The Iaido Journal  Dec 2012
Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here

Nishimoto Chiharu sensei Interview

copyright © 2012 Pasi Hellsten, all rights reserved.


Nishinomiya on May 29, 2012

Nishimoto Sensei was interviewed at his home by Pasi Hellsten with Api Rajala acting as the interpreter. The writer is, of course, responsible for any mistakes made in the transcription. The trip to Japan to make this interview was made possible by a grant from the Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation.

1. What is Sensei's complete name?
            Nishimoto Chiharu.

2. How old is Sensei, and when and where was he born?
I am 70 years old. I was born in Osaka. During the war my family moved to Kôchi, where my mother's family lived. I stayed there until I was about 10 years old, and then we moved back to Osaka. When I was 17 I moved to Kôbe, where I went to high school. After that I studied at the Kyôtô Ritsumeikan University specializing in economics.

3. Was Sensei a professional budo instructor or did he have some civilian occupation?
I was employed by a shipping company. Now I am retired and am at the moment active in the ZNKR judges' council (Zaidan Hôjin Hyôgô Hyôgi-in).

4. Has Sensei taught any other iaidô style besides MJER?
I teach Musô Jikiden Eishin ryû and Seitei iaidô. Jûshin ryû I do not teach though I have included a little of it in my curriculum.

5. What is the name of Sense's dôjô?
My own dôjô are: Hyōgo Shōdōkan (兵庫尚道舘 ) and Hyōgō Roshūkai Tosajuku (兵庫盧州会土佐塾 ).

6. When did Sensei start his iaidô practice?
I started in April 1962 (Shôwa 37). I was 20 years old at that time. My first teacher were Chiba Toshio and Yamamoto Tatsuo (not related to the other Yamamotos of MJER). The latter was a very polite teacher. I met Iwata Sensei in 1983 (Shôwa 58) at the December Butokukai Taikai in Osaka and was invited to come to train with him. In summer 1984 I went to train with Iwata Sensei.

7. Why did Sensei start iaidô practice?
I had previously contracted polio and I had not quite regained control of my left hand. At chûgakkô I started kendô because in kendô you could hold the shinai with both hands, so I could train in spite of my disability. My kendô sensei was Kajitani Iwao, a naval officer (karate 3 dan, kendô 4 dan, kyûdô 4 dan, Ono-ha Ittô ryû menkyo kaiden). I took up kendô also at the university, though only for two months. At the Kôbe keisatsu Sensei recommended me iaidô. He was a great teacher.

8. How was iaidô taught at that time?
For three or four years we studied only the first four techniques of Eishin ryû (Seizan-no-bu). There were no dan tests, just training. After eight years I got shodan. If nowadays teaching were still be the same, I do not think there would be many people who would continue training. After we had learnt the first four techniques we continued training by imitating sensei. We copied sensei's technique without any explanations. This was the way one learnt even Tatehiza-no-bu.

9. What kinds of teaching methods were in use?
Iwata Sensei used a different method. He had learned Musô Jikiden Eishin ryû at Kôchi. He went into details and was meticulous in his teaching. He took also the existence of the opponent into consideration in his teaching. Iwata Sensei taught in detail also the kôryu riai (meaning of a technique). He knew exactly why and wherefore, not just how a nukitsuke was done. Nowadays one is taught just the form, not the meaning of each movement. Iwata Sensei knew the techniques profoundly, was familiar with the details. He was really hard-headed, did not make allowances for the students. He seemed soft but was strict and blunt.

10. Can Sensei tell us about his own studies of iaidô? Has he written articles and books?
I have started to organize my notes on what I have learnt about iaidô, and will write about this and the persons who have taught me.

11. What are the fundamentals of iaidô and how does Sensei teach them to his students?
Shoshinsa (beginners) do not yet understand iaidô wherefore it is of no use to teach them in detail. They just want to swing a sword, and that is the way they are encouraged on. Ki and kimochi (spirit) are the important things to teach. Many teachers teach techniques, their details. Usually in Zen Nippon Kendô Renmei (the All Japan Kendo Federation) you learn the static points of the sword and the precisely correct form. I start my teaching with ki and spirit.

If the technique is too difficult and the student cannot do it quite right, it is not a grave matter if the outcome is not quite orthodox. Beginners should be allowed to practice cuts relatively freely. That way they get used to the sword in about a year and their bodies become accustomed to the movements. After that they are gradually given more detailed advice. A beginner is taught iaigoshi, breathing, use of hara, shisei, sei-chû-sen (central axis). About breathing or kokyû: breathing in harmony with movements; use of voice is added as this helps to find the proper rhythm of breathing.

12. Can Sensei tell us about tenouchi?
Tenouchi is taught only after one has reached the level of 3rd or 4th dan. Before that it is not possible to understand it.

13. What about teaching more advanced students?
Kihon is gone through again, this time in more detail. Usually oku-iai and TUnK are taught only to 7th dan and above students. But I teach these earlier: students are allowed to imitate the movements from 1st dan.

Basic training for the more advanced students remains, of course, the same, as the waza (technique) is the same for the 1st dan and the 7th dan. Your level is shown by how you execute the techniques. Special attention should be paid to how the student is moving (ki & kimochi). The order of teaching things is always the same, in progressive steps: Seiza-no-bu, Tatehiza-no-bu, Oku-iai. Seiza-no-bu is taught first in its entirety, taking at least three years. I do not take a student to the next level before I think he/she is ready for it. Oku-iai takes five years to learn even if one is a quick study. Nowadays young people want to advance quickly when they see other students doing Tatehiza-no-bu etc. In ZNKR beginners study the 12 techniques of the Seitei all the time. At my own dôjô Seitei is not studied.

14. What is the significance of the Tachi-Uchi-no-Kurai (TUnK) to an advanced student?
In iaidô there is no visible teki (opponent). In TUnK both fighting spirit and opponent are present.

15. What should budô teach us?
Even in iaidô there are competitions in some federations, but traditionally iaidô teaches us to understand ourselves as human beings, and also that we are all equal. We should all make clear to ourselves, what it is we seek through iaidô practice. Our bodies and lives we get from our parents but through training we begin to find our kokoro (hearts/spirits), begin to understand what that is. All life is a journey. Iaidô training helps us in our attempts to understand what and why; we try to understand our bodies and their functions etc. There is only one self. Life force ̶ that is what I have been struggling to discover and understand ̶ unknown and untapped sources of power. I want to be a sun, to shine...

16. What are the characteristics of a good budôka?
Budô and sports are different things. Iwata-sensei asked Yamamoto Takuji who is a good budôka, and the latter answered: "ii ningen", a good person or somebody striving to be a good person. To a certain point sports and budô are the same thing, one is trying to achieve something. At the top, the focus of a sportsman is on winning, and after that his sports career is over. In budô the real struggle begins after you have reached the top in the technical sense. Your iaidô practice becomes more spiritual and you develop as a human being, which is shown e.g. by whether you make right decisions or not. Foreigners often study even Zen to get into the philosophy. At this stage you begin to better understand the essence of humanity. In the beginning your main focus is on physical training, but later it shifts to the spiritual side. At a higher level one's discernment influences one's view of the important things even in training and thus the focus in training shifts. One no more shows only technique but also spirit. "Your posture reflects your kokoro".

17. Could Sensei tell us a little about Roshu Kai?
All the present Roshu Kai teachers follow their own separate paths. At the moment there is no leader as Iwata Sensei's successor has not yet been chosen. Not all the former students want to follow Iwata-sensei's teachings as they have to concentrate on the Seitei in the Zen Nippon Kendô Renmei (All Japan Kendô Federation). There are very few people who in practice can do Iwata-sensei's iaidô. I am afraid that if nobody accepts the position of a Nidaime (i.e. become Iwata Sensei's successor as the head teacher), the style is going to disappear.

Nishimoto Sensei sums up the situation like this:
- Makino and Terao senseis do not train any more.
- Furutani sensei no more follows Iwata Sensei's teachings.
- Nishimoto, Yabe, Ishigaki and Ishida senseis teach the use of the hara in the style of Iwata Sensei.
 So does Sakamoto Kenichi (坂本憲一) (ZNKR kyôshi 7th dan), a 58 year old iaidô teacher from Tokushima. The latter is the leader of the Tokushima area and is Furutani sensei's pupil. As he has not been taught directly by Iwata Sensei, he may not know the techniques very thoroughly.

Thank you Sensei for your time for this interview

Our Sponsor
Our Sponsor, SDKsupplies, click here