A short history of Ki Aikido
Tohei Sensei was introduced to Master Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, by a man called Mori Matsudaira. Mr. Matsudaira was in Tokyo on a business trip when he told Tohei Sensei about an extremely powerful martial arts teacher he knew who Tohei Sensei should check out. He wrote a letter of introduction for Tohei Sensei and brought him to Wakamatsu-cho in Tokyo to meet this incredible teacher.
When they arrived Master Ueshiba was out and they were greeted by one of his live-in students (uchi-deshi) named Mr Matsumoto. He invited them in and Tohei Sensei asked what kind of martial art was Aikido? Mr Matsumoto did not answer he just asked Tohei Sensei to stick out his hand. Tohei Sensei was very smart and he felt something might happen so being right handed he put out his left hand. Mr Matsumoto twisted it with an incredibly painful wrist lock. Tohei Sensei did not flinch or show no emotion on his face, but simply continued to look at Mr. Matsumoto. When Mr Matsumoto saw that the technique had not worked he let go immediately in case Tohei Sensei retaliated. Tohei Sensei was very disappointed with his first experience of Aikido because he thought you can tell a lot about a teacher by observing his students. Mr Matsumoto did not make a good first impression.
Just as they were about to leave Master Ueshiba returned. He was a small man with a white beard, a good complexion, and a big smile. This was not the image of a strong martial artist that Tohei Sensei had. Tohei Sensei was very curious about this man and gave him the letter of introduction from Mr. Matsumoto. They were taken into the dojo to be shown some Aikido techniques. Master Ueshiba started to throw a larger man around the dojo effortlessly and this looked fake to Tohei Sensei. Tohei Sensei came from a judo background and in Judo the bigger person can usually easily throw the smaller one.
Eventually Master Useshiba invited Tohei Sensei to remove his jacket and to come onto the mat. As soon as Tohei sensei put his hand on Master Ueshiba’s lapel he found himself on the floor flat on his back! He was shocked, confused, and very impressed. He had never been thrown by a man the size of Master Ueshiba before. He could not figure out how could he have been thrown so easily, much less how could have prevented it. At this point he knew this was the martial art he had been looking for and started training the very next morning.
Master Ueshiba was an incredible martial artist and he really had a deep understanding about Ki and applied it in everything he did. All his students wanted to be like him. During the war Tohei Sensei was drafted into the army and was sent to China. After the war Tohei Sensei began his Aikido studies again. He went to Iwama in Ibaraki Prefecture to study with Master Ueshiba. Master Ueshiba told him he was now many times stronger than he was before the war and promoted him to 6th Dan. Master Ueshiba’s Aikido had also matured to an even higher level but there was still something unfathomable about his techniques. How could he do the techniques so smoothly when all his students tried to muscle their way through? This really bothered Tohei Sensei and Master Ueshiba never explained it.
About this time Tohei Sensei was introduced to Tempu Nakamura Sensei and the Tempukai at Gokokuji Temple in Otowa, Tokyo. Nakamura Sensei taught that the mind and body are one and that they are inseparable. Once you comprehend this it is extremely important to keep a positive mind in all circumstances. He constantly talked of mind and body unification and that the mind leads the body and this helped Tohei Sensei to understand the secret of Master Ueshiba’s movements. Master Ueshiba knew how to lead the opponent’s mind therefore he could easily control the body. His students did not have this understanding and therefore used physical power to force their opponent’s body to move which resulted in meeting resistance. Tohei Sensei learned that before you can lead an opponents mind you first have to control your own. This was the secret to mind and body unification. Without being able to control your own mind and body you could not lead the mind of another person. Aikido means the way of harmony with the universe.
Tohei Sensei used what he learnt and reevaluated all the Aikido techniques which he had been taught, looking at them in terms of mind and body unification. Even though this was not what Master Ueshiba taught it seemed to be what he was doing himself. Master Ueshiba’s Aikido was perfect from the viewpoint of mind and body co-ordination, but his teaching was vague and mystical and often contradictory. From this time on Tohei Sensei concentrated closely on what Master Ueshiba did and mainly ignored what he said.
Eventually Tohei Sensei became able to lead and throw men much larger than himself. Tohei Sensei continued his studies in the Tempukai and deeply researched the principles and practical applications of mind and body coordination. He achieved the highest level of enlightenment into the martial arts and felt he needed to teach the world the principles of Ki and Aikido not only the Japanese. He met a Japanese American from Hawaii called Kyoto Fujioka who taught Japanese at Hawaii University. Mr. Fujioka was so impressed with the teaching that mind leads the body that he invited Tohei Sensei to come to Hawaii to teach the young people there. Mr. Fujioka needed to find a sponsor to enable Tohei Sensei to come to Hawaii and he put a lot of effort into finding one. At last he got a health oriented organization, the Nishikai, founded by a Dr. Katsuzou Nishi to agree to sponsor Tohei Sensei and in 1953 Tohei Sensei made his first trip to Hawaii.
The Nishikai had members all over Hawaii and they set up challenges for Tohei Sensei to compete with professional wrestlers. These were often for money and the proceeds were used to build a dojo, but this was not why Tohei Sensei went to Hawaii. He wanted to teach the principles of Ki and Aikido. He only agreed to take part in competitions if he was challenged by someone else and never initiated any challenge himself. Tohei Sensei did not plan to gather students when he first went to Hawaii; he just wanted to show wrestlers and black belt martial artists how easily they could be thrown. However many of these people were so inspired by him that they signed up for lessons on the spot.
In Japanese samurai movies you often see scenes of multiple attackers though this is more common in the movies than in the martial arts. Until 1953 when Tohei Sensei went to Hawaii he had never done Aikido against more that one opponent at a time and most of them were about the same size as he was. One day Dr. Kurisaki asked Tohei Sensei if it would be possible to handle multiple attackers using the Aikido techniques. Tohei Sensei said it must be possible, if you keep your mind and body coordinated. Upon hearing this Dr Kurisaki quickly asked for a demonstration. Tohei Sensei was surprised and was not sure what to expect but he agreed to give it a try.
Dr. Kurisaki gathered several large men each of them held a rank of 4th dan and higher in Judo. The seven men surrounded him in a circle and slowly closed in. At Dr. Kurisaki’s signal they all leaped at Tohei Sensei at once. The demonstration was filmed and Tohei Sensei moved like he was crazy, throwing and evading the men. At last the signal came to stop. He felt he had embarrassed himself and was very surprised to hear a great applause. He observed the film and was amazed at how calm he looked. He learnt that if he extended Ki more he could lead and control multiple attackers with mental calmness. From that time on whenever he did demonstrations he always asked to demonstrate Aikido techniques against five or six attackers. This became one of his trademarks of his teaching style.
Tohei Sensei was the first person to teach Aikido outside Japan. Consequently he received a lot of media coverage, partly due to to his winning presence and his teaching style. After he left Hawaii he returned to Japan. He later went to twenty-one American states, plus Guam, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Europe. He taught Ki principles and Aikido and opened new dojos around the world. Later he sent his own students to teach in America and Aikido even gained a renewed popularity in Japan, because of the tremendous interest overseas. Master Ueshiba was so impressed that on January 15th,1969 he presented Tohei Sensei the rank of tenth dan, the highest Aikido rank available.
Just three months later, to the deep regret of the Aikido world, Master Ueshiba passed away. He was eighty-four years old. At that time Tohei Sensei was the Chief Instructor of the Aikido organization as appointed by Master Ueshiba. Out of respect for his teacher Tohei Sensei recommended and made sure that Master Ueshiba’s only son, Kisshomaru, was elected as the Director of the Aikikai. This was the only government recognized Aikido organization at that time accredited by the Ministry of Education.
Over time Kisshomaru’s interpretation and approach to the practice of Aikido became entirely different from the way Tohei Sensei taught. Kisshomaru taught that Aikido was a way of harmonizing with the Ki of other people using the Aikido techniques while Tohei Sensei taught it was the way of harmonizing with the Ki of the universe through the coordination of mind and body. When Kisshomaru demanded that Tohei Sensei’s picture be taken down from the dojos in Hawaii and America, the dojos that Tohei Sensei had founded, he decided to leave the Aikikai. After twenty years as its Director and Chief Instructor he resigned from the Aikikai in 1974 when he was fifty five.
Before he left the Aikikai, after spending thirty years of his life, Kisshomaru Ueshiba forced him to make the following promises whenever he taught Ki development. No Aikido techniques or names were to be used in the classes. The Aikido headquarters and funds were not to be used. No Aikido students were to be invited to attend his Ki classes. Master Morihei Ueshiba had completely mastered Ki and knew how to apply it in the Aikido techniques but he never taught this. Maybe he was not capable of teaching it or maybe he thought the only way to teach it was to show it. However after he passed away Tohei Sensei felt that unless the Ki principles were taught and more clearly articulated in a more practical way they would eventually be forgotten. Consequently in 1974 he started a new organization to teach the people who wanted to learn Aikido with Mind and Body Unification (ShinShin Toitsu Aikido).