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Morihei Ueshiba and Gozo Shioda

by Stanley Pranin

From Japanese Wushu Magazine

This writer has attended literally hundreds of aikido demonstrations over the years. When it comes to showing aikido to the general public in an easily understood and attractive manner, Gozo Shioda stands alone. He combines a lucid analysis of aikido theory with crisp technique and a liberal dash of humor. The observer of a Shioda aikido demonstration is almost invariably caught up in the mood of the experience and ready to join an aikido dojo without the least bit of coxing. Moreover, Shioda never fails to give credit where due and always mentions his teacher Morihei Ueshiba and the fact that aikido evolved from the techniques of Daito-ryu aikijujutsu. Let us trace the highlights of the career of this colorful personality who heads the worldwide Yoshinkan Aikido organization and to whom the aikido world owes a tremendous debt.

Gozo Shioda (1915-1994)
Fortunately, in writing about Gozo Shioda we have the advantage of being able to consult his recently-published autobiography entitled “Aikido Jinsei” (Takeuchi Shoten Shinsha). That coupled with his accessibility, allows us to achieve a much more accurate portrayal of his career than would otherwise be possible.

The second son of a well-known pediatrician, Seiichi Shioda, Gozo was born in Tokyo on September 9, 1915. A small, sickly child, Shioda credits his very survival through childhood to the medical skills of his physician-father. Young Gozo enjoyed a privileged upbringing while being subject to the directives of his strong-willed father.

His fateful meeting with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, came about as follows. A Mr. Munetaka Abe, the headmaster of the middle school Gozo attended, was impressed by the outstanding mental attitude of a young woman, a Miss Takako Kunigoshi, who cleaned a nearby shrine every morning. When asked about her exemplary bearing, she gave credit to her teacher of “aikijujutsu” and suggested the schoolmaster observe a training session. Thoroughly impressed by what he saw at the nearby Ueshiba Dojo, Mr. Abe urged Gozo’s father to enroll his son there. On May 23, 1932, the 17-year-old Gozo appeared at the Ueshiba dojo to witness a demonstration. Having had a strong background in both kendo and judo, the confident young Shioda was skeptical of the clean, controlled techniques he saw performed. Sensing the lad’s unimpressed attitude, Ueshiba then invited him to attack and, in the blink of an eye, the young man found himself on his back rubbing his head after an unsuccessful kick attempt.

In aikido, “feeling is believing,” and Shioda immediately decided to join the dojo. Since two guarantors were required to enter, his father and Mr. Abe provided introductions. At that time, there were about twenty uchideshi in the Ueshiba Dojo and they followed a rigorous schedule with classes starting in the morning at five and ending at nine in the evening. It must have been most stimulating for young Shioda to become part of this dojo in which so many skilled young martial artists were training and where numerous persons of high-social standing appeared routinely.

Morihei Ueshiba was extremely active at this point of his career and taught not only at his Kobukan Dojo in Shinjuku but also the Nakano military institute, the Military Police School, and the Army Toyama School among other locations. For this reason, it was not necessary to solicit students from among the general public and the emphasis at the Kobukan was on the training and development of the uchideshi. Technically speaking, the “Aiki Budo” of Ueshiba at this stage was in a transition phase and was somewhere between Daito-ryu aikijujutsu and modern aikido. As a result, the techniques were much more numerous, linear in appearance and applied with great vigor. Also, many complex pinning techniques (osaewaza) were still used.

Young Gozo was still a middle school student at the time and, in the beginning, attended only morning sessions having to arise at four am. Later, at his father’s urging in mapping out his future, Gozo set his sights on an adventure-filled life participating in the “reconstruction” of Mongolia. As part of his preparations for the strenuous years ahead, he resolved to withdraw from school for a two-year period to devote himself full-time to aikido training. Thereafter, he continued practicing aikido while a student at Takushoku University until his departure for military service in March 1941.

Shioda spent most of the war years in China starting as a secretary of General Shunroku Hata in Beijing and had more than one close brush with death. Shioda’s autobiography covers this period and makes for exciting reading. In around September of 1946 a few months after his discharge from the imperial army, Shioda spent several weeks of intensive training and farming at the home of Ueshiba who had withdrawn to Iwama in Ibaragi Prefecture during the early days of the war. Still a young man and with his master apparently in retirement, Shioda then returned to Tokyo and like most others struggled to make ends meet in poverty-stricken Japan.

In 1950, as luck would have it, Shioda was asked to guard the Tsurumi facility of the Nihon Kokan steel company in the wake of the “Red Purge” and gathered together some 55 of the strongest members of the kendo, judo and sumo clubs of his alma mater Takushoku University. This led to him being asked to teach aikido on a regular basis at various plant locations starting in 1952. He also gave demonstrations at numerous police departments in the early 1950s.

A significant event proved to be a large aikido demonstration held in Tokyo in 1954 sponsored by the Life Extension Association which was attended by some 15,000 persons. Shioda’s performance received the best reception from the huge audience and little by little the nascent Yoshinkan Aikido organization began to achieve prominence. Also, around this time Shioda’s activities became known to various members of the business world. In particular, a Mr. Kudo who headed the Tomin Bank came to the aid of the Yoshinkan and backed the construction of a dojo. The Tsukudo Hachiman facility was opened to the general public in 1955. From that modest beginning, Yoshinkan Aikido gradually spread all over Japan and to foreign countries, mainly in the U.S. and Europe. It is presently the second largest aikido organization with hundreds of members dojos in its world-wide network.

At this point it would be useful to make a clarification. The subject of how Yoshinkan Aikido became separate from the Aikikai is little understood. When Shioda started his aikido activities in earnest after the war, Morihei Ueshiba was still in retirement in Iwama and classes at the Aikikai dojo (formerly the Kobukan) were irregular and sparsely attended. In fact, several families left homeless due to the bombing of Tokyo lived in the dojo. At one point, it was even used as a dance hall!

It was against this backdrop that Shioda achieved several early successes as the Yoshinkan grew steadily. Somewhat later, the Aikikai gradually began to regain momentum under the direction of Ueshiba’s son Kisshomaru and the founder himself spent increasingly more time in Tokyo. Thus, there never occurred a formal split between the two organizations despite their rather different approaches to aikido. The two groups simply evolved independently while maintaining more or less cordial ties. Even today Shioda and Kisshomaru make regular appearances on formal occasions at each other activities.

Shioda trained under Ueshiba when the latter was at his peak while in his vigorous 50s. Therefore, the techniques he learned from the founder of aikido were rather different from those taught by Ueshiba during the post-war years. Not surprisingly, Yoshinkan Aikido is clearly distinguishable from that practiced in the Aikikai system under the leadership of Ueshiba’s son, the present Aikido Doshu. The discussion of when the technique of Morihei Ueshiba was at its peak—before or after the war—continues unabated and in the end, any conclusion reached must be a subjective one. Regardless of where one stands on this issue, many will certainly agree with the opinion voiced by Shioda in an interview appearing in “Aiki News” several years ago: “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….”

Gozo Shioda performing at 1986 Friendship Demonstration sponsored by Aiki News