“Kanshu Sunadomari’s mind-blowing performance at
the 1st Friendship Demonstration,” by Stanley Pranin

“He had a peculiar way of using his wrist and
forearm to break uke’s balance with impeccable timing.”

The process of selecting teachers to approach about participating in the 1st Aikido Friendship Demonstration scheduled for April 1985 was complex and delicate. I wanted to put together a stellar lineup of top-level instructors that would make the event an unforgettable experience for those attending, and those all over the world who would watch it later on video. Morihiro Saito, Shoji Nishio, and Yasuo Kobayashi were teachers that we had close relationships with and hoped would agree to participate, which thankfully they did. The idea of inviting Mitsugi Saotome to come in from the USA was a long shot, but one that Kobayashi Sensei — a close friend — agreed to help with. Yoshio Kuroiwa was a funny person in the sense that he tended to be a naysayer type, and actually discouraged us from trying to organize such a demonstration. Ironically, it was as a result of conversations with him and a couple of other people that the whole idea came about! But Kuroiwa Sensei’s true feelings emerged and even he agreed to demonstrate. But there is another story to tell…

Morihei Ueshiba with Fukiko Sunadomari c. 1962

Around about 1983, I had an opportunity to meet someone whom I knew to be extremely important in postwar aikido history. Her name was Fukiko Sunadomari and she served for many years as the “Fujin Bucho” (Head of the Women’s Section) of the Aikikai. She actually lived for a number of years inside the Aikikai Hombu Dojo among the uchideshi of the 1950s and early 1960s. She was quite a charming woman with a strong personality, and one not to mince words. Fukiko Sensei was one of the most knowledgeable people I had ever met about the personal life of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, the Ueshiba family, and the inner workings of the Hombu Dojo. She was a true fount of information and was very helpful to my research. Fukiko Sensei even helped us meet O-Sensei’s daughter on one occasion. In any event, her strong critical views of a number of key people at the headquarters eventually led to a complete break with the Aikikai.

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Fukiko Sensei came from a family of devout Omoto believers. Her father was a friend of Morihei dating back to the Ayabe period in the 1920s. The elder Sunadomari had three children, all of whom were lifetime followers of the Omoto religion. The eldest was Kanemoto Sunadomari, the man who wrote the first biography of Morihei Ueshiba that was published in 1969, shortly before the Founder’s death. The second child, Fukiko, was his half sister. And the third, the youngest of the siblings, was a man named Kanshu.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba with Kanshu Sunadomari in Kyushu, c. 1961

Kanshu Sunadomari (1923-2010) joined Morihei’s Kobukan Dojo in 1942 during the height of the war. He spent a brief period as an uchideshi before Morihei retired to Iwama. Kanshu spent another brief period of time at the Aikikai in the early 1950s and renewed his contact with Morihei. He left Tokyo and established a dojo in Kumamoto, Kyushu back in 1954, and had developed his technique and organization in relative isolation since that time. Through the introduction provided by his sister Fukiko, I was able to interview Kanshu Sunadomari in the summer of 1984. I was very favorably impressed with his personality, technique, and dojo organization. He called his art “Manseikan Aikido.”

Kanshu Sensei seemed like an excellent candidate for the 1st Friendship Demonstration and Fukiko was keen on the idea that we invite him. There were a couple of problems, one being that he had separated himself from the Aikikai shortly after Morihei’s passing in 1969. There was consequently a tension between him and his organization and the Aikikai. This made some of the other teachers somewhat nervous about Kanshu Sensei and how the Aikikai might react to his participation. It turned out that their fears were well founded. I have addressed that part of the story elsewhere.

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When Kanshu Sunadomari Sensei and his entourage of about 15 students who had come all the way from Kyushu took the stage at the Friendship Demonstration, no one knew what to expect. He began with a rather long introduction where he spoke for nearly 30 minutes. I was becoming quite nervous because this was obviously going to throw off our schedule. As I recall, we asked each sensei to prepare about a 20 minute lecture-demonstration, knowing that they probably run over. Then the Manseikan students performed a couple of martial art inspired dances replete with fans and music! Everyone was becoming antsy because the demonstration had still not started. Even the audience of 900 people was becoming restless not knowing what to expect next.

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It turns out we needn’t have worried because Sunadomari Sensei gave one of the most unusual and polished performances I had ever seen. His aikido was totally different from any other. Kanshu Sensei’s technique was dynamic and flowing with a great emphasis on the principle of kokyu. He had a peculiar way of using his wrist and forearm to break uke’s balance with impeccable timing. Kanshu was a small man, but it was obvious he had discovered some subtle ways of generating power that no one had seen before. He also showed bokken and jo kata that were completely original. Kanshu capped off his demonstration with several spectacular multiple-attack defenses that were superbly executed. When Sunadomari Sensei’s performance had concluded, he and his students received a resounding round of applause. I am very thankful that we captured his unforgettable performance along with those of the other teachers that day 27 years ago. It is even more gratifying to know that aikidoka today can witness for themselves what happened on that special spring day long ago.

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