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Face to Face w Endo Shihan

This interview was conducted at Saku Dojo (where he is Dojo-cho) Nagano Prefecture, Japan by Raymond Kwok. Excerpts from the interview which first appeared in the 2000 issue of the Kuala Lumpur YMCA Aikido Club Magazine:

Born in 1942, a graduate of Gakushuin University, Seishiro Endo Shihan (8th DAN, Aikikai) entered the Hombu Dojo in 1964. Known for his ukemi in his younger days - he appeared as one of the late Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s “ukes” in the Hombu Aikikai Video series of that era.

This interview was conducted at Saku Dojo (where he is Dojo-cho) Nagano Prefecture, Japan by Raymond Kwok. Excerpts from the interview which first appeared in the 2000 issue of the Kuala Lumpur YMCA Aikido Club Magazine:

RK:        When you entered the Hombu Dojo, who were the other people who entered as uchi deshi at the same time?

SE:        Suganuma.

RK:        Did you follow O’Sensei on any of his trips?

SE:        Yes.
RK:        Was it very difficult to follow O’Sensei around on his trips ... what was the experience like?

SE:        It wasn’t hard for me when I was in Hombu Dojo because they were not long trips - i just took O’Sensei to some station ..and some people would pick him up.

RK:        No overnight trips?

SE:        No, only in the Tokyo area.

RK:        You have been known for your particular style of not using power. It seems when you were about 30 years old you dislocated your shoulder Can you tell us your style of not using power?

SE:        It is important to know how to lose shoulder power ...why do you have strength in the shoulders?

RK:        I think it is the most natural thing - most people tend to use upper body strength - it is the easiest to use, the hara however is the most difficult. ... so that’s why I think most people end up using the shoulders more.

SE:        The same principle applies in other sports, not only Aikido; Kendo, Karate, golf is important to relax the upper body, keep the power in the hara - you have to practise again and again to develop such power. The more you lose the power, the more you can concentrate.

RK:        What was it that caused you to make the decision to be an Aikido professional from the very beginning instead of joining the culture of a salaryman?

SE:       O’ Sensei attracted me. His appearance was beautiful. He was strong though in his eighties. When I took his ukemi I felt the power. Yet he was relaxed, there was concentration but he was very soft.

RK:       That was after you became his uchi deshi?

SE:        Yes, there was no power.

RK:        Have you ever tried to test O’Sensei?

SE:         In Japan, we don’t do such things. There are lots of Shihans. We respect our teacher. That is the relationship between Shihan and deshi. So, I don’t have deshi. If some people want to be my deshi, maybe I will give very hard training. Not only training in dojo, but everything, outside.

RK:        You don’t want to accept any deshi - for what reason?

SE:        The deshi should do things - what I expect.

RK:        But if you don’t have any deshi, you wouldn’t know ... what would that be?

SE:        The relationship between deshi and Shihan is strict. I belong to Hombu Dojo. That is one of the reasons. The students who come to Hombu Dojo belong to Hombu Dojo - they are not my deshi. But if some people want to learn more from me - and want to follow and stay with Endo Sensei, that is o.k. if they decide to get better and stronger...

RK:        But he still cannot be uchi-deshi?

SE:        The Sensei can choose the deshi; the deshi can choose the shihan too. This time you are here, last time I heard you were in France - other teacher, but if you decide that Endo Shihan is to be your teacher, then you can only learn from 1 teacher - you can’t go from place to place to learn from other teachers - You have to have that relationship - shihan and deshi.

RK:       Since you were at the Hombu Dojo and you first learned from Koichi Tohei Sensei, was he the big influence that caused you to develop this concept of “no-power”?

SE:        At that time I was young - I didn’t understand.

RK:       So was it Tohei Sensei or Yamaguchi Sensei that caused you to change your mind about using power?

SE:        Now I think that no particular Shihan influenced me. When I was 25 years old, Tohei Sensei was in his 50s. Tohei Sensei was then 8th or 9th Dan. I was young. I used a lot of power. After 5 years, I broke my shoulder. So I was like this - only my left arm - that was after I had been training at Hombu Dojo for 10 years.

So Yamaguchi Sensei asked me how I would get by with 1 arm. Strange question. Why? Why did he say that? Until then I did not attend Yamaguchi sensei’s class very often. After that, I tried to attend every one of his classes. Monday - only 1 class. He told me a lot - but I didn’t understand. He would correct me and tell me to keep trying.

I took ukemi - not only from Yamaguchi Sensei but also from the Founder, Doshu and Tohei Sensei. Each time I tried to feel - same feeling. Some Senseis are old - 50 and 60 years old – yet they are still very stiff because they use a lot of force. So I chose ...I learned from Tohei Sensei, Osawa Sensei,Yamaguchi Sensei. Not just from 1 person, I learned from several teachers – it was a  gradual process.

RK:        So this concept of no power was basically the result of learning
             from several teachers?

SE:        Yes. We Japanese say, “relax” - lose your power in your shoulders. Everybody knows that expression. Most people can’t do it.

RK:        You have talked about the concept of Kamnagara in Aikido. Is it like when you are doing 1 technique ... but you find you cannot
              do it - for some reason - so, you switch to another technique automatically without thinking ... if you cannot you just switch to another, if you still cannot you keep changing and switching until you get it right?

SE:        Exactly. It’s like water flowing into a river. The river will meander but the water never stops flowing. If there is a rock, the water will flow over it. "Kami” is God. The image of God is different for everybody. Every religion has a concept of what God is. But there is only 1 God and he is everywhere. I now think Taoism includes everything.

RK:        Is it possible for Gaijin who are very good in Aikido to become Shihan? Or is it reserved only for the Japanese?

SE:        To-date there is no Gaijin Shihan.

RK:        The present Doshu has come out with a statement that Shihan and “dan” certificates are separate. There is a separate certification for Shihan. Just because you reach 6th Dan, doesn’t mean you are a Shihan.

SE:        If he is teaching and is 6th Dan, 7th Dan, he is a Shihan. But if he doesn’t teach anything, he is not a Shihan. I didn’t get a certificate from Doshu saying that I am a Shihan. I am just called a Shihan.

RK:       So anyone who is teaching and is 6th Dan and above, is automatically a Shihan? Must he teach full-time, at Hombu Dojo or can he teach just anywhere? Must his teaching only be at Hombu Dojo?

SE:        No.

RK:        Is grading important in Aikido?

SE:        Sometimes. From another point of view, it doesn’t matter. People want to take Shodan, Nidan, Sandan  We have to learn something from Aikido. For example, after you have got Nidan, and you want to go for Sandan, I will ask you what has changed inside you? Did you change? Everybody can do Shomen Uchi Ikkyo, 5th Kyu - people can do, 8th Dan Shihan can do Ikkyo the same. Who decides the difference? Whose kokyu is good, not good?

RK:        Is that why you told me before that when you conduct Grading, you never fail people? When you came to Malaysia in 1994, told me that as an Examiner you never fail people?

SE:        Yes, because of my philosophy.

RK:        If someone is going from 2nd to 3rd Dan, and you ask him, did you feel anything has changed from when you were 2nd Dan - he says nothing has changed, then does he fail?

SE:        I have failed 2 people in my Dojo.

RK:        The 3 stages of shukari  ( 守破離 )   which stage are you at now?

SE:        â€œshu” ...( 守 )

RK:        very modest ... you should be at “ri” ( 離 ) now.

SE:        Sometimes “ha”, ( ç ´ ) sometimes “ri” –( 離 )  it changes ...

RK:        You haven’t reached “satori” ( æ‚Ÿã‚Š) yet?

SE:        Almost ...(laughs) ... . I don’t know.

The End


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