Nishioka Tsuneo and the Pure Flow of the Jo

What does Nishioka Tsuneo Yasunori sensei want to pass on to the select group of American students who study the art of jojutsu (staff methods)?

The head of the Seiryukai organization, who spent most of his life in jo forging his techniques, says that, it’s “Not waza (techniques) alone. You have to go beyond waza, to seishin (spirit).”

Nishioka was at the tail end of a cross-country tour of the United States, where he visited various jo clubs, including those located in Atlanta and Baltimore, and passed on advanced techniques. This interview was conducted over an informal dinner at a Korean restaurant and at a practice session with the members of the Hawaii Shinto Muso-ryu jo group led by Quintin Chambers.

The 70-year-old Nishioka began his budo training over 56 years ago at the age of 14, quite by accident. In prewar Japan, most physical education departments in public schools offered mandatory classes in judo or kendo, but the Yakan Gakko Middle School was so small it didn’t have phys. ed. classes. Seeking some kind of budo training, an older student introduced him to Shimizu Takaji, who headed the Shinto Muso-ryu system in Tokyo.

“He was Japan’s number one teacher,” Nishioka recollects.

Nishioka took to Shimizu and jo practice like a fish to water. He trained in the morning, then went to school or (later, after graduating,) work, and then returned to Shimizu sensei’s dojo at 5 p.m., training until 10 at night. He followed this regime religiously for five years.

“I didn’t think it was any hardship at all,” Nishioka says, a quick smile coming to his face as he recalls his youthful years. “Shimizu sensei was a good teacher, so it was a time of happiness.

“Most people quit training after school. I didn’t. I married, changed companies, but still I studied (every day) with Shimizu sensei for five years, then I cut back to three times a week.”

In between, Nishioka was called up by the draft to enter the Imperial Army in February 1945. He considers it a blessing that the war ended soon after, in August of that year. He returned home unscathed.

“Over half of my friends and students who went to war before me never came back, they died,” Nishioka says. “I was lucky.”

At the end of the war, most budo practice was banned by GHQ, the Occupation forces led by the American military under General Douglas MacArthur. Jo, however, was allowed. Shimizu sensei was allowed to teach staff methods to the Tokyo police, and a number of kendo teachers joined the classes in order to continue some kind of budo practice.

“Training before and after the war was about the same,” Nishioka notes. “But society changed, so the intent of practice changed. Budo practitioners my age and older treated budo as a life and death situation. It’s not like nowadays.”

Nishioka, who continued his studies with Shimizu and Otofuji sensei, eventually received his menkyo kaiden master’s license from Shimizu and began the Seiryukai. The name is a tribute to his teacher. Sei-, which means “clear and pure,” is also the first Chinese character used in Shimizu sensei’s name (which is pronounced shi-). -Ryu- denotes flow or origins, and -kai is organization. Thus, Seiryukai can mean the “organization of the style derived from Shimizu sensei” as well as the “pure style organization.”

The jo that the Seiryukai practices, therefore, is the Shinto Muso-ryu jo, Shimizu-ha (the Shinto Muso-ryu staff art of the Shimizu style). Nishioka teaches at various rented and borrowed locations in Greater Tokyo, but he has no central dojo specifically for Seiryukai jo.

“The land prices in Tokyo are just unbelievable, they’re ridiculous!” he comments. “I couldn’t afford a dojo with those prices being what they are!”

Nishioka has some interesting ideas about jo and budo in general, and he interspersed his practice with Hawaii jo students with many tidbits of information:

Nishioka’s Thoughts

“It’s harder to start budo after twenty years of age. The mind and body hardens. You can do it, but it’s harder for the technique to enter your body. Past twenty, the techniques have to enter the mind first. It’s best if your body learns without too much mind. Then the body remembers (karada de motte). It’s the same for learning piano, and so on. So middle school to college are the most important years, the best time for learning.”

Over and over again, Nishioka sensei stressed that jo “Is not a military art. It is a martial art.” There’s a big difference, he says. Quintin Chambers sensei adds that a martial art is concerned with a “sense of chivalry.”

Every student has to study the techniques of the jo for himself, and not just blindly imitate his teacher. “Shimizu sensei was a very short person,” Nishioka says. “Sometimes in some stances, his jo would hit the floor (because he was so short), for example.” Some students later on blindly imitated Shimizu sensei, not knowing that they were doing things inappropriate for their own height.

Many Americans are very interested in budo, Nishioka noted happily, but he also observed that some Americans had very strange ideas about budo. “(Some) think it’s something like ninjitsu, or something or they think it’s something to defeat other people. That’s a mistake.”

Modern jo, because it is incorporated in the All-Japan Kendo Federation’s jodo section, is heavily influenced by kendo, a sportive budo. That is good and bad, Nishioka says. “You have to be aware of the old techniques and actual meanings,” he admonishes his students. For example, according to Nishioka, jodan (a stance in which the sword is held right over the head), straight men (overhead, direct cuts to the top of the opponent’s head) and the high-standing positions are modern kendo influences. In the old days, when samurai wore armor, a lot of the attacks were kesa (angular) and the kamae was often hasso (in which the sword is held upright close to the chest). The jodo practiced in Kyushu, the former Kuroda clan domain, still retains a lot of the old flavor. “But you must study both,” he concludes.

An actual battle, in the classical sense, began before swords are even crossed. If you were good enough, you could sense malicious intent and avoid it or plan how to defeat it before the attack even started. That is the ability of being able to sense an opponent’s sakki (“killing spirit”). You should also be able to realistically gauge your own strength and your opponent’s abilities.”

In practice, your partner doesn’t generate sakki, because it’s only practice. But if it was a real life-and-death situation, you would sense sakki easily if you were trained by years of budo practice. “If it were a shinken shobu (duel with real weapons to the conclusion), the sakki would duel first (before the swords).”

“If you know you can’t defeat a challenger, you could just say, `Gee, you’re really too good for me,’ and avoid the match,” Nishioka laughs. “That’s strategy, too. That’s avoiding defeat, after all.”

Weapons are to be held lightly but firmly in the hands. Too light a grip and it falls out. Too tight a grip and the dogu (tool) becomes “dead.” That is why in iai-do the initial grasping of the sword handle is very light. “You need to be able to use the snap in your wrist when you cut,” Nishioka says.

Coming to America

Nishioka first traveled to America because he worked as hard in business as he did in budo. In a rather individualistic manner for a Japanese of his generation, he ventured out of the pack to develop word processing machines in Japan long before other big corporations moved into the wa-puro business. Thirty years ago, Nishioka ventured to Phoenix, Arizona, to cement a deal with an American software company that led to one of the first Japanese language word processors. His open-mindedness to new technologies continues to this day. One of his fondest memoriesof his recent trips to America was a tour of a lab at Apple Computers that showcased computer innovations and prototypes. He was like a kid in a candy factory.

Nishioka’s company was the first to get in on Japanese word processing. It endured the hard knocks of overcoming consumer reluctance at typing on a keyboard, built up the market… “Then Toshiba and others got into the business,” he laughs, noting how the profits slowed after the big boys got involved.

Even now, semi-retired, Nishioka goes to his family-run business in a building by Kokubunji, near Tachikawa, in Greater Tokyo, just to oversee operations. It’s easy to see that Nishioka enjoys business, perhaps as much as he enjoys budo training. His eyes constantly gleam when discussing high tech or budo techniques.

Nishioka sensei notes that not much is really known about the founder of the ryu, Muso Gonnosuke. All that is really verifiable is that Gonnosuke was born, he lived, he meditated at Mount Homan, he dueled with Miyamoto Musashi and he died somewhere. Everything else, Nishioka says, is probably conjecture. Gonnosuke’s colorful character was a later colorization of a shadowy historical personage. “That part was probably made up,” Nishioka says.

At the end of the military shogunate, in the late 1800s, Hirano Kichizo Noei was appointed a lineal master (soke) of the ryu and became very famous within the Kuroda clan. His son, Kuniomi, also studied jojutsu but according to Nishioka he didn’t attain a menkyo license. Kuniomi, at the age of 31, wrote Jobo Kojitsu, (The Ancient Customs of the Jo and the Bo)1. Kuniomi first created the tales of an extravagant, boastful Gonnosuke.

“Those stories may have been fantastic, exaggerated,” Nishioka believes.

Nishioka’s recent trips to the States gave him an overview of jojutsu practiced outside of Japan. Nishioka has visited the United States three times in the past two years. From what he saw, he concludes that those non-native Japanese who studied directly with Shimizu sensei, such as Quintin Chambers and Phil Relnick, are very, very good. And there is no lack of enthusiasm and good effort.

His escalating attempts at spreading jo outside of Japan by giving seminars began after his semi-retirement. “As much as possible, I want to pass on Shimizu sensei’s methods and spirit.”

As part of that agenda, Nishioka planned to return to Hawaii in August of this year to participate in the International Jodo Federation’s training camp with members of his Seiryukai. This is the first time that any Japanese group is officially participating in the IJF’s activities. “I consider anyone who’s trained with Shimizu sensei like a family member, not like a student-teacher relationship,” Nishioka concludes.

“. . . I want to pass on the pure methods of Shimizu sensei, including the gijutsu (methods), densho (tradition) and seishin (spirit).”

Copyright ©1994 Wayne Muromoto. All rights reserved.


  1. Bugei Ryuha Daijiten, by Watatani Kiyoshi and Yamada Tadashi, Tokyo Koppi Shuppan edition, 1980, p. 426. ↩︎

This article first appeared in Furyu: The Budo Journal, vol. 1, no. 2.