HOME >  Feature Articles >  TAMURA NOBUYOSHI: the body, core of the practice

Text by Eric Grousilliat

the major architect of the development of aikido in France and Europe

Tamura Nobuyoshi and Ueshiba Morihei

Tamura Nobuyoshi, born in 1933 and deceased in 2010, was undoubtedly the major architect of the development of aikido in France and Europe. Entered as an uchi deshi at the Honbu dojo of the aikikai on August 5, 1952, he stayed there until his departure for Europe in October 1964.

He was a privileged partner of Ueshiba Morihei, particularly with the weapons, and served as otomo (assistant) during his trip to the Hawaiian Islands in 1961.

5th dan at the time, Tamura sensei quickly made a name for himself among Hawaiian aikidoka, who nicknamed him the “stone wall” because it was impossible to move him.

a farewell party for his departure for Europe

Settled in the south of France for almost 50 years, he had the reputation of an efficient aikido, despite his small size, and while he taught two days a week in his Shumeikan dojo, he spent the rest of his time teaching in large workshops, often gathering 400-500 people, both in France, Europe, and also in other countries.

At the time when he was uchi deshi, Tamura was described by his fellow students as a “carbon copy of the founder”, because gifted with a deep sense of observation, he had perfectly understood that in the world of Budo, one must be able to “steal the technique”.

Tamura Nobuyoshi and Eric Grousilliat

Tamura sensei’s credo was that the first goal of the practice was to order the body, i.e. to remove the useless, to adopt a correct posture, to pose the breath. After that, once the body orders, the mind follows. That’s how he understood the words of Ueshiba Morihei: “Aikido is misogi”.

From his beginnings in Europe in November 1964 until his last training course in France in March 2010, Tamura sensei’s practice was in constant evolution, always trying to purify his movements, to find the right gesture. This concerns his practice of Taijutsu of course but also the practice of weapons and preparatory gymnastics, the junbi dosa.


Aiki taiso and junbi dosa

Tamura Sensei was a privileged partner of Ueshiba Morihei with the weapons.

At the time Tamura sensei entered the Honbu dojo, the morning class began with Ame no torifune, and then the technical study came immediately afterwards. With the development of aikido to a wider audience, it was decided, mainly under the leadership of Tohei Koichi, to introduce Junbi dosa. Ueshiba Morihei also became older and was interested in different healthy systems.

Tamura sensei said: “It is a tradition that existed in Aikido, at the time of O sensei. The Makko-ho, the health system of Katsuzo Nishi Sensei or the method of Kenzo Futaki (Misogi no Renseikai). O sensei would try certain things himself and if he found it interesting, he would ask his students to do so. He would say, “It’s good” or “It’s not good” (Laughter).

He would make us do that, but he would say, “Stop if you feel something is wrong.

I still do some Nishi sensei exercises every morning

Tamura sensei introduced when he arrived in France, the junbi dosa learned at the Honbu dojo, starting with Amenotorifune, followed by taisabaki, tekubidosa, ukemi, breathing exercises, shikko, etc…they are often referred to as aikitaiso. It is a practice that is quite well known by aikidoka around the world and I will not dwell on it.

However, it can be said that in accordance with the founder’s conception, Tamura sensei did not see these exercises as a kind of warm-up but as aikido. He said: “Practicing Aikitaiso is already practicing Aikido”

Tamura sensei was a Budo researcher, curious about everything. In his book “Aikido”, he said: “To practice martial art, you study dietetics, anatomy, psychology, meteorology, astrology, geology, sociology, etc.”. For combat, these studies are essential, they are necessary. ”

With this state of mind, his practice was in constant evolution, in constant research, especially in the domain of the body. It was therefore quite natural that Tamura sensei proposed to her students certain methods to both strengthen the body but also improve health.

At a young age, he was already interested in the macrobiotic diet, meeting Sakurazawa Yukikazu, the founder of the method. It was through this method that he heard about aikido and met Yamaguchi Seigo. It was the latter who convinced him to become uchi deshi.

Still in the prime of life, he first became interested in Jikyo jutsu, a set of 31 movements, combining joint gymnastics, breathing exercises and also acupuncture point pressure. Tamura sensei used to repeat movements 1, 2 and 15 after the complete series.

Jikyo jutsu’s 31 exercises

The Jikyo jutsu, which could be translated as the “technique of developing one’s own strength”, was created in 1916, under the efforts of Nakai Fusagoro (中井房五郎 / 1878-1931 ), as the first Japanese gymnastics for the promotion of health.

Within the context of Budo, of course, improving one’s breathing capacity, flexibility and relaxation, muscle tone, is something of very important, in perfect accordance with the practice of the techniques.

Regarding Jikyo jutsu, Tamura sensei said: “After doing the Jikyo jutsu exercises, I am instantly able to hold myself in a natural and relaxed posture, which is very effective when you are not feeling well. It’s difficult when you practice with a partner, but when you practice them alone, you become able to see inside yourself.

As Tamura sensei became older, he gave up this practice for himself, but he always invited his students to do so.

He then practiced several kinds of methods inspired by his knowledge of Chinese and Japanese practices, a series of self-massage to relax and energize or a series of stretches that were both complete and relaxing. The latter method was particularly useful for correcting the body’s posture, rather than forcing on the body’s muscles, the emphasis was on maintaining different positions.

Chinese method of Qi Qong

It was in the early 2000s, when I used to go regularly to the Shumeikan dojo, that sensei presented for the first time his method called the eight pieces of brocade, which is part of the Chinese method of Qi Qong. This was the beginning and afterwards he made some slight changes to the exercises.

Far from the dynamism of Aikitaiso or Jikyojutsu, the eight breathing movements were slow, but also with great mental concentration. In this way, the coordination between movement and breathing was refined, and in this way, we became closer to the work of aikido.

Tamura sensei described her evolution of the Junbi dosa as follows: “Before, I used to start with Ame no torifune. Then followed other educative ones such as Ikkyo undo. These are movements that O’Sensei practiced and are perfect for young people. The children also like them a lot.

Now I’m older and more sensitive to my body. I feel that it is good to do this or that exercise depending on the moment and I change the preparation.

I say it often, but these are things that I have discovered over time and that make me feel good. I currently practice a kind of Chinese gymnastics that I find very interesting.

It’s a suggestion that I make to people. Everyone has to look for what works for them.

You can do the exercises with a health perspective at the beginning but after a period of time, it should become a work of introspection on the body. If we really pay attention to each gesture, an exercise that we thought we were doing correctly will seem difficult the next day. The body is an extraordinary thing and we must learn to listen to it.

Anything that is not natural imposes constraints on the body. Positions that may appear comfortable to us superficially are often incorrect and do not allow the body to function naturally. The most correct positions are the best for health. They do not use any force and do not tire, no matter how long they are held.

Tamura Sensei refored to inner force.

If your shisei is correct, the breath is settled and the body is relaxed. That’s why kokyu ho exercise is extremely important. One finds there the same type of research as in zazen or yoga. Budokas should have the posture that yogis or Zen monks have.

This work of posture, of shisei, constitutes in my opinion the basis of the bases. As long as the shisei is not established, it is useless to think about movement. It is something that I think is particularly missing in today’s aikido world.

But the meaning of shisei does not only refer to an external attitude: a good form, a style, a good posture, but also, an inner force visible from the outside in its manifestation.

The sword, forge of body and mind

Tamura Sensei with Sword

It is usual to say that aikido comes from the sword…this was especially true in the work of Tamura sensei. Everything, in his gestures, in his attitude, in his eyes was placed under the sign of the sword. Experiencing a technique from him was like feeling a cut.

Tamura sensei’s father was a kendo instructor, trained at the Budo senmon academy (武道専門学校), and it was one of his friends who trained young Nobuyoshi in kendo. During the same period, he started judo.

It is around 20 years old, after becoming uchi deshi of the honbu dojo, that he was initiated to iaido with the very famous Haga Jun’ichi, a formidable swordsman, pupil of Nakayama Hakudo.

It was probably for a short period of time, as his tasks as an uchi deshi were very strenuous, but a passion for the work was born.

Tamura Semsei ‘s lecture about bokken

So when he started in France as an aikido teacher, he quickly realized that just working with the bokken and the jo, which he had learned from O sensei, made it hard to fully understand the real sword work, especially for a western audience. He therefore proposed the practice of iaido, devoting part of the training courses to this practice.

In 1977, on the advice of Chiba Kazuo sensei, who is very involved in the practice of Iaido, Tamura sensei invited Mitsuzuka Takeshi, an expert from the Muso shinden ryu school, the last generation of Nakayama Hakudo’s students, to teach during the aikido workshops.

At the same time, during the Shodan’s examinations , Tamura sensei required the knowledge of the first four Iaido kata of the Muso shinden ryu school.

Tamura sensei’s Iai

As with the Junbi taiso, the practice of Iaido becomes an important part of Tamura sensei’s training. As a passionate person, Tamura sensei’s practice was in perpetual evolution, he tried out new things, keeping what he thought was useful, discarding the rest.

The sword was at the heart of his practice, in his way of executing the techniques, in his way of walking, getting up, doing ukemi, etc..

At the end of the 90s, something pushed his practice further in this direction. He discovered the incredibly fine work of Kuroda Tetsuzan, met her, and introduced important changes in his practice, such as the way of making ukemi, holding the sword or moving while doing the techniques.

For his own training he worked on the kata of iaijutsu demonstrated by Kuroda sensei, for his students he proposed to work on the first sword suburi presented by Kuroda sensei.

Of course, Tamura sensei also proposed exercices with partner using the bokuto or the jo, but this was based on a rather simple but fundamental work, looking for opening, weakness in the partner’s guard, while avoiding offering it oneself. Again, a deep and profound work on the shisei, concentration, observation.

There was no separation in his practice, Taiso, Buki waza and Taijutsu corresponded to the same study, a study on oneself.

One of the most important principles of Tamura sensei’s sword was the absence of blocking. The sword does not make contact with the partner’s sword at any time, it seeks the opening in the guard and cuts directly into the center. Facing Tamura sensei, it was really hard to initiate an attack, at the slightest movement, you were “cut”.

Similarly, with my bare hands, at the slightest grasp of Tamura sensei, it was impossible for me to move. On the contrary, to try to attack Tamura sensei was to immediately find oneself “cut off”, i.e. unbalanced without really understanding why.


Text by Eric Grousilliat

Born in France in1973
●1988 begins the practice of aikido in Normandy, France
● 1993 first meeting with Tamura Nobuyoshi, Normandy, France
● From 1993 to 2008, Pursues the practice of aikido with Tamura sensei, while meeting various experts such as Arikawa Sadateru, Ichihashi Noriaki, Yamada Sadateru, Sugano Seiichi, Saito Morihiro, Inoue Kyoichi from Yoshinkan.
● From 1997 to 2001, initiation to Chen style Taichichuan, Shindo Muso ryu jodo, Kyudo, Shinden Muso ryu iaido and Shotokan karatedo
● 2008 Practice of Yagyu shingan ryu Taijutsu with Kajitsuka sensei, Tokyo
● 2008 – 2009 Aikido, Tendokan dojo, Tokyo, with Shimizu Kenji sensei
● 2009 Aikikai Yondan from Tamura sensei
● 2009 – 2012 Aunkai Bujutsu, Tokyo with Akuzawa Minoru sensei
● 2011 – 2013 Aikido, Iwama shinshin aiki shurenkai, Tokyo and Iwama, Saito Hitohira
● 2012-2013 Takumakai Daito ryu Aikijujutsu, Kobayashi Kiyohiro sensei
● 2013 Daito ryu Shodan from Kobayashi sensei
● From 2012 to 2019, regular practice in Aikikai honbu dojo
● From 2013 to today, Marobashikai Shinkage ryu hyoho with Watanabe Tadashige sensei
● 2018, Shinkage ryu Gaiden rank