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Staying in touch with the dojo – its more than just a place to learn how to fight!

I hope you and your family are doing ok in this time of confinement and isolation and looking after each other. Many people seem to be getting down or depressed during this time despite not actually losing a loved one to the virus. Yes, we are all effected in some way financially or socially, but are we really impacted when we still have our friends and family? (Unlike many in the worst hit places around the world – Europe, the UK and USA.)

I think this time of isolation can be viewed in two ways – i. a time for inactivity, negativity, self-absorption and possible loneliness, or ii. an opportunity to embrace difference, creativity, disconnection/connection and activity. It’s up to us 🙂 The isolation we are experiencing might be possibly a good time to work on something you haven’t had time to do before. Our lives prior to COVID might have been filled with things that now, with time to reflect, seem less relevant or necessary. Perhaps it’s a good opportunity now to reflect on the ‘before-COVID’ and make decisions on whether ‘post-COVID’ will look the same for you. It’s up to you 🙂

In terms of the dojo, people enter a traditional dojo usually with the intention of learning to defend themselves and/or getting fit. People often don’t continue to train in a traditional dojo because over time they are asked to do more than this, they are asked to develop into a better person that will benefit society. They are asked to be ‘we’ people in the dojo as opposed to ‘me’ people by many aspects of society. The name of our dojo is the first reference point for this: (to cultivate) Shin (the spirit) Kan (place/hall). Fortunately, for many this development occurs and their mark on society beyond the dojo is positive and beneficial. I can’t say how happy I am when I see this, and people become the best versions of themselves for the benefit of others – fulfilling the mandate of what a ‘dojo’ is meant to be. Unfortunately however, I often fail in my part of this… in guiding and aiding people through their development towards their best versions. All too often people’s desire to hold tightly onto the ego (i.e. what they can achieve solely for themselves) is too strong for me to help them overcome. I guess I need to be stronger, eh? I must say this saddens me though. That said, it also motivates me to work harder in this; work harder to fulfil the role of ‘the dojo’ in as many people’s lives on the Sunshine Coast as possible.

Now, part of this work at the moment is offering the continuation of training online while we are living in the COVID time of restrictions. Is this the best way to train in martial arts? No. Is this how we should maintain training in our dojo? Of course not. Is this a creative way to embrace difference and facilitate people to stay connected to their training and community? Definitely. I commend all those that are doing their best in the struggle to keep training. Whether it be the conversion of a space at home to do a few kihon daily or using a room at home to do the LIVE Zoom lessons/YouTube tutorials, or even spending a 5 minutes each day completing the COVID Containment Challenge each week I post on Facebook, I am extremely humbled by your spirited commitment to being better irrespective of the obstacles that are being put in front of us. After all, the dojo is more than a series of physical walls and mats in a roomthe dojo is where your mindset is in doing actions that make you the best version of yourself in community.

Osu!

Ryan Slavin

COFFEE BREAK: A little more knowledge for your Aikido training

 

coffeeBelow you will find an insightful window into Mori Michiharu Shihan’s life as uchi-deshi at the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo while Master Gozo Shioda was alive. I hope you too can find little gems of wisdom hidden between the lines of his writing to help you further in your training.

Air-conditioning in a dojo?

Around the time when I became an uchi-deshi, I heard people saying that the dojos in US were all fully air-conditioned. Americans seem to like things for rational reasons: training in bad conditions in the heat or the cold disturbs one’s concentration and thus it is not an effective way to learn something; training in a good condition mentally and physically can improve the quality of training and thus it is faster to master techniques. Thus, the dojo should be fully air-conditioned. Well, I did not know whether it was true or not, but it made sense. High standard gyms are well air-conditioned, and members can concentrate on their workouts in a pleasant condition. This is absolutely right if their purpose is just to build mirror muscles!

Yet, what about for the purpose of Budo training? Is it better training in comfortable conditions? No one really likes training in the extreme cold or heat as it is simply hard. I know that everyone has thought of not going to the dojo to train because of severe weather (hot or cold etc.) once or twice at least. What Master Gozo Shioda told us uchi-deshi’s was, “If it was a real battle. Think in that way always.”  He meant that if we really had to go to war there was no excuse really to be made. No samurai could escape battles saying, “I cannot fight as it is too hot/cold/humid/rainy/windy/snowy.” Or, they could not make an excuse that they lost the battle because the gravel ground was slippery as it meant a death for them. A pleasant environment does not aid you to train both physically and mentally. Besides, even if your skills improve, you cannot display your skills fully in an emergency if your mind is not well-trained. That is why samurais appreciated various mental training like Zen to overcome their fear and earn the mental strength which was critical in the real battle.

In the Headquarters, we had special training periods to develop mental discipline in the hottest summer season and in the coldest winter season, one hour from six to seven every morning for ten days in a row.  Having no break for ten days was quite tough physically and mentally but because it was very hard, we developed mental strength when we achieved it. We know that this is not an efficient method of training scientifically, but from my own experiences I believe that inefficient training is a great means to toughen your spirit.

Since the purpose of training in Budo is about strengthening and polishing not only techniques but the spirit at the same time, I think that training in an easy environment where one eases the burden will not achieve this purpose. However, I do not mean stopping all the fans in the dojo to create adverse conditions under this Queensland hot weather, but take the days of bad or severe conditions (such as an extremely hot and humid day) as a great opportunity to train one’s body and spirit more effectively, and still enjoy the challenge! So, a day when you think, “Ah, I don’t want to sweat, I don’t want to go to the dojo,” is the perfect day to toughen up your spirit. I’ll be welcoming you and praising your brave will power.

Now let me share an episode from the ten days cold winter training, one of my fond memories with my Master. I know it was meant to be cold training, but there were about seventy people training on the mats and I was young in my early twenties full of energy. Thus, I was so hot and sweaty like in a shower as I was exercising my best performance with speed and power in each technique. So, I took off my hakama (then, uchi-deshis were training with hakama on), opened the front of my dogi top, and opened the windows to keep training hard. Then, after the class finished and I went into Master’s room to serve him a cup of tea, he said, “Mori~~, it was cold…” You know, he was taking the class but not actually training. He got very cold when I opened the dojo windows and rather wanted to keep them shut. Yet, he could not quite blame his student who was training with his full spirit, yet he still wanted to complain just a little and show implicitly how he was troubled. I was surprised at his word in the back of my mind that even this iron man felt cold. And at the same time, I felt good in some way, as if I had won in the cold competition being stronger than him. What an inconsiderate disciple Master had!

Time has passed and now I am in my fifties, I have begun feeling the cold even in this warm winter of Queensland. As I endure the cold wind coming in from the dojo window numbing my left side body in June sogo shinsa, I belatedly understand my Master’s trouble and his feeling who was in his seventies then, and I apologise to him sincerely in my mind.

OSU!

Michiharu Mori

 

‘A Voice from the past’ – Advice from the founder of Yoshinkan Gozo Shioda Kancho Sensei (10th Dan) – Episode 3.

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[1]. 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 [2]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.

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Image: Master Gozo Shioda using his body as atemi to repel opponent. https://www.aikido-health.com/gozo-shioda.html

“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[3]. 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[4]. 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.

Osu!

Ryan Slavin


ENDNOTES

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] Masahiko Kimura: was an All Japan Judo champion who dominated the sport from 1937 until 1949.

[4] 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.

A laugh with a serious message…

Mori Shihan wrote an article this month that I would like to share with you. I see it as a fitting note with which to end the year. The article might shock you, gross you out, make you laugh, but mostly I hope it leaves you with an understanding of what is at the heart of authentic traditional Japanese martial arts dojos – service! When I say service, I mean it in every sense of the word. Firstly, the dojo as a service to the community in providing a place of strong physical and moral learning, and secondly the people as selfless, considerate, compassionate, cooperative and ethical human beings.

Please enjoy the article.

A dedication to the public, the spirit of Samurai

It was on the first day of Aikido introductory course a few years ago. After we finished the warming-up routine, 15minutes of exercises including only 30 push-ups and 20 backwards falls, a young fellow came to me to tell me he needed to go to the toilet. Well, twenty to thirty minutes later he still hadn’t come out from there, but I did not really worry as he was young with a strong build. But I assumed he had not done any exercise for a while. The class finished without any problems and after the beginners of the course all left, ‘L’ who taught the course went to the toilet. I was sitting at my desk in the office and heard him exclaim, “OH, my God!”, just as he opened the toilet door. It was obvious something was wrong, and I stood up from my chair and went to the toilet.

I expected possibly two accidents; a flooding of urine – a common accident by men’s uncontrolled hose or an enormous poo not being flushed. I looked into the toilet behind L’s back to find that it was far beyond my assumption. Numerous small red and white things were spread all over the toilet, not only the floor but on the walls and even on the ceiling. Then, I remembered that the young fellow was murmuring under his breath with a bitter smile, “Wasn’t a good idea to have lots of pasta before training,” as he left…He did not mention anything about what happened in the toilet and he never returned to the dojo although he paid the whole course fee.

Well, ‘L’ made up his mind to not run away from these archenemies but to battle with them. He stopped me going forward to help him and bravely began to fight against the little red and white warriors with his bare hands. Looking at his back, I thought this man was the true samurai. “He is the samurai,” is the term Japanese people use to praise a person. The samurai in this context means the person who dedicates oneself to the public, working sincerely spending one’s whole spirit selflessly for other people or for the greater good of society. The attitude of ‘L’ was exactly the same as this samurai spirit.

Though feeling sorry, I had to go to take the second class, but my attention stayed with him. I kept hearing his battle roars to boost his spirit and the sound of toilet flushes over and over for forty-five minutes until the second class was done. I knew that the ‘samurai’ needed to have a rest and I offered myself to take over his combat. I still remember his totally haggard face with worn-out eyes which described how strong and outnumbered he was. Yet I volunteered to continue the fight… But I had to be prepared to work another hour at least as I saw lots more enemies were left in every nook and cranny.

“Bushido is really the Way of Dying” is a well-known phrase in Bushido training. It does not mean samurais regarded death lightly, but it was to express their preparedness to die for other people and the public. The other day, I saw a white belt helping out a beginner when he found the beginner looking troubled during wrists stretches. I felt his intention of willing to offer help where he could was small but surely the same samurai spirit. I felt so pleased to see that in my dojo.

Furthermore, some senior black belts always clean the dojo toilet after all the classes of the day. The toilet is not the most enjoyable place to clean; actually, a place where people would like to avoid. Yet, they take the routine as their ‘should-be-done’ task willingly. This is, I believe, the spirit of samurai too, dedicating themselves to the dojo and other students. I would like to take this opportunity to humbly express my deepest gratitude to these samurais for their sincere labour throughout 2019.

This spirit of samurai, dedication to the public, is appreciated anywhere you devote it. If it is dedicated to the country, that country will be a good country. If you work with this spirit, your work environment will improve and will be appreciated by other work mates. And, more importantly for our lives, we need to exercise this samurai spirit at home, especially for your partner, then you can create a harmonious family relationship. Yes, only if we practise!     

Osu!

Michiharu Mori

‘A Voice from the past’ – Advice from the founder of Yoshinkan Gozo Shioda Kancho Sensei (10th Dan) – Episode 2.

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.

(Extract from Gozo Shioda. 1991 “Aikido Shugyo”. Kodansha Publishing.)


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


ENDNOTES:

[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. 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.

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