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It Had To Be Felt #70: Nemoto Hiroki: "Plenty of Pain Wrapped in Kindness"
It Had To Be Felt #70: Nemoto Hiroki: "Plenty of Pain Wrapped in Kindness"
by It Had To Be Felt
It Had To Be Felt #70: Nemoto Hiroki: "Plenty of Pain Wrapped in Kindness"

After the second or third time hearing from my friend about this extremely tough martial arts sensei, I thought I would finally check out the class. I was living in a city called Tsukuba. His name was Nemoto Hiroki Sensei, and he was then a 6th dan with the Aikikai. Nemoto Sensei would drive in from Iwama, about an hour away, to teach on the weekends. Nemoto Sensei actually started his training under O-sensei when he was very young. Then after a break to pursue other interests, he re-entered Iwama Dojo,and trained under Saito Morihiro until Saito Sensei`s passing in 2002.

I was a little intimidated in the first few classes because I hadn't taken any martial arts since I was very young, but I was able to relax in no time. Not only did I become comfortable, as time went on and other students went back to their home countries or moved away, Sensei called on me to be his uke more often.

I got used to sensei`s throwing style and learned how to take ukemifrom his direction. He has an amazing ability to adapt his technique to the level of the uke. When I first joined the class, he kept his technique strong, but he avoided any sudden movements that might cause injury. Later, when he thought I was ready, he turned it on full steam. Sensei has the ability to move his body as one unit, without wasting any energy through segmented movement, so when he comes through with an iriminage,it is with enormous power. I didn't feel very graceful with my ukemi; I felt more like a rag doll being thrown to the ground. Other students would sometimes try to avoid this by taking the fall before the throw was complete, but Nemoto sensei warned against this as he feels that it is important for both partners to feel the technique completely and fully.

I have never been injured by Sensei, but he really enjoys showing you how a good technique should feel, which usually involve a lot of pain. Sensei believes a technique should be effective, and to see it register on a student's face how a technique should feel, always brings a smile to Sensei`s face. Usually, the more pain that is shown on your face, the bigger Sensei`s smile.

Along with power, Sensei is also very smooth. Taking koshinagefrom him is effortless. He is always able to place his body in a position of perfect balance where you are in the perfect position to take ukemi.

Being on the receiving end of Sensei`s non-throwing techniques such as nikkyoand sankyo is definitely an experience. Whenever he has me in an nikkyoor sankyolock, I have nowhere to go to escape the pain. Instead, I go wherever he directs my body, not because I am being compliant, but because I have no choice. I remember once asking some Russian uchi-deshihow they were enjoying their morning training and their answer was a half-joking, but also half-serious reply of, "Every day he breaks us."

Then there was the seminar where Sensei demonstrated nothing but nikkyo, and nikkyo henka techniques. He called me up to be his uke over and over again. I was honored to take the techniques, but as the seminar went on my wrists really took a beating. The final technique was a nikkyo henka where you lock the opponent's wrist under your arms which are folded in front of your chest. It is very effective, and impressive when done quickly, so of course, that is how he demonstrated it. The second he slapped on the technique, a sharp pain, starting at my wrist, shot up my arm. This was not the good kind of pain. I was scared that something was broken. I bowed out quickly before someone could partner up with me, and went to a corner of the mat to see if my arm was ok. Luckily it was all intact. Nemoto Sensei`s joint techniques are so powerful, he really makes you feel like he broke you, yet he is always careful not to. His precision in this regard is amazing.

Sensei stresses the importance of proper technique and etiquette in the dojo but he is also very kind and understanding outside the dojo. I remember my first aikido seminar in Iwama when my Japanese wasn't yet up to par. I misunderstood what I was told, and thinking it was a ceremonial event, I showed up without my dogi. Sensei offered to lend me his so I could train. However, I was still a white belt at the time and he only had an extra black belt, so he suggested that I just watch and take note of the techniques. He did a similar thing for me one other time when I left my jo behind at a seminar, even driving back so I could pick it up.

I once had the privilege to accompany him as his helper when he went to do a seminar in Italy. During the seminar, he stressed the importance of paying attention and being able to anticipate what my duties should be during the seminar. However, when it came time to relax and have fun, things were different. One evening, when we were dropped off at the hotel we were staying at, he requested that I go to the front desk and ask for a corkscrew. We then proceeded to finish off a few bottles of Italian wine together while talking into the night about life, aikido, and everything in between. He is able to be very friendly, and open while still maintaining the image of a "Sensei."

Whenever having any type of get-together, either to celebrate a student's new dan grade or after seminars and demonstrations, Sensei encourages students to ask him questions about techniques, his time with Saito Sensei, or life in general. He enjoys talking about applying aikido principles in real-life situations. One of the things he talks about was the idea of awase, or blending with your opponent. He also manifests this principle himself. I remember one time when I was to be his uke for an event with another dojo. He wanted to do some heavy throwing techniques to make it look impressive, but two weeks before the event, I had to go in for emergency outpatient surgery. I wasn't about to let Sensei down so even though I wasn't fully recovered I was prepared to do it. To my relief, Sensei could tell that I wasn't fully up to doing full high falls, and changed the techniques to pinning movements with explanations after each one in order to allow me time to recover after each technique.

Nemoto Sensei is also famous for his solo training. He always uses any extra time he has to squeeze in some training. In his younger days, in addition to keiko, he would practice yokomenand tsukistrikes on a makiwara on the dojo grounds. The tsuki strikes were done the same way he taught in class, starting with one hand in front of your body like a guard position and the other hand tight against your side then extending your arm to punch while pulling your guard arm into your opposite side, similar to a karate punch.

There was also one tree at the Iwama dojo that had a hole through it, due to Sensei repeatedly practicing his jo thrusts against it. This would be quite damaging to the body if done to excess. Even Sensei himself has acquired some injuries in his quest to condition his body and test his limits (he has trouble fully extending one of his elbows). However, he always stresses the importance of fully extending the arm when doing any tsuki strikes, which produces more power and puts the wrist in a better position to absorb the force. Especially when using the jo, he emphasizes keeping the rear arm in tight and finishing the thrust so that you hear a slapping sound as your arm hits against your mid-chest.

He also taught me other ways to condition myself, like how to use my jo to practice yonkyowhile at home watching T.V., and how to cut a piece of bamboo in half so it could be used to practice sankyo on. With the jo, he would demonstrate from a standing position, putting one end on the floor with one foot forward. Using the same side hand, he would apply a yonkyo on the jo with the thumb and index finger pointing down. He would tell us to slowly apply pressure until the pain on your hand was a bit uncomfortable, then hold and repeat. It was also very good for getting a feel for the proper spot to apply yonkyo.

I also tried out his training method with bamboo for a while. You need to take a piece of bamboo that is not too long, but a decent diameter, about the size of a person's calf. You cut the bamboo in half lengthways. Then you take one of the halves (maybe give one to a friend) and using some padding, grip the bamboo so your fingers wrap around the cut ends of the bamboo and you can push your thumbs against the rounded end in a simulated sankyo. If you get a bamboo that is thick enough you should be able to apply a lot of pressure without breaking it. Sensei always used to tell us that he wasn't that strong and that he merely had studied the proper angles to make the technique effective. This was true, but anyone who has experienced his sankyo would also attest to the fact that Sensei has tremendous finger-and-thumb strength.

Sensei also told me about how for a time, everyday before work, he would run up Mt. Atago with a heavy bokken, then do suburiat the top before running back down. Unfortunately he is always one for pushing the envelope, and one time damaged his knees running up Mt. Atago wearing iron geta.

Sensei always finds some way to get in some kind of extra training, whether it is doing suburi, running, punching a brick while watching T.V. to harden his knuckles, or even thrusting his hands into a bucket of gravel to harden his fingers. He told us that he started using sand at first, then worked his way up to gravel over time. He has a passion for self-improvement and is always looking for ways to make things more challenging and push his body to the limit. Thus, when he built his own private dojo he named it, the Nishinkan, which translates into English as ‘New Day Hall.' He explained that you should regard every day as a chance to do something to train or improve upon your previous day`s self by a small bit. In the long run, this adds up something amazing.
Mitch Troop is a Canadian living and working in Japan, who has studied aikido under Nemoto Hiroki Sensei for the past fourteen years. He is a 4th dan through the Aikikai.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
  • Only people who have actually taken ukemi the teacher who is the subject of this thread, may post
  • Simply post your direct experience of taking ukemi. This can include the nature of your relationship with them, as ukemi is more than merely taking falls.
  • Do not engage in back-and-forth with other posters, disputing their experience, or trying to prove why yours is more real. Just post your own experience. Trust your readers to take in each writer's account on its own merits.
  • If, for any reason, you find something to praise or condemn in anyone's description or wish to amplify your insights and perceptions, do so elsewhere. Start a thread about that subject in the appropriate section of Aikiweb.
  • Follow-up posts should be substantive, striving to equal the depth of the original essay. Simply agreeing with the writer, or a brief comment that, yes, the teacher in question was really powerful or had a wonderful shihonage or the like, are not congruent with the purpose of this archive.
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