Jan
29

Review of “Aikido: My Spiritual Journey by Gozo Shioda” by Robert Noha

Review by Robert Noha

Introduction

Books by the early generations of Aikido teachers are getting rarer as these teachers, regrettably, continue to pass from the scene. A book by one of the early pioneers, who had in-depth personal experience with Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba, is even rarer.

Like some of Kodansha’s previous books on Aikido (Budo 1991; The Essence of Aikido 1993; The Secret Teachings of Aikido 2007; A Life in Aikido 2008; The Heart of Aikido 2010 and Stanley Pranin’s Aikido Pioneers –Prewar Era 2010) this book offers a picture of the early part of Aikido history; its practitioners and its founder.

Aikido My Spiritual Journey is by Yoshinkan Aikido founder Gozo Shioda. It is a compilation of two books he wrote in Japanese: Aikido Shugyo 1991; Aikido Jinsei 1985, the Afterword comes from Kokyuryoku de Jinsei ni Katsu by Yasuhisa Shioda 1996. Aikido Shugyo and Aikido Jinsei were also published in English in 2002 and 2011 by Shindokan Books and had the same translators as the current book. Parts of it were also translated in the Aikido Journal. You can check their excellent index for the dates.

The book contains fascinating stories from Shioda Sensei’s life. It also has detailed and helpful insights on Aikido training and many stories of his time with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. There are many well displayed historical and training photographs. Kodansha has done its usual good job of high quality book design.

It is both an autobiography and instructional book on Aikido practice. The instructional part goes beyond describing how to do specific techniques. It offers very deep approaches to training that are the result of Shioda Sensei’s lifetime of dedicated training and teaching. He also shares his views and experiences on the spiritual aspects of Aikido practice on and off the mat.

The afterword by his son and successor Yasuhisa Shioda describes his experiences in training with Shioda Sensei and his own insights into the value of Aikido training.

Chapter Summaries

Preface

The Preface provides some brief background on Aikido and its history and philosophy including its technical roots in Daito Ryu from O Sensei’s training with Sokaku Takeda.

Shioda Sensei pays tribute for the first of many times to Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

The closing sentence offers Shioda Sensei’s feelings about how much Aikido can contribute to making the world a better place.

“I believe if true Aikido training were to encompass all countries and nationalities, it would contribute to world peace.” (Page 16)

Chapter 1 Yoshinkan Aikido

Chapter 1 provides information on the Yoshinkan School of Aikido. One interesting piece of information is the origin of the name Yoshinkan. “The name of my dojo-Yoshinkan-comes from the name that my father, Seiichi Shioda, gave to the dojo that he built on our property…Quietly cultivate the spirit of a steady, unwavering mind.” (Page 21)

Shioda Sensei tells several entertaining and instructional stories of challenges and encounters where he used Aikido to defend himself. One that is particularly satisfying involved a challenge match with a sixth dan karate instructor. “I matched my palm with his fist, received his punch and sent him flying…Since then, he and I have been on friendly and frank terms with each other.” (Page 29)

There is also an amazing story about O Sensei throwing four students when they tried to restrain him while he was literally on his death bed, validating his statement to Shioda Sensei years before that he would be his strongest on his last day.

He also outlines in some detail his version of the basics of Aikido:

1.A Clear Mind
2.Maintain Peacefulness In Movement
3.If You Are Facing an Enemy Harmonize with Him
4.The Body’s Center of Balance
5.Timing
6.Kokyu Power and Focus Power
7.Circular Movements

The chapter also contains an equally detailed discussion of technique theory:

1.One Against Many
2.One Against One
3.Empty-handed Techniques Against Empty-handed Techniques
4.Basic Posture
5.Basic Movements

Chapter 2 Fundamental Principles

Chapter 2 begins by dispelling some misunderstandings about Aikido, including its effectiveness as a martial art. He tells a story about an encounter with a wrestling coach and Sambo practitioner (Russian Martial Art), whom he calls Mr. A., during a visit to his dojo.

“Mr. A. put all of his strength into his grip. As you can imagine, being such a large man he had a grip like a vise…I quickly turned my wrist over…He did a full somersault and collapsed right there on the floor of my office.” (Pages 61 and 62)

One fundamental principle he discusses extensively is riai. Shioda Sensei defines riai as not applying techniques by rote but, having internalized the skills they teach, you then respond properly in the moment of an attack.

He illustrates the principle of riai with several exciting examples from his own experience. The most amazing story is an encounter in which he and another Aikido student bested thirty yakuza gangsters.

“There was no need to wait for them to attack. Instead, I would go after them myself, confusing them and causing them to rush wildly at me…In this way Mr. T. and I created so much chaos that we were able to finish off all thirty gang members.” (Page 67)

The chapter also has an entertaining story of a 1990 visit to the dojo by then world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

Chapter 3 Kokyu Power

Chapter 3 outlines the importance of kokyu power. He explains:

“Kokyu power is produced when we push ourselves to the limits, making the most efficient use of the capabilities that lie within our own bodies. Consequently, anybody, no matter what kind of person, can use kokyu power. The only problem is whether or not you practice in such a way as to develop it.” (Page 108)

He further describes the experience of kokyu power in almost mystical terms:

“The feeling you get the moment kokyu power comes forth is an extraordinary and magnificent one. You will experience joy, happiness and paradise…When you feel it, it’s as though your entire self has disappeared.” (Pages 118 and 119)

The chapter concludes with discussions of speed, balance and letting go of strength.

Chapter 4 Shugyo

This chapter provides insights from Shioda Sensei on the proper approach to training.

He describes his early days of training in Judo and his training under O Sensei. He provides an example from the great Judo Master Kyuzo Mifune to illustrate both the differences and similarities between Aikido and Judo training:

“And in terms of someone who actually put the circular movements of Judo into practice, we cannot forget Kyuzo Mifune Sensei. Looking at the valuable films of him that remain today, we are struck by the realization that his movements are fundamentally different from what we see in today’s tournament Judo.” (Page 133)

He also details his experiences teaching Aikido at the Shotokan Dojo of Karate Master Masatoshi Nakayama.

Perhaps the most miraculous story in the book is one where O Sensei evades gunfire from a group of pre-war Japanese military firearms instructors.

“This is also something I personally saw with my own eyes…On the count of three, all six guns went off at once…before we knew it Sensei was standing behind the six gunmen smiling radiantly.” (Pages 151 and 153)

The primary emphasis of this chapter is on the importance of training carrying you beyond technique to a natural way of moving the body.
“Therefore, the proper interpretation of physical development according to Aikido is to build a physique with which you are comfortable throughout every one of your daily activities. (Page 147)
Chapter 5 Aikido and Life Are One

In the concluding chapter Shioda Sensei describes the more spiritual aspects of training and shares his own spiritual experiences.

Quoting O Sensei: “Move in unison with heaven and earth!”

Shioda Sensei adds: “There is a natural rhythm in heaven and earth, and if you can follow this rhythm obediently, you can do things without ever producing unnecessary force. Then both you and your opponent can survive.” (Page 180)

Afterword

The Afterword by Shioda Sensei’s son Yasuhisa, contains several stories about his experiences training under his famous and demanding father.

He describes some instruction he received when he was struggling to throw his partner.

“Why do you think your partner does not go down…It is human instinct to resist being thrown. To throw a man without forcing him is Aikido.” (Page 187)

The Afterword and the book concludes with Yasuhisa Sensei’s thoughts about Aikido and its practice.

“Aikido training is also about mastering a strong heart and mind. That being said, Aikido is a profoundly different martial art.” (Page 202)

Applications to Daily Aikido Training

Profusely illustrated with stories and photos the book provides many principles that can be used to improve Aikido training.

Here is an example where Shioda Sensei discusses the importance of timing.

“And there are a variety of methods of timing: there is the timing in which you blend your flow with that of the oncoming attacker; there is the timing of applying the technique at precisely the critical moment, taking care not to struggle against the attacker who is pushing in or the attacker who is pulling you; there is the timing of avoiding the attacker who is flying in at you; and there is the timing of going in to meet the attack.” (Page 41)

He also provides some instruction in how breathing properly can enhance your timing and other aspects of your training.

Conclusion

The book has three basic elements that make it well worth reading.

There are entertaining stories from Shioda Sensei’s life and his experiences with O Sensei.

There are practical training principles and applications drawn from a lifetime of training, teaching and thinking about Aikido.

There are applications of the art to our own spiritual journey both on and off the mat.

Shioda Sensei offers his view on the ultimate goal of training in Aikido.

“So then, what do you think Aikido’s ultimate technique might be? It is the ability to be at peace with your opponent by inducing him to abandon his animosity toward you.” (Page 169)

What better way to conclude a book on Aikido subtitled My Spiritual Journey?

Kodansha has three other books on the techniques of Shioda Sensei’s Aikido:

Dynamic Aikido-1977
Total Aikido: The Master Course-1996
Aikido the Basic Techniques-2006

Robert Noha

“Aikido: My Spiritual Journey” by Gozo Shioda. Review by Robert Noha
Afterword by Yasuhisa Shioda
Compiled and Translated by Jacques Payet
and Christopher Johnson
Published by Kodansha USA
ISBN 978-1-56836-411-7
202 Pages
Publication Date: (Scheduled) February 15th, 2013

About the author Robert Noha

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