Here is the third 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 and life more generally. You will read personal anecdotes from his writings about his experiences training in Aikijujutsu 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 various people ranging from Yakuza (Japanese mafia) to 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.
ATEMI ARE 70% OF A REAL FIGHT
Many of you are likely surprised at how often I use atemi. This is only natural since when we talk about Aikido, everyone is caught up in images of wrist grabs and flashy throws. However, Ueshiba Morihei Sensei himself, who was my master at one point, expressed himself in the following manner. He said, “In a real fight, Aikido is 70% atemi and 30% throwing.” Based on my own experience, I can say that this is precisely the case.
“If that is so,” you might ask, “what is the use of joint techniques?” Well, if you are being hassled by a drunkard for example, using joint techniques to control the other person may well be the best route. But in a life or death situation, or when you are engaged with multiple opponents, you cannot defend yourself without atemi and instantaneous throws because victory or defeat comes in a split second. In other words, you might say that the essence of Aikido is revealed in this type of intense fighting.
In Aikido, atemi is not limited to punching or kicking. Any part of the body can become a weapon for executing atemi… The reason these techniques work is that the contact point in itself becomes the atemi. These techniques are made possible by entering into the middle of the attack rather than by avoiding the opponent’s attack and then counterattacking… However, your entire body’s power must be focused…
ATEMI IS ALL TIMING
Well, what is it that is important for atemi then? It is timing. Even if you go and watch a boxing match, for example, you will often see someone get knocked out by a very casual looking punch. This is an example of judging the opponent’s changing movements and punching with absolutely perfect timing. The important thing is to send your punch as soon as you sense that your opponent is about to move. Then you will either hit what is closest to you or, conversely, when the opponent has swung at you and missed, you will hit him when he is fully extended.
The interesting thing is, if it is timed perfectly, you don’t even need to use a lot of power for the punch to be effective. There won’t be any pain in your fist and you won’t be repelled by the force of the impact. It’s exactly like batting in baseball [or cricket]. When you hit the ball squarely you really don’t feel the force of the ball at all.
Let me give you an example. This is an episode which involved Ueshiba Sensei during the time when the Korea was under Japanese control. Sensei was invited to go there and give a demonstration as part of a big martial arts tournament. There were a lot of Judo practitioners around and one of them who had watched Sensei’s demonstration came and challenged him, saying that he didn’t believe what he had just seen. The challenger, whom I will call Mr N. was known at the time as the rival of Masahiko Kimura. Of course, Mr. N was considerably larger than the average person and when he and Sensei faced each other, it looked like just an adult with a child.
Suddenly, Mr. N came in to grab Sensei’s inside collar and, pulling him in, tried to execute a hip spring throw. That was it. Mr. N’s gigantic figure buckled and he crumpled to the floor right there. As for Sensei, he was standing very quietly as if nothing had happened. The spectators were thrown into an uproar because nobody quite understood what they had just witnessed.
As it happens, Sensei had delivered a light blow with his fist to Mr N’s hip just as he stepped into Sensei’s chest. The timing was absolutely perfect. From a conversation I overheard later I learned that Me. N’s hip bone was broken so severely that he would never fully recover.
This same principle can be applied in free-for-all fights as well. Discerning the opponent’s movements and delivering an atemi at just the right moment will result in a very effective technique.
(Extract from Gozo Shioda. 1991 “Aikido Shugyo”. Kodansha Publishing.)
Again, I hope you enjoyed this recollection from the founder of Yoshinkan Master Gozo Shioda. It certainly offers valuable insight into the power that an Aikido student can generate in their atemi by focussing intently on timing and the concentaration of their power. Striking in Aikido may well be 70% of our training, but it is the vital places in which focused power is applied and the timing of these blows that makes it so devasting! This is something that many misunderstand about ‘authentic’ Aikido, and I hope may benefit you in your training as you embark on another year.
 Atemi: are strikes in Aikido. They are not restricted to simply a punch like in many arts, but can be any part of the body used to strike an opponent.
 Ueshiba Morihei: was the founder of Aikido. He studied both Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jujutsu and Yagyu Shingan Ryu Jujutsu. When he was involved in the settling of Hokkaido he met Takeda Sokaku and became a student of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu.
 Masahiko Kimura: was an All Japan Judo champion who dominated the sport from 1937 until 1949.
 The “Hip Spring Throw” or Hanegoshi: is a Judo technique in which the opponent is thrown by using a springing action of the hip and leg while simultaneously pulling him downwards with both hands.