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Interview with Shimizu sensei on ‘Strength’

Kawaraban No. 45


This year again we asked the head of Tendokan, Shimizu Kenji, for an interview, that embroiders the begin of our 2001 New Year`s edition. Shimizu sensei will talk about ‘What is real strength’ and ‘Why polite manners are so important’. Issues, which reflect the ideas of Tendoryu aikido and which are being mentioned untiringly by Shimizu sensei during practice. Additionally, among others, we will learn further details about one of this year’s current issues, i.e. about the video project, that has been a popular request already for a long time and which finally will be taken up.

(the interview has been recorded on January 17th, 2001, in Shimizu sensei`s office)

The year starts with the winter seminar (kangeiko)

Presently the winter seminar is being held at the dojo, and there is a large number of students participating for consecutive days, although it has become even a bit colder this year.

Shimizu: I am glad about that. It is motivating as well for a teacher, when you can find even nowadays the will power to train with all one’s might. I think, training your own mind is important at any time, but especially today where this way of thinking is being crushed and disappears gradually.

Nowadays when the ego, which only considers itself as important, steps forth strongly, I somehow do have the feeling, that the good old spirit of Japan revives in the Tendokan -; with students, who face the challenge of getting up early in the morning to practice together. On the first day of kangeiko I told the students: ‘Kangeiko is the start of the year’. It is important to start a new year with energy.

Polite manners ( rei ) stand for natural consideration

Shimizu-Sensei, during practice you often talk about good manners. Could you please again explain the meaning of polite manners.

Shimizu: Manners, which have grown stiff, are troublesome. It is important being natural and relaxed to convey to your opponent a refreshing feeling by your behaviour. Today`s young generation does not know noble restraint any more. Real politeness is a behaviour without superfluous forms, and should not leap to others eyes. Polite manners are shown by natural considerations for other people’s feelings. Looking from Bushido restraint is defined as ‘behaviour without any superfluous forms’.

Additionaly I want to tell a story from the founder of Akido, the honorable Morihei Ueshiba. One day before the war the nobleman Konoe Fumimaro (the later prime minister), who was learning Aikido, was about to leave for home, when a student informed the founder (Ueshiba sensei) about his intention. The founder was inmidst a conversation with the Kendo instructor of the police headquarters, who had come to visit him. He asked his student just to give his regards. But as the student was undetermined and thought it being unpolite not to say good-bye to Mr. Konoe personally, the founder is said to have answered: ‘Mr. Konoe is my student. The gentleman in front of me is my guest.’ With regard to politeness the founder herewith shows an excellent example.

By nature the Japanese think highly of politeness. People believe, that politeness is a way to prevent quarrel. A triumph is not superior to prevention of quarrel.

Anyway, if you close your eyes out of fear and accept wrong, reason will be pushed back, and society will develop to a place, where the weak fall victim to the strong.

The spelling of the character ‘bu’ means ‘stopping the halberd’, but actually budo is a way to avoid quarrel.

True strength is…

My next question is related to strength. Everybody attending practice wants to become stronger …

Shimizu: This could be compared with bragging about fighting strengh, if somebody only strives for strong arms and for a strong technique. As mentioned before, polite manners are a kind of precaution. You will not become strong without mastering them. The reason is, that people who cannot understand the position of their opponents, will not learn how to become strong. For example, I think Ueshiba sensei was able to read people’s minds, i.e. he could see into his opponent’s mind (kokoro). It is impossible to win without such kind of understanding. Winning without fighting is the ultimate triumph, and I remember Ueshiba sensei mentioning very often that winning by fighting is of ‘inferior quality’.

Something similiar is handed down from Yamaoka Tesshu. There is the anecdote that a challenger facing Tesshu with the sword will lower his head involuntarily as if wanting to be hit easily. By that his oppents lost the desire to challenge him, and no competition took place. It is said that during his lifetime he never really had to fight.

Of course, to reach that state he had to train totaly and extensively.

It will become secondary whether you are able to win over your opponent, if you have trained yourself intensively. Overcoming oneself means true strength.

When you practice with this attitude true strength will be achieved gradually. True strength is the strength of mind. Courage, determination and selfconfidence will be nourished by training and will be adopted by the body.

In connection to strength you often mention the term ‘kakugo’ (readiness)

Shimizu: The meaning of kakugo is to put one’s mind back to zero and to have no selfish thoughts. As in such crucial moments when ’ giving up your body completely you are carried and taken along (i.e. you will be helped after a complete resignation -; remark by translator) `. You will experience strength, if you disregard winning and defeat. Budo is called a study of mind, because releasing oneself from one`s ego is connected to strength.

I change the topic now. Doesn’t the saying ‘Human life means lifelong learning’ contain the meaning of practice of readiness (kakugo) at the threshold of death? I think, there is the important question of how to finish one’s life without remorse when dying.

This year’s video production

Let’s change the topic to this year’s actual issues. Please tell us about the plans for the 21 century.

Shimizu: Up to now I had no special plans, but after the operation of both knees and the good healing process and after passing my 60th birthday, the year 2001 is under the motto ‘from now on’. The founder (Ueshiba sensei) often talked about that the power of mind does not show complete purely, as long you have not yet passed the sixty. Now I know what he was talking about.

Let me begin with abroad. Although the name Tendoryu is well known, the students often have to travel long distances to study (aikido). Therefore I want to spread it outside America and Europe as well. Additionally, on the occasion of the 40th foundation anniversary of the German-Japanese Society in July in Germany/Munich a demonstration is scheduled, being another piece of the mosaic. Mr Nakane, residing consul general in Munich, directly contacted me. An one hour demonstration at the grand Budokan Hall in Munich is planned. The local German Board of Tendoryu is checking presently the program, and it seems to be very extensive.

Regarding Japan, this year finally I want to look after the video preparation. Probably in May we want to start with the shooting. For that reason it has already been decided that high dan degree holders from Germany will travel to Japan.

Visiting nowadays the book shops in Kanda (district of Tokyo with the highest density of book shops -; remark by translator), you will notice budo books as well as videos in the martial arts sections, but these are pure exhibitions of martial arts. I want to promote the understanding and the love to the ancient Japanese values by Aikido, which is part of the outstanding Japanese culture.

And if additionally by that I would succeed in rousing the interest of the Japanese in Aikido, it would be nice.

© translated by Birgit Lauenstein and Peter Nawrot 09/2002