Ichiro Shishiya is one of the world’s leading exponents of that Aikido system that refers to one of the Founder’s most noticeable direct students, the late Shoji Nishio. Here are the results of our cyber chat
by SIMONE CHIERCHINI
Ichiro Shishiya was born in Tokyo in 1947. He started practising Judo at the age of 10 at the Sugamo Police Dojo. In 1963, when he was in his third year of middle school, he enrolled in the Sugamo Kenshyukan Dojo directed by Noboru Ishibashi and began studying Aikido under the guidance of Shoji Nishio. From 1966 Ichiro Shishiya also started attending the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. After graduating from Dokkyo University in 1970, he worked for a few companies before founding his own computer engineering systems company in 1979. Since then, he has spent his time juggling work and Aikido teaching.
He currently holds the rank of 7th dan Aikikai and regularly travels to give seminars in many European cities, as well as being the Tokyo Meisei Kai Dojo-cho. Shishiya is also the president of the Toshima Ward Aikido Federation, an All-Japan Aikido Federation delegate, a trustee of the Tokyo Aikido Federation and a permanent member of the Board of Directors of the Toshima Ward Physical Education Association.
Thanks for providing us with the opportunity for this Skype interview, Sensei. You have a prominent role in the diffusion of Nishio Aikido. In Italy, unfortunately, this style of Aikido is not represented. It is therefore very stimulating for us to receive first-hand information about it.
Happy to help. To begin with, I need to make a small but essential correction. Everyone refers to Nishio Sensei’s Aikido as Nishio Aikido. I have to point out, however, that Nishio Sensei was not fond of this definition at all. I have heard him repeat on more than one occasion that there is no such a thing as Nishio Aikido, there is only Aikido, because Aikido is only one, and it is O’Sensei’s Aikido.
A noble and instructive point of view. Was Nishio Sensei suggesting that in Aikido there should be no room for egocentrism and divisions? That we should be all united – even in our differences – in the name of O’Sensei?
In the past, there have been several great teachers who were O’Sensei’s direct students and Nishio Sensei was one of them. The Founder respected and agreed with their ideas on Aikido. Within the Aikikai, there has been room for Aikido concepts as different as those of Morihiro Saito and Hiroshi Tada sensei. Going a step further, the Founder lived harmoniously even with those who had chosen their own separate paths, such as Gozo Shioda sensei and his Yoshinkan. O’Sensei never said he disagreed with what they were doing and that’s remarkable.
You spent many years alongside the man Nishio and, I am sure, could share dozens of memories and anecdotes about him. How did you happen to meet Aikido and Shoji Nishio?
I met Nishio Sensei at the age of 15 and have followed him ever since, although when I was 18 I studied at the Hombu Dojo for a year, especially with Kisaburo Osawa Sensei. Nishio Sensei taught at my local dojo, it was just a fifteen-minute walk from my home, while the Hombu Dojo was really far away. My initial choice was above all a practical one, however, once I made it I was happy to follow Nishio Sensei for life.
When I first approached Aikido, Japanese society was very different from today – half a century has gone by in the meantime, after all. At the time, everyone was looking for an art that was above all valid as a martial method. When I was 10, I started doing Judo and I was pretty good. I won several competitions, until one day I was made to experience the taste of defeat. My opponent was so big – even though we were just kids he weighed at least 80 kg – that my techniques didn’t work against him. At one point we both ended up on the ground and he got on top of me: no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t dislodge him anymore and I lost the match.
Later, reflecting on what happened, I decided that I had to find a way to get stronger and train better, and this I could only do by choosing another martial art: this was Aikido. I went to my neighbourhood’s dojo and there I found Nishio Sensei.
Was Nishio sensei strict as a teacher?
No, not at all, he was a very kind man. Even at the very beginning, he was not an intimidating figure for me, even though I was very young, because he always had a smile on his face. In his dojo, there were several expert senpai – budoka who were also senpai in other martial arts such as Sumo, Judo and Karate – and they all said to me: “Nishio sensei is great. There is no way we can attack it and put him down”.
Over the years, I then witnessed this fact several times. Throughout his Budo career, Nishio Sensei developed tremendous fighting experience. It should not be forgotten that in that period, after the end of World War II, Japan was under US control. Some of the Aikikai shihan, such as Nishio, Tada and Kobayashi, were sent to give Aikido demonstrations at American military bases. After a demonstration given by Nishio Sensei in one of these military camps, some of the soldiers in attendance said that they had enjoyed the Aikido demonstration and that Aikido was beautiful, but they had a heavyweight boxing champion in their ranks: would Nishio sensei like to demonstrate his Aikido with him as an opponent instead of his uke?
Nishio Sensei could not refuse, so he found himself in front of this heavyweight boxing champion. It must be said that Nishio Sensei was not a big man and weighed perhaps around 60 kg. The American rushed at him with a rapid series of blows, but Nishio Sensei simply moved to his weak side and made him fall to the ground. Now, while it is quite normal for a judoka or aikidoka to fight on the ground, for a boxer this is an unusual situation, and the champion found himself in momentary confusion.Once he got up, the boxer tried to hit Nishio Sensei again and Nishio again moved and from the new advantageous position grounded him. This happened a few more times until Nishio Sensei noticed that in the American’s eyes concentration and determination were gone and had been replaced by bewilderment. At that point, Nishio sensei stopped, but none of the many soldiers watching the contest could figure out why. Everyone asked him why he had stopped the fight without finishing the opponent. Nishio Sensei replied: “Because your champion is the winner, while I have lost”.
The soldiers understood these words even less and a moan of protest rose from the crowd: they had seen the Japanese land the American several times, therefore it was obvious for them that he prevailed in the clash. Instead, Nishio Sensei said: “Your champion has fallen several times, but he has always stood up, ready to attack me, showing an indomitable spirit, like a true Samurai, and therefore he is the winner and I am the vanquished”.
This is a beautiful story and full of teaching for all of us.
Many years have passed since and now you are a teacher of international repute. Numerous students follow your teachings all over Europe within your umbrella association and with it multiple related responsibilities have come. What is Aikido for you today?
This year  I celebrated my 50th anniversary in Aikido. When I started out as a boy, my goal was to get stronger, fight and be a winner: a very simplistic view, I now realize, but at the time I was just a teenager… Over the years, I came to realize that the martial component is only one of Aikido’s aspects, and not necessarily the most important one.
Towards the end of his life, Nishio Sensei explained to us how Aikido was what he called Yurusu Budo, which is also the title of his book. The Japanese expression Yurusu Budo cannot be literally rendered in Western languages, but in a broader sense we can translate it as “Budo imbued with generous forgiveness”.
How is this substantiated in practical terms? In the common understanding of martial arts, as soon as an opponent attacks me, I have to fight him back. Nishio Sensei, on the other hand, saw it differently: when the opponent attacks me, I don’t have to fight back, I should generously forgive him instead. If he attacks me again, I have to forgive him again, and again if he attacks me a third or fourth time and so on. The goal of our Aikido study, therefore, is not fighting, but forgiveness. The last word of an aikido student is generosity.
O’Sensei defined his Aikido with the word “Love”, Nishio Sensei with the expression “Generous Forgiveness”. What is my idea? After many years spent on the mat, today I think that Aikido helps in developing the relational connection with the partner: this includes both the idea of ”Love” and of “Generous Forgiveness”.
In my opinion, anyone who sees Aikido as a series of fighting techniques runs into a sensational misunderstanding. Here the concept of winning or losing has no place. Of course, I don’t want to be hurt, this is why I am studying how to put myself in a safe place in the event of a clash. For this purpose, it is not necessary to hurt the opponent.
The normal opinion on how to end a fight would be to inflict as much damage on the opponent as possible and then ask him if he gives up. This is now out of date and place in our world.
We would like to thank Ichiro Shishiya sensei for offering this insightful opportunity to Aikido Italia Network readers.
It is I who thank you for the interview.
Copyright Simone Chierchini ©2020
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We are grateful to Renato Filippin for his help in realizing this interview