Remembering Doshu Kenjiro Yoshigasaki Sensei

Our teacher, Doshu, Kenjiro Yoshigasaki Sensei, passed away on 12 February 2021 with pancreatic cancer. His obituary is elsewhere but we thought it worthwhile to give those who did not meet him some idea of this remarkable man.

Yoshigasaki Sensei taught Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (Aikido with mind and body unified) as developed by Koichi Tohei Sensei, for almost fifty years, more than forty of which was throughout Europe. When you consider that he held a seminar almost every weekend somewhere in Europe you begin to understand his commitment to Aikido.  He said he finally concluded that ‘the only way for Aikido to develop, is as an Art‘ which ‘creates a new reality which is not a copy of the real world.’  ‘The art of Aikido consists of developing beautiful and harmonious techniques which create a new reality from the situations of real dangers in the real world. This art will help you to live your daily life …. meaning that Aikido is the Art of living.’  He summarised this philosophical aspect of his teaching in his book ‘The Inner Voyage of a Stranger’ and followed this with ‘All of Aikido’ which is a complete treatise on all aspects of the Do or path of aikido training.

But what of the man?  There are so many lessons we have learned and so many stories that it is impossible to cover every aspect of his life.  We certainly found him to be a remarkable person who challenged every aspect of our thinking, not just our Aikido techniques.  He once said he saw young people in the world becoming very much the same.  Same clothes, similar music, similar tastes.  He thought he was probably of the last generation of traditionally brought up Japanese.  I once met him off the plane arriving for a seminar and asked  ‘Good trip?’  He was visibly shocked at the question and later explained that it was extremely impolite to ask a question that required a personal opinion and even after so long in Europe he was still taken aback.  So we had to learn to re-phrase questions like ‘Do you think we should…’ to something more like ‘Perhaps it would be better if…’

Similarly, it took Sensei some time to understand us.  He was intrigued, for example, when he saw that the closer the friendship between two people the worse the insults seemed to become.  Saying ‘that technique was absolutely rubbish’ and having the comment met with a smile was somewhat strange to him initially. 

Yoshigasaki Sensei had decided long ago how he wanted to live his life – using Aikido to promote peace and having no enemies.  His approach to this latter point was typical of his commitment to his philosophy of life because it meant, he argued that he could have no friends.  He quoted the saying ‘my friends enemy is my enemy’  Therefore no friends.  This is not to say that he was aloof in any way.  He always showed great respect to all his students, of whatever level, and clearly liked the company of many, usually if they had something interesting to say or had a good argument.  He was acutely interested in almost every aspect of life.  He often challenged us with questions and discussions but had no time for idle gossip.  If the conversation was not of interest he would sit quietly or often shut his eyes and doze.  Two of us did once secretly set ourselves the challenge of keeping the conversation going throughout a dinner.  We almost succeeded but had to work very hard to do so. 

At a dinner after a training course once, he was asked if he would like wine to which he said yes.  When it arrived and he took the first sip he put it down with his arms folded on the table and said sadly ‘the British have no idea about wine!’  We did however persuade him to appreciate Guinness and Single Malt Whisky.

He always took and interest in his students and their welfare.  One of his senior students recalls Sensei enthusiastically explaining the benefits of fasting and encouraging him to try it, all the while tucking heartily into a barbecue.

The welfare of those around him were always of concern to him.  After a seminar the wife of one of his students decided to join the others climbing a nearby hill after the training session.  He was not sure about this and asked three times if she was sure she would be able to do it.

He could not teach everything he wished on the weekend training seminars so built a dojo in Belgium, with the help of some of his suitably skilled students, with bunkhouse accommodation a kitchen and toilets etc.  He could then invite more advanced students for more intensive Aikido training or practice such as misogi, meditation techniques or breathing that there was not the time for on normal weekend seminars.  Students paid neither for the accommodation or the teaching but brought what they needed in the way of food etc. and kept the dojo clean.  In this way Sensei could show, in a very practical way, a different approach to living.

Similarly he arranged several visits to Japan, the most unusual of which was a Cultural Visit in 2005  when a group of students from all over Europe were able to experience and practice calligraphy, pottery, flower arranging, Japanese traditional song and dance, paper making and the tea ceremony among many other adventures.  The visit was arranged by Sensei’s sister, Mihoko Watanabe Sensei, a master of calligraphy and the tea ceremony.  The extent to which the Japanese hosts went was illustrated by a small restaurant visited for a special seasonal lunch.  The flag for each country represented by the students was flown outside the restaurant.  It took them two weeks to get the flags of Croatia and Slovenia!  Most of those who visited Japan at that time are still friends today.

He was once asked if it was true that attentive Japanese hosts would offer their guest milk and sugar with their coffee, watch what they did and the next time do the same for them.  Sensei said yes this was true but it drove him crazy.  If the coffee was really good then he preferred it black, not so good then perhaps a little sugar,  if it as really not good then milk and sugar.  We teased him saying that whenever he was served coffee we would know what he thought of it.  The next time he was offered it he just smiled, and drank it black.

We were so very fortunate to have Doshu, Kenjiro Yoshigasake Sensei as our teacher for all these years and in all honesty don’t really know what the future will bring. 

His final advice to us perhaps says all that needs to be said:-

Through my fifty years of teaching aikido, I found the most important thing is love and respect.  If you are following me, you follow the way of love and respect.