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An Aikido Life (08)

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by Gozo Shioda

Aiki News #79 (January 1989)

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. The series began with AIKI NEWS No. 72, this being the eighth installment.

Chapter Two: Training At The Ueshiba Dojo

Sensei always used to say, “Be honest”, and “Trust your teacher”. For example, out of respect towards his teacher a student should be willing to eat excrement without any hesitation if he is told to do so by his teacher. According to Sensei, that sort of experience would prove beneficial to a student in the long run. This, of course, is an extremely strong example, but it shows the degree of trust one should have towards one’s teacher. I trained hard every day repeating the same routine.

Ueshiba Sensei was very religiously oriented. He regarded Mr. Onisaburo Deguchi of the Omoto religion as his master. He firmly believed that having Mr. Deguchi as his teacher would make it possible to attain eternal power. Therefore, his religious services in the morning and evening used to be a major event each day. Sensei recited Shinto prayers and then offered thanks to the kami or deities (starting with the Sun Goddess to the kami of water and grass). The whole ritual took approximately one and a half hours every day. Sensei was especially severe with respect to the kami and even the slightest mistake by his students during the daily ritual would raise his ire. That was one aspect of the most difficult training we experienced. I personally could not commit myself to believing in the kami and I only followed my teacher.

Sensei said in one of his lectures, “Man himself is a palace of flesh wherein the kami reside. Therefore, we should keep our bodies clean so as to seek divine instruction.” I believed that was true. I also did research into Aikido myself. I used to put a goldfish in a bowl and tap on the outside to observe the movements of the goldfish. Another thing I tried was hanging a stick in a high place in the house under which I frequently walked. It was set in such a way that it would hit me if I passed under it without paying attention. In that way I always would think about body positioning, eliminate any openings, train my body movements and sharpen my intuition.

Severe Training

Ueshiba Sensei used to hold outdoor training sessions once a year. This was usually in a town called Takeda located near Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture. Approximately 40 live-in students gathered together there for a 20-day summer training session.

It started with prayer exercises for about one and a half hours starting at five am. Then we performed purification rituals for another hour. After breakfast, the period of training started at around ten and lasted until lunch time. We rested for about two hours after lunch. Then training resumed at four pm and lasted until six. During this special seminar we practiced outdoors every other day. This was especially hard.

Mr. Tsutomu Yukawa, one of the live-in students at that time was a man of great strength. His physical power was such that he could easily lift a Japanese stone mill with one hand while lying on his back. One day, Yukawa decided he was going to attempt to uproot a tree of about four inches in diameter which was growing in the garden of the boarding house. His face became completely red as he attempted to pull out the tree. However, the tree was apparently rooted very deep and withstood his effort. Upon seeing his student’s unsuccessful attempt, Ueshiba said, “Hey, Yukawa. What are you doing? Let me have a try.” Sensei walked up to the tree and held it firmly in his arms. The next instant, the tree was out of the ground. At this sight, even the powerful Yukawa had to admit his defeat. Since Sensei pulled the tree up so lightly, I tried the same thing too with a similar-sized tree, but could not even budge it an inch. Just as the expression goes, it was “firmly rooted in the ground”. That was only one example which showed how extraordinary Sensei was. He was called a guardian kami and used to do things beyond the reach of human power.

Attack With A Real Spear

One day, a public prosecutor visited Ueshiba Sensei in Takeda. While they were having a pleasant chat in a four and a half mat room, Sensei had one of his students attack him with a spear with all his might. He was wearing a crested ceremonial garment of silk. It was a small room and the attack distance was extremely short. Also, the student had been told to attack vigorously, so Sensei had to evade instantly.

At the moment of attack, Sensei opened his body to the side. However, the tip of the spear caught a section of his kimono sleeves and it fluttered down to the floor. Sensei’s wife saw what happened and asked him to stop. This ended that particular training episode. Sensei’s facial expression did not change even slightly from his usual gentle appearance. He said, “No matter how swift the attack, it cannot touch my body. The spear took the trouble to miss me.” These words were true only because Sensei was no common man. If he had been an ordinary person like us, he would have been skewered! I have a virtually inexhaustible supply of stories about Sensei such as this.

Around that time Ueshiba Sensei was instructing for half of the month in Osaka and the other half in Tokyo. The first training in Osaka dates back to the Sumitomo Club. Since Marquis Toshitame Maeda in Osaka (a lieutenant-general who trained at the Ueshiba dojo who died in Borneo) was related by marriage to the Sumitomo family, he told Mr. Masatsune Ogura, an influential figure in the Sumitomo organization, about Ueshiba Sensei. A large number of Sumitomo employees gathered at the Sumitomo Club in Horifune-cho to practice under Ueshiba Sensei.

Ueshiba Sensei also gave instruction to employees of the Osaka Blue Bus, to an association of reservists, and several teachers of martial arts including a certain Koga Sensei who was a high-ranking Kendo instructor at the Osaka Shimanouchi Police Department. Ueshiba Sensei’s Osaka dojo used to be located in Suita and is still in existence. When Sensei was not in Osaka, Rinjiro Shirata was in charge and taught at the Osaka Dojo. Tsutomu Yukawa (now deceased) also taught in several locations in Osaka including a special police force dojo.

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