8th Dan Shihan
A Life in
The following is a translation of a 1993 interview with Yoji
one of the leading world Aikido teachers of the past two
Fujimoto Sensei was born in Yamaguchi (Japan) on 26th
March 1948. Fourth of five children, since his childhood he was
initiated into the way of the martial arts by his father, an 8th
Dan in Kendo. Fujimoto Sr. was instructor at the Kendo Dojo of
the local Police. The young Fujimoto picked up Kendo and helped
his father in the Dojo. One day he went to assist at an Aikido
class at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo and was stunned by what he saw.
A few days after he enrolled and started training in Aikido.
Promoted Shodan at about 14 years of age, at 21 (1969) he was
already Sandan. Fujimoto Sensei moved to Italy in 1970 to help
Tada Sensei in his efforts to bring Aikido to Italy. He based
himself in Milan and contributed to the development of the
Italian Aikikai, increasing the number of dojo to over 100. In
recognition of his efforts he was promoted to 7th Dan
in 1994 and 8th Dan in 2010.
- Sensei, would you like to tell us about your beginning as
an Aikido instructor?
-It goes back
to when I was attending University in Tokyo. At the time I
started up an Aikido Club inside Nitaidai University
together with a group of friends. I had previously practised
Kendo and Judo. The club wasnít recognised by the University
and we werenít allowed to use the University facilities. We
had no money and no Instructor. We took the class on a
rotation list... We did our best to find a proper instructor
for the club and asked the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for
assistance. We were lucky because the Hombu Dojo manifested
an interest in developing University Aikido. The Aikikai
sent one of their finest instructors, Koichi Tohei Sensei.
He was a 10th Dan and at the Hombu Dojo had the
qualification of Shihan Bu-jo, Chief Instructor. Our
Club was officially recognised and under the guidance of
Tohei Sensei the standards readily raised. After a while the
Hombu Dojo appointed Masuda Sensei as our new Instructor. To
convince him to accept the appointment I told him it
wouldnít be for long, just the time to strengthen our
teeth... He didnít know he would be involved with University
Aikido for the rest of his life! in fact today Masuda Sensei
is Technical Director of all University Aikido clubs in
Fuūimoto and Tada
What did bring you to leave Japan and move to Italy?
- I fancied
moving abroad since secondary school. At the time Aikido had
nothing to do with it. I just had the desire to leave Japan
and see other countries. I manifested my intentions to my
father. He hid his feelings against it and just said to get
on with my life. Having a degree it would have been easier
for me anywhere, Japan or abroad, he said. I enrolled with
Nitaidai University in Tokyo and studied Sports and Leisure.
Nitaidai was known for being extremely tough. That fame was
- Then it was finally time to go. In Ď71 the Aikikai Hombu
Dojo sent you to Italy, to continue the work done there by
Hiroshi Tada Sensei. Was it difficult at the beginning?
- Not really.
If I had problems, they were mainly bureaucratic: working
permits and similar. For the rest: the initial lack of
students, the efforts to gather the first few beginners, no
money in the pockets... this is all normal and
understandable. I knew this already before moving to Milan.
If you want to sell lighters where the locals always used
matches you are going to have difficulties to get started!
- In an interview broadcasted by the Italian TV Channel you
said that during your first period in Italy you had a hard
time in financial terms.
- God! It was
really tight! I took the class 3-4 times a week in a sports
complex and had around 60 students. Still I couldnít get out
of it more than the few pounds to pay the rent of my flat...
I used to share it with a Judo and a Karate instructor. We
got used to having a continuous in & out of people of
various nature, with the inhabitants of the flat constantly
reaching 7 or 8 people. The agreement was that we would
share the expenses: pity I was the only one to have a job,
if you want to call it that way... Somehow we always had
something to eat. When I got some money we would buy, for
example, 20 kg of rice. I remember that once we survived for
five days eating only cherries! Another time, it was summer,
we fed on water melon for 2 weeks. It was hard indeed but we
didnít care. We were young!
- Letís change
matter, Sensei. Letís talk about
- Leave me
alone! (Fujimoto sensei explodes in a powerful laughing).
Sensei, letís talk about it. There is every sort of
discussion about it: someone explains it as a sort of magic,
others donít take it seriously, others donít talk about it
at all and just prefer to practice. In your opinion what is
the relation between
- I am alive.
That means my Ki is good... Ask this question again
when I am 70. I might have something more interesting to
reveal to you...
- Got the message, Sensei. You are 30 years in Italy. In
the meanwhile you aged, your Aikido changed, the way to live
it, practice it, teach it changed.
- I hope so!
- In which direction?
- Today the
Hombu Dojoís message is: ďAikido is for everybodyĒ. What
Hombu means is that Aikido isnít for certain categories of
people only, is for them all. It has to be suitable for
everybody independent of sex, age and physical strength.
When I was younger I disagreed. Certain times I had
newcomers and... it is not that I sent them away but after a
while they left and never came back. With time passing a man
changes and gets to learn. I regret what I did in those
situations. Maybe I just aged and got more mature. Maybe the
world itself changed and I didnít want this change. I never
changed attitude because the Aikido Doshu said to do so. It
was a natural process of evolution that Aikido went through
and I participated of it.
- You are teaching Aikido in Europe for 30 years now. You
undoubtedly gained a comprehensive knowledge of European
Aikido. Do you think that people of different countries
interpret Aikido in different ways?
Different cultures mean different approaches to things. In
the other hand Aikido is universal. Different cultural
approaches to it only make it more complete, more
interesting and stimulating.
- What is it your point of view about Aikido in the country
that you consider your second home, Italy?
Aikido practitioners are excellent in general terms and
amongst the best in the world. Not that surprisingly though,
considering that thereís always been three Japanese Shihan resident in Italy. Which other country of the
same size or population can boast as much as Italy in terms
of quality tuition?
- You mean that the Italian Aikido community
enjoyed a privileged
status and with it wider possibilities of growth?
- I think that it is self-evident. It is enough to check the
Italian Aikikai website for courses: every year there is an
incredible variety of seminars held by Japanese Shihan
and Italian Instructors of 5th and 6th
Dan. There is a concrete and constant possibility of
improving oneís skills, to check out and refine what one is
doing in his own dojo. With so
many Instructors visiting from abroad it is always possible
to compare oneís style and enrich it with new details, to
add new tools to the box. This is also true from our point
of view, the point of view of the instructor. If one has to
relate to other realities, one cannot be the prisoner of
some routine. There is always a stimulus to seek for
something new, to grow.
- Which is the major problem you had to face with western
something I have often met in Italy and when travelling
abroad: in Japan it is of common understanding that to
become Shodan only means to be at the first step of a long
path. In my country a Shodan practitioner is only someone
that started to walk, thatís all. Here it isnít rare to see
a new shodan acting as the Ďbig masterí. It is changing
though. In the past it was much more common. There was only
a handful of Yudansha and it was probably easier to lose
contact with reality. Today the situation is different.