Interview with Yoshinkan Aikido Founder Gozo Shioda Soke
This Interview with Gozo Shioda has come from The Aikido Journal We would like to thank The Aikido Journal for giving us permission to use it Interviewer Stanley Pranin
Gozo Shioda, founder of the Yoshinkan style of aikido, began training in 1932, at the age of seventeen. Sixty years later he heads a unique international aikido organization whose aim is global harmony through the spread of the aikido spirit. In this interview, Shioda Sensei recalls his experiences as an assistant to the aikido founder, teaching aiki budo at the Nakano and Toyama Military Schools, the postwar establishment of Yoshinkan Aikido, and his memories of O-Sensei at the close of his life.
Stanley Pranin: Osaka Asahi Newspaper Sensei, in our earlier talks you were kind enough to provide us with detailed information on your first years at the Kobukan dojo. Later on, you assisted Ueshiba Sensei as an instructor and also taught aiki budo in Osaka. How did Ueshiba Sensei come to teach at the office of the Osaka Asahi Newspaper Company?
Gozo Shioda: The president of the Asahi Newspaper, Mr. Murayama, was stabbed by a member of a right-wing group. After that incident the Asahi people were worried because the attack had occurred even though there were security guards. They decided to teach the guards some self-defense. That’s how Ueshiba Sensei happened to go to the Asahi Newspaper to teach.
How did Mr. Murayama know about Ueshiba Sensei? Mr. Murayama didn’t know Ueshiba Sensei directly, but Mr. Mitsujiro Ishii and Taketora Ogata [1888-1958, journalist and politician who served on several cabinets] knew Sensei and recommended him in about 1933 or 34.
Ueshiba Sensei primarily taught the security guards, but he taught some Asahi Newspaper employees too.
Hatsutaro Sugii, the father of the Kazuo Sugii who is currently at the Ueshiba dojo, was the Assistant Director of Advertising at the Tokyo Asahi Newspaper office in those days and became quite involved in aiki. The practice at the Asahi Newspaper office alone was not enough for him and he commuted to the Ueshiba dojo in Ushigome for a long time. He fell very much in love with aiki. Mr. Sugii held me in high regard for many years and when I built the Yoshinkan dojo in 1965, he came to us and became a sort of adviser. He was at the Yoshinkan until his death. Mr. Sugii gathered together people in Koenji and headed the “Special Research Association.”
Mr. Sugii must have been very enthusiastic?. Yes. He also had a wonderful personality. He died about ten years ago. In those days I don’t think Mr. Sugii’s son did much aikido. He must be aware of the fact that his father came regularly to my dojo.
Sensei, the book Budo, which was privately published by the Kobukan dojo in 1938, has recently been republished in English by Kodansha. You also appear in some of the photos. The Tokyo Asahi Newspaper cooperated in taking the photos. I don’t know who actually wrote the text. Apparently, the contents were partly taken from the transmission scroll [mokuroku] of Sokaku Takeda Sensei of Daito-ryu. The text does not contain a lot of detail.
There was an earlier technical book published in 1933 entitled Budo Renshu which contained technical drawings by Miss Takako Kunigoshi. Can you tell us something about this book? Miss Kunigoshi suggested the idea, saying, “It would be a great loss if these wonderful techniques are not preserved.” Miss Kunigoshi, who was good at drawing and cartoons, took notes. The book was not sold at the dojo, however. Ueshiba Sensei didn’t ask for money, but requested an offering and the amount of the offering was unlimited!
Among the later well-known figures to study under Ueshiba Sensei shortly before the war were Koichi Tohei [director of Shinshin Toitsu Aikidokai] and Kisaburo Osawa Sensei [former Dojo-cho of Aikikai Hombu Dojo, awarded 10th dan posthumously]. Do you recall when they started? Mr. Osawa commuted to the dojo. Mr. Tohei was a student at Keio University shortly before I left the dojo. He was practicing judo and two of his seniors, Mori, a captain of the Keio Judo Club at that time, and Umeda, a competitor in the student judo championships, were practicing at the Ueshiba dojo.[By that time], Shigemi Yonekawa, Zenzaburo Akazawa, and all of the early uchideshi had to enter military service and so only older people were left in the dojo. Mr. Minoru Hirai [founder of Korindo] was handling the office. Since the young people had disappeared, whenever Ueshiba Sensei was invited to give a demonstration, he would take Mr. Hirai with him and he established many contacts in this way. Apparently Hirai used to teach in Roppongi.
Nakano And Toyama Schools Do you know how Ueshiba Sensei came to teach at the Nakano and Toyama military schools? Ueshiba Sensei went to the Nakano school through an introduction of the director of the Military Police School, Mr. Makoto Miura. Since the Nakano School was located in Nakano in Meguro Ward and the Toyama School was located nearby in Okubo, they weren’t that far away from the Ueshiba dojo. Ueshiba Sensei also taught at the Army University in Yotsuya and at the Naval Academy. Mr. Sankichi Takahashi was the director of the Naval Academy and it was through this connection that Ueshiba Sensei taught there. At that time, Prince Takamatsu, a younger brother of Emperor Hirohito, was a student at the Naval Academy. Ueshiba Sensei regularly taught budo as a compulsory subject at the Toyama and Nakano Schools.
I believe there were quite a few strong students among those Ueshiba Sensei taught at these military schools?. The students of the Nakano School were 18 and 19 year-olds undergoing training to become spies. When they graduated from the Nakano School they would become officers, wear civilian clothes and infiltrate foreign countries.
There were many strong fellows at the Toyama School too.
Did they practice other martial arts at these schools? Aikido was the only martial art they practiced. They also studied things like foreign languages.
Given his spiritual views on budo, did Ueshiba Sensei have any moral qualms about teaching at these spy training schools? No. He was only told to teach martial arts there.
Apparently a technical manual which included aiki budo techniques was published by the Military Police School in the early 1940s. Since it wasn’t possible for Ueshiba Sensei to go to so many places by himself as he was also teaching at the Kobukan and in Osaka, did the uchideshi help teach too? Yes. First, Ueshiba Sensei would go to these places to teach and then tell them that an uchideshi would be instructing on his behalf.
One time, a son of naval Lieutenant Commander Paymaster Takahashi was a school student and Ueshiba Sensei paired him with Prince Takeda. The Prince’s wife was also practicing, and when she threw the young Takahashi from a seated position his feet came up and hit her in the forehead and injured her. This was a terrible thing and so I took over as her partner. I had to treat her like a fragile doll and it was really tough! [laughter]
Since the military supported aikido, Ueshiba Sensei also taught prominent ministers. Mr. Higashikuni, Prince Takeda, Prince Chichibu [younger brother of late Emperor Hirohito], and about six children of Prince Takamatsu, another younger brother of Emperor Hirohito, also practiced the art.
Imperial Demonstration Ueshiba Sensei gave a special demonstration at the Saineikan Dojo in the Imperial palace grounds about 1941. Did this occur as a result of his connection with Admiral Isamu Takeshita? Yes. When Takeshita Sensei was a Grand Chamberlain he was told by the Emperor to arrange for aikido to be shown to him, so he went to the Ueshiba dojo. Ueshiba Sensei answered, “I can’t show false techniques to the Emperor. Basically in aikido, the opponent is killed with a single blow. It’s false if the attacker is thrown, leisurely stands up, and attacks again. [On the other hand], I can’t go around killing my students.” He refused the invitation in this way, but when Takeshita Sensei told this to the Emperor, he said, “I don’t care if it’s a lie. Show me the lie!” Tsutomu Yukawa and I took ukemi.
I understand the Emperor was not actually present the day of the demonstration?. Yes, that’s right.
Prince Mikasa [a younger brother of the emperor], Prince Takamatsu, and Prince Chichibu were in attendance. Takeshita Sensei was the announcer and explained the techniques. It was really something to give a demonstration before the Imperial family in those days and so we couldn’t do anything disrespectful.
I believe Ueshiba Sensei was sick on that occasion?. Yes. Since Sensei was ill Yukawa attacked him weakly and was thrown hard and broke his arm. Yukawa was quite a strong guy and he loved to fight. We were good friends and when I went to Osaka he would often take me out drinking. He was powerful and could easily lift a stone mortar with one hand. He died young after returning from Manchuria. He was quite good at aikido.
He must have died not too long after the demonstration before the Imperial family?. The demonstration was in 1941, and I think he died in 1942.
In 1941, when Ueshiba Sensei gave his last demonstration at the Hibiya Kokaido, he said, “My technical training ends now. Henceforth I will dedicate myself to serving the kami [dieties] and training my spirit.”
Since I left the dojo in 1941, I believe there were times when he didn’t have any close deshi. His students disappeared because of the war. The training was severe [in the early days] when Mr. Shirata and Mr. Yonekawa were uchideshi. It was no easy task training at the dojo. Sensei was really strong [laughter].
Postwar Period Apparently, after the war Ueshiba Sensei went through some very tough times?. The fact that Ueshiba Sensei was an adviser to the Butokukai in Kyoto which was a rival of the Kodokan Judo organization was not good. When MacArthur came he disbanded the organization. Ueshiba Sensei was implicated as a war criminal and accused of class G war crimes. His foundation [the Kobukai] was taken away and his activities were stopped. Also, the Ueshiba dojo closed down for a time and Ueshiba Sensei secluded himself in Iwama. Since he could no longer practice budo, he created the “Aikien” [Aiki Farm] and engaged in farming in Iwama. He was just eking out a living.
I had just been repatriated and when I went to Iwama, Tadashi Abe was there. Also, Yuji, the son of Koichiro Ishihara and present president of Ishihara Sangyo, was there. Around 1947 I spent about two months in Iwama with my family.
Do you think the founder was at his technical peak then? He was at his strongest around 1933 or 34. About that time he had matured and become calm.
I understand the Yoshinkan played an important role in the postwar revival of aikido?. After the war the Ueshiba Sensei’s Ushigome dojo became a dance hall for the Occupation Forces. After I came back it started to prosper again. I was the first one to arrange training at the Defense Academy [Boeichodai] and police departments. When I left the Ueshiba dojo I was treated like a traitor, but I didn’t feel as if I were one. I was making the rounds of 83 police departments and really promoting the Ueshiba dojo.
I don’t know how much money my father poured into the Ueshiba dojo before the war. I’m glad I was in good circumstances and I was treated well by Ueshiba Sensei.
I’m glad to have spent so much time with Ueshiba Sensei in his daily life because it was essential for grasping the most important truths of aikido. You had to spend time close to him to understand Sensei’s every movement.
Akazawa and Shirata were true students, but they didn’t have financial support. Sensei took me around because I had financial backing [from my father]. I received special treatment [laughter].
The Founder On His Deathbed Did you meet with Ueshiba Sensei before his death? I visited Sensei four days before his death on April 26,1969. I had once asked Ueshiba Sensei in the old days, “Sensei, why are you so strong? When were you at your strongest?” He replied, “That will be the day I ascend to Heaven. That’s when I’ll be the strongest. Shioda, you understand that. Look at the flame of a candle just when it finally flickers out. It suddenly flares. That’s it!”
O-Sensei said that what he meant was like a candle flame suddenly flashing when it goes out, and he said that back in the old days. “So, I’ll always be training,” he said. Sensei proved that before his death.
Four of the younger deshi were staying with Sensei. He was asleep when I went there, but he suddenly woke up and said, “It’s you, thanks for coming. I’m riding on a winged horse around the heavens. I can see the earth. Shioda, what is [Kenji] Tomiki doing now? I’m watching.” Sensei had liver cancer. His hands had become thin. But, when he had to go to the toilet, he would exert himself to stand up and go to the bathroom.
Since he couldn’t eat he was only drinking water and his energy had become completely drained and it looked like he was dead. Even though he was in such condition, sometimes he would say, “Come on. Let’s train!” The doctor then said, “That’s the worst thing for him.
Everyone hold him down so he can’t get up!” That’s what the young men were there for. When he tried to get up, the four men pushed him down and they all were sent flying out into the garden.
That’s amazing! Four days before he died Sensei proved what he had said earlier. At that time Kisshomaru had changed his name and was called Koetsu. He was waiting at the foot of the bed and Ueshiba Sensei said the following, “Shioda, I want you to support Koetsu on the technical side. I want you always to cooperate with him. I’m counting on you.” Kisshomaru stood there and listened.
Origin Of Yoshinkan Name Would you tell us about the origin of the name Yoshinkan? Its original meaning is “We should always keep in mind that we are foolish beings and, without wavering, remain silent and cultivate our spirit.”
What it means is that we should always remember the fact that we are foolish, always focus our mind on that fact, and not allow our minds to move. The shin refers to spirit. The shin is spirit and we should cultivate it. That’s the reason for choosing the name Yoshinkan.
Yoshinkan Technical Method How was the original teaching method of Yoshinkan Aikido developed? I know that Ueshiba Sensei’s techniques were wonderful, but what he did one day was completely different from the day before. Since Ueshiba Sensei did whatever came into his mind, those who were training watched what he was doing without understanding. There were nothing at all like the basics we do today. He would do whatever came to his mind.
But if you try to teach beginners that way, no one will learn. So I thought I had to systematize these techniques when I started teaching at the Nippon Kokan Steel Company. I began to analyze the techniques and develop a teaching system, synthesizing what I had learned up until then. Then I also organized the applications of techniques. I examined the old techniques I had learned.
Did anyone in particular assist you when you were developing your teaching method? When Kyoichi Inoue was a young student I tried out various things directly on him and developed the system. So, for example, I developed things like hiriki no yosei [elbow power development] and also assigned names.
You also assigned names? Yes. I also decided on the names. Maybe you could say they are somewhat arbitrary.
Did Ueshiba Sensei give names to techniques when he was teaching before the war? He used the term irimi. He said that sokumen irimi and shomen irimi were also kinds of irimi. He would also say things like, “Irimi is the essence of aiki.” Certainly other martial arts such as judo do not have iriminage. Maybe he used the names of techniques he was taught by Sokaku Takeda.
Aikido vs. Karate Karate has become a commonly practiced art since the end of the war. What do you think are the best aikido techniques for handling karate punches and kicks? Well, I think it’s a question of the maai [combative distance]. You have to close the maai. You have to blend with the kick when your opponent attacks you and fly in. That’s important. It’s a matter of timing.
Advanced karateka punch and kick very quickly?… Yes, they do.
Do you think that aikido practice should include techniques for handling karate attacks such as punches and kicks? That’s quite a difficult problem. Both karate and aikido have marked out territories for themselves. One of them would be ruined if they were to compete with each other. Maybe such things could happen in the old days of matches between members of different martial schools [taryu jiai], but I don’t really think that kind of thing should occur today. Those who like karate practice karate, while those who like aiki practice aiki. Ueshiba Sensei often told us, “We are studying the essence, the core [of budo], so we don’t have to be concerned no matter who attacks us.”
I see. People who practice together are friends. In the final analysis it is moral virtue which is the strongest. You develop virtue. That is the most important thing. Then when you confront an opponent, you do so with a mind to harmonize with him and cause him to lose his hostile intention. This virtue is the ability to cause him to surrender of his own will. Then it doesn’t matter even if he is holding a sword or other weapon…
People who have been doing aikido for several years and have reached the rank of second or third dan see karate competitions on television and sometimes feel doubts about whether they can deal with such attacks. If one were actually faced with a karate attack, how specifically would he avoid it? A joint locking technique like kotegaeshi might not be enough. I think there are many people who entertain such doubts. Well, it’s a matter of timing, of understanding the beginning of the movement of ki.
Ueshiba Sensei said, “You can understand when your opponent kicks or strikes by seeing the beginning of the movement of his ki.” For example, there is a funny story about Kenzo Futaki Sensei [famous for his brown-rice diet]. Once when Futaki Sensei was training, whenever he would execute a shomenuchi strike Ueshiba Sensei would dodge to the right. So Futaki Sensei struck to the right of Ueshiba Sensei from the beginning, but this time Sensei didn’t move at all. A master of that level can sense one’s ki. Ueshiba Sensei was able to cause the opponent to lose his will to fight. He immediately assumed a state of mental detachment [mushin] and sensed his opponent’s intent. Only Ueshiba Sensei or some equally extraordinary individual can do such things.
I believe, Sensei, that you actually had occasion to use your martial training during the war?. Yes, I did. I thought that what Ueshiba Sensei said was true. Things really happened without any hesitation. If you resort to power and take a stance you will be defeated. If you are faced with a rapid karate attack, you will be defeated. You shouldn’t think about trying to do this or that. Those are unimportant details.
Ueshiba Sensei would say, “It’s not a matter of winning or losing, of victory or defeat. You must feel that everyone is your friend.” When I went off to war, Ueshiba Sensei told me the following, “Don’t worry. Wherever you go, just cultivate your virtue.”
Practitioners of other martial arts might have a difficult time grasping this idea. That’s too bad. This happens because they are focused on victory or defeat. If we don’t rid ourselves of that way of thinking, it will be hard for martial arts to progress. We really have to stop that way of thinking.
Sensei, we receive quite a number of letters from readers asking your opinions on various subjects?. I believe if you think about it carefully, the essence of budo is the spirit. This is the case for judo, karate, or whatever art. You can’t think only about the many ways of dealing with attacks.
International Yoshinkan Aikido Federation Would you describe what you envision for the future of the International Yoshinkan Aikido Federation? My idea is that since the world has become such a small place we should move beyond thinking in terms of nationalities. The goal entrusted to this federation is to spread the harmony of the aikido spirit throughout the world. Its purpose is to create a peaceful world where it is possible to harmonize with anyone of any race. There is nothing as wonderful as the spirit of harmony and when I started this federation I thought about how we must all get along, how Americans and Soviets must become friends. I thought how the world is a single family, and that we must discard the narrow-minded, insular attitude of the Japanese to make the world into a place filled with fine human beings. For this reason, in a spirit of harmony, we should give up our guns and leave behind our past. What I want to say is that the spirit of aikido is to seek harmony.
Now one year has passed, and we have held our first instructors’ graduation ceremony. Students in the second-year class are now training. People from many different countries, including Venezuela and Colombia, are participating. Foreign students are studying enthusiastically. They are training together with the Japanese police trainees, but they are amazing. The foreign women are working hard too.
There is great interest in aikido abroad. I want to avoid merely having the organization grow large in size and lose personal contact among members.
I really would like to see the Yoshinkan Federation succeed as a model. The usual organization focuses on organizational business and money matters. People forget the original reason for creating the organization and end up with a rigid structure. I think the Yoshinkan approach of a flexible, friendly organization is necessary. If you approach the problem with this attitude, I think money will come in later. If you attempt to pull in money, it will elude you. I think it is important to forget about money, improve ourselves, and to treat people with whom we have contact as brothers. These people will then cooperate with us. This is necessary if there is really to be harmony among peoples.
Gozo Shioda Profile Born in Tokyo in 1915. Studied judo and kendo while in middle school. In 1932, while in the fifth year of middle school, enrolled in the Kobukan dojo and studied under Morihei Ueshiba. Graduated from Takushoku University in 1941 and was sent to China as a secretary to General Shunroku Hata. After being repatriated in 1946, Shioda Sensei spent a short time in Iwama, Ibaragi Prefecture, training under Morihei Ueshiba, accompanied by his family. Hired by Nihon Kokan Steel Company to teach aikido in 1951.
Established Yoshinkan Aikido in 1955 and currently operates a large dojo in Kami Ochiai near the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Author of An Aikido Life, published by Takeuchi Shoten Shinsha and many other books.
By Stanley Pranin for The Aikido Journal