(b. 15 November 1952). B. Tokyo. Yoshinkan Aikido Shihan. Graduate in Economics of Chuo University. Began training in 1970 at the Aikido Yoshinkan Yoyogi Dojo. Spent three years in the U. K. from 1981-1984 where he taught YOSHINKAN AIKIDO. Yoshinkan Hombu Dojo, Kami Ochiai 2-28-8, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 161 Japan (03)368-5556.
Yasuhisa Shioda 塩田養心館
Interview with Yasuhisa Shioda
In September of 1990, the Yoshinkan Hombu Dojo announced that Yasuhisa Shioda, son of Kancho Gozo Shioda, would succeed his father as 2nd Soke, heir-apparent to the Yoshinkan. We talked to him about his personal history, his approach to the teaching of aikido, and his thoughts on the future of the Yoshinkan.
Could you tell us about your background in aikido?
I began my aikido training when I was in my first year of junior high school. At that time the very first class of Kidotai (Japanese Riot Police) was training at the dojo with us. I trained so hard at aikido that I even stayed at the dojo during my summer vacation. That was when Kushida Sensei and some of the other senseis were at the dojo too.
After I graduated from Chuo University, I joined the staff of the Yoshinkan, when it was located in Koganei.
How many brothers do you have?
I am the youngest of three brothers. Since my childhood people have thought that I was the one suited for aikido.
Did you belong to an aikido club while you were at university?
No, I didn’t, because the university’s club was Aikikai style. Since I was at the senior high school connected with Chuo University, I didn’t need to prepare for entrance examinations, so I could spend quite a bit of time on my aikido training. Training with the first class of Kidotai, now in its 26th year, at the Yoshinkan dojo was an impressive experience.
When I was 22 years old, I became one of the instructors at the Hombu dojo, and began to teach at various institutions such as the Metropolitan Police Board, several universities, and branches of the Hombu dojo. In 1980, I went to stay in England for three years. There, besides learning English, I taught aikido at the branch dojos. I met many different people and I think I was able to acquire a broader international perspective.
The number of foreign practitioners at the Hombu dojo has increased. I met Mr. Fred Haynes again, who I had first met in England, and we agreed that unless an organization was established in the United States now, the dojos there would end up in chaos. So it was decided to create an international federation, and I took the lead and es-tablished the International Yoshinkai Aikido Federation in 1990 [see AN#85]. We are also planning to inaugurate a national federation this September.
Was there previously any formal federation in Japan?
We don’t have any branches which belong directly to the Hombu. There is the Terada branch dojo, which is the headquarters of local branches, which is the largest, followed in size by the Takeno Yamanashi branch dojo.
In addition to those two, there is the Metropolitan Police Board where Inoue Sensei is now teaching, but it is not a branch of the Yoshinkan. So in the future, we must create more branch dojos, and start to teach at various other places, such as schools, companies and institutions. Some university aikido clubs, such as those of Buk-kyo University and Kyoto University, have changed over from the Aikikai to the Yoshinkan. I think there is a possibility for us to increase the number of universities where we teach by means of a national federation, which is another reason for establishing such a body.
What was your motive in going to England for three years?
At that time all I was doing was practicing aikido in a dojo, and I thought I had better do some study abroad and English seemed to be most necessary for me. So I made up my mind to go abroad, and by chance, Mr. Yu, who is South Korean, was in England at that time and he asked me to come teach aikido in the U.K. at his place since he was returning to South Korea. So I went to England in October 1980 and lived in London. Mr. Yu had lived at the Yoshinkan dojo for more than five years, and he now lives in Los Angeles.
Will you also teach aikido at the various branch dojos in Japan?
I think it is best that first I go overseas frequently to instruct, and then after each foreign branch is set on its way the Hombu dojo instructors can take turns going.
In Japan, since the Yoshinkan is a foundation recognized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, it is difficult to raise funds for transportation or hotels when we go to local districts, because such expenses will not be paid by Tokyo. So when we go to local police academies to teach aikido, I would like to have such expenses agreed upon in advance so we can make some income from our teaching there. By doing this, I hope we can increase our branch dojos as much as possible.
In the early days of the Yoshinkan, we did not need to train students other than members who were already commuting to the dojo, and these were mostly from the Kidotai. Consequently, we did not think of the general public as potential students. We have worked only with the Kidotai. That is one of the reasons that the Yoshinkan is not more developed at this point, I think. When the Yoshinkan was at Yoyogi it was in a convenient location, but now we are at Ochiai in Shinjuku, where I am afraid there is not as much chance to attract people’s attention, and what is worse, we are not actively advertising the Yoshinkan’s activities. In the early days, Kancho [Gozo Shioda Sensei] used to do demonstrations at various places himself, and that was the Yoshinkan’s advertising.
He is strongly convinced that if he performs aikido sincerely, people will never fail to gather to learn aikido, and he has always said, “We must be unselfish, and do not need to spread propaganda for the Yoshinkan.” And, “Martial arts don’t involve resorting to artifice for anything. If we study budo earnestly, people will surely come to learn it.” That has been the Yoshinkan’s principle as well as Kancho’s. As a result, although we have improved in technical areas, it has been difficult for us to spread our techniques all over the world. In addition to this, the Yoshinkan has not given out dan ranks quickly to students. The Yoshinkan has been able to keep going because it has some supporters.
So I can say that the Yoshinkan’s principles are very pure. However, this traditional way of thinking is a strict one, which emphasizes rules. But now we are having to become more flexible in our thinking.
Mr. Takafumi Takeno was also severe in his thinking, which my father liked. Thus, it has not been easy for us to reform the constitutional weaknesses of the Yoshinkan. Students have not been allowed to freely express their opinions and so my father thought that everything was in order.
Your program of instruction at the Metropolitan Police Board has been quite successful, hasn’t it?
Yes, indeed, it is wonderful that the Metropolitan Police Board has left the Kidotai’s education to us, and at the same time it was good for us to begin to instruct them. We have concentrated too much of our energy on training the Kidotai, though. When we were young, it was all right to train with the Kidotai, but as we go up the grades, we all become instructors. In other words, there are too many teachers for the number of students at the Yoshinkan, and there is no core. So it is only natural for us to have the need to increase the number of branch dojos and provide more training there. In other words, we must have more dojos. To do that we must be concerned with business affairs, which causes a great dilemma for us.
Until now, we have been content merely to own our dojo. When we needed something, that need has been filled by someone, and we have taken this for granted. We did not fear anything, as long as our techniques were good. There is a saying “Art and knowledge bring bread and honor.” In a sense we are like Morihei Ueshiba in thinking this way, I believe.
There was one story about Kancho. At first he was a commuting student. But he discovered that his colleagues made significant progress in their techniques after becoming live-in students. The life of a live-in student means living with the teacher all the time; in other words, aikido becomes his life. So, I heard that he made up his mind to become a live-in student. Even now he is strongly convinced that a man cannot become strong as a commuting student. So we still have a live-in student system at the Yoshinkan. He considers that if a man never trains as a live-in student, he will be unable to become a qualified instructor.
Have you watched Kancho work on his own training?
No, to tell the truth, I have never seen him training himself. He seems to train himself by taking the dog out for a walk, or doing his own housekeeping. Although he trained for only six or seven years under Morihei Ueshiba, I think it is due to his talent that he could become so strong.
But in his early days at the Ueshiba dojo I suppose that he and his colleagues could not make their techniques work on each other. It must have been difficult for him to surpass his seniors. He continued to progress in aikido techniques and become stronger long after his seniors left the aikido world. He found someone to support him economically so that he could make a living from aikido. I think that is what made him different from everyone else.
He owned his own dojo and has continued to teach aikido. That is why he has made progress not only in Ueshiba Sensei’s aikido, but also in his own aikido.
After World War II, budo was prohibited by the GHQ, and judo and kendo claimed that they were sports. Aikido, as a budo, was banned. In the 50s when training was allowed to a certain extent, the Hombu dojo was occupied with war-displaced families and Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba was working in business. So the dojo was not being used for its original purpose. I heard that at that time, the Yoshinkan had already started instructing aikido, and that it served as a stimulus to the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. It is said that the Yoshinkan dojo was quite significant historically in aikido.
I think that is why Doshu switched to making his living from aikido. Since he graduated from the Political Science and Economics Department of Waseda University, I think he has good head for business.
The Yoshinkan first started its activities as an affiliate of the Aikikai. In other words, at first Yoshinkan members did not consider themselves to be practicing a distinct system, separate from that of the Aikikai.
The first activity we undertook as the Yoshinkan was the demonstration at the Tokyo Gymnasium. At that time a group was formed to support Kancho. After that we started teaching the police. We earned most of our income from serving as guards at companies. In 1951 and 1952 we performed a demonstration for members of the Nihonkokan [a famous Japanese company], and they decided to learn aikido from us. After that, we gained additional supporters, such as Mr. Kiichi Minami and Mr. Shoshiro Kudo, and as a result the Yoshinkan has been able to develop to its present form.
I have heard that Ueshiba Sensei never explained his techniques in detail when he demonstrated them, while at the Yoshinkan you have organized methods of instruction. When were these teaching methods established?
Ueshiba Sensei didn’t actually teach. He would throw students and tell them to learn. If they didn’t understand he would throw them again. I also heard that his techniques would change according to his uke [one who is being thrown]. All that mattered was being strong. Ueshiba said his secret was the use of his knees. But it is said that he operated according to some vague patterns of basic movement. As Kancho learned these movements, he came to believe that without systematizing them he would not be able to teach aikido to his own students, so he devised the basic movements by himself, and his students in those days continued his work of organization. I think that flowing movement (nagare) is explained well in my father’s system.
Have you ever worked for an outside company before?
No, never. I have only had experience in part-time jobs. At first I believed strongly that martial arts offered something that was missing in the life of businessmen. In other words, training hard together makes us strong not only in body but also in spirit. This results in harmony among us. Therefore, however stiff a man may be, once he comes to the Yoshinkan, he will be able to relax and smile and get rid of stress. There was a time when I believed that that was the reason to study martial arts, and it is a most wonderful benefit.
But no matter how splendid an invention a man of genius may create, if it is not marketed it is meaningless.
Especially in the world of martial arts, there are many people who think that martial arts cannot be good business. On top of that, we cannot expect much income from running dojos, so it makes it more difficult for us to find someone who can take charge of the marketing. So I think there is no other solution than to take gradual charge of dojo management by more closely studying marketing.
understand that there has recently been a major change at the Yoshinkan. Kancho Sensei became Soke and you were named his successor. Can you explain this process?
A while back I was talking to my father. He was given his 9th dan by Ueshiba Sensei. Although he has been awarded a 10th dan by the International Martial Arts Federation, his rank is 9th dan. One day he told me that he intended to promote Terada Shihan to 9th dan. I said, “Then you will be the same rank as Terada Shihan.” He replied, “You are right.” I continued, “You are the founder of Yoshinkan, so you might as well be mudan (no dan), rather than 9th dan. So I suggested that we should create the position of Soke, for the head of the Yoshinkan. When the first Soke had been firmly established, then the second and third would follow naturally. But it did not make sense for him to just make himself Soke, it was necessary for there to be some kind of public announcement via the communications media. In other words, even if he declares himself Soke, unless people around him know it, it makes no sense. So it was necessary for us to firmly write in Dynamic Aikido that “Kancho has become Soke, and he is now mudan.” I think it is difficult for foreigners to understand the difference between Soke and a dan-holder. For a while after the inauguration of the headmaster system by Kancho, the topic of the second Soke was not discussed.
I felt that it would be more effective if the people around Kancho were to begin talking about appointing the second Soke than if I did it myself. I thought it was best for them to act, systematically and politically to settle the matter of the recond Soke and to persuade people to support the succession as soon as possible. I have been worried that it will be too late to discuss the subject of the second Soke when my father’s health fails, because at the Yoshinkan now we have no supervisor in charge of management. So, while he is still in good health, I want to begin acting as second Soke, and I want my father to continue to be active in aikido for at least ten more years. Mr. Terada and Mr. Inoue understood my thoughts and they went to see one of the directors of the Yoshinkan to discuss the matter.
In February or March of this year a Yoshinkan director happened to meet with Doshu Kisshomaru, administrative director of the Aikikai, Masatake Fujita, and Kancho. I heard that at the meeting, when the director mentioned the subject of a successor, Doshu said “I have already named my son as my successor, you ought to do the same.” So it was decided.
The next day my father called me and said, “We have decided to make you the second Soke.”
You will have many things to do after you become the second Soke. For example, you will have to maintain or improve the technical level. And you must unify all Yoshinkan Aikido groups at home and abroad into one organization. Could you tell us about your vision of the future? What points will you want to emphasize, and how do you want to manage the Yoshinkan?
Well, there are only two ways for us to make Yoshinkan Aikido flourish. One is to increase the number of students. The other is to award certificates to the students more often. In other words, I would like to make a system under which we, the ten instructors of the Hombu dojo, are dispatched to various places to instruct aikido or to make decisions about the dan grades of our students.
Until now it has been common for a student who has trained for a long time at a dojo to leave to establish his own dojo, and consequently become isolated from his previous dojo. Also many instructors are too busy to train themselves in teaching and judging. At the Yoshinkan we do keep truly skilled practitioners who are always striving for improvement. I, as one of these members, wish to continue this function of the Yoshinkan. This is my principle.
I think that while Kancho is in good health we must develop a system by which we can earn our living.
Who are the ten instructors you mentioned just now?
I am not sure there are exactly ten, but among them are Mr. Chida, Mr. Sakurai, Nakano, Ando (5th dan), Susumu Chino (4th dan), Michiharu Mori (3rd dan) and Mr. Takeno, so I guess there are actually about eight. In addition, there are Mr. Terada and Mr. Inoue who I want to leave free to instruct at other dojos besides the Yoshinkan, and to supervise national dojos belonging to the Yoshinkan. Also I would like to treat them as our seniors just like the highest ranking shihan at the Ueshiba dojo.
What do you think is the most important thing for the Yoshinkan to do from the international perspective?
I think the most important thing is for us to find a way to express to the world the energy we have stored up by only training in aikido. The training we have been doing is very professional, you know. We have only taught a limited group of people, such as the Kidotai, or members who commute to the Yoshinkan, but we have been training hard together. In this way, I think that we have stored up a lot of energy, so in the future we must find a way to make the most of that energy.
What do you think Yoshinkan Aikido’s strong points are?
I think they lie in the basic movements and the techniques, in other words, the fact that they are clear and easy to understand. Explanations about the basics are given to us with mathematical accuracy. At other dojos, I think such explanations are vague and mysterious, but in our case they are clear. There is an explanation for why we should perform something this way or that. This is one of our characteristics. As we continue to train using clean basics, I think we will be able to perform techniques without using any strength just as Morihei Sensei or Kancho. It is impossible for us to do it from the beginning; we must train for many years, and in our 60s and 70s we will be able to perform aikido without using any strength. So we train in the basics instead of highly polished techniques. I think this is a characteristic of the Yoshinkan dojo.
Also, I think that by using such a method, we can even teach to large groups. One example of such mass instruction is with the army, and I think there is no other dojo other than the Yoshinkan that can teach masses of people at one time. We can’t practice in a loose manner as is done in other dojos, but at the Yoshinkan, we can perform basic movements all together at the same time in order, or we can use the same teaching method as is used in karate. We have a lot of experience of team instruction in teaching the Kidotai. I expect that we will be able to do any kind of mass instruction, like army training, even abroad.
Do you think there are any differences between Yoshinkan techniques of today and those of twenty years ago?
I am not sure that it can be said to be a change, but when Kancho makes changes, then techniques change, I think. Formerly, we performed aikido using more strength than now. But now we are performing according to the basics and do not use so much strength.
Some people criticize us for awarding prizes to students in demonstrations, saying that it is in-consistent with the spirit of harmony in martial arts. But I think these awards are given as recognition of the harmony of spirit, speed and timing that the students achieve in their performances. So we are not giving out awards to those who are strong in techniques. It is true that there are strong men among the winners, but they become that way from training hard together, not because they have trained to defeat an opponent, but because they have trained together cooperatively. Awards should be given to such people. In addition to the harmony of the performance, attitude and good manners should be judged as a whole. Simply, the award is given to the group that displays the most harmony.
When did this system start?
About five or six years ago. We started it as a kind of encouragement to avoid lazy training, and now the Metropolitan Police Board is also adopting this system.
As a representative of the Yoshinkan, what do you have to say about the position and importance of Morihei Ueshiba Sensei at the Yoshinkan?
As is well known, Morihei Ueshiba is the founder of aikido. My father has always respected him, and speaking for myself, I respect my father; however, I have recognized Morihei as the founder of Aikido.
Has a strict live-in student system existed since before the war?
No. It was devel-oped 4 or 5 years after the Yoshinkan’s foundation. At that time we set up the uchideshi system which had many rules. I think that it was good for students in those days to be trained hard under those rules. But now I think it is difficult to do so, because young people today have a different way of thinking than ours and it’s difficult financially.
When did the first foreign live-in student enter the Yoshinkan dojo?
Mr. Foster was Dne of the first. It was so long ago that there was no system, and he used to come and just train. Mr. Francis Sami, who is now in Malaysia, lived in the dojo when I was in my first year of junior high school. The live-in students I most clearly remember are Mr. Jacques Payet and those who entered after him. I think he was at the dojo for five years. He is fluent in Japanese and has a Japanese wife.
When you teach overseas do you find that foreign students approach their aikido training differently?
Yes, I think it is due to their rational approach. We at the Yoshinkan think that practicing ukemi 100 or 200 times is good training, but foreign students do not agree. They think when they have practiced ukemi ten times and get tired they can take a rest. They consider that more training in ukemi is bad for their health. They don’t want to persevere. I think another example of differences, is that they are influenced by their wives or girlfriends. I heard that when one man wanted to become an aikido instructor, he had to swear not to do it more than three times a week. Aikido comes to be regarded as no longer a sport but a religion when it is practiced more than three times a week. This might be the cause of a divorce. In this case, if both of them did aikido together there is nothing to worry about, otherwise trouble is sure to arise.
In our previous issue we featured an article about the foundation of the Yoshinkai International Aikido Federation. Do you have any comments to add?
Yes. We have now made a kind of circle in the Yoshinkan. It is not compulsory to enter it, but we are ready to receive anyone who wants to join. Also, we have made rules to allow non-Yoshinkan students, or other martial arts practitioners, such as karate, to enter the dojo. We have opened various training courses, such as a one-day course which makes it easier for foreigners to practice aikido during their stay in Japan.
I understand that recently there were some political problems in North America concerning the foundation of the IYAF.
The director of the Yoshinkan, Inoue Sensei and Terada Sensei support me, and we are making a new federation in the USA which will be linked directly to the Yoshinkan, and direct contact between us will be possible.
I have heard present-day live-in students criticized as being too young and without a deep knowledge of technique.
Mr. Kushida [Takashi Kushida, head of Aikido Yoshinkai Association of North America], for example, left the Yoshinkan about twenty years ago, so it was not such a long time, I think about ten years, that he trained directly under my father. But we have been training longer than that. This is our answer to such criticism, and we are now receiving the cooperation of Mr. Inoue, Mr. Terada and our local branch members.
I also believe that therewas some criticism concerning Fred Haynes (4th dan) who contributed to the foundation of the IYAF.
I suppose he was criticized about money matters. It is common for the person who proposes something new to be criticized. They blame Fred for his contributions to IYAF because they think that he hasn’t trained long enough to make such a contribution, and I think that it hurts their pride. Also, they may think that he was overly concerned with money matters. But had Kancho been in Fred’s place and explained it all to them, they would have consented readily.
I think that the Yoshinkan is at an important period in its history. Is there anything you would like to add to sum up?
There have been many excellent live-in students at the Yoshinkan, and all of them have become successful at Kancho’s techniques. Now we must hand down our acquired knowledge of technique to our own students. In regards to money matters, if we maintain the attitude of give and take, that we must teach them aikido in return for their money, there will be no problems.
Profile Of Yasuffisa Shioda
Born November 15, 1952 in Tokyo as the third son of Gozo Shioda, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido. Graduated from the Economics Department of Chuo University. He began his training in aikido about 1964 at the Yoshinkan under Shioda Kan-cho. He is now a Shihan of the Yoshinkan. Beginning in 1981, he taught aikido in England for three years. On July 28, 1990 he became the director of the Yoshinkan Aikido Hombu dojo. By his work in founding the International Yoshinkai Aikido Federation (IYAF) and the National Federation, he is acting to spread Yoshinkan Aikido both in and outside of Japan, in an attempt to unite all Yoshinkan practitioners.