Seigo Yamaguchi

Seigo YamaguchiSeigo Yamaguchi, often dubbed “the Aikido genius”, was born on April 13, 1924 in the Fukuoka prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Since his early years, he has been an avid reader thanks also to his father, a school director, who constantly provided his son with books so he could improve his knowledge of history, phylosophy and literature. He studied in a traditional school founded by the Yanagawa and Han clans during the Edo period; he later graduated from the Hiroikegakuen university.

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Seigo Yamaguchi with Philippe Gouttard

During World War II he took part to the Pacific war in a Kamikaze squadroon of the Navy, those who were trained to hit enemy vessels on board of explosive submersibles. For the sake of modern Aikido, the war was over before Seigo was assigned a mission. After the war he returned to his hometown in Fukuoka to follow up his studies. In 1949 he obtained a qualification to work for the government. He decided to continue his studies in Europe, but before leaving he wanted to improve his knowlendge of his own traditional culture by studying macrobiotics with Sakurawaza Nyoichi, known in the west as George Oshawa. Thanks to this link, in 1950 he was introduced to Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido. The following year he became his uchi deshi (inside student). From 1958 to 1960 he was sent to teach Aikido to the military in Bhurma. Upon returning to Japan, he regularly held classes at Hombu Dojo (the world Aikido headquarters in Tokyo). His Monday class was famous for decades. His private dojo was in Ikenoue; it was known for its hard tatami. Later he moved to Shibuya, where the tatami was for Kendo training: wood. The Shibuya dojo became the center for his personal Aikido research and students were only accepted by invitation. Yamaguchi also held classes for Japanese baseball teams, for universities and private dojos (the Zoshukan in Tokyo, among the most prominent ones). His classes at Hombu Dojo were among the most followed. Even fellow Hombu Dojo teachers were attending, something that happens very rarely. 

Slightly less than 170 cm tall, weighing about 60 kg, he appeared as a giant on the mat and his techniques flowed effortlessly, visibly influenced by the Japanes sword tradition. Yamaguchi sensei studied Lao Tsu and Yin – Yang phylosophy. Although very strict during classes, he won’t allow toughness when training and insisted on freeing oneself from rigidity. He didn’t put too much emphasis on repetitions and he did not explain much of the technique. But he personally practiced a lot with every student. His movements were so rapid that even Hombu Dojo’s top instructors had problems with his throws.

thBetween 1977 and 1995 he was sent to hold seminars in Europe, mainly in France, Germany and UK. Mannheim University in Germany started a real Aikido course that regularly invited Yamaguchi sensei. Many great masters today are strongly influenced by Yamaguchi. Among them are Seishiro Endo, Yoshinobu Takeda, Masatoshi Yasuno, Christian Tissier, Philippe Gouttard and William Gleason. Seigo Yamaguchi’s son Tetsu is a 7th dan Aikido Shihan. It adds to his honorable figure not having founded his own Aikido school. He could have easily done it with his numerous followers, but he didn’t believe in fragmentation and also held the founder Morihei Ueshiba and Aikikai in great respect.

He was diagnosed an intestinal ulcer but he refused treatments. He was a stromg believer in the natural order of things. After having been active in Aikido for over 45 years, on January 24, 1996, Yamaguchi sensei passed away during sleep for internal bleeding. He had given a demonstration the evening before. More than 1000 people attended the funeral cerimony his family organized. After that, many big demonstrations were organized in memory of Yamaguchi sensei in Kamakura, Katsuta, as well as in Meiji and Nagoya universities.

Selected videos

From Aikido Journal: “A Seminar in Paris” (1987)
The clip starts wit ha young Philippe Gouttard (0:25, 0:56, 1:20, 1:55) attacking Yamaguchi sensei while a young Christian Tissier watches over.
Also appearing: Patrick Benezi (0:41, 1:14, 1:28), Frank Noel (0:30), Bernard Palmier (1:07), Pascal Norbelly (1:35)