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Interview with Gozo Shioda

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #93 (Fall 1992)

Gozo Shioda, founder of the Yoshinkan style of aikido, began training in 1932, at the age of seventeen. Sixty years later he heads a unique international aikido organization whose aim is global harmony through the spread of the aikido spirit. In this interview, Shioda Sensei recalls his experiences as an assistant to the aikido founder, teaching aiki budo at the Nakano and Toyama Military Schools, the postwar establishment of Yoshinkan Aikido, and his memories of O-Sensei at the close of his life.

Osaka Asahi Newspaper

Sensei, in our earlier talks you were kind enough to provide us with detailed information on your first years at the Kobukan dojo. Later on, you assisted Ueshiba Sensei as an instructor and also taught aiki budo in Osaka. How did Ueshiba Sensei come to teach at the office of the Osaka Asahi Newspaper Company?

Gozo Shioda
The president of the Asahi Newspaper, Mr. Murayama, was stabbed by a member of a right-wing group. After that incident the Asahi people were worried because the attack had occurred even though there were security guards. They decided to teach the guards some self-defense. That’s how Ueshiba Sensei happened to go to the Asahi Newspaper to teach.

How did Mr. Murayama know about Ueshiba Sensei?

Mr. Murayama didn’t know Ueshiba Sensei directly, but Mr. Mitsujiro Ishii and Taketora Ogata [1888-1958, journalist and politician who served on several cabinets] knew Sensei and recommended him in about 1933 or 34.

Ueshiba Sensei primarily taught the security guards, but he taught some Asahi Newspaper employees too.

Hatsutaro Sugii, the father of the Kazuo Sugii who is currently at the Ueshiba dojo, was the Assistant Director of Advertising at the Tokyo Asahi Newspaper office in those days and became quite involved in aiki. The practice at the Asahi Newspaper office alone was not enough for him and he commuted to the Ueshiba dojo in Ushigome for a long time. He fell very much in love with aiki. Mr. Sugii held me in high regard for many years and when I built the Yoshinkan dojo in 1965, he came to us and became a sort of adviser. He was at the Yoshinkan until his death. Mr. Sugii gathered together people in Koenji and headed the “Special Research Association.”

Mr. Sugii must have been very enthusiastic.

Yes. He also had a wonderful personality. He died about ten years ago. In those days I don’t think Mr. Sugii’s son did much aikido. He must be aware of the fact that his father came regularly to my dojo.

Sensei, the book Budo, which was privately published by the Kobukan dojo in 1938, has recently been republished in English by Kodansha. You also appear in some of the photos.

The Tokyo Asahi Newspaper cooperated in taking the photos. I don’t know who actually wrote the text. Apparently, the contents were partly taken from the transmission scroll [mokuroku] of Sokaku Takeda Sensei of Daito-ryu. The text does not contain a lot of detail.

There was an earlier technical book published in 1933 entitled Budo Renshu which contained technical drawings by Miss Takako Kunigoshi. Can you tell us something about this book?

Miss Kunigoshi suggested the idea, saying, “It would be a great loss if these wonderful techniques are not preserved.” Miss Kunigoshi, who was good at drawing and cartoons, took notes. The book was not sold at the dojo, however. Ueshiba Sensei didn’t ask for money, but requested an offering and the amount of the offering was unlimited!

Among the later well-known figures to study under Ueshiba Sensei shortly before the war were Koichi Tohei [director of Shinshin Toitsu Aikidokai] and Kisaburo Osawa Sensei [former Dojo-cho of Aikikai Hombu Dojo, awarded 10th dan posthumously]. Do you recall when they started?

Mr. Osawa commuted to the dojo. Mr. Tohei was a student at Keio University shortly before I left the dojo. He was practicing judo and two of his seniors, Mori, a captain of the Keio Judo Club at that time, and Umeda, a competitor in the student judo championships, were practicing at the Ueshiba dojo.

[By that time], Shigemi Yonekawa, Zenzaburo Akazawa, and all of the early uchideshi had to enter military service and so only older people were left in the dojo. Mr. Minoru Hirai [founder of Korindo] was handling the office. Since the young people had disappeared, whenever Ueshiba Sensei was invited to give a demonstration, he would take Mr. Hirai with him and he established many contacts in this way. Apparently Hirai used to teach in Roppongi.

Nakano And Toyama Schools

Do you know how Ueshiba Sensei came to teach at the Nakano and Toyama military schools?

Ueshiba Sensei went to the Nakano school through an introduction of the director of the Military Police School, Mr. Makoto Miura. Since the Nakano School was located in Nakano in Meguro Ward and the Toyama School was located nearby in Okubo, they weren’t that far away from the Ueshiba dojo. Ueshiba Sensei also taught at the Army University in Yotsuya and at the Naval Academy. Mr. Sankichi Takahashi was the director of the Naval Academy and it was through this connection that Ueshiba Sensei taught there. At that time, Prince Takamatsu, a younger brother of Emperor Hirohito, was a student at the Naval Academy. Ueshiba Sensei regularly taught budo as a compulsory subject at the Toyama and Nakano Schools.

I believe there were quite a few strong students among those Ueshiba Sensei taught at these military schools.

The students of the Nakano School were 18 and 19 year-olds undergoing training to become spies. When they graduated from the Nakano School they would become officers, wear civilian clothes and infiltrate foreign countries.

There were many strong fellows at the Toyama School too.

Did they practice other martial arts at these schools?

Aikido was the only martial art they practiced. They also studied things like foreign languages.

Given his spiritual views on budo, did Ueshiba Sensei have any moral qualms about teaching at these spy training schools?

No. He was only told to teach martial arts there.

Apparently a technical manual which included aiki budo techniques was published by the Military Police School in the early 1940s. Since it wasn’t possible for Ueshiba Sensei to go to so many places by himself as he was also teaching at the Kobukan and in Osaka, did the uchideshi help teach too?

Yes. First, Ueshiba Sensei would go to these places to teach and then tell them that an uchideshi would be instructing on his behalf.

One time, a son of naval Lieutenant Commander Paymaster Takahashi was a school student and Ueshiba Sensei paired him with Prince Takeda. The Prince’s wife was also practicing, and when she threw the young Takahashi from a seated position his feet came up and hit her in the forehead and injured her. This was a terrible thing and so I took over as her partner. I had to treat her like a fragile doll and it was really tough! [laughter]

Since the military supported aikido, Ueshiba Sensei also taught prominent ministers. Mr. Higashikuni, Prince Takeda, Prince Chichibu [younger brother of late Emperor Hirohito], and about six children of Prince Takamatsu, another younger brother of Emperor Hirohito, also practiced the art.

Imperial Demonstration

Ueshiba Sensei gave a special demonstration at the Saineikan Dojo in the Imperial palace grounds about 1941. Did this occur as a result of his connection with Admiral Isamu Takeshita?

Yes. When Takeshita Sensei was a Grand Chamberlain he was told by the Emperor to arrange for aikido to be shown to him, so he went to the Ueshiba dojo. Ueshiba Sensei answered, “I can’t show false techniques to the Emperor. Basically in aikido, the opponent is killed with a single blow. It’s false if the attacker is thrown, leisurely stands up, and attacks again. [On the other hand], I can’t go around killing my students.” He refused the invitation in this way, but when Takeshita Sensei told this to the Emperor, he said, “I don’t care if it’s a lie. Show me the lie!” Tsutomu Yukawa and I took ukemi.

I understand the Emperor was not actually present the day of the demonstration.

Yes, that’s right.

Prince Mikasa [a younger brother of the emperor], Prince Takamatsu, and Prince Chichibu were in attendance. Takeshita Sensei was the announcer and explained the techniques. It was really something to give a demonstration before the Imperial family in those days and so we couldn’t do anything disrespectful.

I believe Ueshiba Sensei was sick on that occasion.

Yes. Since Sensei was ill Yukawa attacked him weakly and was thrown hard and broke his arm. Yukawa was quite a strong guy and he loved to fight. We were good friends and when I went to Osaka he would often take me out drinking. He was powerful and could easily lift a stone mortar with one hand. He died young after returning from Manchuria. He was quite good at aikido.

He must have died not too long after the demonstration before the Imperial family.

The demonstration was in 1941, and I think he died in 1942.

In 1941, when Ueshiba Sensei gave his last demonstration at the Hibiya Kokaido, he said, “My technical training ends now. Henceforth I will dedicate myself to serving the kami [dieties] and training my spirit.”

Since I left the dojo in 1941, I believe there were times when he didn’t have any close deshi. His students disappeared because of the war. The training was severe [in the early days] when Mr. Shirata and Mr. Yonekawa were uchideshi. It was no easy task training at the dojo. Sensei was really strong [laughter].

Postwar Period

Apparently, after the war Ueshiba Sensei went through some very tough times.

The fact that Ueshiba Sensei was an adviser to the Butokukai in Kyoto which was a rival of the Kodokan Judo organization was not good. When MacArthur came he disbanded the organization. Ueshiba Sensei was implicated as a war criminal and accused of class G war crimes. His foundation [the Kobukai] was taken away and his activities were stopped. Also, the Ueshiba dojo closed down for a time and Ueshiba Sensei secluded himself in Iwama. Since he could no longer practice budo, he created the “Aikien” [Aiki Farm] and engaged in farming in Iwama. He was just eking out a living.

I had just been repatriated and when I went to Iwama, Tadashi Abe was there. Also, Yuji, the son of Koichiro Ishihara and present president of Ishihara Sangyo, was there. Around 1947 I spent about two months in Iwama with my family.

Do you think the founder was at his technical peak then?

He was at his strongest around 1933 or 34. About that time he had matured and become calm.

I understand the Yoshinkan played an important role in the postwar revival of aikido.

After the war the Ueshiba Sensei’s Ushigome dojo became a dance hall for the Occupation Forces. After I came back it started to prosper again. I was the first one to arrange training at the Defense Academy [Boeichodai] and police departments. When I left the Ueshiba dojo I was treated like a traitor, but I didn’t feel as if I were one. I was making the rounds of 83 police departments and really promoting the Ueshiba dojo.

I don’t know how much money my father poured into the Ueshiba dojo before the war. I’m glad I was in good circumstances and I was treated well by Ueshiba Sensei.

I’m glad to have spent so much time with Ueshiba Sensei in his daily life because it was essential for grasping the most important truths of aikido. You had to spend time close to him to understand Sensei’s every movement.

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