The Meaning of Tekkojuku

Reflections by Yasumasa Itoh-Sensei, Chief Instructor of Aikido Tekkojuku

In order to reach the dojo office of my teacher, Kanai Sensei, I had to walk through a small workroom with a plate at the entrance, which said “Tekko-an”. I knew the word “an” meant “retreat” or “hutch.” On many occasions I asked Sensei the meaning of the word “tekko”, but every time he replied, “It means exactly what it looks like it means.” I looked up the word in many dictionaries, but I could not find its meaning. It seems this was a compound word of Kanai Sensei’s own making. The only result of my research was in the Directory of Aikido Masters, where “tekko” was introduced in a short essay by Kanai-Sensei as a word that had special significance for him. In the end, the meaning of the word “tekko” continued to elude me throughout the 25 years since I had first seen the word. Now that Sensei has passed away and is no longer with us, the search for the meaning of the word “tekko” still remains an assignment waiting to be completed.

One way to pursue the meaning of the word, although this may be overly literal, is to interpret “tekko” as “weathered iron” or “tempered iron.” Iron of a low quality easily gathers rust, and it eventually decays and disappears. But if a sword is made of high-quality, well-forged iron (which Sensei loved all his life since he regarded a sword as the symbol of ‘pursuing truth’), the sword will remain beautiful for hundreds of years without becoming rusty as long as it continues to be well taken care of.

Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu (then Waka Sensei), Kanai Sensei, and Itoh Sensei at Summer Camp in 1986, Roger Williams College, RI

Iron exists not only in various qualities, but also in various forms. Iron can be extracted from ores, which are found in mines, but it has no value until it is gathered and worked. Also, iron that has been worked can be turned into different shapes as it continues to be worked. In the process of working on iron, filings are produced, which can also transform into something new by being gathered and worked… Pursuing the meaning of the word “tekko” brings a cascade of ideas and images, and makes me realize again the depth of the nuances of the word. The search for Kanai Sensei’s understanding of the word “tekko” is now a lifelong assignment left to his pupils.

I also remember Sensei’s sharing a story about wind during his later years. The story illuminated Sensei’s perspective on the parallels between the circular drift of leaves blown by the wind and the drift of people who have lost their sense of belonging due to various tensions among fellow pupils who once shared the same Aikido journey. Sensei dreamed of reaching out to them to enable us all to take the Aikido journey together again.

I wonder if this is only my perspective, but I see a common provenance in the words “iron” and “wind” which are both found in Nature. One of the reasons why I chose to name our dojo “Tekko-juku” is because I was hoping to continue searching for the essence of the word “tekko”.

I would like to encourage each student to explore the meaning of “Tekkojuku” upon entering our dojo, as it is now the assignment left to all of us. Before each class, it is important to try to detach from your clinging thoughts in order to provide yourself with an environment where your mind and body can be flexible during the class. By creating harmony with other students through the actual Aikido practice, you can promote harmony between your own mind and body. I am hoping that you enjoy your own journey through the process of self-discovery, which can bring you renewed inspiration.

Harmony within each student, harmony through practicing with other students, and harmony among all the pupils – this is the dojo environment Tekkojuku is aiming to promote.