Bio: Seidokan Mentor Minoru Kobayashi

Personal Background

 Mrs. Minoru Kobayashi was born to a kyu ka (old family), in a small village, on the island of Sado, which is located in the Sea of Japan.  Due to her father's work as a school principal, she and her siblings would change schools every few years. However, she ended up graduating from the high school located on Sado Island. 

She then moved to Tokyo to attend college, Showa Women's University, and continued to live there after graduating with her Bachelor’s in Nutrition and a Certificate in Teaching and Administration (principal level) at the Middle School and High School level.

 Mrs. Kobayashi’s first job was working as an Executive Secretary to the head of the Engineering Department for Fujimori Kogyo Co,. Ltd., for 2 ½ years.  Due to the long distance it required her to travel on a daily basis, she chose to leave this company to work in the Accounting/Human Resource Department and also the Sales Department at another company closer to her home, Kanko Kogyo Co., Ltd.  She was employed as a direct assistant to the Heads of these two departments for about 10 years.  During this time, she also worked directly under the company President.  Back in the 1960's, most women in Japan were relegated to subservient roles with little authority, so it was virtually unheard of for her to hold such positions and work with upper management.  She took advantage of these opportunities and gained a great deal of experience from working at these two companies, which in turn helped her greatly in her future. 

 Meeting Tohei Sensei and the formation of Ki no Kenkyukai

 With the passing of Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba, Tohei Sensei decided to resign from the Aikikai Hombu and create his own path.  He, along with five of his Yudansha began searching for office space. (This is where her boss and the company President of Mrs. Kobayashi’s second job, Kanko Kogyo Co., Ltd, came into the picture.)  Her boss belonged to a professional's group and this group decided to support Tohei Sensei.  Her boss temporarily lent out the second floor of his warehouse to Tohei Sensei to set up his office, this lead to an open house for the office employees.  Regular classes were then held at the Tokyo Olympic Center Gym.  Due to her boss' connection with Tohei Sensei, she had the chance to personally meet and practice under him.

 Mrs. Kobayashi and nine other individuals from her company were sent to practice with Tohei Sensei. After about two years she was the only one left from Kanko Kogyo that continued to practice.

 With the completion of his office in Tokyo and the summer months approaching, Tohei Sensei made plans to continue his yearly seminars in Hawaii.  The students, Mrs. Kobayashi included, formed a support group and wanted to send with him a gift of some type.  In order to indicate whom the gift was from, they came up with the name Ki no Kenkyukai or the Ki Society.

Taking Class with Tohei Sensei

During her practice with Tohei Sensei, he concentrated on teaching Ki Development since he had made an agreement with the Aikikai not to teach any Aikido waza (techniques).  Therefore, they learned such Principles like the correct way to extend Ki, the correct way to lead the other person's Ki as well as the correct way to use Ki.  While his Aikido Yudansha deshi (students) automatically received the Koshi (lecturer) certificate, Mrs. Kobayashi, along with the others, were required to take an examination. She received the Assistant Koshi certificate from Tohei Sensei.

Meeting Sensei and the Decision to go to America

The Ki Society (Ki-No-Kenkyu Kai) formalized a system of rank, namely, Koshi and Assistant Koshi. Kobayashi Sensei had earned the rank as Koshi (Lecturer) under Tohei Sensei, while during that same period; Mrs. Kobayashi had become Assistant Koshi in Japan. With this new ranking system, the importance of Ki-Development became more widely accepted within Japan as well as abroad. As the need to define the relationship between Ki-Development and Aikido techniques became paramount, Shinshin Toitsu Aikido and the School of Ki-Atsu were both established and continued to grow. Mrs. Kobayashi continued her training during this period

One day, invited by her boss, Mr. Takashima, she attended a New Year’s Party where she met Kobayashi Sensei for the first time. Sensei had been visiting Japan to attend Aikido training. Mr. Takashima had previously attended Tohei Sensei’s seminar in Hawaii and had already met Kobayashi Sensei and knew of his personal character.

As for Mrs. Kobayashi, she had been quite engrossed in meeting the challenges of working in a distinguished employment place and practicing the principles of Aikido and Ki-Development. Although she was already past 30 years of age, she was not only still single but had no time to make any boyfriends. Mr. and Mrs. Takashima valued her position in the company, but they also felt they did not want to bind her forever. They had sincerely been on the lookout for a suitable marriage partner for her. They saw Kobayashi Sensei as a potential partner and therefore arranged a formal meeting with Sensei at a restaurant in the Prince Hotel, joined by Tohei Sensei and themselves, Mr. and Mrs. Takashima.

At that time, the notion of living abroad was not exactly an attractive choice for many Japanese people. She needed some time to contemplate the decision implied by the proposition to join Sensei as a life partner. Finally, encouraged by her mother’s words: “There will come a time soon, when we must begin to look out into the world…”, she was able to make the decision. The day of her departure from Japan, feeling this may be the “farewell of a lifetime”, her mother stayed late into the night (10 pm) until the plane took flight. The way her mother lived her life had a major influence in Mrs. Kobayashi’s life. (Mrs. Kobayashi’s mother left this world at the age of 94 in June of 2001.) It was September of 1973 when she set off to America, ending her memorable and well-respected 12 1/2 year career in two companies.

Mrs. Kobayashi’s Aikido Training continues in America

Since there have recently been several voices of concern and uncertainty around Mrs. Kobayashi’s ability to be “instructing” as a white belt (without any rank), perhaps it will be useful to further describe and clarify the history of her training and qualifications.

For Mrs. Kobayashi, immigration to America involved a significant change in living environment. However, wherever she went, she received a warm welcome by many students and by the people she met. At the time of the marriage, she made a commitment to herself: “I will devote myself to this Path.” This is how she began her new phase of training under Kobayashi Sensei. This may explain why she essentially did not even get the chance to fall into the all too common, so – called “culture shock.”

During the first phase of her training, she accompanied Sensei wherever he went, mostly to his Dai-ichi Dojo (in “Crenshaw” area of Los Angeles) and the Torrance Aikido Club, practicing on the mat whenever possible. There are probably very few who knew of the episodes of Steven Segal in blue belt, like herself, coming to practice during this period at the dojos where Sensei was teaching.

During her children’s early childhood, she observed classes off the mat.  As soon as they were old enough (3 and 5 year olds), her whole family joined on the mat to practice together. There were occasionally days when the only students at the dojo were members of the Kobayashi family.

The dojo moved to the Silver Lake area (the Hyperion Dojo) in 1981 and that was a significant year that also marked the formal founding of “Seidokan Aikido”. During the second phase of her training, mainly at the Hyperion Dojo and Nishi Aikido Club, she fondly remembers not only the experience of training with her children but also assisting Sensei on the mat during practice. In the meantime, the Dojo continued to expand. In order to cover the rent of the Dojo space, she was pressed to seek work outside the home to supplement income. Luckily, after only a brief four-month training period, she found a store manager position. She stayed on at this workplace for over ten years, juggling Aikido classes, work, and maintaining the household. Nevertheless, she never missed her practice and she considers this time to have been the busiest in her life. During this period, Sensei asked her many times: “You are now as good as a Sandan rank; so why don’t you at least consider taking a test for Shodan?”

However, over all the years of Sensei's continued attempts, she humbly declined this request.  She insisted she was content and intent on maintaining her white belt (no-rank) position for the rest of her life. She nevertheless feels extremely proud of the extensive Ki-Development training and ranking she earned in Japan. She is also both grateful and proud to have been able to learn further the deeper fundamentals of Aikido techniques and principles, including Jo-gi and Ken-gi arts here in the United States under Sensei's instruction.

These were the circumstances, the extraordinary ways in which Mrs. Kobayashi was trained in Aikido and Ki-Development… and taught to observe and to learn. She has continued to observe numerous students up to this day. Only recently, since the 7th Year Memorial in 2001, having had the time to process her matters of the heart, has she been able to step back onto the mat, upon some occasions. 

Listening to Sensei’s Talks for 22 years and 9 months

I fondly remember the faces of students I practiced together with on the mat. There were those who moved to Los Angeles, specifically seeking Sensei’s teachings; and there were those who relocated and moved on to open their own dojo. I will never forget each and every one of the students who came to meet and study with Sensei.

Although I have trained in Aikido extensively, perhaps the reasons why I have declined to test or to carry any rank may be attributed to my upbringing, from a family that upheld the ancient Japanese traditions of strict discipline and customs.

I chose to consider the traditional Japanese way of thinking when it comes to the appropriate place or position for women in society or in a marriage. Even though we were husband and wife, in terms of Aikido, Sensei and I were always ‘teacher’ and ‘student’. I believed my “joy and mission” to be to always maintain one step behind Sensei and to commit to being his good conversation partner.

Sensei took on the challenge to train and foster instructors in America and decided he would not be able to accomplish this goal if he only taught part time. He abandoned his previous career as electrical engineer and chose Aikido as his professional path. It was at this time, as he started off in a new direction with a "blank slate", that he chose me as his life partner. From that point on, he fully devoted his life to researching and developing the path and spreading the Aikido movement.

Whenever he came up with a new idea or an insight, no matter how late into the night, he would wake me from my sleep and start up a discussion about exams or the efficiency of techniques. He never postponed his research to the following day. Although we had limited time to spend in conversation together; whether it was during meal times or in the car on the way to and from the dojo, we exchanged what went on in each other’s day. We listened to each other, and shared each other’s thoughts for all the years we were together. Of course Sensei talked much about Aikido, but I was also never tired of listening to the episodes of Sensei’s early childhood upbringing in Japan. It was especially intriguing to listen to his stories describing “the Battle of Kounji” for example, in the days when he lived in Wakayama prefecture. I would be able to vividly imagine the scenes as if I were watching a movie. Sensei was extremely knowledgeable about Japanese history, so much so that it was almost embarrassing for me who grew up to adulthood in Japan.

When he returned from his trips to visit various other Seidokan dojo, he would tirelessly share his experience about his trips for at least a week at a time. Over the years, I have always been there to listen to the stories he wanted to tell. As for myself, there are indeed many member dojo that I have not yet been able to visit. However, hearing about the dojo so extensively over the years from Sensei perhaps could explain how I am currently able to assist in most branch dojo matters as if they are an extended family?

For our future, Sensei and I had been talking about certain plans: after handing down all responsibilities around Aikido instruction to the younger generation, we had an idea to travel and witness together, to research the history of Aikido and also to seek the roots of Sensei’s childhood in Japan. We also had plans to document these findings and we had even begun our initial preparation for these projects. So suddenly however, on June 17th, 1995, I was no longer able to hear his voice, nor sit with him to hear his stories anymore…it happened when my daughter Michiyo had just completed 2 years in college, and just 3 days prior to my son Hiromichi’s high school graduation.

 When I first met Sensei in Japan, these were his words: “I can’t promise to bring you happiness, but I will certainly try my best”, and “… someone who can listen to my stories.” Looking back, these words must have been his expression of a marriage proposal to me.  I devoted myself to being in the role of his “listener” for 22 years and 9 months. Ironically, I never imagined that today, I would be the one, in reverse, to ask Sensei to be a devoted “listener” of my stories.

To Sensei, who now lives on only in my heart…

The Decision

For the Seidokan Aikido Family, the loss of Sensei was understandably, an enormous shock. The truth is, in empathizing with many of the students and instructors’ feelings, I had very little time to think about the implications this loss would have on our future, never mind time to shed any tears. If I had been able to cry out loud, to let the tears flow, what a relief it might have been. This is how I came to realize for the first time, the healing benefits of tears.

Eventually, we had to move out of the Hyperion Dojo and we became preoccupied with searching for a new location. For 5 months, we drove around town looking at buildings that did not quite meet our requirements; for one reason or another. Finally in May of 1998, we found our present day Dojo location on Colorado Blvd. I believe it was the “strong Ki” and the support from numerous internal and external Seidokan Dojo members that made it possible to carry on Sensei’s path.

With my language handicap and having always followed one step behind Sensei, there are many things I am unable to fulfill as well as Sensei had. I was fully aware that it would not be easy for me to take on the leadership role; I must admit there were times when I had my own doubts. However, had I been ignorant of Aikido and was simply devoted to being a housewife, my decision would have been much easier to make. As described previously, for most of our lives together, the many years we trained together, the two of us have been committed to researching the path of Aikido. Reflecting on the value of the months and years we had deeply engaged in our dialogues, I am reminded of Sensei’s motto “Hyakuman Isshin” (“One Million One Mind”). It is as if I can see his gentle smile as I hear his voice reciting this motto. Although my strength shall never amount to more than a tiny fraction of Sensei’s in comparison, with the support from numerous students and capable instructors Sensei had fostered over the years, I have come to make the decision to dedicate all that I can in my power to the task of overseeing the continued growth of this “Formidable Tree of Seidokan”, the Tree which has been given the opportunity to thrive to become so strong.

In closing, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the following members who were involved in planning, formatting and editing of this series of articles:  Mr. Joe Crotty Jr., Mr. Larry Wadahara and Dr. Mark Crapo; Mariko Kage who took on the task of translation and the tremendous support of my daughter, Michiyo Kobayashi.  Arigato gozaimashita.  

–Minoru Kobayashi