I might be able to do it despite my weak body. When I went to observe an Aikido class, I was leaning against the wall because sitting straight was painful for me. The instructor probably got upset seeing that. During the class, the instructor threw one of the students powerfully, saying, “Can you do something like this?” That made me frustrated, and I decided to join immediately.

At the time, Aikido training must be more harder than nowadays maybe, Did your confidence start growing after you began training? When did that happen?

 In those days, after joining, they didn’t teach us how to take falls properly. I was thrown into the intense training right away. I couldn’t keep up with everyone at first. They didn’t teach us proper breakfalls like they do nowadays. I was thrown into the middle of the training. I had poor internal organs, weak abdominal muscles, so when I fell backward, I fell headfirst, and when I leaned forward, I fell from my knees.

People used to say, “It’s like a doll falling over,” or “Tanimoto looks like he’s about to die.” But as I continued training, my abdominal muscles gradually developed. It’s a bit mysterious, but as my muscles supporting the internal organs strengthened, my body became robust.

 Was it beneficial to focus on taking falls?

Probably, yeah…

In my younger days, I was often on the receiving end, taking falls. As my body became more robust over time, given my smaller stature, I couldn’t overpower others with techniques, so I excelled at taking falls. Even when thrown, I would consistently move towards my opponent, using falls as a strategy to tire them out and wear them down.

Consequently, many were reluctant to train with me. Perhaps, mastering the art of taking falls contributed to developing my abdominal muscles. This improvement in health, coupled with increased physical strength, bolstered my confidence and allowed me to speak in public with ease. Encountering Aikido felt like a transformative moment in my life.

 Did your confidence start growing after you began training? When did that happen?

 It was after I achieved the first dan.

That’s when I finally reached a point where I could train with everyone. After that, I continued to polish my breakfalling techniques. There was a very strong person who did Aikido at Ehime University. His techniques were severe, and everyone avoided training with him. I used to take his falls all the time, thinking I would go towards him even if he threw me. People were reluctant to train with me because of that. Probably, taking falls and developing abdominal muscles worked well for me.

I always took falls from that person, and that significantly strengthened my ability to take falls. Although that person praised me as being “strong,” I wasn’t strong at all; I was just good at taking falls. (laughs)

I heard that when people came to practice in the past, and only that strong person and I were present, everyone used to escape and go home (laughs). Speaking of taking falls, I heard you often took falls from Sanyan Sensei’s techniques…
(Note: Sanyan Sensei refers to Kyoichi San-yon, who is the instructor of the Kochi Prefecture branch.)

I received the falls well from Sanyanagi Sensei. Nowadays, our current instructor might say, “Please come with a front strike,” or “Come with a thrust.” Sanyanagi Sensei would just say, “Come at me.” Well, that’s the correct way…

But, Sensei had specific attack methods he wanted. Since he had a background in Judo, he liked chest grabs. If you exposed your chest, he would say, “It’s a chest grab.” If you slightly lowered your head, he’d say, “It’s a front strike.” I grasped Sensei’s signals and responded accordingly. Others couldn’t sense it, so they often got scolded. Since I understood Sensei’s signals, I was never scolded.

Reading Sanyanagi Sensei’s presence may also be alive in Tanimoto-sensei’s martial arts training. Could you tell us about the circumstances that led Sanyanagi Sensei to come to Matsuyama for instruction?

佐柳先生・・・前から三列目の左側のスーツの男性 谷本館長・・・前から三列目の左から四人目
Sanyanagi Sensei:The man in the suit on the left side of the third row from the front / Tanimoto-Sensi:The fourth person from the left in the third row from the front

What is the begging of Aishikan in Ehime?

Matsuyama catsle

To be precise, I am a grand-disciple of Sanyanagi Sensei. My direct teacher is Matsukuma Sensei, the first branch manager of the Ehime Prefecture branch. Matsukuma Sensei invited Sanyanagi Sensei from Kochi.

Matsukuma Sensei had experience in Hakkoryu Jujutsu, a branch of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. He used to practice with local high school students. One of those high school students, upon entering Matsuyama University, wanted to establish an Aikido club. When Matsukuma Sensei consulted with Ueshiba Yoshishige Maru Sensei (the second Doshu) of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo through a letter, he introduced Sanyanagi Sensei from Kochi.

As a result, Sanyanagi Sensei started observing Aikido at Matsuyama University and in Matsuyama.

About Master Kouichi Sayanagi

The development of Aikido in Kochi Prefecture is largely due to the dedicated efforts of Master Sanyanagi Koichi. In 1960, Master Sanyanagi, with the permission of the founder, Ueshiba Morihei Sensei, established the first local branch of the Aikikai Foundation in Shikoku.

For the next 40 years, he devoted himself to the promotion of Aikido not only in Kochi Prefecture but throughout Shikoku Island. He established dojos in various places, including the Kochi Prefecture Branch Dojo, Nakamura Aikikai Dojo, Kochi Prefectural Budo Hall Dojo, Kochi University Aikido Club, Matsuyama Shoka University (currently Matsuyama University) Aikido Club, Kochi Women’s University Aikido Club, Kochi National College of Technology Aikido Club, and the Kochi Prefectural Office Aikido Club. He continued to lead and promote Aikido activities until his passing in July 1999 at the age of 76.

Many of the individuals and organizations currently instructing Aikido in the prefecture received guidance from Master Sanyanagi and, due to various circumstances, have established independent practices based on new perspectives. The Kochi Prefecture Aikido Federation, committed to upholding the ideal of “Budo of Love” as sought by Master Sanyanagi, continues to practice diligently, striving for personal growth alongside martial development.


The Reason Standardize techniques of Aishikan to the Ueshiba Moriteru Doshu from Aikikai?

Doshu, the top of Aikido and Aikikai

Master Sanyanagi’s Aikido, as seen in videos, appears to be quite different from the techniques used in the current Aishinkan. Can you describe us how it changed?


I heard that there was a period when many people, including those who practiced at Nihon University and Kagawa University, joined Aishinkan. During that time, the black belt instructors had different teaching styles, causing confusion among beginners.

In the past, each dojo had its own way of practicing, so having different techniques was considered normal. However, with various seniors instructing differently, I experienced corrections and inconsistencies. It was at this point that I felt the need to unify the basics. If the basics were all different, beginners wouldn’t progress well and might not continue. To standardize the basics of Aishinkan, I invited Ueshiba Moriteru Dojocho (current Doshu) at the time.

I invited Doshu twice, once during the opening of Aishinkan and another time for the 10th-anniversary celebration. We used the videos taken during these visits as a reference to create the foundational techniques of Aishinkan.

Why did you choose to align the basics of Aishinkan with the techniques of Doshu Ueshiba Moriteru, rather than those of Master Sanyanagi or Master Matsukuma?

Doshu’s techniques are the most understandable and easy for beginners to learn. Additionally, if our members practice Doshu’s techniques, they won’t have trouble when they move due to job transfers or other reasons. Knowing Doshu’s techniques is universally applicable, ensuring that our members won’t face difficulties regardless of where they go in the world.

Members were taken into consideration, and aligning with the techniques of the Doshu (current head of the organization) was a thoughtful decision. However, if techniques were to change suddenly, wouldn’t it have caused confusion among those who had been training for a long time?

 The approach was to allow individuals to practice as they liked, but when instructing white belts, there was a request to align with the Doshu’s techniques. There was no significant opposition, likely because the Doshu’s approach is considered a global standard, making it easier for everyone to practice.

The Doshu’s techniques indeed share common elements across all techniques, making them easily accessible for beginners. The idea was that if everyone followed this standard in their instruction, beginners would not be confused.

 The way of the Doushu is easy to understand, and anyone can learn it.

For beginners, it’s important to start with less challenging aspects and focus on memorizing the correct technique procedures. This is crucial for preparing for training at different levels, where mastering the stages and acquiring the correct procedures are essential. Complex aspects can be explored at later stages. Since becoming proficient in Aikido takes time, it’s important to consistently put in effort.

Tanimoto-Sensei has encountered various circumstances, aligning the fundamentals with the head instructor’s techniques. However, is what he learned from Sayanagi-Sensei still applicable in today’s Aikido?

 Indeed, what I learned from Sayanagi-Sensei is significant. What I’m doing is in line with Sayanagi-Sensei. The essence of the techniques is based on what I learned from Sayanagi-Sensei. However, Sayanagi-Sensei Aikido doesn’t have a prescribed form, so it was challenging, especially for beginners. In truth, Aikido doesn’t have a fixed form, but it can be difficult for beginners to grasp.

You often says, “The real Aikido practice starts from, after gaining the first dan.” Therefore, during the lower ranks, it’s advisable to view training as preparation, focusing on correctly executing techniques and taking proper falls. By following this guidance and practicing, one can progress. On a different note, why did Tanimoto-Sensei decide to build a dedicated dojo?

What Tanimoto-Sensei’s Aikido Used to be.


The Reason of Making Dojo

I didn’t really build the dojo; my mother did it for me.

During the Aikishinkan 10th-anniversary demonstration held at the community center, my mother happened to attend. I made a speech in front of everyone, and she was deeply moved. Given my frail health and stuttering since childhood, I was a quiet child. As a result, my mother, touched by the event, suggested building a dojo on our rice field.

She secured a loan from the bank, using our house as collateral, and built the dojo. If I couldn’t repay the money, we would lose our home. The old dojo (in front of JR Matsuyama Station) looks quite similar to the current Aikishinkan (Misawa), with the first floor serving as a parking lot and the second floor as the dojo.

Back then, there was ample parking space, and they even built a warehouse next to the dojo. Thanks to the income from the warehouse (concerned about my health, my mother did this), we managed to make a living. My mother was truly remarkable.

 Is that the previous Aikishinkan near JR Station?

How long ago did you move to the current location in Misawa? About 15 years? The old dojo was right next to the headquarters of the Ashihara Kaikan, wasn’t it? Did you have any connections with Ashihara-Sensei?

I had a good relationship with Ashihara-Sensei. The current head of Ashihara Kaikan and my son were classmates and often visited our house. Also, my wife and Ashihara-Sensei’s wife were good friends.

 Oh, so you had good relationship.

 There’s a one who were Branch Manager of Ashiharakaina in Sri Lanka, probably reached a certain dan level…

Then, Ashihara-Sensei invited me to visit Sri Lanka once. When one of our members went there, they were welcomed at the airport with two Mercedes cars and had the pool all to themselves. When asked, it turned out the person welcoming them was the boss of the Sri Lankan Mafia (laughs).

Oh, wow! (laugh)

 After that, they Invited me to Sri Lanka, they said even more amazing things would happen, but I declined, saying I wouldn’t go (laugh).


Regarding Iaido Training


 Going back to topic, the you have been practicing Iaido for 20 years alongside Aikido. What was the motivation behind this?

 Aikido is often said to involve the principles of the sword. However, Sayu-Sensei came from a Judo background and didn’t practice much with the sword.

Since I hadn’t trained in the sword and couldn’t understand the principles, I felt I needed to practice Iaido when teaching the “principles of the sword” myself. Coincidentally, a person who practiced Iaido came to my watch shop, and I got introduced to it.
(Note: The head instructor has been practicing Iaido for over 20 years and holds a 7th-degree teaching rank)

 I’ve heard that you also practiced karate at some point. Was that also for the purpose of instructing Aikido?

 Yeah, that’s right. I haven’t practiced karate for about a year now… Everyone’s so young, and when you’re doing Aikido, they talk about “punches and kicks.” It wasn’t interesting to me when I was young.

So, is it about how to deal with punches and kicks in Aikido?

 Exactly, when I was young, it was punches and kicks. (Karate and Shaolin Temple are popular in Shikoku.) I didn’t plan on doing karate for long, but I felt I should at least know how to punch to teach, so I went to learn from the Itosu-ryu Karate.

After joining, during a sparring session, I narrowly avoided what I thought was a high-ranking practitioner’s punch. That led to a conversation about practicing Aikido.

 You hadn’t mentioned practicing Aikido (laugh).

 Turns out, the Shito-ryu teacher had learned Aikido from the founder, Morihei Ueshiba, and he liked me quite a bit. He would always drive me home after practice and teach me various things along the way

 So, you practiced Shito-ryu karate. And you also practiced Eishin-ryu iaido, right?

That’s right.

Iaido is similar to Aikido, but depending on the instructor in the same dojo, things can be completely different. Whether it’s about drawing or sheathing the sword, everyone teaches differently.

I didn’t stick with one instructor because of this, so I practiced what this instructor said. However, I got scolded by a different instructor, got confused about what was right, and got fed up. That’s when I met the head of the Eishin-ryu.

 What made you so fond of the head of the Eishin-ryu?

 Firstly, his explanations were excellent.

Like, with the sword, you have to cut from the center. Now, when I explain in Aikido, I connect the tanden and the sword, or when drawing the sword, I intend to thrust the hilt into the opponent’s center.

Also, he explained that with the sword, it’s called “hikikiri,” and even if you don’t forcibly pull it, there’s a curvature in the sword, so if it naturally hits, it becomes hikikiri… It was very clear and specific. I thought I could continue with this. Top-ranked people really have incredible things…

So, being clear means even someone who came today can follow the teaching easily? 

 That’s right. That’s when I realized and got more and more into the Eishin-ryu… “If I do this, I can continue,” I thought.

 What generation of head is your instructor?

 I learned from the 21st generation head. He was amazing, but to spread the Eishin-ryu, he decided on a strict rule – exams won’t pass if it’s not the head family style.

 That’s quite a bold move. Was there no internal resistance?

 Well, there was some resistance and some left, but well… not everything is good in both ways. By the way, going off-topic a bit, everyone I taught in the past became a high-ranked practitioner in Iaido. (Back then, there was training of Iaido at Aikishinkan)

 Is that because you practices the head family style?

 That’s part of it, but I just teach the key points and don’t focus on details. That way, everyone can put their whole energy into the sword. If you say, “No, no,” people tend to hesitate, and their movements with the sword become restrained.

You are currently not teaching Iaido at Aishinkan, right? Why is that? The impression of the sword used by the head instructor in Aikido now seems slightly different from the sword used in Iaido.

 Aikido encompasses both the sword and karate… Right now, I think it’s enough to practice Aikido.

Musoujikiden Eishin-Ryu 21st Head Family・Torao Fukui-Sensei


The Beginning if Aishinkan

合心館新年演武会庭園演武 松山道道後ふなや旅館にて
合心館新年演武会庭園演武 松山道道後ふなや旅館にて

Why did you decide to establish Aishinkan independently from the Ehime Prefecture branch?

Actually, I was thinking of quitting Aikido. People say Aikido is the way of harmony, but in reality, when you go higher up, there are various unpleasant things… Looking back now, it’s something obvious, but when you’re young, it’s hard to accept. So, I started disliking Aikido, and I told Matsukuma Sensei that I wanted to quit.

Then he said, “Since there’s no instructor now, please wait a bit.” So, I continued that year, deciding to quit next year. At that time, a few new girls joined the dojo, and we decided to welcome them. During that discussion, when everyone was excitedly planning for the next year, I casually said, “I won’t be here next year…” That’s when a black belt said, “You can’t just easily quit if someone higher up says so!” and got angry.

So, we went out for drinks, and we decided to start a new dojo together. (The name Aishinkan was actually suggested by that person.) However, he was a school teacher and had a transfer, so he said, “I can only help for one or two years,” and that’s how Aishinkan started.

If it weren’t for that person, Aishinkan wouldn’t exist now… By the way, normally, a dojo would have instructors, but currently, Aishinkan has a flat organization without designated instructors. Is that based on your own experience?

 Yeah, that’s right. When I was at the previous dojo, even if I neglected my work due to being an instructor, I still forced myself to attend practice. So, to prevent a fixed person from being burdened at Aishinkan, we decided not to create instructors. Instead, we encourage any black belt to lead and instruct.

To avoid concentration of burden on one person. When the head instructor comes to places like Kyoto, is anyone asked to assist, and is it open to any black belt?

Well, first, whoever can come. It depends on the person’s schedule and whether they can attend practice that day.

It’s difficult to build a dojo without concentrating the burden on one person. Considering everyone has jobs and families, and Aikido is done in spare time… Humm.

There’s also learning by doing things in front of other people. That’s why Aishinkan headquarters requests anyone with a first dan or above to lead and instruct.

Teaching can also a way of learning. Are there any specific things you pay attention to when instructing?

 Aikido has different stages, and improvement takes time.

It’s important to cherish the basics.

I believe it’s crucial to have the mindset of teaching something of a rank higher to someone of a lower rank, like teaching a 5th kyu person something of a 4th kyu. Training is like mochi(rice cake)you repeat hard practice, kneading and kneading until it becomes soft.

In the End…

Thank you for sharing your valuable insights today. Lastly, do you have any messages for Aishinkan members currently practicing and those who are considering starting Aishinkan practice?

 First and foremost, avoid injuries. And I hope everyone can enjoy practice while respecting each other. I want Aikido to be practiced joyfully.

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