BLOG

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

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

KANCHO1.jpeg
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’s “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.

Osu,

Ryan Slavin

 

ENDNOTES

[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.

Amelia reflects on winning the award in Brisbane

Aikido has been a major part of my life for some time now. I would have to say that achieving my Black Belt will always be the greatest moment in my Aikido career, although, there are many other events that stand out almost as much. Winning the Aubrey Bannah award at Brisbane’s 24th annual demonstration was one of these moments. Performing with my partner John in front of all those people was such an amazing moment. The weeks of training and preparation had finally payed off. We had wanted to show how Aikido can be relevant in everyday life, as well as, to show that no matter your size you can still defend yourself, because when Aikido is done well, it doesn’t require a lot of strength, just good technique.

Osu!

Amelia

Reflections of the 2019 Brisbane Demonstration

Looking back on the experience makes me think of aiki-waza. I only see what happens on the outside of the Gi. A slight shift in Shite and Uke goes flying through the air. What happens inside the Gi, for me, like most of us is still a mystery. On the outside of the Gi, Amelia and I worked to demonstrate a series of self-defence techniques. On the inside of the Gi was a much bigger event. There was the collaboration of ideas in the initial development. Not just between Amelia and myself but Amelia and her family, who were very happy to think of ways to make Uke suffer. There was the watchful eye of Sensei Ryan keeping us mindful of authenticity and rhythm. The reassuring looks from other students saying. “I’m glad it’s you and not me.” Did not go unnoticed.   After the event it was the shine in Amelia’s parent’s eyes, the smiles and the warm congratulating handshakes from the Brisbane Dojo members. Particularly the congrats from Aubrey’s sons gave me a sense of being part of something much bigger. Thank you.

OSU

John

A little more knowledge for your Aikido training

The below article was written by Michiharu Mori Shihan (8th Dan) the last uchi-deshi (live in disciple) of the late Master Gozo Shioda (founder of Yoshinkan Aikido and direct student of O-Sensei). Please enjoy!

‘Developing one’s senses’ 

During my uchi-deshi life, one of my focus points for my daily training was about developing my senses, both on the mats and off the mats.

I found that kihon-dosa (basic movements) practice in pairs was the best means to catch and read the motion and intention of others. Being shite, we can learn how our force by even a slightest motion travels to the other end, or how it does not travel, and we have to think why. Every one of us has a different body type, size and strength, and the way one uke grabs shite’s wrist varies too. On the other hand, being uke we can learn how shite’s force from the kind of movement travels to one’s body and how it affects balance in one’s body. Collecting all the possible data from both being shite and uke during the kihon-dosa practice is the critical key for making Aikido techniques most effective on all sorts of people’s bodies.

Ukeing my senior uchi-deshis’ Jiyu-waza was another great training to develop my senses. While being thrown fast and hard, I tried to keep my focus on reading shite’s thoughts from subtle motions and to anticipate which technique was coming. This skill of anticipating techniques was a crucial factor to avoid getting injured and to survive my uchi-deshi life, as I had to take most of my seniors’ uke all the time for being the lowest/youngest uchi-deshi for many years. I gained a lot of data about which techniques worked better or worse at certain timing, being uke became so useful when performing techniques as shite. I can say that trying to sharpen one’s senses consciously during training is essential to improve Aikido.

Furthermore, training my senses was not only done on the mats in my case as an uchi-deshi. The biggest task off the mats was serving my Master Gozo Shioda. While he was staying in his room next to the office where we worked, I had to keep focusing to listen to any subtle sounds I could hear or sense his movements from his room. I was expected to bring in his tea when he wanted, or I had to open his room door before he did. For instance, when he needed to go to toilet. From his vision, he stands up and walks to the door. Without stopping he walks through the door as it opens and goes to the toilet. There again, the toilet door opens as he gets in, and the door shuts behind him. He does his job, and as he walks out of all the doors that he needs to towards his room, they keep opening automatically at the right time. If I failed and Master was stuck at any points, I was scolded badly by my seniors. The same manner was applied when he changed his clothes or bathed; as he undressed, his clothes were taken and folded neatly and swiftly one after another and new clothes were passed in order as he needed to dress without any halts; as he enters in the bathroom his stool gets warmed up and his back was washed, soap was handed over when he wanted to wash his front and head by himself, and he was rinsed when he needed. The key point was everything had to be done with the right timing without bothering him, otherwise he simply did not prefer you to attend him any longer. Although these chores were nothing to do with Aikido directly, they helped me to read and sense Master’s techniques more closely. And that enabled me to copy his movements and learn his techniques much faster and more in depth than the general dojo students.

You may think it is ridiculous, but I personally believe that one day we might be able to even sense a bullet’s motion like Master Morihei Ueshiba, if one diligently keeps training one’s senses through Aikido training. This is my hope and dream. I know, dodging bullets sounds purely an absurd hope, but Morihei Ueshiba is not the only one who said he was able to foresee the bullet’s line.

Hiroo Onoda born in 1922 was found in Lubang Island, the Philippines in 1974. He was a former second lieutenant of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, and he was stationed in the jungles of Lubang Island for almost 30 years not knowing that the war was over until he was rescued and got returned to Japan. He gave many interviews and talked about lots of his interesting experiences. The following speeches from his interviews are quite intriguing for us as Aikido practitioners and martial artists.

“At the moment of great danger, being desperate to survive, I felt my head swelled up several times larger and my whole body shook feeling an awful chill at the same time. Then, as soon as I felt my head go back to normal size everything around me became vivid, sharp and clear to my eyes. Even though it was gathering on dusk, the scene got brighter as if it was right at midday. I could clearly see and even recognise each veins of every leaf in the distance. In this way, I had no trouble seeing every move of enemy soldiers far away. I realised that I was able to even dodge bullets by sensing the point when the enemy was to shoot.” This is how he described it when he experienced his heightened sensitivity and developed his sixth sense.

Onoda continues by stating, “physically, you can see things that travel in a straight line. As they come stretched in a straight line towards you, it is natural that you can see. When I was shot, I saw a bullet shot out the firing muzzle. If you can avoid a straight thrust, you can avoid bullets too.”  In his book he further wrote, “Bullets send out a bluish white beam before they fly. So, you just need to dodge the beam.” Well, it is very interesting that Master Morihei Ueshiba said exactly the same thing about how he dodged the bullets and he also survived World War II.

I suppose that humans may have a special power to develop but only under the life-threatening condition, when your life is risked in an extreme danger. Which means that just training on the safe and peaceful mats in the dojo may not bring my dream come true… Still, it does not deny the chances of ordinary people to develop some sort of special abilities beyond the accumulation of our daily training. So, let’s keep training hard, everyone!!

Osu,

Michiharu Mori

 

Sharing the feeling of 5th Dan

coffeeWell, it’s almost twenty years since I first walked through the doors at the Brisbane Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo. I still remember it as if it was yesterday. The first class I did focussed on hijiate kokyu nage. I remember thinking how nuanced the movements were – how such a slight angle change created such a difference in the affect to uke – and how intrigued I was in this magical art from the onset!

Now, I hold a 5th Dan rank, teach this wonderful art and continue to graciously follow the path laid before me by Mori Shihan. I’d like to begin by thanking Sensei for having the belief in me to start a dojo and teach this wonderful way of life we call ‘Aikido’ to a standard he is happy with. This is my first aim for the Sunshine Coast Dojo.

Amazingly, it has been through teaching that I have been able to solidify kamae and the kihon (basics), which I feel has improved my technique personally and helped develop a better understanding of the centre line. In turn, this has allowed me to begin to explore deeper into Aikido movement and the control of uke. I remember a conversation with Sensei years ago, after completing my 3rd Dan and not long after relocating to the Sunshine Coast. It was about progressing one’s technique. It went something like this:

A lot of people train from shodan to 3rd or 4th Dan and stagnate in their technique and their understanding of Aikido…”, pointed out Sensei.

To which I replied, “Yes, I feel this myself in that it’s like I’ve plateaued or my progress is not as rapid as it once was when I was a shodan.”

Sensei continued, “Most find further growth once they begin to teach.”

Now, I know that most at the dojo already know that Mori Sensei chooses his words wisely and very rarely says something without greater meaning or suggestion. Therefore, I walked away from this conversation considering the idea that Sensei might think I’m ready to teach – i.e. my technique must be ‘basically adequate’ to teach the fundamentals of Yoshinkan Aikido at a level that which Sensei would be content and endorse. Then the questions and self-doubt began… How can I be ready to teach this? I’m only a lowly 3rd Dan. I don’t feel ready to teach. What does ready feel like? I’m only beginning to really learn this art, and don’t teachers need more experience? Better skill? Deeper understanding? What if my students’ technique isn’t any good? Isn’t this an indication of my teaching? Of course it is! What if my dojo doesn’t uphold the reputation and standard of ‘Yoshinkan’ dojos around the world? I can’t let Sensei down! … And so it went. Yes, self-doubt can be paralysing for anyone if fed, watered and nurtured. But I used Sensei’s confidence in me as strength on which to base small steps in building the dojo over the following years, and I simply applied myself to realising the opposite of every one of those questions above. After all, if I was ever going to achieve Gozo Shioda ‘Kacho’ Sensei’s ideal of ‘aiki soku seikatsu’ (aikido and life are one), I first had to make Aikido my life!

I’ve always lived my life by the maxim, ‘The easier you make life, the harder life becomes. The harder you make life, the easier life becomes’. I’ve found this to be true from my early twenties to how I live my life today in my forties. In my twenties I was working full-time as a butcher from midnight to midmorning, studying at university full-time from midmorning through to the evening and training in Aikido 3 to 4 times per week at the Brisbane Dojo. I trained in day classes at lunchtime as a break from study and evening classes on my way home from university (when possible I’d try to make day and evening classes on the same day). Yes, it was hard, but I knew it would get easier once my body allocated the necessary energy and my skill developed over time. That is to say, life got easier because I became used to the hardship; I guess I was now training for any further difficulties I would confront later in life!

Whilst finishing my degree, working and training in Aikido, Cindy and I had our first child Zara. After losing our first child Renee at 20 weeks, Zara was a gift. However, she was born with cerebral palsy and we began the journey of supporting and providing therapy (Botox injections twice a year; regular physiotherapy; daily stretching routines; regular plaster casts on both legs etc.) for a child with a disability. I don’t mean this to sound like a sop-story for sympathy, I simply want to make the point that difficulty just became life for us, but it had its peaks and troughs like any parenting journey. Now, thirteen years on, our life with Zara is easy – the harder it became in the earlier days, the stronger we all became and the easier life has become now as a result J Zara is one of the most caring, compassionate, loveable and able human beings I have ever met, and Cindy and I are both better people for being her parents, thanks to her. Needless to say, after graduating as a teacher and beginning work in high schools I needed to continue work on weekends as a butcher to pay the bills so that Cindy could stay home to support Zara. Again, the earlier maxim set us up for this and life didn’t remain hard for long. You probably wonder why I’m writing all this… and question what this has to do with Aikido? I apologise for digressing into my personal life so much and I’ll now bring this back to Aikido – it is all related in the ‘aiki soku seikatsu’ manner. I’ll return through Gozo Shioda ‘Kancho’ Sensei and let him provide insight here and bring my musings to a point. When asked by Aiki News just a few years prior to his passing about what he thought of today’s Aikido, Kancho Sensei’s response was that,

“Today’s aikido is so dimensionless. It’s hollow, empty on the inside. People try to reach the highest levels without even paying their dues. That’s why it seems so much like a dance these days. You have to master the very basics solidly, with your body, and then proceed to develop to the higher levels… Now we see nothing but copying or imitation without any grasp of the real thing….” (Master Gozo Shioda)

In other words, training in one’s early stages needs to be hard, rigorous and arduous. It needs to be felt in the body. In Kancho Sensei’s view, many people are doing what they think is Aikido, but it has no substance, no strength, no centre. It hasn’t been developed through hardship and rigour. This is why in the twenty years of training at the Brisbane Dojo under Mori Sensei I’ve always sought to attend as many classes as possible (advanced, general, Hajime, and double classes where possible) even when things already felt difficult in other areas of my life. I believed that this would give me the opportunity to feel the most rigour possible and deepen my Aikido development and understanding. I guess it’s the same in all aspects of life. To pursue a life of happiness without ever exposing yourself to hardship, compromise and complex emotion felt in the body, will lead to what Kancho Sensei terms ‘dimensionless, hollow and emptiness inside’, just as in our Aikido technique. Those who know me best, know that in other aspects of my life, I always strive to complete difficult tasks to further enrich my life, develop my humanity and possibly provide a good role model for my children and my students young and old. This is how I strive to live out ‘aiki soku seikatsu’ within and beyond the dojo.

Looking forward into my future in Aikido, I first reflect on the significant moments over the twenty years that I have experienced most growth. As I mentioned earlier, I feel I experienced the greatest growth around the shodan stage (the real beginning) and between 4th and 5th Dan. Therefore, I see my training so far in two concentric circles:

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 9.24.16 am

For me, it felt as if doors opened at these two significant times to ‘unlock’ Aikido knowledge or insight, I guess it’s much like unlocking new levels in a video game. It has been at these moments after extensive training, I believe, that I have been able to overcome SOME faults/blocks/shortcomings/errors in my technique and gain access to a greater understanding of Aikido than I had previously. In wonder where and when the door exists in the third concentric circle? Nevertheless, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the prompting and pressure offered to me by Mori Sensei. For this I am eternally grateful. And while I am thanking significant people, I’d also like to thank my wife Cindy as without her support, my recent 5th Dan, the Sunshine Coast Dojo and any of my initiatives in life would always come up ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’. I guess I need to also thank the ‘big fella’ too. Thanks Lawrence, for all your support and generous giving of yourself! I look forward to reciprocating the gesture!

I now look to the next stage in this journey: what happens after 5th Dan? In one respect, I am excited to see what quality of student I can produce at the Sunshine Coast Dojo – both in terms of their level of Yoshinkan Aikido technique and development of their humanity. On another level, I am excited to follow further where Mori Sensei may journey and explore deeper into the world of Aikiwaza – where seemingly less is always more. I just hope to continue to develop sufficiently what Kancho Sensei termed ‘paying one’s dues’ so that I master ‘the very basics solidly, with my body, and then proceed to develop to the higher levels’ and avoid at all costs ‘dimensionless,’ ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ Aikido, or should I say life!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

Why Yoshinkan Aikido? Above all, because it works!

coffeeCoffee Break: The efficacy of Yoshinkan

You may have come across people questioning Aikido’s practicality in a ‘real’ situation. You might have seen comments on YouTube or someone you know saying, ‘Oh, Aikido doesn’t work in real situations… but what if this happened… what if that happened… oh, if you don’t do grappling or floor work or competition then you never know if it really works’. I often have these conversations with Brazilian Jiu Jutsu (BJJ) or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) practitioners. Well, I’d like to share this story with you to quell the theorising, instil further confidence in you and offer ‘real’ examples of why Yoshinkan Aikido is an effective and practical system of self-defense (over and above all the other incidental benefits of health, wellbeing, community, confidence, strength, flexibility etc.).

Some of you might know Kaido. He has been training in Yoshinkan Aikido for many years and is a 4th Dan Black Belt. Kaido works as a security guard and is soon to join the Queensland Police Force (QPS) this year. He is of average height and weight, and in the security field looks like a ‘pipsqueak’ compared to many of the man-mountains he works alongside. Kaido’s work primarily involves controlling crowds as a ‘rover’ in bars, pubs, sports events, concerts and music festivals, among others. He frequently has to defend himself and others against violent attacks of all kinds – he is confronted by individuals and groups of attackers, and often needs to get in the middle of violent confrontations between others in order to subdue and remove people from the premises to be taken away by the QPS. In short, his job can be quite dangerous!

Kaido works alongside security guards that come from a variety of backgrounds. Some boxers, MMA and BJJ practitioners, and even other Aikidoka (Aikikai). Let me relay his experiences from the conversations we have about his work.

As a ‘rover’, Kaido constantly moves around the premises where he is working to quell conflict and keep the peace. However, as I mentioned above, he often finds himself in the thick of the ‘action’. In many instances when he is neck-deep in people hurling abuse, fists, kicks and all kinds of attacks at him, he turns to see which members of his team are with him controlling the situation. What he sees is very interesting. The boxers and Kaido are often left to fly solo in the violent confrontations while the MMA, BJJ and Aikikai guards remain on the fringes setting up a perimeter of safety for others. (This is why he is given the role of ‘rover’, much to the astonishment of many when they see his size. And, the others are stationed in areas less volatile.) When Kaido asked the BJJ and MMA guards why they don’t engage in the confrontations and control the situation – but leave it up to him – they respond with, ‘But we are not trained to deal with this… We don’t know what to do with more than one attacker… I am worried about going to the ground in these situations…’ In short, their systems of training haven’t prepared them, nor instilled in them sufficient confidence, for the fluid and varied nature of real violent confrontation. Kaido claims that his Yoshinkan Aikido skills adequately allow him to control people in any situation. He uses joint locks such as ikkajo, nikkajo and sankajo to remove people all the time and rarely needs to rely on atemi (striking), especially as he must be wary of litigation and only use reasonable force in the control of unruly patrons.

I must say that I am by no means saying Aikido is ‘the best’ and that everything else is rubbish. This is not my point. What I am saying is that Yoshinkan Aikido is a practical system of self-defense that when trained regularly will work in real, violent situations – Kaido is a good example to support this. So please take confidence in what you do and embrace the holistic nature of Yoshinkan Aikido.

In terms of other arts, I believe that we should try to avoid comparisons like ‘this is good for…’ and ‘so and so art is the best for …’ or even ‘so and so art is better because…’ One should search for the system that best suits them: their needs and their character – I know Aikido is my best fit and I have confidence in its efficacy! However, irrespective of the art one might practice, the practitioner’s approach, dedication and spirit are what counts most after all! If it is simply about fighting, we should ask the question, ‘how is this making me a better human being?’

Enjoy your training in 2019!

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

 

The Journey to Nidan

coffeeThe journey to Nidan for me has been quite a few years. You would think by now I have a good grip on things. Ha! Aikido humour, Get it? Grip…Never mind.

Now after the dust has settled I can look back and feel this has been a great moment in my Aikido journey. Yet as an individual moment, it pales in comparison to the unexpected lesson that has had more an impact on my practice than becoming Nidan.

Let us go back in time. Que strange music and visual effects.

It is the morning of the grading. Feeling ready and confident in my abilities. My nerves in check I moved towards my goal. “I got this.”

I had asked to be Jacob’s Uke for his Important Shodan grading. The second Shodan of “The Originals”. (Students who started their Aikido journey with Sensei Ryan.)

Sensei calls us up and Jacob calls out the words “Sensei ni Rei!”

Jacob finishes his first technique. I thought to myself “That was very good. Glad I don’t have to…” My thought cut short by Sensei calling the words “Shite Uke kotai”

The lesson that I have heard repeatedly came flying in to kneecap me and drop me on my ASSumptions.

‘Only from good Uke can you become good Shite.’

As Jacob’s Uke I was unprepared and with nowhere to hide.  What was only just a few minutes for everyone was an ego crushing eternity for me. Jacob being Jacob was unaffected, unfazed not even a hair out of place. He performed brilliantly despite my mistakes.

Sitting waiting for my turn to grade all I could think about were my mistakes. Just like Uke stunned and put off balance by an atemi just before being smashed to the mat. My fate awaited me.

Sorry too dramatic lets tone it down.

The truth is I look back on that day and think of how perfect it was. Don’t get me wrong I still cringe at not being a good uke for such an important occasion. However, it was perfect timing. Just as I am about to reach a higher level I am humbled.

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.”

In finishing, I look forward to all the wonderful mistakes to come.

Osu!

John de Vries

2018 Demonstration Winners

Aikido symbolises the way of adapting the spirit. I joined Aikido Yoshinkan at the Sunshine Coast Dojo in 2015 because I was intrigued by watching my brother train. Not only because it looked fun to flip people around by a 12-year-old but because I was curious of the art behind this martial art. I knew I wasn’t going to become the Karate Kid because that’s not what Aikido is about. At the Sunshine Coast Dojo we have become a close community and I have made new friends, this shows how the spirit doesn’t just have to be when we’re training as students but that it’s all around us as human beings.

Osu!

Kayla Holloway


 

Dread, Trials and Cake

How would you describe your relationship with The Annual Demonstration?  For me this has been forever changing throughout the years. For my first couple of years doing Aikido I had extremely feared the demonstration, and the only thought I had was to survive.  Survive and move on; that’s what I wanted.  Then the next year it changed to being approved.  It was that time of year that I had to show why I was worthy of my rank and a place in the dojo.  A trial more so than a celebration.  But now demonstrations mean so much more to me.

The short time frame to reach such high standards is no longer a dread but a blessing.  It forces me to get to a place I otherwise wouldn’t strive for, and to sum up everything I’ve learnt and work for during the past year. A chance for others and myself to see the rewards of training class after class.

But after doing a few demonstrations I have acquired a confidence I’m so grateful for, because this has allowed me to try and tackle more each year and seek to do something new each demonstration.  Whether it’s incorporating new weapons, being uke more often than previously or even throwing my sister around with music blearing in the background, all are thrilling new experiences only possible through the Annual Demonstration.

Even though demonstrations give so much to me personally, they give something even greater to the dojo. They have the ability to unite everyone by giving us one parallel goal; to establish the growth of the dojo. This brings the students of Aikido even closer than before, as it forces us to rely on one another, give to one another and push one another.  Whether this means trusting your Shite, giving yourself as uke or practising with each other to ensure perfection.

So how would I describe my relationship with The Annual Demonstration?  To me The Annual Demonstrations is like baking a cake.  Sure, you may dread the preparation and cooking, and stress when you forget an ingredient; but in the end it always tastes great and leaves you hungry for more.

Osu!

Jacob Holloway


 

The Spirit Award to me is a big deal. While we train hard to have great technique and flow with our Shite/Uke, I believe this is not possible without Spirit. Spirit encompasses everything we train for!
From the time we step on the mats till the time we leave the mats, till the time we come back to the mats to learn more about this art. Spirit is as much about showing great technique on the mats with respect to your Uke or Shite as it is about respecting and honouring all in our lives, and who have helped us get to where we are, whatever stage in life we’re at individually. Without Spirit there simply would be no technique. Train hard with plenty of Spirit!!

Osu!
Darren Holloway


 

November last year was the first time I stepped into the dojo. I had no idea what to expect nor what I would gain from this experience. I have now learned that the culture that exists here is a supportive, friendly and respected one. I must admit the chanting warm-up frightened me at first, though as time passed it became routine. In late June in a group of students I took part in the Dojo’s fourth annual demonstration. There were a number of well-prepared groups and solo demonstrations. Watching the final product of a month of dedicated training become a success was a very proud moment for Sensei and the Dojo. One of the events I participated in was Kyogi Embu. There were several pairs and two awards for this event. The award for best technique and for the best spirit were awarded, Darren and I won the best spirit award this year. Although there were mistakes in our demonstration we were able to save the technique without the audience knowing, or at least that’s what I believe. Personally, I did not believe we were in the running for an award as it was my first demonstration, so I was very happy and surprised when our names were called. Overall it was a great experience!

Holly

 

If only it was easier, if only…

coffeeI often overhear people prefacing what they say with things like, ‘If only it was easier, I would…’ or ‘If I had more time, I would…’ or even ‘I wish I could…, but…’. And they are right!

 Well, perhaps in part anyway. If we were presented with the ‘right’, ‘correct’, ‘perfect’, or ‘ideal’ conditions under which to perform or live our life, things would be a lot ‘easier’, ‘more enjoyable’, ‘more productive’, etc., but we may never really know our potential. I guess my question is: ‘in living with ease, are we truly growing?’ If we are constantly in search of ease in our life – training; work; home – I believe we are not presented with opportunities to be better, or stimulus to grow.

 It’s easy to tell ourselves and others that the conditions aren’t right to do something. And therefore, not have a go. What’s more, it’s easy to excuse away a lesser standard afterwards by ‘explaining’ that there wasn’t time or that something got in the way. This can often make us feel better about ourselves, but are we being honest with ourselves? Now, let me be clear that I struggle with this human condition too. I don’t pretend to have mastered this… But I am aware of it and giving it my all to be better at it every day. Therefore, I challenge you (as I challenge myself) to resist these temptations. If the circumstances aren’t right for what you might term ‘optimal performance’ and you are considering not doing something, do it anyway under the trying conditions and grow from the imperfect experience. I suggest working with the conditions and notin combat with them wasting valuable energy attempting to change something that may be beyond your control. I suggest applying a flexible disposition that will offer the prospect to develop a view that while perfection is always our ultimate goal, it is often not the immediate objective. In the pursuit of this, I often apply the metaphor of the muscle to our overall development.

 Just as a muscle needs stimulus to grow, we also holistically need stimulus to develop to be the best version of ourselves. The muscle may at times resist the training; it may feel stiff, it could even have a slight strain. But are these reasons enough to not use the muscle at all? Even while nursing a strain a muscle can be used through its recovery and other muscles used in more intensity to compensate. For example, when you break the arm or tear a muscle in the arm with which you brush your teeth, it is a great opportunity to increase the dexterity of the other hand. Right? The alternative is to not brush your teeth, and we know where that leads. In short, just as the muscle will respond to exercise (stimulus) by growing stronger, bigger, more flexible or even faster, so too does our cognitive, emotional and physical capacity develop when placed under conditions (stimulus) not ideal or of our liking. In these circumstances we are asked to either respond or walk away (wondering what might have been or could have been achieved and developed within us).

 Often when thinking of or responding to situations not ideal or perfect I look to my daughter for inspiration. So I will share some of her story in the hope that she might help you too to be inspired at times when it’s easier to make excuses and walk away. Many of you know that my daughter has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy caused through brain damage that occurred at birth. Many people see her as almost what society terms ‘normal’. However, what many don’t see regularly is the indomitable spirit that lays beneath all that she is and all that she is becoming. From the moment she could move, movement was difficult – her legs just didn’t work. When she crawled, she dragged her legs behind her with the strength of her arms, all the while developing further strength in her upper body to drag herself around the house faster. Never did she cry about it and never did we pander to her disability, pitying her and making allowances for her. Some may have judged this as excessively harsh, however, we believed that support is what she needed, not pity and that one day, she still needed to walk and engage to the best of her ability in a world that was not perfect! Over time, with much therapy and unrivalled determination on Zara’s part, she eventually crawled. Walking was much the same. I think that a lot of the therapy and Zara’s hard work at such a young age has developed new neural pathways to circumvent some of the damage to the brain. Now almost 12 years on, Zara holds the Australian record for the T-35 Multiclass 800 metres. She also practices Aikido, ballet and contemporary dance. Now, my intention here is not to boast about Zara’s accomplishments, nor am I trying to convince you that she is any different to you or I. But I do hope to explain that she wouldn’t be the successful human being she is today without choosing to respond positively and actively to far less than perfect conditions, and perhaps even finding a way to excel at the same time. In addition, Zara always looks empathetically to support others through difficultly despite having every reason to demand support herself. This quality, if nothing else, is a quality we can all aspire to, wouldn’t you agree? Finally, Zara’s cerebral palsy doesn’t define her as ‘disabled’, she has chosen to flip it to define her instead as able and exceptional. Likewise, our ongoing and often difficult circumstances don’t define us, it is our responses and achievements in spite of them that does.

 What might this look like for me? Well, when challenged by Mori Sensei to do my 4thDan four years ago (which I have written about in a past article) under very tight time constraints, a knee operation recovery and demonstration preparation, I had two choices. Thankfully, I chose to trust Sensei’s judgement, accepted the less than perfect conditions and went for it. Consequently, I now have this in my psyche as a measuring stick to which many other challenges pale in comparison, i.e. life has actually become easier as a result! And now, as I prepare for my demonstration this year and I look to do my 5thDan sometime soon, I embrace the ‘less than perfect’ to see what standard I can achieve under challenging circumstances. What might this look like for you?

 In closing, I would like to place a further challenge in front of you. From the outside we often perceive conditions in the lives of others as far better than that which are actually being experienced. So, while we individually battle to respond flexibly, positively and actively in less than ideal conditions in our own lives, I challenge you to be as perceptive as possible of the difficultly others might be experiencing too. Let’s allow our awareness of the challenges we are facing, not shying away from, be the first step in supporting each other to be the best version of ourselves.

 Osu!

Ryan Slavin