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Minoru Inaba

by Judit Kawaguchi

Minoru Inaba, 63, is the director of the Meijijingu Shiseikan Dojo, a martial arts facility located in Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. He is a master of budo, an ancient Japanese fighting style that taught samurai to be versatile and supposedly invincible. Learning budo requires training in a myriad of martial arts, such as judo, jujitsu (judo’s ancient form), aikido, sumo, kendo, iaido (the art of drawing a sword), kenjutsu (fighting with a sword), yari (handling a spear), and Japanese-style swimming. On top of all that, Inaba is also an expert in Kashima Shinryu, a 500-year-old martial art that focuses on the use of swords and spears. Besides teaching students of over 20 nationalities, he is also focusing his energy on how to revive the Shinto religion.

Freedom begins once one stops blaming others. Complaining about people means one is dependent on them. It also shows one is not tough enough on oneself. But as one improves the self, the whining decreases.

A battle has no rules except two: follow your own clear-cut principles and never believe that the enemy plays straight.

A handwritten letter conveys more than just words. After university, I was working at my father’s company but my mind was always on budo. I was bad at business and really didn’t like being a company worker, but I gave it my best and missed sword practice for a week. My teacher, Kunii Zenya, sent me a letter. He was worried that I was upset with him because of his tough behavior. I realized how long a day of waiting was for him and went back to the do-jo- and decided to focus on martial arts. He was already ill and wanted to teach me as much as he could before his death.

Real battles don’t play out as well as they do in the movies. In the 1960s and ’70s there were a lot of riots in Japan. Russian and Chinese Communists were inciting Japanese university students and the unions to fight against the Japanese government. I was in the riot police just when the Communists were becoming more vocal and violent. Once we appeared on the scene, the rioters would run away as fast as they could. The cool fighting scenes that I have seen in movies were nothing but fiction compared to my experiences.

Win or lose, live or die, it doesn’t matter. What does is how you fight, and, more broadly, how you live.

Losing is always a sore subject. Japan lost the war in 1945 and it’s still bleeding from its wounds. We have not recovered from the aftereffects of the Occupation. Healing takes time because the wounds are picked again and again so the scabs can never fall off.

Believe that the end is always good. In Shinto, our creation story begins with great happiness and lovemaking and Amaterasu the sun goddess giving birth to many children. Shinto is all about positive feelings and I think this is why Japanese people are optimists and never give up. Even after the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we were immediately rebuilding and never blamed the United States ever. Life is just too fun to waste.

We lost the war, but at least we have the Emperor. Japanese culture originates with him. Our nation’s foundation is Shinto, with the Emperor as the highest priest who listens to the sun goddess and offers her festivals and ceremonies. He is the one person who knows the feelings and wishes of both the goddess and the people.

Babies are the most balanced and centered of human beings. They use their abdominal muscles to breathe and when they cry those belly muscles get stronger, so do they. They know that the power center of the body is the abdomen and they work it. Their shoulders are relaxed and their whole body is super flexible. That is the state we are trying to achieve with martial arts.

Time is life. Americans say time is money, but this is a foreign concept for me. I know my time is very limited here — at the most 120 years — and one third of that I will be asleep. Not to mention that I could die the next moment, so I want to spend such a precious commodity on something true and valuable. This is why I am never late: I take others’ time as seriously as my own.

Behind every worry there is the fear of death. Of course, death is scary, but even worse is being controlled by fear.

In the Japanese language words and emotions are perfectly matched. When foreigners speak Japanese, they are much kinder and gentler than when they use their mother tongue. Their facial expressions soften and they are unable to say yes or no clearly. Japanese food also contributes to this metamorphosis — after five days living here on miso soup and rice, the color of their faces is healthier and they look better.

Nobody wants to do mandatory things. I never tell students to come and practice — they should attend because they desire to.

A person changes depending on who they are with. The psychologist Carl Jung’s idea is similar: our masculine and feminine sides get stronger or weaker depending on others. When we meet new people, our hearts connect and we transform little by little. We change for others.

Some things never die: people continue living in objects long after their physical demise. My sword is about 600 years old and was passed down to me by my master, Kunii Zenya, who received it from his masters. Their spirits are alive in it, and they give the sword its immense value.

A clean heart purifies others because they can feel its beauty. Living is a continuous battle, and the winners are those whose purpose and motivation are pure. Unless you are true, you can’t teach anyone anything.

Practice becomes form. I usually train one hour a day, but the feeling of alertness lasts all day. When I walk in crowded Shibuya, I don’t bump into people and I can easily dodge them. It is my habit already.

Women are as strong as men, and probably even more powerful than us. Giving birth requires more energy than most men can ever conjure up. Softball is also a good example of female energy as the ball flies at an incredible speed.

One might look weak, but that is strength. Japanese men still look at women as the weaker gender, but lose out to them in fights. In martial arts, if a woman is against a Japanese man, she usually wins. One reason is that she is tougher and can concentrate longer than her opponent. Another is that for a Japanese guy it is shameful to fight a woman. We are taught to be kind to women.

Seeing another person’s suffering teaches one to be kinder. Our youngest son had a mitochondrial disease from age 3 and by age 6, he was bed-ridden. We were lucky to have had his company till age 20, much longer than what the doctors expected. He was the center of our family, and we and our two other sons were always circling around him. He endured a lot and we all learnt the most from him.