The Day Minoru Hirai Cut Me Down to Size
by Stanley Pranin
“The whole implausibility of the scenario, and the realization of who
this great man was, made for a totally exhilarating experience…”
This traditional system was influenced by classical Japanese martial arts such as Togun-Ryu, Takenouchi-Ryu, Nito-Ryu, Saburi-Ryu and Kito-Ryu.
Minoru Hirai executes atemi to Stanley Pranin in 1994 demonstration
Back in 1994, I had a breakthrough in my aikido research. An opportunity to meet a reclusive martial arts genius named Minoru Hirai presented itself after much failed effort.
Who was Minoru Hirai? He was the General Affairs Director of Morihei Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo during World War II and later founded Korindo Aikido. Hirai was the man who represented the Kobukan within the framework of the Butokukai during this time frame. What’s so important about this? Well, it was due to the actions of a Butotkukai committee of which Hirai was a member that aikido was given its name in 1942. The edited transcript of this historic interview was published in Aikido Journal #100 and is a fascinating read.
This was truly an exciting development because we had contacted Hirai Sensei’s office on several occasions, but all of our efforts to meet him were rebuffed. I had spoken to quite a few martial arts journalists and researchers who had tried to contact Hirai for an interview, but none of them had succeeded either to my knowledge. Our opportunity presented due to the introduction of an American martial artist named John Goss who had practiced at the Hirai Dojo in Tokyo on several occasions.
We met Minoru Hirai Sensei at his Shizuoka home in 1994. His son and another senior student were present. As Hirai Sensei was 91 years old at that time and hard of hearing, his son had to repeat our questions in a loud voice for Sensei to understand. He seemed to be very pleased to reminisce about his interaction with Morihei Ueshiba and his own martial arts career and theories. At this stage of his life, most of his activities were directed by his son who headed the Korindo organization.
During the interview, Hirai Sensei motioned for me to come and sit by him, and he proceeded to demonstrate some of the key principles of his martial arts theory. He grabbed me, twisted my hand, and expertly executed a number of well-placed atemi to my face to illustrate. I have several photos of our interaction.
Shortly after this publication of this interview, we were able to meet Hirai Sensei a second time, and we were taken to his private dojo, also in Shizuoka. This was an incredible experience for me! Hirai Sensei and his senior students prepared a private demonstration for me and my assistant, and we were both shooting photos as fast as we could!
Then something amazing happened! As I was looking through my camera lens trying to capture a shot, I could see him motioning to me to come toward him through the view finder. I was so surprised, and confused at the same time, because I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do.
Well, he wanted me to attack him! I’m six feet tall, and Hirai Sensei by that time was about four feet, ten inches in height. What a contrast! So I quickly set down my camera, stretched my longs legs and lumbered towards him. I couldn’t launch any kind of attack at all. He was all over me! His fist in my face, his hand controlling my shoulder… I was falling all over the dojo, and Hirai Sensei would throw me instantly as soon as I got up!
I don’t know how many times this happened, but it seemed like a long time. The whole implausibility of the scenario, and the realization of who this great man was, made for a totally exhilarating experience which I’ll never forget.