Yutaka Kurita
7th Dan, Shihan
Director of Kurita Juku Aiki

Interview with Yutaka Kurita - Part One
by Peter Bernath and David Halprin

This interview was conducted at the 2004 USAF Eastern Region Summer Camp by Peter Bernath and David Halprin, Aikido Online's Co-editors in Chief. Thanks to Robert Zimmermann for translating the interview in real time.

This was definitely one of the most enjoyable interviews we have done. In fact, the entire discussion was conducted in an atmosphere of friendship and unrestrained humor. We're not sure if this comes through when reading the transcript, but try to imagine this scene accompanied by a sound track of constant laughter.

Photo courtesy of Jaime Kahn.

Part One

Sensei, we've heard you are writing a book. Is that true?

No, that's a lie! Today we were doing tenkan. You've been practicing tenkan for so many years and you still can't do it.

I know. It was very embarrassing.

If a book shows you something like this you can never learn it. If you studied with Kanai Sensei for so many years and you can't do it how will you learn it from a book? Anyway, Kanai Sensei never said "David do it this way!"

No he never did say that.

Kanai Sensei never said "David, come here, do it this way". Or "you're missing this part." You could never do it but you're always thinking, "I'm a good Aikidoist". Yamada Sensei does the same to Peter. He says "it's very good, but...".

The big but.... Let's talk about Peter.

Yamada Sensei does something to Peter and he says "Peter very good, but...".

It's a big but.

I don't like writing books but it's necessary. Because you have to record what O-Sensei said. Many people say, "O-Sensei said this, but Chiba Sensei said this, Yamada Sensei said this, and Kurita Sensei said this." Everyone says something different, so, which is the right thing. So I have to be able to state, "this is the way".

Is yokomenuchi this way or tenkan this way? Is this Aikido? Everyone is doing yokomen this way, the wrong way, or like that. Everyone is doing shomenuchi like this, but it's wrong. Is it this way with a bokken or that way?

Well, which way is it? (laughter)

You have to wait for the book. (laughter) There may be two Penny's, two people named Penny. One is correct and one is not, which one is right? Shomenuchi one way, shomenuchi another way. You may call this shomenuchi or you can call that shomenuchi, but that doesn't answer the question: which one is correct? The correct name is actually katate uchi, not shomenuchi.

What would that mean? Strike with the hand?

Yes. Is katate uchi with both arms at the same time? Is yokomenuchi with both hands? You never question things like that or ask questions like that. O-Sensei says this or the book says that but no one ever questions what is said. Which one is right? Many people are confused about these things. Why is there confusion? Because they never understood it properly. Shomen is this way, from the top of the head in an arc downwards, not from the front of the face forwards.

Maybe people get their ideas from boxing. A straight punch to the face. Sometimes students think they can be more realistic by making it more of a punch.

That is just muscle work. Shomenuchi is not just muscle work. (He grabs one wrist and strikes.) On the left side you must control by holding, and on the right side you must control by striking. Since no one studies this, how do you know if that is correct or not?

Today We were doing a warm-up like karate but Aikido is not that way. O-Sensei said "we don't know any karate". Tsuki, for example. Kanai Sensei does it this way. O-Sensei did it differently. Does it mean that O-Sensei was lying when he said there is no karate in Aikido or was Kanai Sensei lying when he said punch this way?

O-Sensei did only Aikido.Aikido is not against karate or against judo. Aikido is Aikido. Aikido's tsuki is called furi komi, a strike diagonally up. It comes from not the open hand strike but rather like having a tanto in your hand and striking upward.

More a thrusting motion than punching motion?

It's very different than that. Many people don't know that O-Sensei taught furi komi tsuki. That's why everyone teaches punching straight like karate's tsuki. Therefore Aikido is being taught against karate's strikes.

Did O-Sensei Sensei teach that?

Koichi Tohei Sensei and others taught the karate tsuki. So who is correct, who is telling the truth, and who is telling a lie? If furi komi fails it turns into shomenuchi, but if a straight strike fails what does it turn into? It becomes two directions of a cutting motion.

The raising part is a little bit larger and it turns into tsuki. So that seems far more reasonable as a way to attack. Besides from a physical point of view which one is better, a straight strike or a strike angling up, from a purely mechanical point of view? Because people don't study physics or mechanics people just say "Aikido is this way, a straight strike" but that is not true.

So what should I write if I write a book? That my friend Kanai Sensei says, "do it this way?" Or my friend Yamada Sensei says, "do it this way?" Or that my friend Chiba Sensei says, "do it this way?" If they are all contradictory, what can I write?

That's why Kanai Sensei said he didn't want to write a book!


He said if he wrote a book everyone would be mad.

That's why many people have a funny attitude toward me over these things. If Yamada Sensei. Kanai Sensei and Chiba Sensei all do a similar thing and I do something different, is what I am doing a lie? Is it not correct?

Kanai Sensei said when we practice techniques we strike straight, but he said the correct way to strike from an Aikido point of view is different.

For forty-five years he's been my friend so I know what you are saying. In the Kanai school it is done this way, in some other school that way, in my school, it is done another way.

So which is correct? (much laughter) Did O-Sensei ever write a book? Wasn't the book "Budo" by O-Sensei?

O-Sensei never wrote a book, but people interviewed him and wrote down "what he said". Is that the same as writing a book? That is the case with "Budo" and "Budo Kihon".

Why didn't O-Sensei write a book? Was it on purpose, did he think he shouldn't or was it just not his style to write books?

He couldn't. From day to day things would change, there would be something new. Whatever you wrote today would be wrong tomorrow. What was true today wouldn't be true tomorrow. For example, those flowers on the table are really beautiful today but in a year's time they will be wilted, so how can you say this is it.

For example, today Tamura Sensei did ikkyo a certain way with the arm in a certain position near your head rather than far from your head. So could you take a picture today and show it and say this is valid? Should this be shown as the right way to do Ikkyo? Would that be correct?

You can't really stop a movement to take a picture and say this is Ikkyo, or that is Ikkyo. Many people try to do it like this, or like that. We use our left-brain and we use our right brain but in the case of Aikido which one is the correct one to use? Which one should dominate?

(Silence, then laughter.)

This is the way I would do it now for myself, but I cannot tell what was correct for O-Sensei. I can only say it is how I do it. If O-Sensei said do it his way that would be fine, but O-Sensei is not around I can't ask him. Could you ask Kanai Sensei today? Could you go to his coffin or go to the pantheon and knock and say, "Please answer me!"?

It's too bad because I had a lot of questions I never asked him.

Yes, I had the same feeling, when I was looking at his coffin I thought, "Why did you die! Why couldn't you last a little bit longer? Damn! Why did you die!" That is why I can't write about what is correct. I want to write all about my friend Kanai. That is what I can try to write about now.

That would be great.

That is why I always had the feeling for my friend Kanai Sensei, I could always write to him as a friend, and the same way he could write back to me as a friend, but I didn't have the same feeling with other people. When we do katate tori tenkan or katate tori irimi, why do we practice katate tori? What is the meaning? Why do we do katate tori this or katate tori that.

If I'm holding you, is it a technique? If I'm holding a pen is this a technique for me? Is grabbing the technique? If uke were to hold nage could he not do shihonage to him? Why would you do that? Shihonage. If I were to hold him (holding Peter's wrist) is it that I can't do shihonage to him?

Yes you could! (laughter)

It is all the same. We always start by learning that the attacker holds you and you do the technique. The attacker does shomenuchi and the defender does a technique. If I were to attack could I do the technique? If uke were to hold could he also do the technique? Isn't that a possibility? We never practice the uke attacking and then doing the technique as well. People say that in Aikido there is no attack, but who says so? That's not right.

So why don't we practice that way?

Today I did that in class. The first day I taught that, and I taught it at the Florida seminar as well. That's why Kanai Sensei asked me "what did you teach?" Probably David went to him and said "Kurita Sensei did this, that and the other" and Kanai Sensei came to me and asked, "What did you do?"

I never told him! (Laughter)

Somebody told him! Some spy....named David! (Laughter)

Why shouldn't you be able to attack and do the technique? Many people think there is no attack in Aikido, that Aikido is only defensive. That is not correct. Where did they hear that?

Is there a reason we practice that way?

Two reasons. If you hold me, perhaps if you have a knife you can cut me. I would like to do ikkyo or kotegaeshi. If you had a knife and rather than hold my hand you cut off my hand, could I do shihonage? No I wouldn't be able to. Normally we think of katate tori shihonage with uke holding nage. But if uke were holding a knife and nage grabs uke's wrist to keep him from cutting, couldn't nage do shihonage?

For example one way to arrive at the position where nage is holding the wrist and applying the technique is to evoke an attack of shomen with awase, and then take the wrist and do the technique.

To be continued....