It Aint Necessarily So: Banquo’s Ghost

Where do myths begin? Do they start with the truth, inflated beyond its origins? Jungian psychologists assert that myths reflect primordial patterns within the unconscious — our minds can only perceive the world and ourselves within it in a certain way. Myths, therefore, impose a kind of order on chaos. This order is based in both reality and illusion, like the stars in the sky, subject to both the science of astronomy and the illusion of astrology. Myths are the constellations of the human mind.

Avaunt! And quit my sight!
Let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!
William Shakespeare, Macbeth, from Act 3, Scene 4
It ain't necessarily so
It ain't necessarily so
The t'ings dat yo' li'ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.
George and Ira Gershwin

Myths are stories based on what we have seen or heard, what we wish to perceive, what others tell us we should perceive and beyond that, patterns imposed upon us simply because we are human beings. Myths can even kill, because they often divide the world into darkness and light and it is all to easy to place living beings, in some way other to you, into that darkness.

Myths make us greater than ourselves alone, part of stories upon which the universe seems to rest. Myths give our lives meaning, even if the meaning is a lie.

What happens, then, if another myth arises, in contrast to the one lived as truth? Better yet, what happens if someone was actually there at the origin and saw something different than the myth-tellers sing? What happens when more than one person was there?

So let us consider a picture.

Gozo Shioda et Kodo Horikawa

We see, here, the brilliant aikidō practitioner, Shioda Gozo and sitting beside him one of the greatest of all Daitō-ryū instructors, Horikawa Kodo, along with two other gentlemen. The picture was taken, so I have read on the internet, by Okamoto Seigo, one of Horikawa’s students and now the lead instructor of the Roppokai (his own version of Daitō-ryū). There has been a story floating around for many years, in both Japan and America, that Shioda never received the secrets of aiki from his teacher, Ueshiba Morihei—sometimes it is implied that Ueshiba didn’t know them—and in around 1977 or 1978, Shioda invited Horikawa to the Yoshinkan to teach him what he never learned. Sounding almost like a spy novel, Horikawa was allegedly conveyed to the Yoshinkan in a large limousine with a small entourage, the doors were locked, and Shioda and his senior students undertook an intensive study of aiki under Horikawa, every night, for a two week period. Thereafter, the story goes, Shioda’s technique changed, and one can see recognizable elements of Horikawa’s Daitō-ryū, the Kodokai, in Shioda’s technique, that were not present before. This story is a given in some circles, and people many generations removed from either man blithely assert it with absolute conviction. I’ve heard more remarkable embellishments on the tale, including two radically different versions in which a ranking non-Japanese member of the Kodokai, speaking no Japanese, by the way, was delegated to visit Shioda at some important anniversary celebration, confronted him with a copy of this photo, and Shioda blanched like MacBeth, confronted by Banquo’s ghost.

In Dueling with O Sensei, I quote the powerful Taiwanese internal martial arts teacher, Hung I Hsiang, who said: “Be careful with whom you choose to study. You will become who they are, and if you haven’t chosen wisely, you’ll suffer and other people will, too.” Takeda Sokaku, though not in the least the figure of evil that was drawn in earlier aikidō mythology, was a profoundly suspicious, paranoid man, who clutched his secrets closely. Everyone who took a seminar from him had to sign an eimeiroku: a roster. Through this, he could be assured that no one could teach elements of Daitō-ryū while claiming they had come up with it on their own, or that it was part of their own ryu. Given that he was showing —at least, if people were able to perceive and ‘steal’ it—remarkably sophisticated information, one can well understand his jealous protectiveness of his proprietary knowledge. On the other hand, as far as Takeda was concerned, if you signed his roster, you were now his student, even it was for a single seminar.

This is something that seems endemic within Daitō-ryū. Horikawa experienced it himself. Because he had already learned some level of Shibukawa-ryū jujutsu from his father, I have read that Takeda Sokaku started teaching him the aspects of Daitō-ryū concerned with aiki, rather than its jujutsu techniques, which were not really all that different from Shibukawa-ryū. Many decades later, Horikawa visited Sagawa Yukiyoshi, another senior student of Takeda, and requested that the latter teach him the jujutsu portion of the Daitō-ryū, over the course of a few days. Sagawa had Horikawa and his accompanying students sign his eimiroku, and subsequently asserted that Horikawa was, therefore, his student.

And here’s a more personal example. I once invited a prominent member of one faction of Daito-ryu to my home. He promised, unsolicited, to show me ‘real’ Daito-ryu over the course of a weekend. Before the meeting took place, a friend of mine, a member of the same faction, was visiting the headquarters dojo in Japan, and was intrigued to hear that I—the “prominent martial arts writer”—was soon to become this other man’s student. Suffice it to say that the meeting never took place.

This, then, is the political matrix within which this story resides.

Beyond politics, however, let us discuss substance.

Is it inconceivable that Shioda, with eight sustained years of study with Ueshiba Morihei could not have learned from aiki from him, particularly as he was in the company of a number of other brilliant martial artists, such as Shirata Rinjiro, Tomiki Kenji and Inoue Noriaki, who also gave evidence of having learned aiki from Ueshiba? And by the way, if two weeks was all it took to transform him, why is not something similar occurring among the seasoned aikidō practitioners now studying with one or another of the people teaching internal training in similar seminar fashion. Why has not a single block of seminar time almost instantaneously changing one or another of them from ‘very good’ to ‘mastery?’

Shioda studied Daitō-ryū with Ueshiba in the 1930’s. The famous sumo wrestler, Tenryū, a student of Ueshiba in the same period and close friend of Shioda said that his aikidō, among all, was closest to that of the founder. Interestingly, he stated this despite the marked differences in their execution of aikido techniques. Obviously, he was discussing something far deeper than the angle of the feet when executing an arm-lock. Rather, he was asserting that Shioda grasped and could manifest the gokui, the essence of what Ueshiba taught.

Logic and anecdote are rarely enough to counter a myth, however. How about an eyewitness account then?

Inoue Kyoichi was perhaps Shioda Gozo's closest student. After a near lifetime in the Yoshinkan, he separated from that organization in 2006, starting his own training group. Inoue sensei focused for most of his career in teaching techniques centering around kokyu-ryoku (breath-power techniques), which, in Yoshinkan, fall under the rubric of those which manifest a sharp, explosive force. Shioda was famed for these techniques, as was Ueshiba in the pre-war period. Recently, however, Inoue has been also teaching nuki (emptying or draining) techniques, where there is minimal footwork and small movements that, nonetheless, cause a big movement in one's partner. Ueshiba was described by his later students as manifesting these techniques, Shioda was well-known for exhibiting them, and they have reach at least one epitome in the art of Okamoto Seigo of the Roppokai, Horikawa's student, who allegedly took the photograph we are discussing.

At my request, a student of Inoue's showed him the above photograph without, initially, asking him any questions about it. He wrote to me:

He knew the photo immediately. He identified the men in the picture as follows, right to left: Furuta Tsumigi, the manager of the Yagyukai (a Tokyo study group of Yagyu Shinkage-ryū, which rented the Yoshinkan for their own practice). Then, of course, Shioda Gozo and Horikawa Kodo. Then Ishida Kazuto: former Chief Justice of the Japan Supreme Court, President, All Japan Kendō Federation, and fifth soke of Ittō Shoden Mutō-ryū kenjutsu, and a Yagyukai practitioner.

The Yagyukai regularly rented space from the Yoshinkan, arranged by Furuta. They had some relationship with Horikawa, and invited him to Tokyo to train with them. Since he was in the Yoshinkan, he arranged a courtesy call on Shioda, and this is the photo. Shioda invited Horikawa onto the mat to demonstrate his art, and therein Horikawa demonstrated Daitō-ryū.

At this point, my interviewer asked Inoue what Horikawa's technique was like. Remember, he was there.

I asked Inoue what it was like, and he said it was like Yoshinkan aikidō, except that Horikawa performed it in a very compressed space, like a single tatami.

My interviewer then and only then asked about this legend that Horikawa was at the Yoshinkan for an extended time, teaching behind closed doors, conveyed in a limo.

Inoue said it was possible that Horikawa was at the Yoshinkan for an extended period, practicing with the Yagyukai, but that there was only a single session with Yoshinkan aikidō practitioners there, and it was ad hoc, not a seminar, but sort of a welcome / demo, courtesy of Shioda kancho's spur-of-the-moment invitation. If Horikawa showed up in a limo, it sounds like the Yagyukai did it, not the Yoshinkan. There were no closed sessions, no secrets passed on. No big deal.

This is the way myths work. Whether this has been disseminated directly from leading members of the Kodokai, or it is just something that enthusiastic students have inferred and run with, it has become truth to many people. It provides its own rewards: their own art, Daitō-ryū is different from aikidō, and only the former's study can provide any real skill to those who studied its inferior off-shoot. It gives those who tell the tale the authority of inside knowledge, that self-satisfied: "I know how the world really works." Midnight visits in a dark limousine, and secret classes behind locked doors are far more exciting than a mundane social call.
Of course, I've no doubt that Inoue sensei will be regarded by such partisans as part of a cover up. Perhaps I am part of it too.

Ellis Amdur
Author: Ellis Amdur
Ellis Amdur is a licensed instructor (Shihan) in two Koryu: Araki-ryu Torite Kogusoku and Toda-ha Buko-ryu Naginatajutsu. He has practiced martial arts for nearly 45 years and in addition to Koryu, he has studied a large number of other fighting arts including muay thai, judo, aikido and xingyi. An acknowledged expert in Japanese classical and modern martial traditions, he is the author of three books and an educational DVD on this theme. The most recent is the book "Hidden in Plain Sight: Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei's Power".
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