INSIGHTS FROM THE YOSHINKAN MASTER

I’d like to share a section of a book written by the founder of Yoshinkan Master Gozo Shioda (Kancho Sensei). For those who truly ‘study’ the art, this small extract from ‘An Aikido Life’ presents many treasures or points of gold as I would like to call them. Below is the reading in the left column, to the right I share with you some analysis and the take-away lessons.

Extract from ‘An Aikido Life’, by Gozo Shioda (Part 1)

The name of my dojo, “Yoshinkan,” is the same one my father, who loved budo, used when he built a dojo on his property. I have continued using that name ever since in his memory. Mr. Todo Kato, my grandfather on my mother’s side, took this name from the characters contained in the phrase “Gu o mamori kokorozashi o utsusazu mokumoku toshite sono kami o yashinau” (Cultivate your spirit silently never forgetting that you are but a fool) of the poem entitled “Saikontan.” That is the origin of the name.

I often hear people say that the Yoshinkan Dojo is a rough school. I believe there is a misunderstanding concerning this point. Among those who practice aikido there are those who wish to master the art, or to develop their minds and bodies through aikido, and also those who want to practice just to improve their health. There are young men and women, children and also elderly people. But in all cases, students of the Yoshinkan have to practice repeatedly in order to master the basics of aikido. They may use muscles they have not used for a long time or discover body movements they have never done before. Such people may experience a little pain until they get used to all these things. However, aikido without correct basics is not aikido. If you practice haphazardly just because it seems easier that way, you will not succeed in improving your techniques or your health. Since it is impossible to exaggerate the point that basics are what aikido is all about, we are strict in our instruction even of beginners in order to allow them to acquire basic technique from the outset.

It is important for those who wish to become experts or perfect their aikido to acquire a total mastery of basics. When you take a stance against an opponent, apply techniques or maintain your focus of attention after a technique (zanshin), these skills are all built on an understanding of basics and are necessary in order to defeat a strong opponent. I will explain later what aikido basics are, but for now suffice it to say that as you become experienced, you will be able to produce surprising force even in quick movements if you have naturally mastered basics.

Ueshiba O-Sensei said, “In aikido winners and losers are decided in a flash.” It is indeed so. Unless you overcome your opponent with a single blow, you cannot call your art a “budo.” Only when you adhere to basics can you defeat your opponent with a single blow.

Shioda, G., 2022. An Aikido Life, by Gozo Shioda: Part I – Aikido Journal. [online] Aikidojournal.com. Available at: <https://aikidojournal.com/2012/08/02/an-aikido-life-01/&gt; [Accessed 5 March 2022].

TAKE AWAY LESSONS:

Lesson #1 Humility

The first point I see in this reading is the humility needed to truly excel at this art or anything actually. If you pursue a goal for egotistical reasons and not for the benefit of others, then even if you achieve it, you will not have ‘cultivated your spirit’. You will have forgotten that you are a fool – not the grand person you may think you are!

Lesson #2 Everything is in the basics

Like everything in life, the key to success in anything is in continued and persistent practice of basics (solid base and balance; strong centre line in kamae and while in motion; connection maintained etc.). If you ever think you are ‘too good’ to go back to basics like kihon dosa, then you are lost! This is what has become of aikido in the world today. People are too hell-bent on doing what seems cool and not what is mundane, often boring, monotonous, and painful/tiresome. The ‘fluffy’ and seemingly ineffective techniques of many styles of aikido now are an example of this – not enough regular and repeated training in the basics. If you do not have a strong grasp on the basics, then you are not practicing aikido, you are practicing something else (often still called aikido unfortunately). When you are called on to ever use aikido, you need the body to recall the basics and apply them to whatever situation the world puts in front of you – be it a fight or some other physical and mental challenge.

Lesson #3 Aikido is martial (budo) first and foremost

Aikido was developed from Daito Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu as a martial art (budo) by Ueshiba O-Sensei, despite what some people may have made it into (bastardising the art). The Yoshinkan system has always stayed true to this ideal under Shioda Kancho Sensei and now continued and evolved by Michiharu Mori Shihan. It should be trained always with the intention to defend oneself in possible life-and-death situations, not sport-like competition. O-Sensei’s point about deciding ‘winners and losers in a flash’, is not for a medal or a title, but for your life (or the protection of another’s) and to perhaps take the life of someone if necessary. And the capacity to do this should be developed to the point where you are able to do this in ‘one blow’ as Shioda Sensei states. This is budo! And this is what we are tasked with continuing! If the seriousness of the training is lost or the basics are neglected, then the budo is diminished and the techniques’ effectiveness are also diminished. And it becomes very different to the ideal on which aikido was first developed. Aikido is not what you see in some dojos around the world and online: a slow-motion dance without substance. This is not O-Sensei’s art nor Shioda Sensei’s Yoshinkan style.

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