FACE to FACE with Etsuji Horii Sensei

Etsuji Horii started Aikido at the age of 14 when he was in Junior
High school. In 1985 when he was 20 years old, he entered the
Hombu Dojo as an uchi - deshi. 11 years later, he opened his own
Kobe Sanda Dojo in Hyogo prefecture. In Nov., 2000 he visited our
Dojo together with 9 of his students. Here , he tells Raymond
Kwok about himself.

Excerpts from the interview which first appeared in the 2001 issue of the
Kuala Lumpur YMCA Aikido Club Magazine:

RK:        For how long were you an Uchi-deshi at Hombu Dojo?

EH:        3 years, after which I moved out of Hombu Dojo but still trained

RK:        So after 3 years, you became a Soto- deshi?

EH:        Yes.

RK:        How many hours a day did you train at Hombu-Dojo?

EH:        About 5 hours.

RK:        Did you accompany Kisshomaru Doshu on Junkaishido trips?

EH:        Yes, the first time I went overseas with Doshu was to the World
              Games, in Germany, in July 1989. Before that I went to China   
              with Moriteru Sensei.

RK:        What other countries?

EH:        Italy (twice) with the Doshu, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Taiwan
             (IAF Congress). I also went to Belgium, Australia with Moriteru

RK:        He was then Waka Sensei?

EH:        Yes, before that, I also went to Kuala Lumpur with Seki Sensei
             (1992). There were also various other trips to Asia with Okumura
              Sensei (1986).

RK:        Did you enjoy the trips?

EH:        Yes, but it was tough. Almost always when you accompany a
             Sensei on such trips you have to take ukemi for him - so it was

RK:        Was the ukemi tiring?

EH:        (Laughs). I went to Poland alone. But when I went to the other
              countries I always accompanied some Sensei or other, as their
              bag carrier. It’s more interesting if you go alone.

RK:        I have seen Horii Sensei acting as uke for Kisshomaru Doshu
             and Moriteru Doshu in the Hombu Instructional videotapes -
             Were you the favourite uke at Hombu Dojo?

EH:        (Laughs). But there are many Senseis there.

RK:        Which Hombu Sensei had the greatest influence on your Aikido?

EH:        Kisshomaru Sensei. He was the Aikido Doshu. I took ukemi for
             him and could also see that his Aikido was good. But there were
             also other good teachers too.

EH:        I attended classes by several Sensei at Hombu Dojo and was
             able to absorb elements of Aikido from each Sensei. In that
             sense, they all influenced my Aikido.

RK:        In your opinion, is Buki waza important in Aikido?

EH:        Yes.

RK:        Kumitachi? Kumi-jo?

EH:        Yes, we have Kumitachi and Kumijo. It is important to learn how
              to use the Ken, Jo, and Tanto. Each one has its own meaning.

              You should train bearing in mind that each one has a different
              meaning. So when you use the ken or jo, you must master it.
              Taijutsu is also important. So both Buki waza and Taijutsu are

EH:        The basics are important - you have to learn how to defend
              against an attack.

RK:        In your opinion, should the manner of teaching children and
             adults be the same?

EH:        There are similarities, but there are differences too. The
              similarities are in teaching them to be kind, polite and to love.

               We have to try our best to teach the children this. Similarly, with
               the adults. The different point in teaching children is that you
               have to understand them - as if you are one of them. You should
               make it simple because children cannot understand difficult
               things. You have to play with them.

RK:        All the time?

EH:        No, if you play with them all the time they will get distracted.
             Sometimes, you have to be strict. You have to make them
             remember etiquette, bowing, ukemi, basic technique;
             “Konnichiwa”, “arigato gozaimasu”...

RK:        Greetings?

EH:        That is right - when to use them ... Then they can be taught how
              to enjoy training. In such things, teaching adults are similar.

              Learning has to be a pleasurable experience. Pleasure does
              not mean laughing with your partner.

              Adults have to find pleasure in learning skill. For example, we  
              have to teach them basic waza - how to try your best to move
              your body. Because body movement is important, you have to
              teach that. The spirit of Aikido lies in the waza. If there is no
              waza then ...

RK:        Yes, but the spirit and philosophical aspects of Aikido are
              difficult to teach.

EH:        Yes, it is better not to teach philosophical aspects which the
              students may not understand. The easiest way to understand
              Aikido is to practice waza. For example, inside waza like Shiho
              Nage, Irimi Nage, Ikkyo - is the “idea” of Aikido.

RK:        Would you teach women differently?

EH:        No, they can be taught in the same way as men.

RK:        Any regrets about taking up Aikido?

EH:        No.

RK:        Before you opened your Dojo in Kobe, did you teach at the
             Hombu Dojo?

EH:        Yes, the Beginners' class for about 5 years.

RK:        In your opinion, is grading important in Aikido?

EH:        Yes, Grading is important.

RK:        Why?

EH:        Grading is important as a measure of one’s level of
             performance. Sometimes a student is happy when he is

             However, promotion should not be the motive for practice.
             Rather, you will get promoted as a result of practice. If
             you practise hard you can reach whatever kyu level, whatever
             Dan level.

RK:        So it is not good to be too ambitious?

EH:        It’s alright to be ambitious when you are starting out. So a
             Shodan person will try to practice with a Nidan partner in order to
             go up to that level. That in itself, is not bad.

             But if your sole motivation for practice is to get promoted, you
             are likely to end up disappointed.

             I can accept it if a person’s purpose is to get promoted - it is up
             to the individual. Some people think that through Aikido they can
             make friends. Others think they can use it to win a fight.

RK:        In your opinion, can foreigners (non-Japanese) ever be eligible
             for the award of “Shihan” status?

EH:       Yes, it's possible.

RK:        Is your wife a full-time Aikido teacher too?

EH:        Yes, we participate together.

RK:        Have you watched O’Sensei on tape?

EH:        Yes

RK:        Was O’Sensei’s Aikido similar to the Aikido we practise now?

EH:        O’Sensei’s Aikido changed throughout his fifties, sixties,
              seventies, and eighties. His Aikido during each of these stages
              of his life was completely different.
EH:        Until he died, O’Sensei continually changed as he developed his
              skills. When he was in his fifties he was strong, ... when he was
              in his seventies ... he created Aikido.
RK:        Was O’Sensei’s Aikido similar to Kisshomaru Doshu’s Aikido?

EH:        I think they were different. But there were similarities in certain
             aspects too.

RK:        Which aspects were similar and which were different?

EH:        Well, both of them dedicated their entire lives to Aikido. But
             Kisshomaru Doshu had his own ideas, he could not just copy O’
             Sensei, so in that sense they had to be different.

RK:        Whose Aikido was better?

EH:        Both were good.

RK:        Kisshomaru Doshu’s Aikido was softer?

EH:        When he was young, it was different from when he was older. I
             learned Aikido under him for more than 10 years. Even during
             that time, his Aikido was changing. Human beings evolve.
             Nothing remains static - we are always changing.

Acknowledgement: Sadato Onji

                                                 The End
Horii Sensei performing Koshi
Nage at the YMCA Aikido Club.