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The following chapters from Aikido Jinsei (An Aikido Life), the autobiography of Gozo Shioda Sensei, are reproduced with the kind permission of the author and the publisher, Takeuchi Shoten Shinsha.

Gozo Shioda (1915-1994)

Book One: Yoshinkan Aikido

Chapter 1: The Basics of Yoshinkan Practice

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

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

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

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

Cover of Aikido Jinsei

Chapter 2: Cultivation of real skill has nothing to do with fighting in competition

There is no form of competition in aikido. We execute techniques and take falls in turn while practing repetitively. Because of this some young people feel dissatisfied and complain that they cannot measure their improvement without competition. They may feel this way particularly because of the extreme popularity of sports and are used to situations where winners and losers are decided through competitions. In sports there are certain agreed-upon rules. This is why competitions are held and winners and losers can be determined. However, aikido is not a sport but a budo. Either you defeat your opponent or he defeats you. You cannot complain that he did not follow the rules. You have to overcome your opponent in a way appropriate to each situation.

When I was young I knew my skill level to some extent through practice and demonstrations. Since I merely believed in myself and tried to hone my skills naturally through training I once doubted if I could really handle an actual fighting situation. One day I found myself in a situation that made me realize the wonderful effectiveness of the aikido I had been practicing and made me thankful I had begun. From then on I felt a confidence spring forth. Let me recount the incident for you.

It was in July, 1941 about five months before Japan declared war on the United States. I was 26 years old then. Shunroku Hata, an army general, was a close friend of my father and treated me with affection. He was supreme commander of the expeditionary force to China. He brought me over to Beijing as his private secretary. I stopped over at the Shanghai airport for a rest on the way to Hanoi on the order of the General. While wandering about the airport I happened to run into one of my juniors from Takushoku University, a man named Uraoka. We embraced each other and jumped up and down with joy. Since I write about this encounter in the second section I won’t go into detail here.

It is at this point that we get into our story. Uraoka told me he would take me to a high-class spot in the French settlement. With my heart aflutter I followed him to a certain establishment at around 8 o’clock in the evening. After we were shown to a room, Uraoka started negotiating with a man who looked like a tout and a quarrel broke out. My junior punched the man in the face. His mouth started bleeding and he ran away shouting. I didn’t understand what was happening and stood there like an idiot. Uraoka frowning shouted at me.

“Shioda, we will be dead in two or three minutes. He will be back for sure with his buddies to take revenge on us. Please get ready quick!”

I suggested that we run away.

“No way! We would be killed while escaping. We won’t be able to move from here until tomorrow morning,” he answered, apparently prepared to face death judging from the expression on his face.

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