Interview with Shoji Nishio (1984), Part 2 by Stanley Pranin

Shoji Nishio demonstrating the principle of “kuzushi,” or “balance breaking”The following is the second and final part of an interview conducted by Aiki News Editor Stanley Pranin of Shoji Nishio Sensei (8th dan). The interview took place on May 22, 1983 in Tokyo.

What is the role of the present Hombu Dojo?

Mr. Ito: Their duty is to re-evaluate and run the organization properly.

Nishio Sensei:I think so, too. Nowadays, there are many branches all over Japan. But these are not at all functioning as branches, they are branches in name only but not in fact. This is because there aren’t talented people who can make them function or there may be some people preventing the branches from functioning. For the future development of Aikido, we need the strength to remove the grumblers. We shouldn’t indulge ourselves. Some people might say that a forgiving mind is the expression of Aikido, but I don’t think we can run the organization with that feeling. If you think of the future, we should band together. But if someone changes his mind, we should forgive him. That’s the Aikido way of thinking. It shouldn’t be a permanent exile. If the person himself changes his mind, we should forgive him. The central point of Aikido is forgiving. We should praise him for his actions. During daily practice, people who don’t know how and when to draw a sword or how to sheathe the sword shouldn’t swing the sword. As a result, they will cause damage everywhere. Sheathing the sword without hurting anyone is the future Aikido. We should learn the proper way of wielding the sword. You have to be able to express humanity through individual techniques. Those who only can execute ikkyo, nikyo and sankyo are not professionals. We should be able to express humanity with our bodies.

For example, the rank of gokyu involves knowing how to move about properly. We should start learning how to sit, stand up and walk properly. Proper behavior is really difficult. The budo world is completely at fault with regard to this point. Whatever is done is ineffective. They merely assume a stance. We have to begin correcting this. We teach this through the ken. The way of walking of many people is wasteful. If there is approximately five centimeters difference in each step you take, there would be a great difference of distance after taking a hundred or thousand steps. Another thing is that unneeded power is used. To make them understand this idea, I have students use the ken.

In fact, last year there was a movement. Yamaguchi Sensei suggested to me that we should hold a seminar for exchanging techniques. If there was a big difference in the numbers of the two groups, I requested that he take 5 or 6 from among his deshi or instructors. However, they didn’t come. It didn’t amount to anything. I was really looking forward to it. I wanted to explore the true way of budo with them. If holders of the 6th, 7th and 8th dans of Hombu dojo come we will train with them. Whoever comes from anywhere in the world, we will train with them. However, unfortunately, because they didn’t come, it didn’t become a reality. Someday, I would like to have that type of training.

In what way should Aikido beginners practice attacking?

Shoji Nishio teaching an elbow atemi, or “vital point strike”

In Aikido there is no preemptive strike. But in budo training, a proper shomenuchi and proper tsuki are basic. In my dojo I teach how to grab, how to stand up, how to swing the sword and the tsuki and oblique stance (hanmen) and yokomen. Proper grabbing, proper swinging and proper striking are transformed into atemi instantly. The reason I have students use the ken is to have them recognize these movements. In budo, you are inferior and the opponent is superior to you. Your opponent has more power than you. That’s very important. Techniques are for freely handling stronger people. Your power shouldn’t lessen even a little. You have to display 100% power through your body.

What is the importance of warming up before practice?

Even though you are warming up, you should always display your power. When we warm up we move our hands around, but in budo there is a possibility of victory or defeat in these movements.

You must pay great attention to these movements. The way of warming up is different depending on the dojo. In my dojo I explain the meaning of every single movement in the budo sense and have students practice. We can re-apply any form, like tsuki, kicks and ken and jo. By doing this we explain the rules of ken, the rules of jo and how to grab the ken and jo with the students actually holding these weapons.

I usually say that students should improve themselves by acquiring familiarity with the characteristics of Judo, Karate and Kendo. You won’t get anywhere by criticizing these arts. Those who say they are worthless are themselves worthless. You can further improve yourself by keeping in mind that they are wonderful arts. Without restricting ourselves to Aikido only, we should teach Judo, Kendo and Karate people the true content of Japanese budo. “You have these positive aspects which we are learning from your arts.” Conversely, we should teach them the wonderful aspects of Judo, Kendo and Karate. I think this is the duty of people who practice Aikido. There are various kinds of people who come to my dojo. When I go to a regional area, Kendo and Karate people come. For example, atemi is for stopping the opponent’s initiative in an instant and for controlling him without endangering him. This is what atemi should be. I think that this is a new way of doing Karate. Karate where you hit your opponent with full power isn’t good. I think our duty as Aikidoists is to teach Karate people the true budo life. I never limit myself to only a few opponents but always pay attention to Judo, Kendo and Karate. We should teach them a deeper Judo, Karate and Kendo.

This is one of our tasks. We are finished if we only do “Aiki Dance”.

“Sheathing the sword without hurting anyone is the future Aikido. We should learn the proper way of wielding the sword. You have to be able to express humanity through individual techniques. Those who only can execute ikkyo, nikyo and sankyo are not professionals. We should be able to express humanity with our bodies.”

In Aikido, one step means to accept the attack of the opponent. It shouldn’t be one step which ignores people. I wish people would recognize and help each other and complement each other. Our “one step” means “irimi” which has great content. It is to lead the partner. We should face the partner. If you turn away, he will turn away too. We can express humanistic traits through striking, kicking and use of the ken and jo in Aikido as budo. In my case, I have my own opinion and I express it. I can reapply it in an easily understandable form. Until now, people have only imitated. If they adopt old ways, they will not improve. Being old means being noneffective. If you practice in that way it doesn’t work now.

In the Aikido sense, Miyamoto Musashi is the biggest coward. There’s is no one more cowardly than him. He was a pitiable man. In the Japanese budo world, they say that there is no one greater than Musashi. But I tell lai and Kendo people without apology that Musashi was a cowardly person all of his life. He was a wild animal afraid of the rustle of trees and plants and the sound of the wind. He never had a wife, never took a bath and died in a cave. Even when I read The Book of Five Rings (Musashi’s treatise on swordsmanship), I wasn’t at all impressed. It doesn’t include human emotion. He lived all of his life in fear and trembling. It doesn’t matter if you bump into a person. If you are a person who can say, “Hi! How are you?”, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? Instead, if you become angry and say, “You bastard!”, you’re not a human being but a wild animal. That’s what I say. Musashi was the lowest form of human being. I say without apology you should never become like him. I think much of humanity.

Are you thinking of publishing a book?

Cover of “Aikido — Yurusu Budo” by Shoji Nishio. Now available in the Nishio Aikido course on Aikido Journal TV

I’m always practicing and questioning. So I can’t arrive at an absolute opinion. If you write a book and then die dissatisfied with it, who is going to rewrite it for you? Take the example of Saito Sensei’s books. At that time his techniques were the best, but now there are some aspects which are unsuitable. Especially, in the technical sense. You have to constantly keep rewriting. That is the case even for a person of such a high level. Aikido is to fell your opponent before touching him. You shouldn’t fell him by clashing against him. You should never hit him. You should lead him without hitting him. This is our way. Most people don’t understand this.

Aiki is wonderful. We practice it because we have fallen in love with something none of the other martial arts offer. O-Sensei told me this: “One step means discontinuity (danzetsu). Aikido involves a ‘half-step’.” This is a guiding principle. The “half-step” O-Sensei was referring to was “contact”. If you take one step, it implies discontinuity. O-Sensei’s way of expressing this idea is a little strange. I had a hard time understanding what he meant. He would say, “‘One step’ implies ‘discontinuity’. You should take a ‘half-step.’ There should be ‘contact’. Sanai Hashimoto and Choei Takano (*) had a good idea in the late Edo Period but both were killed. That was because they took “one step”. If they had taken a ‘half-step,’ they wouldn’t have been killed. “If you go to extremes, you’ll be done in. O-Sensei always said that leaders should act while maintaining contact.

When people of the 5th or 6th dan levels teach beginners they should not be condescending to them. Instead they should come down to their level and help them. It’s difficult to go from a lower level to a higher level, but easy to go from a higher level to a lower level. That kind of thinking is needed in present-day society. No one follows you if you use the form of “discontinuity.” If you only complain and give orders from a higher position no one moves for you. However, if you come down and say, “Let’s do it!”, people will move for you. The Aikido way of leading is alive in the real society.

“Musashi was the lowest form of human being. I say without apology you should never become like him. I think much of humanity.”

When you say something to someone, what is important is not to talk a lot. What is important about saying something is to be understood. If you can’t be understood, it’s better not to say anything. Much less, if your partner feels a strong negative reaction towards you, it’s better not to say anything. However, in this bureaucratic world, if you can say, “I already said that,” then you have an excuse. This is counterproductive. What government officials or people in an administrative position have is authority and “ken” (fist) is “kenryoku” and the “ken” (sword) we swing is also “kenryoku.” However, our “ken” is not for cutting people. It’s for allowing people to live. It’s a wish for happiness, it creates happiness. The purpose of the ken is to cut a way through brambles. The ken of old Japan was always like that. Aikido’s duty is to re-transform the ken to its former correct form. The purpose of the ken in Aikido is to cut a way for people, not to cut people. That’s why it’s wonderful. O-Sensei said so too.

“I usually say that students should improve themselves by acquiring familiarity with the characteristics of Judo, Karate and Kendo. You won’t get anywhere by criticizing these arts. Those who say they are worthless are themselves worthless. You can further improve yourself by keeping in mind that they are wonderful arts.”

We don’t assume a stance in Aikido. O-Sensei said, “It’s wrong to take a stance. Taking a stance causes fights. If you don’t take a stance there’s no victory or defeat. You will always win. In Aikido, you win from the beginning. “Usually when your opponent assumes a stance and you do nothing, you feel uneasy. However, if you stand naturally you can enter immediately when it appears that your opponent is about to move. When your opponent moves you have already won. When you stand naturally, the form of the ken is already inside you. In other words, you yourself are inside the ken and you don’t have a body of your own. This is natural. Because you are within the ken there is no way the opponent can strike you. When he moves, you move, so you have already won. If you take a stance, you loose. If you take a stance wondering how to move, it becomes a cause of conflict. O-Sensei’s Aikido is a wonderful way of living and form of expression. I apply these ideas in my training. They are wonderful and can be applied to any opponent. Human beings should not fight. They should instead love each other, help each other, and complement each other. By doing so, they create a humane world. I accept anyone who understands this spirit. What is Aikido seeking? It’s not at all superficial. We have not yet reached this ideal. We advance slowly without impatience. I think practice means communication.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969)

The way of living I learned from O-Sensei is not a matter of strength and weakness. As I told you before, I felt a great difference between the attitude of the two senseis with regard to the theft incidents. The fundamental principles of the Japanese martial spirit are different from the spirit of present sports or the spirit of the western knight. The spirit of the western knight gave rise to present sports. They fight for themselves or their own honor sacrificing everything. But this is not the Japanese budo spirit. They fought for the country, for their people, not for themselves or their honor. In the spirit of Japanese budo one fights together with one’s family for society and the people. With that spirit in mind we eliminate conflict. If you fight by yourself fighting will be endless. If people who say, “I can die to prevent others from being killed” get together, conflict will be eliminated. This is the spirit Aikido seeks. There is a big difference between the Japanese bushido (warrior) spirit and the budo spirit. We shouldn’t make winners and losers. If we have winners and losers we have conflict. If that disappears, we will have a peaceful world. True Aikido doesn’t need the word “lose.” That’s what I think. When O-Sensei first said, “It is not Aikido if there is winning and losing…”, I thought that he was saying something strange. I thought that without winning and losing in the budo world, victory and defeat couldn’t exist. But it’s easy to understand if I think of it now. Winning and losing means conflict. That’s what he meant. His way of thinking was ahead of the times. He had already said such a thing in that period.

I would like to express O-Sensei’s way in a new manner. O-Sensei said that it is a crime to fell opponents or hurt them even a bit. I tell students if they have to hit the opponent to execute a technique when their hands are held, they shouldn’t do that technique. If you have to use atemi, entering with a strike, then you shouldn’t do that particular technique. Aikido doesn’t need that. We never hit the opponent when we do kaitennage, for example, at the beginning of training.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to grant us this most interesting interview. (Translated by Stanley Pranin and Ikuko Kimura)

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