Interview with Miyamoto Tsuruzo Shihan: Perceiving and sensing

Miyamoto Tsuruzo shihan is a 7th Dan senior instructor at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. He has been traveling every year to France since 2006 to teach in its main Southern cities. Every year, more and more students attend the class in order to grasp Sensei's virtuoso technique and benefit from his highly refined pedagogic approach. We took the opportunity of a class he gave in Montpellier to have a chat with this kind and thoughtful gentleman and ask him about his technique and his views on teaching Aikido.

Emmanuel Marès: Sensei, could you please tell us briefly how you started Aikido and what decided you to make it your profession?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: I started Aikido in 1971, at 18, when I entered the university of Fukuoka. For the next four years, I followed the teaching of Suganuma Mamoru Sensei, who was a delegate instructor of the Aikikai. Once I graduated, I found it difficult to decide whether to look for a job or to continue doing Aikido.

Suganuma Sensei was an extraordinary man, extraordinary in his technique of course, but also as a human being. He represented what I was aiming for as a person. Moreover, it is at about that time that I participated to my first seminar and witnessed the subsequent demonstration by Second Doshu Ueshiba Kisshomaru. I really wanted to learn with him and become stronger so this is why I entered the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo.

Emmanuel Marès: Who are the teachers who had the greatest influence on your apprenticeship and what have you retained from their teaching?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: I trained at the Tokyo Aikikai under Ueshiba Kisshomaru Doshu from the late 70's to the early 90's and I had the honor to serve as his partner during demonstration and seminars. I will never forget the energy in his eyes, the power that emanated from his whole body, and the pressure that I was feeling when we were face to face during big demonstrations. By practicing with him, I learned the three most important principles of Aikido: vision, timing, and proper placement.

Miyamoto Sensei at the Hombu Dojo (uke: Guillaume Erard)

Miyamoto Sensei at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo (uke: Guillaume Erard)

Emmanuel Marès: You have been in charge of beginners classes at the Tokyo Aikikai for a very long time, is you pedagogy different in beginners, compared to advanced classes?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: A beginner must obtain solid basics. This is an important period of the learning process. It is crucial not to take bad habit and this is why it is important that senior instructors be put in charge of teaching beginners. On the contrary, during advanced classes, I of course try to guide students so that they get rid of their bad habits, but I also try to show them new work perspectives.

Emmanuel Marès: On which aspects should a beginner mainly focus?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: There is no competition in Aikido. During training, we learn techniques but progressively, one has to seek beyond the form. At the beginning, one must not focus on the search of a certain aesthetic. The beauty of the movement only comes from long years of training. If one only focuses on aesthetics, one's technique will only function on certain people, but not with all partners. The real danger is to loose sight of what is essential.

Miyamoto Tsuruzo and Guillaume Erard

Miyamoto Sensei teaching at the Hombu Dojo (uke: Guillaume Erard)

The timing, distance, and power that we put in the technique will change according to the partner and the environment in which we find ourselves. A great number of elements must be taken into account when facing someone: his size, agility, flexibility, knowledge, physical condition, etc. All of these parameters are perpetually changing. Regardless of this, one should never hesitate to give everything. It is really important to learn Aikido with spirit and energy.

Emmanuel Marès: You belong to the examination board of the Hombu Dojo, what do you expect from students when they take a test?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: The most important thing during an examination is to express oneself fully. One must not try to copy a teacher or to demonstrate beautiful forms. What I expect to see, as a jury, is the result of all the work that has been put into practice up to now.

Emmanuel Marès: Do you see a difference between daily practice and that which is displayed during an examination?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: During daily practice, we must differentiate the themes that we want to work on within short and long terms. In addition, there are the themes that the instructors give us and there are the objectives that we give to ourselves.

During my classes, I show different ways to enter, to take the balance, and I let the students find which one corresponds best to them. We are forging our Aikido during our daily practice.

The grading examination is the moment to focus on all the work that has been achieved up to now and to express it.

Miyamoto Sensei

Emmanuel Marès: People often say that the Aikido taught in Japan is different from that which is taught in France, do you agree? Are the inconsistencies, if any, only due to cultural differences?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: Every teacher is different, including in Japan, and the teaching is not standardized. As an example, when I arrived at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, Ueshiba Morihei O-Sensei had already passed away. I learnt Aikido from his son, Ueshiba Kisshomaru and therefore, one might very well say that I did not learn the "true" Aikido as taught by O-Sensei.

Aikido was initially taught in France by the direct students of O-Sensei, and this may be the reason why some say that it is different. In the end, what is important is to know the meaning that we want to ascribe to our daily practice. One should not solely practice for one's own interest, nor should one gravitate towards something too mystical.

Even though there are definite cultural differences, we always manage to find common values. In Japan for example, we talk about Bushido while in France there is the spirit of chivalry. In my opinion, the fact that Aikido is so popular in France is not sheer coincidence.

Emmanuel Marès: Do you adapt your teaching according to the country in which you teach?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: I do not adapt to the country but to the practitioners. For example, to those who practice in a very muscular way, I propose a suppler Aikido. To those who like an Aikido that I find too soft, I show something more explosive. To those who practice in a way that is too mechanical, I try to demonstrate the martial aspect of techniques, etc. During my classes, I try to give the opportunity to students to discover something new.

Miyamoto Sensei in France

Miyamoto Sensei in France (uke: Emmanuel Marès)

Emmanuel Marès: From the outside, your practice seems very physical but yet, when one feels you technique, there is no violence. What importance do you give to the external aspect of Aikido?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: I cannot practice with myself so it is very difficult for me to define my work. If one does not feel any force during contact, that is the hallmark of a god timing and a proper distance. In other words, everything depends on breathing. The most important thing in our practice is to learn to perceive and sense the partner as a whole.

Regarding the external aspect of things, I do not really think about it, I just try to give everything I have.

Emmanuel Marès: What would you like people to take home from your practice?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: Through the practice of basic techniques, I think that it is important to acquire both the suppleness and the strength that are necessary to be able to train regularly. During my classes, I insist on the core principles of Aikido: sabaki, irimi, and tenkan, as well as on breathing, and the aim is to show all possible variations. I do not try to teach new techniques, but I try to make practitioners feel what lies behind the techniques that they practice daily.

Miyamoto Sensei and Emmanuel Marès

Miyamoto Sensei in France (uke: Emmanuel Marès)

Emmanuel Marès: To finish, what are you researching in Aikido today? Is that very different from what brought you to start practicing this martial art in the first place?

Miyamoto Tsuruzo: I have often heard my seniors say that Aikido started with ikkyo and finished with ikkyo. Ikkyo is a technique that we perform with beginners as much as with advanced practitioners. It is a very interesting exercise because even though everybody can do it, it is in reality very hard to master.

Miyamoto Sensei awarded the 8th Dan

When I was much younger, I used to practice with a lot of strength but with age, one becomes weaker. During all these years, I have accumulated experience, knowledge, and my glance extended to new horizons. My vision of Aikido has changed with time. In my mind, there are different levels of practice and therefore, there are different ikkyo. Ikkyo is a technique that has to evolve with time, hence the expression "everything starts with ikkyo, and everything finishes with ikkyo".

Guillaume Erard
Author: Guillaume Erard
A resident of Japan for nearly a decade, Guillaume Erard trains at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, where he received the 5th Dan from Aikido Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. He also holds a 3rd Dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, the secretive art that Morihei Ueshiba learned from Sokaku Takeda. Erard is the Information Director of the International Aikido Federation and the Deputy Secretary of International Affairs of the Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu Shikoku Headquarters. He is also passionate about science and education and holds a PhD in Molecular Biology.
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