‘Nishiyama’ – The Legacy of an Eternal Student
On the 7th November 2008, Nishiyama Hidetaka passed away following a tragic battle with lung cancer, leaving behind droves of students who mourn the loss of this pioneer and undisputed Master of Shotokan Karate.
His students and the rest of the karate community alike will regard him forever as one of history’s finest and most important karate teachers. Here in this article, I would like to pay respect to one of karate’s true Masters, briefly look into his life and early history and express what a loss his passing is to not only his students, but to the entire karate community. I would however more importantly like to make this article a celebration of the dedication this man showed to his art.
Nishiyama Sensei, born in 1928, was always involved in the Martial Arts. From the age of 5, he had practiced Kendo, which he practiced until he was 16, but during that time had also practiced Judo. Later on however after watching ‘Karate Instruction’ by Gichin Funakoshi, he attempted to find a karate dojo and finally in 1943 he found Master Funakoshi’s dojo.
He was a dedicated student, and this led to him becoming a part of the infamous Takushoku University. In 1949 he was named Captain of the university’s karate team, and graduated with a Master of Arts degree in Economics.
1951 however was a truly groundbreaking and a significant date in the history of karate. It was in this year that he, along with several others, co-founded the Japan Karate Association and was elected onto the Board of Directors. This was followed in 1952 when he began teaching the American Military, which was followed in 1953 by being invited to tour the American air bases along with Masatoshi Nakayama and Isao Obata.
In 1960 Sensei Nishiyama published his text Karate: The Art of Empty-Hand Fighting that he wrote with Richard Brown. This book is in its 70th printing, selling approximately 14,000 copies making it arguably one of the best selling books on the subject. This book, which includes photography of Nishiyama Sensei himself, but also includes H. Kanazawa and T. Okazaki is still considered a must have book in the collection of any karate martial artist.
In 1961, Sensei Nishiyama was invited to move to America and teach karate, by the JKA students living in the area and the students who he had taught whilst teaching the American Military. This was to mark one of the most important dates in his life and marks the beginning of his influence on karate in the States.
For more information on the life and achievements of Hidetaka Nishiyama please visit www.itkf.org/nishiyama.html
The adventure that we as Karate students follow remains profoundly impacted by Sensei Hidetaka Nishiyama. His passing from our world brings sadness for we can no longer draw upon his vast treasure of wisdom and power of his physical spirit. Yet he has left us with a precious gift. Through his lifetime he opened the world of Karate-do to so many, who in turn will pass along to others this wonderful way.
Development of the inner spirit was one of Sensei Nishiyama's hallmarks, may we hold this ideal strong in his memory and for the future of Karate-do.
- Frank Acevedo
THE LEGACY OF AN ‘ETERNAL STUDENT’
In hearing about the sad passing of Sensei Nishiyama, I did some extended reading into the life and experiences of this inspirational man. I sought out video footage of him and read as much I could.
As I have already said, I would like to make this article a real celebration of his life and legacy rather than simply looking at his life and reeling off a selection of dates.
Sensei Nishiyama started his karate training in 1943, and since that time he has become one of the most recognisable figures of the art, and pioneered great advancements and research that has deepened understanding of the art, but also further developed the intellectual study of movement.
He was the ‘eternal’ student.
So what can we learn from this example?
Karate-Do can be translated as ‘the way of the open hand’. The concept of ‘The Way’ is very significant in karate and suggests a long arduous journey that is both challenging, but rewarding. Sensei Nishiyama followed ‘the way’ for 65 years.
That which makes karate so rewarding is paradoxically exactly that which makes people fall from the path of development. You only gain from karate if you fully invest. You can only truly enjoy the fruits of the study if you give it all of your enthusiasm and commitment…but many cannot maintain this.
Commitment is hard; it’s tiring, taxing and exhausting. Commitment requires character, determination and spirit. It’s these qualities that ensure a true karateka rises above the rest and fight through the abstract obsticles.
To study the art for 65 years requires character. It requires determination and it requires spirit. These are the markings of a ‘karateka’.
As my previous articles have implied, there is a difference between practice and study. Both need to work closely hand in hand, but are quite different. Practicing karate everyday, doing exactly as you have done for the last twenty five years, though developing you physical ability, it doesn’t develop your understanding. Nishiyama Sensei however has been very much at the forefront of research into the art, and has generated a wealth of innovative developments. In this way, he is a ‘pioneer’.
It is this in many ways that sets Nishiyama out from the crowd. He is no sheep and has always strived to develop a deeper insight into the art, not only for his students but for the entire karate community. What is more inpirational is that he did not solely research during his youth, he did this until his death.
What we have lost is not simply a karateka. We haven’t even just lost a great karate teacher. We truly have lost a pioneer of the art who worked tirelessly for over 65 years.
As karate students we initially started karate for one of many reasons, for as we all know there are many to choose from. Some start for the fitness, while others start for the self defence. The reasons for starting are many, but the one concrete common trend is that they want to ‘learn’. But many, especially once they earn black belt, forget this concept. They get seduced by all the other stuff that unfortunately goes hand in hand with it. They loose the key to their development and simply stop learning. But the point to understand here is that you stop learning because you stop searching…searching for ‘the way’. Many feel they are a ‘Master’ because they stop learning…but that is the exact reason why they cannot and will never be a ‘Master’. They will never become a Master because they so prematurely stop their search and understanding.
This is a tough concept to wrap your head around. I know I will die never knowing everything about karate. That is something you must come to terms with. I will never reach a point where everything has been learned because it’s an inconceivable possability. But to continue researching, continue studying and continue pursuing ‘the way’ in spite of this is the essential path.
Nishiyama Sensei died after 65 years of study. He had dug so deep and revealed and undearther so much, but had he learned everything there was to know? Of course not…but that was 65 years of unfaltering dedication. This makes him a karateka, and an absolute Master.
We can write nice obituaries about this Master. We can celebrate his existence with DVDs and books…but the most important way to honour the memory of this genius karate master is to emulate his dedication and continue his work in the development and study of the art. This, and only this in the bigger scheme of things, will keep his spirit alive. He has carried the torch forward along with many of his contemporaries for so long, and to take karate even further forward we must all embrace the commitment of the ‘eternal student’. This I would imagine would be exactly what he would have wanted.