Here's a review of Nishio sensei's seminar in Denmark by Andrew Wilby.
Easter with Nishio
Well my car still doesn't have an engine. The thought of driving up to Denmark in the clappery old Peugeot that I bought as a stand by until I get the Escort repaired was not an appealing one. Not to mention the fact that I am seriously out of pocket in the moment and am still facing a large bill if and when we ever find a motor for my sadly defunct car. In fact all was not looking well until I got a mail from a friend who had heard of my troubles and offered me a lift up to Denmark. All of a sudden that silver lining that every cloud is supposed to have became apparent.
And so it was that I set off one Saturday evening in the direction of Denmark. Well strictly speaking in the direction of Kiel. With Thomas from Karlsruhe who's car it was, and Antje who had mailed me. I sat in the back seat with various rucksacks and a guitar, and dosed most of the eight hour journey to Kiel. In Kiel we spent the night at Antje's parent's. The following day we travelled the last few hours to Aarhus in Denmark.
Somehow Aarhus reminded me a little of home. Maybe it was the houses, maybe it was the coast but I think it was mainly the Grey skies which hung just above our heads. In Aarhus we found the school where the course was to take place without any problem at all. Soon we were moved in and had set up our home for the week in one of the classrooms of the school, fitted out with spare tatami. All of a sudden I found myself an honorary Kiel'er the room was filled with many people from Antje's home club of Kiel. I got to know and like these people during the week and felt welcome, even as a stranger, in their company.
The training began the next day. I don't know what I can say about Nishio Sensei that I haven't already said elsewhere. He amazes (and confuses and confounds) me every time I see him. Somehow there is magic in what he does. I developed a theory during the week that he actually has three hands. Depending upon where you are sitting you can only ever see two of them at a time so it appears that he is perfectly normal but in actual fact he has three arms and that explains how he manages to move the jo in so mysterious a way. Amazingly enough his jo also seems to have four ends as opposed to the usual two.
As far as I can tell the training plan this year was identical with that of last year. In fact judging by the way people were saying "tomorrow we will be doing ...." it seems that it was the same procedure as every year. I actually seemed to remember a few things from last year. I was certainly not quite as lost this time as the first few times I saw Nishio Sensei.
Nishio Sensei's empty handed technique is very good, his sense of distance is amazing and indeed it was this that first drew me to his Aikido. It is, however, his weapons technique that I find most perplexing (and interesting) he has a way of using the sword which is totally different to all other sword work that I have seen within Aikido. Admittedly I have relatively little experience with sword, mainly Saito style Tissier style and with a little Saotome and Chiba style mixed in. Nishio works with a totally different distance. Many of his cuts are really up close. It is a distance which takes some getting used to. It was explained to me that it is better to be up close to get more power into the cut and that cutting with just the end of the sword is ineffective. I am not too sure about the logic of the latter, as I think the last few centimetres of the sword whistling through a few centimetres of my brain would probably kill me just as surely as a long cut pressed in with the sword close on the body. But the way of working in close does indeed add many new and interesting movement possibilities. Another aspect of Nishio Sensei's sword work that I find unusual and appealing is that the swords never clash. There is no parrying there is only entering in under the sword and avoidance. This calls for an excellent timing (which Nishio Sensei evidently has, and I equally evidently do not) and an almost prescient feeling for what the attacker will do.
Last year at Easter I was recovering from a sever bout of Influenza and Gastro-enteritis which meant that after the training I usually headed back to the Hostel where we were staying, fell into bed, only to rise for the next training. This year I was fit (more or less) and healthy. I stayed after most trainings at least an hour (and often more) on the mat and chatted with people and tried things out. This extra time, and the times when we went back on to the mat evenings certainly helped me, many things which I hadn't understood during the lessons, I understood when they were explained to me in this extra time. I certainly have to thank the various people from Kiel who helped me during the course of the week and without whom I would, at times, have been lost. Their patience with me was seemingly endless.
I am curious what happened to Nishio Sensei forty years ago. Reading this you are probably curious as to why I am curious. Well it was interesting how often sentences started. "Forty years ago I realised that this was the best way to do this..", or "Forty years ago I changed how this technique was done.." "All the world does this wrong but I have been teaching it this way for forty years". Strangely enough the way that "all the world" does the technique was often a form that I have never in my life seen, and although I haven't been everywhere in the world, I have trained with quite a few teachers at one time or another. Nishio Sensei doesn't seem to have a particularly high opinion of other peoples Aikido.
Well the week went, as these things tend to do, rather quickly by, the Saturday Morning was made up of gradings at various and varying levels, Saturday evening was a party which I didn't attend as nobody else I knew was attending, and I ended up in a sort of private party playing guitar and singing into the wee hours of the morning. The Sunday morning final training was luckily, given my shortage of sleep, not too strenuous and then it was over. Before I knew it we were back in the car heading south. Thirty six hours later, after much traffic jamming and a stopover in Kiel (where we two Computer Genii, Thomas and I managed to cripple the two PCs of our hosts as a thank you for their hospitality- talk about embarrassing) I arrived back in Freiburg lacking sleep somewhat stressed but with many, many fond memories.
Some of the fondest memories in no particular order, meeting the Kiel people and being accepted into their group and making new friends. Seeing the Northern Lights above Denmark. Spending many happy hours annoying people with my singing. Meeting Kjartan again and his girlfriend Maria for the first time. And of course being enchanted once again by Nishio and his wonderful Aikido.
If Nishio makes it to Denmark next year, you can bet that I will make it too.
I'm from one of the two dojo's that arranged this years Nishio-camp in Denmark. I'm really glad you liked it and like you I hope, that Nishio Sensei will be able to appear next year.
I am probably not the right person to explain Nishio Sensei's behaviour, but I will try to give my interpretation of some of the things he said, that could sound a bit harsh.
You wrote: "Nishio Sensei doesn't seem to have a particularly high opinion of other peoples Aikido." and I agree that you could get that impression. However Nishio Sensei has been getting a little old lately, and I think he is concerned that he might not be able to come back, and therefore it becomes more and more important to him to get his idears and thoughts across before it is to late. Another aspect of his age is, that he can say that kind of things and get away with it by using an 'I'm just an old man' attitude as a 'cover'. On top of this one must remeber that Nishio Sensei became a Shihan very fast compared to other Shihans of his time, which made it very hard for his sempais to figure out how to place him. In a way he was below them due to his fewer years of practice, yet his grading and title raised him to the level of the other shihans. I suspect that this led to Nisihio Sensei being looked down upon in some situations, but by now he has build up a confidence in his aikido (50 years of practice does indicate some sort of authority) so he speaks his mind openly. I also want to point out that many of his comments where an attack against the tyrani of tradition. He often said "In other dojo's they have done it this way for many years, but I changed my way of doing it." I think that shows, that even though he is an acomplished Aikido-ka, and even though he is in his 70's he is not afraid to let his aikido develop further, and change it when he finds 'weak spots'. I don't know what true aikido is, but I strongly believe that this ability to develop your personal aikido is a large part of it. Personally I like his openhearted comments. It is refreshing to meet a japanese person who dares to speak his mind and take a stand even though it might be against what is concidered good manners. Don't judge him too harshly - just enjoy his wonderful teachings and extract as much as possible from this source of knowledge before it dissapears for ever.
Please excuse my ramblings. Se you next year in Saeby in North Jutland :)
Being one of those Kiel people I thank you very much, Andrew, for your nice words about us (and the seminar, of course...).
If you don`t want to wait until next Easter to get some more Nishio style aikido, you are all invited to our seminar with Ichiro Shishiya Sensei, Shoji Nishio Sensei`s official successor for Germany. He will come to Kiel between 22th and 25th of June. More information at
By the way, this seminar is held during "Kiel Week" (Kieler Woche), the biggest sailing event in the world and one of the best times of the year to visit Kiel.
We hope to see you all again soon,
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