Saturday, December 19, 2009

Interviewing Sensei

Well, some folks have mentioned that it's a shame that Sensei Yaguchi's portion of the book is actually not that long...about a hundred pages. The fact is, it's an interesting situation to try interviewing someone who is as humble as Sensei. Couple that with the fact that he really doesn't like talking about himself, plus the issue that I'm a novice interviewer, and you have a rather short book.

What I like, though, is that so many other people were willing to contribute their stories, impressions, and commitment to Sensei Yaguchi. Even people who simply can't understand his English no matter how hard they try. It's sometimes kind of humorous watching Sensei talking with a small group around him, and you can see them straining to understand. The fact is, if you're not around him all the time, you will probably have a hard time. But he understands this, and he is so appreciative of how hard people try to listen to him and communicate with him. He has a gentle, wise soul. Sometimes he is as open and excited about the things around him as a child, and sometimes he seems as wise and ancient as the hills.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy 77th Birthday to Sensei Yutaka Yaguchi!

Happy Birthday to Sensei Yaguchi!

Buy Sensei's Memoir at!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Happy 77th birthday to Sensei Yaguchi! The 77th birthday is highly significant in the Japanese culture. This is the "joyous year," or ga no iwai. The Japanese characters mean "Joy" and "Long life."

Interestingly, Sensei Yaguchi has seen many of his peers and seniors pass on, and yet he maintains an incredible joy and child-like pleasure in all of life. He told me that he believes that a food that most people consider unhealthy (he told me this when I chided him for dumping several spoonfuls of sugar into his coffee), can actually be healthy. He said that the pleasure he gets from the food when he fully enjoys it causes a beneficial response, and is actually good for him. I have to paraphrase because there is no way to replicate his way of speaking, but that's what he meant.

I wasn't able to attend the ISKF National Tournament on the east coast this year, but at the Sunday night banquet (this evening) they presented a slide show with many, many photos from the past. Some of the photos on the presentation are also in the book.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Our first tournaments

Sensei Yaguchi was an instructor with the JKA during the early days of tournaments. He attended the first All-Japan Tournament, held in 1957, the year Sensei Funakoshi died. An exerpt from the book:

"Because this was the first tournament that many of us had ever attended, it provided a number of memorable moments. Nobody un derstood the rules completely. Some rules were made up on the spot. I made history by being the first person ever to foul out of an event -- we call it hansoku. I ws sparring against a Mr. Shimi, who kicked me in the face. I was hot-headed and I lost my temper and grabbed and hit him. Immediately, the referee, Mr. Kakagi, yelled "Yame!" (Stop!) and I was warned against illegal behavior. No grabbing. However, I was still angry at being kicked in the face, and when the referee restarted the match, I grabbed Mr. Shimi again and drove my knee into his body. This time he went down. "Yame!" again stopped the match.

Mr. Kakagi announced to the crowd that this was hansoku (foul), and I was now expelled from the tournament. About 10,000 people watched this "memorable moment."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wow - Photos

Sensei Yaguchi gave me an old album with photos in it from the 50s and 60s. The album was the "sticky" page type, with the clear plastic cover over each page. After all those years, all of the photos were completely melded to the pages and could not be removed. I wanted to scan in as many as I could, so I just scanned the whole pages of photos and used Paint Shop Pro to cut each photo out, one by one.
Here are some of the photos from that album. Bear in mind that these have never been seen previous to Sensei Yaguchi's book being published. There are more at

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The process

Despite the fact that I understand Sensei's English about as well as anyone, it's still a very limited conversation and there have been times when we both really struggled; him to communicate, and me to understand. In order to interview Sensei Yaguchi for the book, we decided that we would hold the interview in Japanese, using translators. A number of people gave their time and expertise so that he could express himself fully in his native language.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

(on instructing at the JKA headquarters in Tokyo) "I was excited and inspired. I trained and taught every day. We instructors were all paid about the same amount, and our 3,000 yen per month didn't go very far. As a matter of fact, my rent was also about 3,000 yen per month. I was constantly borrowing money from the JKA against the next month's paycheck. Somtimes on payday I would just get a little piece of red paper with a note explaining that I had borrowed so much my entire paycheck was gone."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Understanding Sensei Yaguchi

Interestingly, I'm one of the best translators of Sensei Yaguchi's English I know. Cathy Cline is the only person I know personally who can understand him better. I do know that he's never really gotten the hang of English. What he speaks is Japanese, but using English words with Japanese "glue" words. The sentence structure is pure Japanese, which happens to be the reverse of English sentence structure. For example, the literal translation of "Where is the train?" would be, "Train, where is it?" So Japanese sentences often begin with the subject noun. He will use English for the nouns and verbs, and Japanese for "the," "of," "and," and other glue words.

I used to understand about 60 % of what he said and couldn't get beyond that. Then I took a job where I had to commute from Denver to Boulder every day, about 44 miles each way. I did everything I could to ease the boredom, including listening to books on tape. I bought a tape set called "Learn Japanese in Your Car," and played that for probably 2 or 3 months. I can't say I learned a ton of Japanese, but I did get much better at understanding Sensei Yaguchi's "English." Now I'm probably up to 85-90% understanding. And this is after over 20 years of training with him.