Reverend Kensho Furuya 1948 - 2007
Furuya Sensei once wrote:
To become a warrior or true martial artist we need a strong sense of commitment, loyalty, patience, duty, honor, respect and the willingness to go through anything for our training. For everything we do, there is no reward or incentive. Everything we do must be on our own power and will. We must become totally independent, but as strong individuals who work well with others yet able to maintain a strong sense of honor and self so that we will do no wrong despite the temptation. A warrior never makes excuses for anything, their honor comes before personal profit and wealth and comfort. A samurai lives a life of poverty without any recognition. This is what makes a warrior so special and wonderful.
The best way to describe Reverend Kensho Furuya was that he was an old-world samurai who was born too late. Furuya Sensei’s old samurai sentiment was, at times, too impractical and unrealistic for this modern day and age. He believed that a samurai life should be one of loyalty, duty, filial piety, economy and hard work, while living a simple and stoic lifestyle. The passage above typifies Furuya Sensei as a person, a teacher, a student and as a practitioner of the Way.
Reverend Kensho Furuya was born Daniel Masami Furuya on April 25, 1948, in Pasadena, California. He was the only son of Tetsuo “Ted” and Kimiye Furuya who were both Nisei or second-generation Japanese-Americans and interned at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming and Ted Furuya was a member of E Company of the 442nd Regimental Combat team in WWII. Furuya Sensei was a Sansei or third generation Japanese-American whose grandparents immigrated to the United States in 1919. Interestingly, Furuya Sensei’s grandfather’s name was Morihei with the same kanji characters as O’Sensei’s.
Furuya Sensei’s maternal family lineage can be traced as far back as the early 12th century to a line of hereditary priests in the Suwa Province which is the present-day Nagano Prefecture. Most notably, his family were retainers and served as samurai under the famous Japanese feudal Daimyo, Takeda Shingen in the 16th century. In the mid 1500’s, Takeda Shingen moved to the Koshu Province or present-day Yamanashi Prefecture and brought all of his warriors. Although his family were samurai warriors at the time, Furuya Sensei’s ancestors were assigned to establish a branch of Asama Jinja Shrine in this new area. Since this time, over 450 years later, Furuya Sensei’s family members are still the hereditary custodians of this shrine which still exists and flourishes today.
During the early Warring States Period, Furuya Sensei’s paternal family ancestors were high ranking samurai of the Ikoma Clan in the Bitchu Province occupying the Takamatsu Castle which is in present-day Okayama Prefecture. Takamatsu Castle was originally built in the 16th century by the Daimyo, Ikoma Chikamasa who was a retainer of Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Furuya Sensei’s grandfather was proud of his samurai lineage and tradition and he tried to teach the ways of the samurai warrior to him when he was a child. Furuya Sensei said that he always felt a sense of responsibility to maintain his family’s samurai ancestry as the only grandchild in their immediate family.
During Furuya Sensei’s childhood it was especially difficult in a time when Japanese-Americans were returning from the hysteria of Japanese-American internment camps and trying desperately to assimilate in wake of World War II. The sentiment of the time was to be as “American” as possible in order to fit in. Furuya Sensei’s father was a sergeant during World War II and was a member of the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat unit who fought in Italy with E Company.
Much to the chagrin of his parents, Furuya Sensei whole-heartedly embraced his grandfather’s teachings of being Japanese and being a samurai. At the age of eight, Furuya Sensei began his martial arts training and received his shodan or first degree black belt in Kendo at the age of ten. By the age of 14, Furuya Sensei earned his second rank of shodan in Aikido as well.
Furuya Sensei was an astute learner and hard worker. He graduated with honors from John Muir High School in Pasadena and went on to the University of Southern California (USC) to study Asian Studies and Eastern Religions with a scholarship from the National Defense Education Act. A year or so later, Furuya Sensei won a prestigious grant from the Carnegie project and with a joint venture with USC, he spent two years studying at Harvard University at the Yeching Institute. Being an industrious person with a love of learning, Furuya Sensei earned more credits than necessary to graduate while at Harvard and upon his early return from his sabbatical at Hombu Dojo, the Dean of the department forced him to graduate. In 1970, Furuya Sensei received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Eastern Philosophy.
Furuya Sensei studied Kendo and Iaido under many great teachers when he was a teenager. He used to vividly recall how masterfully the famous Kendoist Torao “Tiger” Mori moved and that he once saw Tiger Mori attack with tsuki so hard that his opponent was lifted up horizontally. Furuya Sensei also studied swordsmanship, Kendo and Iaido under Takiguchi Yoshinobu Sensei who was a well-known Kendo teacher and an expert in Itto Ryu swordsmanship and Iaido. He said, “No matter how hard or fast we attacked Takiguchi Sensei, he moved slower but still ended up landing the decisive blow.” Furuya Sensei also studied Iaido for a short time under a very strict teacher named Ebihara who could do a leaping batto across ten feet and split a nail head in half. Furuya Sensei’s most notable Iaido teacher was Takeshi Mitsuzuka Sensei who was a student of the founder of Iaido, Nakayama Hakudo. Furuya Sensei said that Mitsuzuka Sensei’s Iaido had this air of lethalness despite being totally calm.
Furuya Sensei’s first Aikido teachers comprise a virtual who’s who in early years of Aikido in the United States. In the 1960s, most Aikido teachers were only first or second degree black belt and most only taught part-time. Furuya Sensei was too young to open a dojo himself, but was qualified enough to be voted in as a member of the technical committee for the Southern California Aikido Federation. So, as a student, Furuya Sensei had to travel all over Southern California to many different dojos in order to train every day. In his early years, Furuya Sensei mainly studied with Tadaharu Wakabayashi and Isao Takahashi, but he felt that his first real teacher was Mitsunari Kanai Sensei. During Furuya Sensei’s studies at Harvard University in 1968, he studied under Kanai Sensei at New England Aikikai. They formed an instant bond because Kanai Sensei’s mother was a Furuya from Yamanashi and they both shared an affinity for collecting swords. Many teachers would come through the Los Angeles area and Furuya Sensei often would take their classes. Before the schism between Koichi Tohei and Hombu Dojo, Furuya Sensei would often act as his otomo or assistant when he came to Los Angeles in the early 1960s. In the early 1980s, Furuya Sensei also spent time assisting some of the deshi’s that were dispatched by Hombu Dojo to teach Aikido in the United States. From a distance, Furuya Sensei worked with Yamada Sensei by editing and publishing the United States Aikido Federation’s newsletter and by acting as Chiba Sensei’s assistant who had newly come to San Diego in 1981 despite living over 100 miles away.
In 1969, Furuya Sensei received permission to become an uchi-deshi or “live in student” at the Aikido World Headquarters in Japan. Just before he arrived in Japan, O’Sensei passed away and Furuya Sensei would go on to deshi under Nidai Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba. While at Hombu Dojo, Furuya Sensei was a deshi alongside future notable teachers such as Ichihashi Sensei, Fujita Sensei, Suganuma Sensei, Sasaki Sensei, and Saotome Sensei. In addition to studying with Nidai Doshu, Furuya Sensei had the opportunity to study with Osawa Sensei, Arikawa Sensei, Yamaguchi Sensei, and Saito Sensei. He used to reminisce about how great it was to be around all these “masters” and how commonplace it was to take their classes every day. A year into Furuya Sensei’s training, his grandfather fell ill and he was summoned back home. Furuya Sensei credits Nidai Doshu as his Aikido teacher and Kisaburo Osawa Sensei as the reason he became a priest. Upon hearing that Furuya Sensei was leaving Japan, Osawa Sensei composed this poem, “A sudden rain, he returns home too quickly…” One of Furuya Sensei’s greatest regrets was promising Kisaburo Osawa Sensei that he would return back to Japan, but having to care for his ailing grandmother after his grandfather passed away took precedent. Before Furuya Sensei left Japan, Nidai Doshu brushed him a personal piece of calligraphy with the kanji 和合 (wago) or “harmony.” Upon finishing it, Nidai Doshu realized that it was the first time he had every signed a piece of his calligraphy as Doshu.
After returning to the United States, Furuya Sensei found work at the Bank of Tokyo where he was an Assistant Branch Manager. A couple of years later he grew bored of banking and got a job as a copy editor working with Curtis Wong at Inside Kung-Fu Magazine. Furuya Sensei later became a contributing writer and book editor at Inside Kung-Fu Magazine which enabled him to befriend many famous marital artists such as Fumio Demura, Harry Wong, James Lew, Dan Inosanto, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, Hayward Nishioka, Adam Hsu and Jackie Chan to name just a few.
In 1974, hoping to train more regularly, Furuya Sensei decided to open his first dojo in Hollywood, California called Aikido Renbukai of Hollywood(?). He shared the dojo space jointly with a gymnastics school, but he dreamed of opening a dojo like Hombu Dojo that was strictly focused on teaching Aikido which offered classes seven days a week. In 1984, he realized his dream by establishing the Aikido Center of Los Angeles in Downtown Los Angeles, Little Tokyo.
In 1989, Furuya Sensei was ordained as a Zen priest under the Most Reverend Bishop Kenko Yamashita of the North American Headquarters of Soto Zen Buddhism, Zenshuji Temple where he received the name of Kensho. In 1991, along with Bishop Yamashita, Reverend Kensho Furuya spoke before the United Nations on the subject of world peace. While at Zenshuji, Furuya Sensei also edited and published the Children’s class newsletter, the Zendeko taiko group newsletter, the Busshin newsletter, and the tea ceremony newsletter.
In 1992, and Furuya Sensei established the Los Angeles Japanese Sword Society or Kenshinkai (剣心会). Furuya Sensei, himself, was an expert on the appraisal of Japanese swords as art and felt that by studying and understanding all the aspects of the sword and all of its accoutrements, one could gain a better understanding of the art of swordsmanship. He envisioned that the Kenshinkai would be an organization where students could not only study swordsmanship or “how” to use the sword, but could also study every aspect which makes up the sword itself.
Furuya Sensei wrote numerous magazine articles and he frequently appeared on television programs speaking on the subjects of swords, Aikido, martial arts, Asian studies, and Eastern philosophy. In 1994, Furuya Sensei authored the acclaimed nine-volume video series, Aikido Shoshinshu: The Art of Aikido. In 1996, Furuya Sensei wrote Kodo: Ancient Ways, which is one of the most comprehensive and well-read books on martial arts philosophy. At his passing, Furuya Sensei was working on a 10th volume of his video series and he was writing a book on Yagyu tsuba sword guards, a technical book on Aikido called the Tao of Aikido and a sequel to his book Kodo: Ancient ways roughly titled Kodo II.
Furuya Sensei was actively involved in the Little Tokyo community. His grandfather served as the President of the Nanka Yamanashi Kenjinkai or Southern California Yamanashi Prefectural Association in the 1960s and he also was a second-generation President who served for almost 11 years. Throughout the years, Furuya Sensei served on various boards and committees such as the Japanese Sword Society of the United States, the Southern California Sword Society, the Los Angeles Police Department Civilian Martial Arts Advisory Board, the Greater Little Tokyo Anti-Crime Association, Terasaki Budokan (Little Tokyo Gym) and many others.
Furuya Sensei had been teaching for almost 50 years and often referred to himself as a “stepping stone” for his students down their paths of Aikido and Iaido. Furuya Sensei achieved the rank of sixth-degree black belt in Aikido and sixth-degree black belt in Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido with the teaching rank of Kiyoshi.
Furuya Sensei passed away on March 6, 2007, while teaching class at the Aikido Center of Los Angeles. While talking with James Doi and David Ito about a bee problem at his house, Furuya Sensei quipped to the students practicing, “If anyone can go to my house and kill all the bees with a bokken, I will give them shodan.” A student named Jacob Sisk said, “I think that would be worth more like third Dan.” Furuya Sensei began to laugh and fell next to David. David said, “It was timed so perfectly that at first I thought he was just being funny. You know like ‘so funny I could die’ type of laugher.” David gave him CPR for nine minutes until the paramedics arrived but he passed away almost immediately. His good friend, Master Adam Hsu wrote, “His final moments were in his beloved dojo, laughing with his loyal students. For a soldier, the best place to die is on the battlefield and, even better, with a smile on his face.”
We can see from this brief essay that Furuya Sensei lived this incredible life where he embodied the samurai’s ethos of hard work, duty, honor and stoicism. The sign above the front gate to the old dojo had the kanji characters “Bansetsu-An” carved and painted into it, which means “The retreat of the untalented teacher.” Furuya Sensei really was someone from a bygone era. The words “Bansetsu-An” typify Furuya Sensei as this person trying to live this almost persistent and dedicated life of samurai ideals despite living in this modern world full of temptation and distraction. Sometimes in an almost futile way, Furuya Sensei would often say, “The Way is hard.” Furuya Sensei’s life reminds us that a true samurai is not just a samurai because they swing a sword, but because they are people who strive to be loyal, humble, hardworking and steadfast no matter what.
A list of teachers that Furuya Sensei studied with:
Kisshomaru Ueshiba – 2nd Doshu
Mitsunari Kanai Sensei
Morihiro Saito Sensei
Kisaburo Osawa Sensei
Koichi Tohei Sensei
Isao Takahashi Sensei
Tokujiro Hirata Sensei
Tadaharu Wakabayashi Sensei
Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei
Sadateru Arikawa Sensei
Kazuo Chiba Sensei
Takeshi Mitsuzuka Sensei
Ebihara Sensei (first name unknown)
Takiguchi Yoshinobu Sensei
Torao "Tiger" Mori Sensei