‘A Voice from the past’ – Advice from the founder of Yoshinkan Gozo Shioda Kancho Sensei (10th Dan). Episode 1.

Screenshot of Gozo Shioda in an early Yoshinkan Dojo film

In the coming posts I will be sharing insights from the founder of Yoshinkan about Aikido. I will share Master Gozo Shioda’s teachings on fundamental points relating to Yoshinkan Aikido. Additionally, you will read personal anecdotes from his writings about his personal experiences training in Aikijutsu in the mid 1900s under Ueshiba Morihei O’Sensei, his fights against challengers from experts in many martial disciplines (Judo and Boxing, among others), and his battles to save his life in altercations with Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and Chinese soldiers during WWII. These experiences in which he used Aikido in practical situations (many life and death) helped form the style of Aikido you practice today. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading the Master’s experiences and find ‘pearls’ within them that aid you further in your training.

The first episode I will share focusses on his fights with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and his thoughts on the importance of maintaining the body’s axis for centre power. Please enjoy!

THE SHINJUKU BRAWL INCIDENT – the reality of facing multiple opponents

Sometime around 1935 while I was still training at the Ueshiba Dojo[1], I was walking with in Shinjuku with my kohai[2]. In those days Shinjuku was a place where racketeers and hooligans hung out, so it was a rather intimidating place. Now, while I wouldn’t want it to be widely known, the reason we were in such an unsavoury place was to find someone on whom to test our skills… I wanted to find out just how much I was capable of doing with Aikido. For young people with this goal, Shinjuku was the ideal setting.

As I write this, it seems to me that I must appear to have been rough and violent but in those days at the Ueshiba Dojo this type of behaviour wasn’t unusual. Because Aikido has no competitive matches, we honestly couldn’t tell just how strong we were becoming with our intensive daily training sessions. So this is why, despite Ueshiba Sensei prohibiting us from testing ourselves like this, everyone would go out to these busy areas for a little experimentation and research.

Mr Yukawa, a fellow student who was senior to me and who has since passed away, used to love this kind of testing. He had a significance influence on me. There were also junior students who like this kind of activity. One of them would return to the dojo and say something like, “I was defeated today!” and proceed to show us the wounds. Greatly amused by this, I would prod him to “Try again!” and he would cheerfully go out looking for a fight the very next evening.

My kohai, Mr T., who was also keen for this sort of “street fighting”, always accompanied me when I went to Shinjuku, acting as my advanced guard. On this particular occasion we discovered a group of yakuza[3] who had gathered together. “Sempai, there are some guys that look pretty cocky,” he whispered to me with bright fiery eyes. I’ll go and bump into them and we’ll start a fight!”

In all honesty, I too was excited so I slapped him on the back and said, “go ahead!” He quickly marched right up to the group of gangsters and suddenly bumped into one of them. “What’s this?” the yakuza demanded angrily. Thinking this would be the start of the fight, I squared off and got ready. But then something unexpected happened. Attracted by his angry voice, what looked like henchmen from the same gang appeared out of surrounding alleys. Shocked, Mr. T. leapt back to where I was. That’s when I moved to the front.

 I quickly realised there were more than 30 of them and only two of us. On the one hand, I was petrified of the prospect of such a difficult fight, but I was also thinking, “Tis has become interesting.”

Supported now by all of his henchmen, the angry yakuza announced: “I’m so-and-so from XYZ gang. What’s your name and which gang are you from?” I announced: “I’m not from any gang. I’m Shioda of Aikijutsu[4].

This may seem like a scene form a gangster movie but in thse days it was not unusual for a fight to start this way. The yakuza today have no class, but in the old days as soon as they became yakuza they held duty and respect in high esteem.

“What is Aikijutsu?” he asked with a mocking smile. His ignorance about Aikijutsu was not surprising. Compared to Judo, which was made popular by its inclusion in the physical education curriculum in schools, Aikijutsu was unknown to many people. As well, it was being taught primarily to the police and military, and for an ordinary person to enter the dojo it was necessary to have two sponsors. With such strict conditions, the public had limited opportunities to be exposed to Aikijutsu techniques.

For this reason, even the angry yakuza must have thought that I was nothing more than some kind of street performer[5]. On top of that, I’m sure he let his guard down when he saw how small I was.

At this point, every nerve in my body was focussed on the fight ahead. When fighting a large group, the key is to bring down the strongest guy straight away.

So while I was announcing myself to the boss, I searched through the 30 gang members behind him for my target. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of one guy who impressed me straight away. There was something different about his bearing. He had a strange composure about him, and I sensed that he was used to fighting. Also, whether it was his build or just the way he carried himself, it was easy to see he was in good physical condition. There was no mistake about it; he was the headman’s bodyguard.

The formalities were over. The situation was touch-and-go and the tension had soured to a feverish pitch. The next moment would decide victory or defeat. As a single unit the gang started to move towards us, but I was a step ahead of them and the first t move! In one breath, I jumped straight at the guy I had set my sights on and drove an atemi[6] into his stomach. With a groan, he crumpled to the ground.

“You bastard!” they all exclaimed. “Kill him!”

Yelling and screaming came from every direction as the rest of the gang turned and pounced on my partner and me – but by then, I had already gained control.

Before a fight you are always frightened. No matter how confident you think you are, you inevitably end up excited and nervous. However, once you’ve brought down the first man you quickly regain your composure. Then, the opponent’s movements become easier to see.

The gang, on the other hand, was beginning to waver and lose confidence. In a group, everyone tends to rely on one person, who becomes the key to their fighting ability.

Having focused on this one person, the whole group’s spirit is united as one. When that individual is suddenly defeated, the key to the group’s fighting ability and the source of its spirit are lost in the same instant. Disheartened, the group falls apart.

Under these conditions, the group no longer provokes fear. Moreover, because the feeling of terror is turned against them, they become agitated and lose their composure. These are the best kinds of opponents for Aikido. There is no need to wait for them to attack. Instead, I would go after them myself, confusing them and causing them to rush wildly at me. Then I would turn my body just slightly forcing one of them to lose his balance or a couple of them to bump into each other, thus pitting them against one another and causing their own downfall. In this way, my partner and I created so much chaos that we were able to finish off all 30 gang members.

I must point out that this episode reflects the extreme impatience of youth. At the time, I was still in the middle of my training and it was well before I understood the true meaning of Aikido. But even though my skills were limited, I feel that these situations gave me an understanding of how to use Aikido in an actual fight.

(Extract from Gozo Shioda. 1991. “Aikido Shugyo”. Kodansha Publishing. Pp.11-16)

Well, this was the first of these personal anecdotes and insights from the Yoshinkan founder. I hope you enjoyed it. Next episode will include another story of Shioda Kancho Sensei’s experience using Aikido beyond the dojo and his thoughts and insights practicing Aikido within the dojo.


Ryan Slavin


[1] The founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei, established a dojo in Tokyo’s Shinjuku area in 1931. Because of the intense practice, it was referred to as the Dojo of Hell. With this as his base, Ueshiba’s guidance and leadership reached throughout the main island of Honshu and to the military (in Japan and in Manchuria China, and the Japanese police.

[2] The Sempai/kohai (senior/junior) relationship is one that is widespread throughout Japan and is based primarily upon date of entry into an organisation (or dojo). The more experienced sempai offers guidance and friendship to the kohai who in turn offers respect and personal loyalty. It forms a strong part in the learning process within traditional Japanese martial arts and Japanese business organisations.

[3] The Yakuza are Japan’s professional gangsters (mafia).

[4] The name Aikido was used after 1942. Before that it was called Kobukan Budo, Aikijutsu, Asahi Ryu, Aiki Budo and other such things. Subsequently, the names Tenshin Aikido and Takemusu Aikido were also used. Terms like these seem to follow Ueshiba’s development as a martial artist and to illustrate his concurrent religious development.

[5] Directly after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Japan was in a time of peace and martial arts practitioners were often reduced to street performers in order to survive the push towards modernization.

[6] Atemi are attacks on the body’s nerve centres (vital points) and are distinct from simple punches.

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