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Yasuhisa Shioda

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #86 (Fall 1990)

In September of 1990, the Yoshinkan Hombu Dojo announced that Yasuhisa Shioda, son of Kancho Gozo Shioda, would succeed his father as 2nd Soke, heir-apparent to the Yoshinkan. We talked to him about his personal history, his approach to the teaching of aikido, and his thoughts on the future of the Yoshinkan.

Could you tell us about your background in aikido?

I began my aikido training when I was in my first year of junior high school. At that time the very first class of Kidotai (Japanese Riot Police) was training at the dojo with us. I trained so hard at aikido that I even stayed at the dojo during my summer vacation. That was when Kushida Sensei and some of the other senseis were at the dojo too.

After I graduated from Chuo University, I joined the staff of the Yoshinkan, when it was located in Koganei.

How many brothers do you have?

I am the youngest of three brothers. Since my childhood people have thought that I was the one suited for aikido.

Did you belong to an aikido club while you were at university?

No, I didn’t, because the university’s club was Aikikai style. Since I was at the senior high school connected with Chuo University, I didn’t need to prepare for entrance examinations, so I could spend quite a bit of time on my aikido training. Training with the first class of Kidotai, now in its 26th year, at the Yoshinkan dojo was an impressive experience.

When I was 22 years old, I became one of the instructors at the Hombu dojo, and began to teach at various institutions such as the Metropolitan Police Board, several universities, and branches of the Hombu dojo. In 1980, I went to stay in England for three years. There, besides learning English, I taught aikido at the branch dojos. I met many different people and I think I was able to acquire a broader international perspective.

The number of foreign practitioners at the Hombu dojo has increased. I met Mr. Fred Haynes again, who I had first met in England, and we agreed that unless an organization was established in the United States now, the dojos there would end up in chaos. So it was decided to create an international federation, and I took the lead and es-tablished the International Yoshinkai Aikido Federation in 1990 [see AN#85]. We are also planning to inaugurate a national federation this September.

Was there previously any formal federation in Japan?

We don’t have any branches which belong directly to the Hombu. There is the Terada branch dojo, which is the headquarters of local branches, which is the largest, followed in size by the Takeno Yamanashi branch dojo.

In addition to those two, there is the Metropolitan Police Board where Inoue Sensei is now teaching, but it is not a branch of the Yoshinkan. So in the future, we must create more branch dojos, and start to teach at various other places, such as schools, companies and institutions. Some university aikido clubs, such as those of Buk-kyo University and Kyoto University, have changed over from the Aikikai to the Yoshinkan. I think there is a possibility for us to increase the number of universities where we teach by means of a national federation, which is another reason for establishing such a body.

What was your motive in going to England for three years?

At that time all I was doing was practicing aikido in a dojo, and I thought I had better do some study abroad and English seemed to be most necessary for me. So I made up my mind to go abroad, and by chance, Mr. Yu, who is South Korean, was in England at that time and he asked me to come teach aikido in the U.K. at his place since he was returning to South Korea. So I went to England in October 1980 and lived in London. Mr. Yu had lived at the Yoshinkan dojo for more than five years, and he now lives in Los Angeles.

Will you also teach aikido at the various branch dojos in Japan?

I think it is best that first I go overseas frequently to instruct, and then after each foreign branch is set on its way the Hombu dojo instructors can take turns going.

In Japan, since the Yoshinkan is a foundation recognized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, it is difficult to raise funds for transportation or hotels when we go to local districts, because such expenses will not be paid by Tokyo. So when we go to local police academies to teach aikido, I would like to have such expenses agreed upon in advance so we can make some income from our teaching there. By doing this, I hope we can increase our branch dojos as much as possible.

In the early days of the Yoshinkan, we did not need to train students other than members who were already commuting to the dojo, and these were mostly from the Kidotai. Consequently, we did not think of the general public as potential students. We have worked only with the Kidotai. That is one of the reasons that the Yoshinkan is not more developed at this point, I think. When the Yoshinkan was at Yoyogi it was in a convenient location, but now we are at Ochiai in Shinjuku, where I am afraid there is not as much chance to attract people’s attention, and what is worse, we are not actively advertising the Yoshinkan’s activities. In the early days, Kancho [Gozo Shioda Sensei] used to do demonstrations at various places himself, and that was the Yoshinkan’s advertising.

He is strongly convinced that if he performs aikido sincerely, people will never fail to gather to learn aikido, and he has always said, “We must be unselfish, and do not need to spread propaganda for the Yoshinkan.” And, “Martial arts don’t involve resorting to artifice for anything. If we study budo earnestly, people will surely come to learn it.” That has been the Yoshinkan’s principle as well as Kancho’s. As a result, although we have improved in technical areas, it has been difficult for us to spread our techniques all over the world. In addition to this, the Yoshinkan has not given out dan ranks quickly to students. The Yoshinkan has been able to keep going because it has some supporters.

So I can say that the Yoshinkan’s principles are very pure. However, this traditional way of thinking is a strict one, which emphasizes rules. But now we are having to become more flexible in our thinking.

Mr. Takafumi Takeno was also severe in his thinking, which my father liked. Thus, it has not been easy for us to reform the constitutional weaknesses of the Yoshinkan. Students have not been allowed to freely express their opinions and so my father thought that everything was in order.

Your program of instruction at the Metropolitan Police Board has been quite successful, hasn’t it?

Yes, indeed, it is wonderful that the Metropolitan Police Board has left the Kidotai’s education to us, and at the same time it was good for us to begin to instruct them. We have concentrated too much of our energy on training the Kidotai, though. When we were young, it was all right to train with the Kidotai, but as we go up the grades, we all become instructors. In other words, there are too many teachers for the number of students at the Yoshinkan, and there is no core. So it is only natural for us to have the need to increase the number of branch dojos and provide more training there. In other words, we must have more dojos. To do that we must be concerned with business affairs, which causes a great dilemma for us.

Until now, we have been content merely to own our dojo. When we needed something, that need has been filled by someone, and we have taken this for granted. We did not fear anything, as long as our techniques were good. There is a saying “Art and knowledge bring bread and honor.” In a sense we are like Morihei Ueshiba in thinking this way, I believe.

There was one story about Kancho. At first he was a commuting student. But he discovered that his colleagues made significant progress in their techniques after becoming live-in students. The life of a live-in student means living with the teacher all the time; in other words, aikido becomes his life. So, I heard that he made up his mind to become a live-in student. Even now he is strongly convinced that a man cannot become strong as a commuting student. So we still have a live-in student system at the Yoshinkan. He considers that if a man never trains as a live-in student, he will be unable to become a qualified instructor.

Have you watched Kancho work on his own training?

No, to tell the truth, I have never seen him training himself. He seems to train himself by taking the dog out for a walk, or doing his own housekeeping. Although he trained for only six or seven years under Morihei Ueshiba, I think it is due to his talent that he could become so strong.

But in his early days at the Ueshiba dojo I suppose that he and his colleagues could not make their techniques work on each other. It must have been difficult for him to surpass his seniors. He continued to progress in aikido techniques and become stronger long after his seniors left the aikido world. He found someone to support him economically so that he could make a living from aikido. I think that is what made him different from everyone else.

He owned his own dojo and has continued to teach aikido. That is why he has made progress not only in Ueshiba Sensei’s aikido, but also in his own aikido.

After World War II, budo was prohibited by the GHQ, and judo and kendo claimed that they were sports. Aikido, as a budo, was banned. In the 50s when training was allowed to a certain extent, the Hombu dojo was occupied with war-displaced families and Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba was working in business. So the dojo was not being used for its original purpose. I heard that at that time, the Yoshinkan had already started instructing aikido, and that it served as a stimulus to the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. It is said that the Yoshinkan dojo was quite significant historically in aikido.

I think that is why Doshu switched to making his living from aikido. Since he graduated from the Political Science and Economics Department of Waseda University, I think he has good head for business.

The Yoshinkan first started its activities as an affiliate of the Aikikai. In other words, at first Yoshinkan members did not consider themselves to be practicing a distinct system, separate from that of the Aikikai.

The first activity we undertook as the Yoshinkan was the demonstration at the Tokyo Gymnasium. At that time a group was formed to support Kancho. After that we started teaching the police. We earned most of our income from serving as guards at companies. In 1951 and 1952 we performed a demonstration for members of the Nihonkokan [a famous Japanese company], and they decided to learn aikido from us. After that, we gained additional supporters, such as Mr. Kiichi Minami and Mr. Shoshiro Kudo, and as a result the Yoshinkan has been able to develop to its present form.

I have heard that Ueshiba Sensei never explained his techniques in detail when he demonstrated them, while at the Yoshinkan you have organized methods of instruction. When were these teaching methods established?

Ueshiba Sensei didn’t actually teach. He would throw students and tell them to learn. If they didn’t understand he would throw them again. I also heard that his techniques would change according to his uke [one who is being thrown]. All that mattered was being strong. Ueshiba said his secret was the use of his knees. But it is said that he operated according to some vague patterns of basic movement. As Kancho learned these movements, he came to believe that without systematizing them he would not be able to teach aikido to his own students, so he devised the basic movements by himself, and his students in those days continued his work of organization. I think that flowing movement (nagare) is explained well in my father’s system.

Have you ever worked for an outside company before?

No, never. I have only had experience in part-time jobs. At first I believed strongly that martial arts offered something that was missing in the life of businessmen. In other words, training hard together makes us strong not only in body but also in spirit. This results in harmony among us. Therefore, however stiff a man may be, once he comes to the Yoshinkan, he will be able to relax and smile and get rid of stress. There was a time when I believed that that was the reason to study martial arts, and it is a most wonderful benefit.

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