A Neapolitan in Switzerland – Interview with Masatomi Ikeda

Masatomi Ikeda is in love with the city of Naples and its people. Now [1984] one of the most popular European masters, 6th Dan and Technical Director of Switzerland Aikikai, this great teacher took the first steps of his high-level Aikido career in the shadow of Vesuvius



Masatomi Ikeda is one of the most loyal admirers of the city of Naples and its people. Having become today one of the most popular European masters, 6th Dan and Technical Director of Switzerland Aikikai, this great teacher took the first steps of his high-level Aikido career in the shadow of Vesuvius. Invited by Hiroshi Tada sensei, he arrived in Italy on October 31, 1965, then 3rd Dan, with the task of teaching in the region of Campania. His work lasted 5 years, after which he returned to his homeland. Those were the crucial years for the birth and development of that movement that today presents Campania as one of the most flourishing and active Aikido regions of the Italian peninsula. Masatomi Ikeda sensei was its initiator and inspirator and to date is still considered its spiritual father.

It is on the occasion of his by now traditional Neapolitan yearly seminar that we have for the first time [December 1984, NdR] the pleasure of hosting the words of Ikeda sensei on the columns of “Aikido”.

Sensei, could you trace for us a brief curriculum vitae of your activities in martial arts and related culture?

Budo has always fascinated me, ever since I was a boy. It was for this inclination of mine that I approached the practice of Judo, and at the same time I committed myself to become a good sumotori. The turning point for me, however, came shortly before I started university, when I was lucky enough to see O’Sensei at work: it was an enlightenment for me and my love for Aikido was born then. I decided that at university I would study to graduate in Physical Education, in order to have more time to devote to the learning of real Budo.

Hosokawa Hideki and Ikeda Masatomi

You actually managed to carry out your projects, since after graduating from Waseda University you also became an Aikido instructor. Teaching Aikido has helped you in your profession?

As soon as I graduated I moved to Italy, where I taught Aikido for five years: at a certain point, however, I realized that I still needed a lot to learn: therefore I decided to return to Japan. It was only then that I started teaching Physical Education. My students and the other professors held me in particular consideration precisely because they knew that I was an Aikido instructor and this greatly facilitated my teaching practice.

Your long love affair with Sumo earned you the 5th Dan. You are also a black belt in Judo. Those who have attended your seminars in Zurich explain that you, as an instructor, are very fond of proposing parallels with combative disciplines other than Aikido. On the other hand, it is often said that the practice of Aikido is incompatible with that of other martial arts. In short, should aikidokas strive to broaden their experiences? Are there any disciplines that can be useful or even detrimental to the correct practice of Aikido?

What I am about to say is based solely on my personal experience. When I switched from Judo and Sumo to Aikido, I was able to understand the fact that the elements of those disciplines existed within the Way. Training I discovered the existence of points of contact and I tried to highlight them in the eyes of my students. At this point, however, I would like to pose to readers the dilemma whether it is preferable to practice a large number of martial arts or to devote oneself to Aikido, which summarizes them all. My opinion is that we should focus exclusively on Aikido, rediscovering all other disciplines within it. I see that many approach other martial arts, even contiguous to Aikido, such as Iaido, for example. I would like to remind them that studying too many things makes it difficult to progress both in any of them. Studying Aikido already seems to me very demanding in itself.
However, it is fair for everyone to have their own experiences: in the end most will realize the uselessness of this wandering and will focus on Aikido. And the reason for all of this is easily explained: among all the martial arts around, I have not found any that goes above Aikido.

Simone Chierchini (right) interviews Ikeda Sensei with Paolo Calvetti helping out as a translator

Sensei, since 1977 you have been the technical director of Aikikai in Switzerland. How did it come to such an important recognition?

When I returned to Europe for the second time, I had not yet decided to reside permanently in Switzerland. I felt comfortable there and also had the opportunity to come and attend the seminars organised by my Italian friends in the summer. Meanwhile, the Aikikai of Switzerland requested a permanent Japanese teacher from the Hombu Dojo: summoned to Japan, this possibility was proposed to me, which I welcomed with enthusiasm.

When you left Japan for the first time, it was in Naples that you came in contact with the Western world for the first time. Naples is an atypical city, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world. When you moved to Switzerland, did you find it difficult to fit into an environment so different from the Neapolitan one?

I had to face the biggest acclimatization difficulties after my passage from Japan to Italy. This is easily understandable, since in the West habits are sometimes diametrically opposed to those of Japan. There was no problem instead in moving from Campania to Switzerland, especially since the heart of my people speaks the Neapolitan dialect, while our mind is organized with Swiss structures.

You hold courses in Italy on a yearly basis. Tada, Hosokawa and Fujimoto sensei do the same in Switzerland. Aikido students of both nations regularly exchange visits, attesting that there is something more than a simple reciprocal liking. What are the prospects of this Italian-Swiss Aikido collaboration?

The development of increasingly frequent contacts with the Italian Aikikai has been the goal of my efforts since I have been in Switzerland. For example, the Italian-Swiss Friendship Seminar, held some time ago in Sorrento, had this purpose. And in the near future we are going to further foster these good initiatives.

The journey that will bring back Ikeda Sensei to Switzerland is a long one and it is time for sensei to get back on the road. I salute him on behalf of the Italian Aikido students, as if to remind him of the good feelings that we all have for him. Ikeda Sensei happily reciprocates, while his memory returns to that other long journey, 20 years earlier, that changed his life.

Source: Intervista a Masatomi Ikeda, Aikido, Aikikai d’Italia, 1984

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©1984
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