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An Aikido Life (07)

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by Gozo Shioda

Aiki News #78 (September 1988)

The following translation from the Japanese-language autobiography entitled “Aikido Jinsei” (An Aikido Life) by Gozo Shioda Sensei of Yoshinkan Aikido is published with the kind permission of the author and the publisher, Takeuchi Shoten Shinsha. This series of instalments began with AIKI NEWS no. 72.

Dream Of Starting A New Life In Manchuria And Mongolia

My father always told me that I should work in Manchuria and Mongolia in the future and suggested that it would be better for me to enter the Agriculture Department of Hokkaido Imperial University. However, although the department offered a course in agriculture, the institution was a government university and thus much more study than average was required. I was the type who did not like studying very much but I began reluctantly to apply myself little by little.

However, Headmaster Abe visited us around the month of April when I was in my fifth year of middle school. He told my father that Takushoku University was the most appropriate school for those wishing to start a new life in Manchuria and Mongolia. Therefore, my father told me to enter Takushoku University. The entrance rate of Takushoku University was low in those days and I had the necessary qualifications to enter this university without studying for the examination. Thus, I stopped studying altogether and devoted myself exclusively to the development of physical strength.

My father said to me: “In order to live in Mongolia you need to be prepared. You should study cooking and, of course, martial arts, horseback riding and learn how to drive a car.”

The purpose of studying cooking was to enable me to cook and eat anywhere. I needed to train my mind and physical strength through the martial arts so that I would be able to manage a horse on the great plains of Mongolia. I also needed to obtain a driver’s licence so that I would be able to go anywhere. All of these things were indispensable for life in Manchuria and Mongolia.

Introduction To Aiki Jutsu

About that time Mr. Abe, the headmaster of the Sixth Junior High School, told the following story to my father:

“There is an extraordinarily interesting martial art called Aiki Jutsu. I learned about it from a lady that I met at Shoin Yoshida Sensei’s shrine [1]. I admire him and worship at the Shoin shrine each morning. There is a lady who cleans the shrine every morning at the same time. Her mental attitude is outstanding and so I asked her name. She answered, ‘My name is Takako Kunigoshi.’ When I asked her what she did, she answered, ‘I practice Aiki Jutsu with Ueshiba Sensei.’ Then I asked, ‘What is Aiki Jutsu?’ and she said, ‘There is a saying: seeing is believing. How would you like to come with me to the dojo to see for yourself.’ So I made an appointment to visit the Ueshiba Dojo in Ushigome. I met Ueshiba Sensei and talked with him about various things; I saw his demonstration and was impressed by his wonderful technique. I have come here straight from the dojo with that experience still fresh in my mind. You should have your second son Takeshi (now Gozo) train in Aiki Jutsu.”

So I promised to go to the Ueshiba Dojo with Mr. Abe at five o’clock on the morning of May 23, 1932. Here let me regress a bit before describing that event. One day a high-ranking teacher of Shibukawa-ryu came to demonstrate at the Yoshinkan, my father’s dojo. After the demonstration, the instructor asked, “Would anyone like to try the technique?” Mr. Itsuki Hirura, who was an ex-sumo wrestler and an assistant instructor of Judo at the Yotsuya Police Department, came forward. Before he could say, “I will …” he was already in front of the instructor. He tried his favorite technique of “uchimata” - throwing the opponent down by putting one’s leg between his legs. In an instant the instructor was thrown and flew high in the air. Having seen such demonstrations before, I believed that Judo was the greatest martial art. Thus I personally did not think much of Aiki Jutsu.

Entering The Ueshiba Dojo

The day appointed for going to the Ueshiba Dojo finally arrived. At five o’clock in the morning, after we exchanged formal greetings, Ueshiba Sensei started his demonstration. I could have understood then what he was doing if I knew what I do now. However, in Aiki Jutsu, which I had never seen before, the throws were so controlled and so clean that it looked pretty unbelievable to me. When the ordinary demonstration ended, Ueshiba Sensei speaking in a Kansai accent said, “Mr. Shioda, would you like to try?” I rose deliberately on my feet and asked, “What am I supposed to do?” He answered, “Anything you want.” I think I was a little conceited then. I kicked out at him abruptly thinking, “What an impudent old man!” Before I noticed that Sensei’s hand touched my thigh, I was flung away. I got a nasty bang on the back of my head; I felt dizzy and could not stand up for a while. I thought I should reflect on my conduct, and immediately decided to train in Aiki Jutsu.

On May 23, 1932, I joined the Ueshiba Dojo, where there were about twenty live-in students. They practiced everyday from five in the morning until nine at night. However, the admission regulations were strict and two guarantors were required to join. In my case, the first guarantor was my father and the second was Mr. Abe, the headmaster of the Sixth Junior High School.

Training sessions outside the dojo were held mainly at the Army and Navy academies. The president of the naval academy was Admiral Sankichi Takahashi. Takamatsu-no-miya - younger brother of the emperor - was attending the school then. Other training places included the Nakano School [2], the Military Police School [3], the Army Toyama School, and a research institute affiliated with the East Asian Economic Research Bureau [4]. Therefore, it was not necessary to accept new students in the Kobukan Dojo. There, emphasis was placed on the training of the “uchideshi” or live-in students. Since general members of the dojo did not come very regularly, it did not really make any difference if one person came or ten people came. We had to train with them every time. When I joined, I was a middle school student. I went to the dojo from my house in Yotsuya, either in the morning or in the evening. Since I could not skip school, I had to leave home at four o’clock in the morning. I ran from Yotsuya to the Ueshiba Dojo at Nuke-benten-mae in Ushigome Wakamatsu-cho and arrived at the dojo at about 4:40. I practiced from five to six o’clock and then went back home. After breakfast I finally set out for school.

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