A little more knowledge for your Aikido training

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

Here is the second instalment of insights I’m sharing from the founder of Yoshinkan about Aikido. I hope to 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.

Shihonage is fundamental

shioda snIt is hard to say unconditionally which are the most effective throwing techniques in a real fight, but I, myself, have used often and found effective shiho nage[1], hijiate[2] kokyu nage and irimi nage[3]. When I started teaching Aikido at the Kokan Steel Company in 1951 before I set up my own dojo, I had occasion to demonstrate the power of shiho nage and hijiate kokyu nage.

The Nihon Kakan Steel Company was strong and well established in Judo, so those to whom I taught Aikido were veterans of the Judo club. The first day that I held a demonstration I had no students of my own yet to perform as my uke, so I started right off by using members of the Judo club as my opponents. Of course, they didn’t know much about Aikido, so they couldn’t be expected to cooperate at all with the techniques and roll when expected. I approached the demonstration with complete seriousness.

 I chose the captain of the Judo club, a 6th dan black belt, as my first opponent. He was a huge man. When he came to grab me, I use a variation of shiho nage to lift his arm to my shoulder and then I used his elbow to throw him. All you could hear was a snap, and then, holding his elbow, he bowed out of the demonstration.

The next to come forward was the assistant captain. I learned later that he was a 5th dan in Judo and besides being the Kanto region champion, he was a veteran of Karate, Kendo and Sumo, holding a 3rd dan in each of these arts. He immediately attacked me with a punch. I dodged and sent him flying by using hijiate kokyu nage.He picked himself up and I threw him another five or six times. His elbow must have sustained quite a bit of damage and, although he didn’t acknowledge his defeat, he withdrew in silence.

 With shiho nage and hijiate kokyu nage I was able to defeat the two strongest members of the group. After that it was easy to handle the others and I was able to clearly impress the power of Aikido upon those in attendance. 

This was the beginning, out of which I became a part-time employee of the Nihon Kokan Steel Company. Since it was from here that was able to establish a base which led to the foundation of the Yoshinkan[4] ...

Ueshiba Sensei used to say, “Shiho nage is the foundation of Aikido.” Therefore, if you train sufficiently and are able to master Shiho nage, the rest simply become adaptions. Sensei would say, “All you need to master is Shiho nage.”

The Shanghai Incident: Applying shiho nage in a life or death situation – true skill is not decided in a competition

Aikido does not apply the competitive model. Our approach is to practice through repetition … Sports have specific and pre-determined rules and competitions are held within the scope of these rules. Because of this, it is possible to determine winners and losers. Aikido is not a sport, however. It is a martial art, a budo. It is simply a matter of bringing down the opponent or being brought down yourself. In budo you can’t say that what your opponent did was unfair because they didn’t follow the ‘rules’. You must finish off the opponent by whatever means you have at your disposal by adapting to meet the demands of each situation … I would like to give you an example of an actual situation in which Aikido was effective in saving my life. 

It was July, 1941, about five month before Japan declared war on the United States, [but Japan had already invaded China to begin its expansion into the Asia.] I was 26 years old. Army General Hata Shunroku had summoned me to Beijing as his private secretary. General Hata was the Supreme Commander of the Chinese Expeditionary Forces [the Chinese forces controlled and commandeered by Japanese forces in China] and a close friend of my father… Under the general’s orders, I was to make my way by plane to Hanoi. There was a stopover in Shanghai where I ran into Uraoka, my kohai[5] at Takushoku University.

Uroaka said to me, “Tonight I’m going to take you to a classy joint in the French Settlement.” So, feeling full of myself, I went with him to this particular place at about 8 o’clock that night. Later that evening Uraoka was negotiating over a price with a hawker when a quarrel broke out. All of a sudden, Uraoka punched the man right in the face! The man was bleeding from his lip as he ran away screaming. I had no idea what was going on and stood there dumbfounded. Uroaka turned to me with a serious look on his face and cried out: “Sempai, we only have about two or three minutes to live. No doubt he has gone to call his gang. They will be back to get their revenge. Get ready, quick!”

 “Why don’t we just run away?” I asked.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “We would be killed as we try to escape. If we have to, we’ll stay put until tomorrow morning.” As he spoke, he had a grim expression on his face and he appeared to be preparing to die. 

As for me, at 26 years of age, I wasn’t prepared to lose hope and throw my life away in a place like this in Shanghai. I wasn’t prepared to die a senseless death. I recall a feeling of readiness welling up inside me as I prepared to fight for my life. This was no doubt a desperate situation.

Looking around at my surroundings I spied a beer bottle. I grabbed it and got ready. I had decided that just as the door opened I would use it to deliver a single blow to the attacker and knock him to the floor. I held my breath. It was a tense moment.

In reality, I’m not sure how much time passed as we waited there, but it seemed like an eternity.

Exasperated, I said to Uroaka, “Maybe they’re not coming?”

“No. They’re definitely coming,” he declared.

The night grew late and it was probably sometime around 2a.m. when we heard a sound gradually coming our way. We could tell that there was more than one of them, perhaps as many as four or five. I stuck next to the door and got ready for a fight. Then, my entire body started shaking. No matter how much I wanted to stop it, I just couldn’t. This was not the type of shaking we would call “trembling with excitement.” No, it was different.

Thinking I would get the jump on them I cracked the door open ever so slightly. My strategy was to pull the door open from my side just as the first guy put his hand on the knob. Then, I would strike him down as he came tumbling into the room. But my timing had to be perfect. Uroaka was standing in the centre of the room with a pistol at the ready. He was aiming directly at the door.

Just then, the sound of footsteps suddenly stopped for a moment right outside the door. I peeked through the crack in the door and I could see them quietly sneaking closer to the room. At just the right instant I flung the door open and I knew that I had caught them off guard. One of them pitched forward and stumbled right into the room. I immediately struck him on the head with a beer bottle. The bottle broke, leaving the end with notches that looked just like shark teeth. Without hesitation, I aimed, thrust forward and hit him directly in the face with the serrated edge of the bottle. To finish him off, I gave the bottle a twist. It must have been excruciatingly painful. He fell backwards as the blood gushed out. To stop him from getting away, I grabbed him firmly and dragged him back into the room. All of this literally happened in an instant.

There were still three of them left. One of them, a big Chinese guy suddenly came towards me and drove a kick at me. I opened my body to the left and struck his leg with my right hand as I turned my back to him. My movement just happened naturally. I didn’t think about it all and I certainly didn’t think I had put a lot of power into it. And yet, the guy dropped right to the floor. I found out later that the bones around his knee were broken.

Having finished off two of the attackers, I now regained my composure. But just as I began to feel like I had a little breathing room, another guy attacked me, punching straight for my face. I slipped his punch to the inside and, using a variation of shiho nage, turned his hand back over, brough his elbow up onto my shoulder, extending him as far as he could go, and then threw him. His elbow broke a lot easier than I imagined and he flew forward.

And so I had disposed of three of them in what I’m sure was less than a minute. I tied these three up with belts and cords and as I calmly paused for a moment, I saw that Uroaka was struggling with the last guy.

Uroaka was a fourth dan black belt in Judo and he was a very strong one-on-one figher. The way he fought in particular was incredible. He threw his last remining guy beautifully using techniques as hanegoshi[6] and uchimata[7]. But, even though he was thrown again and again, the guy always got up and came right back. This is because Uroaka didn’t have a decisive finishing technique [like shiho nage] and since he couldn’t finish him off, the battle raged on.

I decided I wanted to test just how effective an Aikido striking technique (atemi) could be so I said, “Let me give him a try!”  

When the guy got up and came at me after being thrown by Uroaka, I drove a single shot into his ribs. He groaned as he bent backwards and then he collapsed, frothing at the mouth.

For me personally, the above situation illustrates the result of focused training over a long period of time. It should be noted that this was a chance encounter with an unavoidable life or death battle. It was not something I went looking for. Picking fights to test one’s skill or creating such encounters should absolutely be avoided. This is not the path for those who are practicing Aikido. It is possible to improve one’s true ability without resorting to such things. By continuing to train intently and with a clear mind, and by focusing on training in accordance with the principles of Aikido, your posture, form and movements will display a beauty of balance. At this point, an Aikido student’s real skill can be understood at a glance.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this recollection from the founder of Yoshinkan Master Gozo Shioda. It certainly illuminates the power that an Aikido student can generate in their striking by focussing intently on their kamae and centre-line focused power in their training over a long period of time. Striking in Aikido is 70-80% of training, but it is the vital places in which focused power is applied that makes it so devasting! This is something that many ignorant of what authentic Aikido actually is fail to understand.

Osu,

Ryan Slavin

Footnotes:

[1] Shiho nage: Known as the “All Direction Throw”.

[2] Hijiate: known as the “Hitting Elbow” technique in which the elbow is struck or attacked.

[3] Irimi nage: known as the “Entering Throw” technique where the attacker is off-balanced by your entering close and then thrown by controlling the head.

[4] The Yoshinkan was established in 1955. Literally translates to “School of Cultivation of the Spirit”.

[5] Kohai is often translated as ‘junior’, this term also indicates a person’s relative position in a seniority-based relationship. Kohai in this relationship is the ‘junior’. The senior(s) in this relationship are called ‘sempai’.

[6] Judo technique: Spring Hip Throw

[7] Judo technique: Inner Thigh Throw

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