Interview with Nomura Shihan

When did you start Aikido?

I started Aikido in 1969, under the late Bansen Tanaka Shihan. I received the rank of 6th dan in 1982.

What is Aikido?

Aikido is a modern martial way [Budo] consolidated of elements from ancient Japanese Ju-jutsu and created by Morihei Ueshiba, also named O' Sensei. From a martial art (jutsu), he transformed it into a way of life (michi, do). Through the practice of the techniques, a mental foundation is built instructs us how to live. O' sensei said, that aikido practice and world peace are connected at the individual level. Now many people practice Aikido, and it has spread throughout the world.

According to your experience, Aikido is ?

"The budo of love and peace" it is not about fighting with other people, but as a way of life I can cultivate my awareness. Through practice I improve myself, the way instructs me how to set a goal to perfect my character. The ever unattainable goal is to have the character of "God" [in the Japanese sense of "Kami"], to have the image of perfection. O' Sensei said "spiritual training is finished when you die."

Today's society is unsafe and violent, isn't it difficult to apply the principle of " the budo of Love and peace" in our society?

When faced with the question of violence, some people think that weapons are necessary. There are also those who think we should just avoid it. This is where we see the first step in bujutsu, moving from violence to the proper use of force. In aikido practice, we want to move from the level of the techniques to the way/Do, to evolve to the next stage. Through our aikido practice we can find the answer to the ultimate question of how to protect ourselves, and how to deal with violence.

What main teaching from Tanaka Bansen Shihan influences your practice today?

Aikido teaches us everything. I especially remember he said "enter from below". Lower your hips, become one with the movement of entering from below. Whether it's a technique, it applies in daily life too. There is a saying, the rice that has fully ripened, bows it's head. It means that the more a person grows as a human being, the more modest they become. This truly describes him.

What can we gain through Aikido practice?

Aikido is a perfect way to defend oneself and stay healthy. Through practice, one can cultivate a sense of peace, which is connected to relaxing the mind. Personal relationships will improve and a feeling of gratitude for everything around you will develop. It's not about the techniques, it's the direction to live your life.

How does Aikido differs from other martial arts?

Aikido is quite different from other martial arts in various ways. The techniques are not about fighting and winning. It is training in the way of aspiring for perfection as human being. Seeking peace, and doing one's best to improve yourself is what is unique about Aikido. In Aikido it's important to cooperate with your partner. This means that both people should concentrate on a correct movement. Uke is giving his energy to nage in order to get the most out of the technique. It's not about who is stronger, but the focus is on perfecting the movement. Part of perfecting the movement is by not forcing it, but finding the most reasonable way to move according to your strength.

What do you consider "high level Aikido"?

In Aikido we repeat practice one technique at a time because we need to be able to do the technique without thinking about it. Finally we should be able to release our mind and not worry about the movement. We can transcend the form without trying to be particular about it. In this state we can manifest countless possibilities. There are no boundaries, and this is the beginning of experiencing Budo.

How does Ki function in Aikido?

I think ki is about consciousness and energy, to become conscious of the other person's movement, and blend with their ki. This also means blending with the energy of the universe (all natural energy). Ki has a connecting force. Even if the person is your enemy, it's about developing a common consciousness with the other person. It's also about recognizing our blessings.

What would be your advice concerning Aikido practice?

First of all, we need the power of respiration. In practice, we use not only our muscles but more practically we use the power of relaxation with visualisation and intention. Our power should come from our centre (tanden), we should drop our weight and establish our sense of centre. The sum of our conciousness can be released at once from our tanden.

Concerning weapons training?

When one first starts training, using weapons tends to interfere with the learning process of the form and the movement. Once the movement is learnt correctly, I think weapons practice is good, and we should know how to use them. It's also a way to learn about the movement from a different angle.

What is important for improving?

Don't be conceited, remember you will never be perfect as you continue your practice. Everyone can always improve. Also, you can only improve if you continue to practice with patience and perseverance. Also, watch good examples, and imitate them. Also being objective about your own skill is very important. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

What is some advice for those who are new to aikido?

At first remembering all the details of each technique can be overwhelming. Once you remember them, it's stage one. However, many people quit before getting to that stage. As a complete martial art, Aikido is open to every one. Because of this, there is a tendency to approach and study Aikido too superficially. If you don't take you practice seriously, you will only be going through the motions. Therefore, my advice is to try to get a feeling for the movement, and don't worry about the details as much. No one can do it perfectly from the beginning, just try to do it as well as you can, being careful to watch those around you.

What are the other stages?

The first stage is to follow the principles of the techniques. You can strengthen your body and increase your concentration. The second stage is to think and to set goals for improvement. You become flexible and readjust yourself according to your needs to reach the goals. You become moderate, stable physicaly and mentaly therefore your energy flows more easily. The third stage is to practice, in japanese we use the word "Keiko". Within the third stage, your practice at the dojo and in daily life are one. Whatever you do, whatever you think, you are aware that it is part of your practice. Everything is practice therefore your training becomes formless but complete. It is Budo. Your energy blends with everything. You feel things before you hear them, see them, smell them or touch them.

In brief, the system of these 3 stages can lead you to 3 important martial skills:

1) Solidity
2) Control.
3) Sensitivity (The opponent is already defeated before the fight begins.)

What do you mean by the opponent is already defeated, you said it was not about winning ?!

I mean that the goal is to conquer without battle and not conquer with battle. My training is founded on this principal.

How does one feel and practice this principal?

Just by training yourself, by being truly kind to others. Start in your own family and in the dojo. Then you will be more aware of the space around you and it's reality.

Nomura K. (2009) "Aikido Yamato Aikikai". Budo International Publishing

Reproduced by permission of the author

© Nomura Kazuo

Aikido Washinkai