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André Nocquet Returns To Japan

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Aiki News #85 (Summer 1990)

In 1955 a middle-aged, French Judoka traveled alone by sea to Japan to become the first foreign uchideshi under Morihei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido. There he spent nearly three years at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo living a humble, severe life learning at the feet of the master. What motivated this iron-willed Frenchman to undertake such an arduous and unlikely adventure? What were the essential teachings he absorbed from Morihei Ueshiba? AIKI NEWS spent two days with André Nocquet Sensei, today one of the pillars of French aikido, to find out the answers. Here we present a sampling of Mr. Nocquet’s recollections of those exciting days and the many colorful masters who became his friends. We moreover gain a glimpse of the profound spiritual nature of O-Sensei as transmitted to one of his most devoted students.

My Introduction To Jujutsu

I began practicing Jujutsu in 1937 with Professor Feldenkrais, an Israeli. I had been practicing Greco-Roman wrestling and did not have much confidence in Jujutsu. Prof. Feldenkrais invited me to try a few things on the mat together and I attacked him. He applied some joint-locks on me and I really slapped the mat. Later, a Japanese teacher, Kawaishi Sensei, who was the founder of French Judo, came to his dojo in Paris to teach. I became Kawaishi’s 17th student. He knew Jujutsu very well. He later died of Parkinson’s disease. I think he was in his mid-6Os when he died.

Tadashi Abe

Tadashi Abe started aikido very young. His father was a student of Ueshiba Sensei and told him to study with the master. That’s how he met O-Sensei. He was a fanatic, like a samurai. He was ready for war. If the war had continued, he would have jumped at the occasion. He was a member of the mini-boat kamikaze squadron. The little boats were equipped with bombs ready to explode. The war ended so he wasn’t killed. He had the temperament of a kamikaze soldier. He used to fight a lot. He was a frightening man.

Abe came to France and remained for several years, and also spent time in Italy and other countries. He spoke French fairly well. He was a student from Waseda University and did some studies at the Sorbonne. He was very intelligent. His aikido was very hard and linear, not round. He would sometimes hurt people a bit. He loved to fight and would look for opportunities…. He developed a somewhat rational approach to techniques something like that of Judo. When I saw Ueshiba Sensei I asked him what the third movement of the third series was. Sensei began to laugh and said there were no series in aikido, that the art was a whole. He asked me who taught me that and I responded, “Of course, Tadashi Abe.” Kawaishi Sensei had developed a rational system of Judo and told Abe he should do the same. Abe taught in Kawaishi’s dojo in Paris. It was Tadashi Abe who built up aikido in France, overcoming great difficulties. He traveled a lot to Italy, sometimes to Switzerland. He went everywhere.

Abe really loved O-Sensei. He always kept a photo of Ueshiba Sensei with him. He said that if one carried a photo of Ueshiba Sensei with him he would never be hurt.

I have many memories of Tadashi Abe…. Of when we would eat together and drink wine. Then in order to thank us he would say, “We’re going to go to Montparnasse.”

He would drink Cointreau until three in the morning. I would say, “Let’s stop now.” “No, one more.” Then he’d have another and suddenly fall over. I had to take him over my shoulder and haul him home in a taxi. We’d put him on the bed and he wouldn’t budge at all. The next day he would telephone me at 11 o’clock and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Nocquet, I drank too much last night.”

When I returned to France from Japan I replaced him. He said, “Nocquet, I’m going to Italy. You take over the courses here.” Then one day, around 1959 or 1960 Abe returned to Japan, I think via the U.S., and I never saw him again. [In his later years], he ran an import-export business with ties in Hong Kong. He was quite incredible! I was alone for some three years and handled the teaching of aikido in France and Europe.

Training In Japan

It was Tadashi Abe who said that I should go to Japan to see Master Ueshiba. I was already 40 years old when I went there. I stayed for nearly three years and lived with the master all of the time, without hotels, sleeping on the tatami, eating Japanese food…. It was very difficult for a Westerner like me. There was no one else there. At the aikikai there were only about 60 people, not more. I was Ueshiba’s only uchideshi at that time. I came in 1955 and Japan was very weak and there was no money. It was very severe and Ueshiba Sensei was poor. General MacArthur had closed down the dojos. Aikido was just beginning. Master Ueshiba told me, “Go all over Tokyo to the embassies and ask the cultural advisers to come to me and I will perform a demonstration for them.” I went all over and brought them to Ueshiba Sensei. I did a lot for Japanese aikido….

I think I was the only one to live in the house of the master every day. [Later Nobuyoshi] Tamura and Masamichi Noro, who is teaching Ki no Michi now, slept with me in the dojo. My training partner was Tamura Sensei. We were both 1st dan at the time. Noro had a brown belt. We got up at 5 a.m. every morning and worked in the dojo. Mrs. Ueshiba, the wife of Kisshomaru, would prepare breakfast for us. She was very moved when she saw me again the other day after 32 years.

O-Sensei On Religion

[One day] I said to Ueshiba Sensei, “You are always praying, Ueshiba Sensei. Then aikido is a religion.” “No, that’s not true. Aikido is never a religion, but if you are a Christian, you will be a better Christian because of aikido. If you are a Buddhist, you will be a better Buddhist.” I thought it was an amazing response. I really liked his answer. Since he was a Japanese I was afraid he would say that Christianity was nothing. Ueshiba Sensei had a great deal of respect for Christ. I was living in a four-mat room in the dojo and he would knock on the door and enter. He would sit down beside me and there was a portrait of Jesus Christ. He would place his hands together in a gesture of respect. I asked him one day if there wasn’t a similarity between his prophecies and those of Christ. He answered, “Yes, because Jesus said his technique was love and I, Morihei, also say that my technique is love. Jesus created a religion, but I didn’t. Aikido is an art rather than a religion. But if you practice my aikido a great deal you will be a better Christian.” Then I asked, “Sensei should I remain a Christian?” He replied, “Yes, absolutely. You were raised as a Christian in France. Remain a Christian.” If he had told me to stop being a Christian and become a Buddhist, I would have been lost. My heart was full of Ueshiba Sensei because he had a vision of the entire world and that we were all his children. He called me his son.

The Spirit VS. The Physical In Aikido

If there is no spirit and heart in aikido it merely becomes a physical exercise. The reason is that there is no competition. Those two elements were combined in Ueshiba Sensei. It’s of course clear that technique is important, but it is still secondary…. [Yet] if Ueshiba Sensei had displayed only spirit when I saw him in 1955,1 would not have stayed. But when I saw his way of working and his mastery of everyone I thought how extraordinary he was. I didn’t believe at first. One day I saw him do nikyo and said to myself that he was an old man and would not be able to apply it on me because I considered myself to be strong. But, when he did, I fell to the ground. And I think I remember Tamura saying, “Never resist Ueshiba Sensei! He’ll kill you!” I started to excuse myself because Sensei felt my resistance. He was a man different from all others. Tamura Sensei and I had different visions of aikido. He later said to me, “I was 18 years old and I was interesting in training hard, doing nikyo, sankyo…. but not at all in spiritual areas.” I didn’t hear any Japanese talk about the spirit of aikido. It’s true. But in my case I was most interested in the spirit… the idea of enveloping the adversary with one’s heart, of projecting the heart rather than the sword. I am going to publish a book soon entitled Coeur-Epee (The Heart’s Sword).

Memorable Faces In Japan

Itsuo Tsuda

When I came in 1955 to Tokyo, Mr. Georges Duhamel (a famous French writer) of the French Academy wrote a recommendation for me for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo. I went there and said that I needed an interpreter, someone who spoke Japanese and French very well. They found a man and it was Itsuo Tsuda. I told Tsuda that he must go with me to the aikikai to see Ueshiba Sensei and serve as my interpreter. That’s how he knew O-Sensei. This was in 1955 or 56. He worked for Air France in those days. While I was there he would translate the words of Ueshiba Sensei and I would note them down in my journal. Tsuda didn’t train at that time. He started practicing after my departure, probably around 1960 or 1961. After that he came to France. He started a club in France… and wrote six or seven books in French. He was very ill at the end of his life…

Seigo Yamaguchi and Hiroshi Tada

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