This is part one of a multi-part interview with Haruo Matsuoka Sensei. Over the course of an evening, Sensei was gracious enough to share the stories of his aikido journey in great detail.
Josh Gold: Sensei, what was your first exposure to aikido?
When I was probably six years old, I saw a master named Seigo Yamaguchi, I’ll never forget. I was a child. My father took me, and I saw aikido for the first time in my life, and wow, that’s it. It made a very strong impression on me as a child.
And your father he was familiar with aikido at the time, right?
Yes. My father met O-Sensei and studied macrobiotics under its founder, George Ohsawa. My father became a disciple of George Ohsawa right after World War II. One of Mr. Ohsawa’s good friends was Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei).
Yes. That’s how my father met Ueshiba Morihei. He was introduced by George Ohsawa, and then my father immediately went to practice. Even though my father was a disciple of Ohsawa, Ohsawa Sensei sent him to O-Sensei’s place to study aikido. Unfortunately, my father was only able to study for a short time.
So you saw Yamaguchi Sensei’s demo when you were younger, but didn’t start training until you were in high school. Correct?
Exactly. There was no dojo in my town so I didn’t have an option to train.
However, as I became a high school student, I had more freedom. I could take the train and go to different cities. I found a dojo that my father’s friends used to go to. That place ended up being Ten Shin Dojo, actually.
You’ve mentioned before that the dojo wasn’t in the best area at that time…
Right. Juso was not a good neighborhood at the time, but now it’s much better. During the Japan trip in May 2014, Craig Dunn and I went to the old neighborhood, and everything has changed.
And so the first dojo you went to was Ten Shin Dojo?
Actually it was in the same building, but it wasn’t called Ten Shin Dojo at the time. About a year after I started training, Seagal Sensei moved from Tokyo, and took over as chief instructor.
So I actually didn’t know this before, but there was another chief instructor at the dojo when you started right? And then all of a sudden he left?
Yes, he left.
And then there was nobody teaching?
And you kept showing up to take a class and no one…
No one was there. And where was his staff? The building was there, the dojo was there, but nobody was there. I was a high school student, and just kept going. That’s why I was looking for another dojo, and I found Abe Sensei’s dojo by coincidence, in Suita. But I couldn’t see Abe Sensei when I went there. If I could have met Abe Sensei, I probably would have joined. I met one of the instructors there, and he asked me, “Where do you live?” I told him I live in Toyonaka city. He told me “Oh that’s very far away, you shouldn’t come here. Let me introduce you to another dojo that is near your home.” I said, okay. That’s why I didn’t join Abe Sensei’s dojo. But if I had, I probably wouldn’t be here right now. So life always has meaning you know.
After no one showed up at the dojo for months, I finally stopped going. Then I saw a TV quiz show and they showed three or four foreigners (Americans) and asked “Who’s teaching Aikido at a dojo in Osaka?” It was Seagal Sensei, and they showed the dojo building on TV. I recognized it – that was my dojo! Haha. So the next day …
You went back…
Yes. And I met Seagal Sensei, he asked me how old I was. I told him 17 years old. That was our first conversation, and this is how I started. Re-started actually.
And how old was he at that time do you think?
Very young. I was 17, so I guess he was in his late 20’s.
And what was his aikido like?
I was inspired very much. And immediately I was glad that I didn’t go to any other dojo. His style was so attractive to me as a teenager, so I immediately re-joined on that day.
And were there many students there at that time?
Yes. Many people rejoined after the dojo reopened. At the same time, many foreigners who lived in Osaka began to join, so the dojo was really international. It was a bit unusual. There were people from Europe, the Middle East, America, and other places. They started joining every day. It became a community of foreigners helping each other in Osaka.
And this was about 1976?
Yes, 1976 is when I joined.
And didn’t you say you first met Abe Sensei through Seagal Sensei?