Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Book Review: Uchideshi: Walking with the Master

My Aikido teacher, Kushida Sensei, was a long time uchideshi (inside student) of the founder of Yoshinkan AIkido, Gozo Shioda. He had tons of stories about those days.

Below is an excerpt from a book review by Ellis Amdur at the Kogen Budo blog, of Uchideshi: Walking with the Master by Jacque Payet where Payet Sensei recounts his days as an uchideshi to Shioda Sensei. The full review may be found here.


Payet’s book, UCHIDESHI: Walking with the Master, describes the eccentric world that Shioda created, where, for example, a telephone in the dojo was never allowed to ring more than once (and one disciple, noticing that a tiny light would illuminate on the receiver before the first ring, would leap for the phone before it sounded), or an uchideshi, waiting outside the door of Shioda’s bath, would know exactly when to enter to wash the master’s back. This is not a book which spends much time describing an advancement in physical skill: there is relatively little description on technical development, or the aikido techniques themselves, except in passing. Rather, it is the story of a progression within an individual of the training of intuition to function perfectly within a system that was, in many ways arbitrary. What I mean by this is the demands for survival for a polar Inuit of a generation ago, or a !Kung, living in the Kalahari Desert, are stark and clear. If one deviated from what was best suited—only suited—for that environment, one would die. For the Inuit, the ability to recognize, at a glance, the difference between a pile of snow and a polar bear, humped on the ice with one paw over her dark nose, had to be instantaneous. Similarly, for the !Kung, recognizing a slight discoloration in some sand which indicated that there might be water beneath the surface, had to occur as one was running after wounded prey. It might be the last water in many kilometers. For the Yoshinkan uchideshi, one had to be aware of the timbre and energy that one yelled “OSU!” to a superior, or the precise spacing that one’s senior’s shoes needed to be placed at the entryway when he was leaving, but there was no risk to life or limb—it merely felt that way, once indoctrinated. This, therefore, was a lifestyle of accepting an arbitrary social structure, established to achieve intuition by the absolutely adherence to a range of activities centered around subservience to the wishes of Shioda Gozo.

Payet tells his story with humility. He does not defend himself, as some might, with a polemic about how this method of training is requisite to become a ‘true’ martial artist. Rather, in the tradition of a natural phenomenologist, he simply tells what the experience was like for him, an unprepared and na├»ve young man. What may be hard for the reader to grasp in my description above, is that Payet does not describe himself as obsequious—rather, he has the wide-eyed openness of a baby. The baby drinks in this strange world within which he or she has been thrown by birth; Payet did the same in the strange world within which he had entered by choice.

Perhaps the most important point in this book is that if one has the engrained habit of intuitive attention, then one has a change to absorb information that one’s teacher himself/herself can’t explain. Often, expert athletes simply have found that beautiful line towards efficient powerful action, and they have done this through intuition and simply sensing what feels right in the body. Asked to explain it, they are like the centipede asked by the fox, “With which leg do you start moving?” At which point, the centipede is frozen. But just as a baby learns to feed herself or walk with simple wide-eyed attention, Payet became a remarkably skilled martial artist (I’ve seen him) through picking up with a kind of osmosis what his teachers were doing. This osmosis (‘mirroring’) was surely enhanced by the environment he was in. (I’m not saying that Shioda’s is the only way—I learned in a different manner, for example, but it is a way that worked).



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