Matsuoka Sensei’s Aikido Journey: Part 4

Sensei talks about his move to the United States to join Seagal Sensei in Los Angeles.

Josh Gold: Sensei, it was around 1981 when Seagal Sensei moved to America, right?

Yes, that’s right.

And he took Craig Dunn with him?

He took Craig Dunn, yes.

Haruo Matsuoka and Craig Dunn in Japan

Haruo Matsuoka and Craig Dunn in Japan

And what was the motivation or the goal? He wanted to make movies?

He wanted to establish Tenshi Bugei Gakuen, a cultural center based on aikido. He wanted to promote Japanese culture. Things like traditional dance and tea ceremony, and The Way, “The Do” to the American people. Those were his intentions. And also movies. He had a strong desire to make Hollywood films.


He said he wanted to make films, movies. And at that time I thought maybe some kind of documentary with aikido. But now I know what he meant. He was young so he had a lot of dreams and hopes, and one of his dreams was to make movies.

That’s interesting. Many people have the hope of making films or being a movie star when they’re young, but it’s incredibility difficult to make that kind of hope a reality. 

Yes. He had such charisma. Anyway, for me it was a bit of an unusual opportunity. I didn’t really dream about making action movies. People didn’t believe he could do it. And this is why I believe in the American dream or the Hollywood dream. It happens. Not often, but I witnessed it. It’s possible. This is the first thing I learned about America. In Japan it’s different. America is really interesting. My first time when I came to this country…wow. Even Seagal Sensei said to me that in this country, especially in this town, if you have skill, and hope, and effort, you can make it happen. That’s what he said before he became a movie star. I learned a lot from his encouragement. It’s not easy of course, but this is Los Angeles.

But when he first moved to America, he moved to Taos, New Mexico, right? That’s a really remote place. 

Yes. The culture, the way, and the town. It’s spiritual, it’s really spiritual. But it didn’t make sense to promote things there. It only had a few thousand people, and there wereno movie people. That’s why he almost immediately changed his mind and…

Moved to L.A.?

Yes. He moved to L.A.

Craig stayed in New Mexico?

Yes, because Craig made a decision to stay in Taos and lead the dojo there, Seagal Sensei asked me to move out and join him in Los Angeles.

Sensei's going away party before leaving for America.

Sensei’s going away party before leaving for America.

Who took over at the dojo when you left Japan? 

There were several instructors. And then a little later Seagal Sensei’s wife took over, his ex-wife.

And then you moved to America in 1983?

September 1983.

So what was that like when you moved to America, a totally different country? Did you speak English at all?

No. I only had school English. As you know, school English is bad, it’s not practical. I now realize it’s not practical.

So what did you think? You came from Osaka to Hollywood and basically couldn’t speak the language. It must have been difficult.

It was okay because, at first, I lived with Seagal Sensei at his house. So I pretty much went out with him. I was watching and learning. It was a golden memory for me. The first time he took me to a restaurant for some American food, it was a hamburger. He and I sat down and ordered hamburgers, and we ate together. That was a golden memory. This would never happen again… He ate a hamburger, and I ate a hamburger, and we drank a 7Up.

To Be ContinuedIn part five of the interview, Sensei talks about the founding of Ten Shin Dojo in Los Angeles and the challenges of adjusting to life in America.



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