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An Aikido Life (09)

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by Gozo Shioda

Aiki News #80 (April 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.

20 Days of Austere Discipline

To resume the thread of my story, Ueshiba Sensei and the three of us finally arrived at the house of Razan Hayashi which was our destination as I mentioned before. When we settled down after cleaning the house, Ueshiba Sensei admonished us with the following words: “We are going to lead an ascetic life for 20 days starting today. During this period we will eat meals consisting of one kind of soup and a serving of fish or vegetables and rice. We are also going to train at night. So get yourselves in the right frame of mind.”

He told us that frugal meals were best for people and that delicious food was our enemy. For breakfast we had a small amount of rice, three pieces of pickled radish and miso soup. Lunch and supper were almost the same. During the 20-day period of training we ate fish only twice. Fish never tasted more delicious than those times. Naturally, the three of us prepared meals in turn. We got up at five in the morning, swung our bokken (wooden swords) five hundred times, and then practiced how to move our bodies. At that time the teaching method was different from today’s. There was nothing like, “Put your feet at such and such an angle” or “Look in the direction of your hands”, etc. Ueshiba Sensei showed us how to move and told us to practice our skills and bring our minds into oneness with nature. We just imitated his movements without understanding anything he said. We did that for about an hour. Then we prepared breakfast. First, we made breakfast for Ueshiba Sensei, and served him in turn. After he finished his breakfast we started eating. We took a rest after clearing the table. At ten o’clock we practiced taijutsu (empty handed techniques) for about two hours. After lunch, we rested until three o’clock. From three to five we trained again. Our way of training was, for example, to hold Ueshiba Sensei’s hands or shoulders or seize him from behind and he would free himself from our grip. He would merely say to us, “Master it and forget it.”

No Note-taking Allowed

Later we practiced the techniques we learned repeatedly. When we took notes on our training, Ueshiba Sensei became very upset with us. He admonished us saying that we should learn the martial techniques through our bodies, not our brains and that we should learn exclusively through practice. He never allowed us to take notes. After we fixed supper, our daily regime ended. We had no radio and only read books. Ueshiba Sensei ordered us to read magazines such as “Kodan Kurabu” and “Kingu” which were filled with stories of battles and great swordsmen. One of us would read a magazine while the other two massage Ueshiba Sensei’s shoulders and back.

We could, however, be free after nine o’clock when he retired to bed. But since we were up on a mountain we could not visit the red light district of town. Thus, we went to bed around ten o’clock after reading magazines.

However, about every third day, Ueshiba Sensei woke up around two or three o’clock in the morning on moonless nights and said, “Let’s practice in the dark now!” We put on our training suits and set out for a place on Mt. Kurama where Ushiwakamaru (childhood name of Yoshitsune Minamoto) used to train. it was pitch dark. Ueshiba Sensei wore a white headband and brandished a real sword. While I was following him, he said to me, “Shioda, there is a hole, a stone and a tree.” He could walk very fast and could see like a cat in the dark. I, however, couldn’t walk that fast because I couldn’t see anything. When we reached our destination after encountering many difficulties he handed us bokken and said, “Strike at my white headband with all your might! Never hesitate! Strike hard!” So each of us struck with all our might. We were very much afraid because Ueshiba Sensei was using a real sword. The moment I struck at his white headband which loomed up in the dark, he would quickly dodge and place his sword right above my head. The air sliced by his sword wavered above my head lightly but menacingly. It could only be called kenpu (sword wind). It was so weird it defied description. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination. When we finished the 20 days of training in this manner, we descended from the mountain. We had this special training session once a year. What did we get from this austere discipline? I am sure that I spent each of the 20 days very seriously and that I was with nature. I could not think of anything else other than these two things. Certainly, it was an opportunity that may never come again. This is one of my memories from the days at Ueshiba Sensei’s dojo.

Participant in the Kobe Plot

As I mentioned before, members of the Ueshiba dojo taught at the Nakano School. At that time, one of the senior instructors at the School was a Major Ito. He was an active leader of the group which was striving to defeat the United States and Britain and was also a public-spirited man. He used to come to our dojo on a private basis and was on friendly terms with Ueshiba Sensei. Though I was a university freshman at the time, I was more or less able to instruct. Thus when Ueshiba Sensei was not able to go to the Nakano School, I taught the young officers including first and second lieutenants there in place of him.

Major Ito treated me affectionately and invited me over to his house repeatedly. One day I visited him at his home, a simple, old-style residence befitting a military man.

On that occasion, he talked to me about the state of affairs in Japan and the rest of the world at that time and how violent both the United States and Britain were to the point it made my blood boil. I was very outraged to hear these things and so impressed that I promised to visit him again with my close friends when I left his house.

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