In the works: “Koichi Tohei Retrospective,” by Stanley Pranin

Here at Aikido Journal we are always working to make readers of the site aware of the efforts and achievements of those figures who have played key roles in the spread of aikido as a worldwide phenomenon. One of the most famous of these individuals is Koichi Tohei Sensei, who figures prominently in our new Aikido Pioneers title.

Due to his departure from the Aikikai organization in 1974, the memory of Tohei Sensei’s many contributions to the early spread of aikido has faded among contemporary aikidoka. He has been replaced by later figures who followed in his footsteps, many of them former students of Tohei Sensei. Since Tohei Sensei left the headquarters organization under less than happy circumstances, neither he nor the Aikikai wish to revisit his part in the heyday of early aikido. The reluctance of both sides to speak of past events is certainly understandable from the psychological and emotional standpoints, yet it serves history poorly, resulting in a nearly universal misconception of aikido’s genesis.

Having been a participant in the tumultuous times before and after Tohei Sensei’s separation from the Aikikai, I understand the sensivities that still linger after this defining event that took place 36 years ago. However, personal feelings aside, I feel the self-appointed role of Aikido Journal as a repository of information concerning the art dictates that we preserve and disseminate, in as objective as possible a manner, the record of the achievements of this giant figure of the art’s early era.

To this end, we are in the process of gathering historical film footage from the 1950s, 60s, and early 70s of Koichi Tohei Sensei in order to produce a retrospective on his contributions to aikido. The impetus for this particular project was a gift of about 35 minutes of 8mm film from a 1974 seminar conducted by Tohei Sensei in northern California. With this material as the centerpiece, we are adding many bits and pieces of footage that we have collected over a 45-year period to fill out the documentary. If any of our readers from the old days have access to long forgotten films of Tohei Sensei from his Aikikai days that might enhance the program we are putting together, please let us know.

Please click here and select “Koichi Tohei film footage” from the drop down topic menu.

Technological progress has come to our aid for this and similar projects allowing greatly improved film scans. The particular digital transfer process we’re using consists of pulling the film through a specially modified projection device to scan each frame individually. This results in much higher resolution than what could normally be expected from these old films. If you’re curious to read more, check out this website for more information on the process:

Just to give you a sneak preview of the quality and atmosphere of this 1974 seminar footage, I am including a few screen stills from the event. The scanning process described above was used to obtain these excellent results you see here.


  1. Good job, Stan! I never had the opportunity to train in one of his seminars but trained with his students from time to time. Their stylistic interpretations were (probably still are) well within the mainstream of aikido, which isn’t surprising given that he was chief instructor at Hombu before the schism. Looking forward to this.

  2. I have been training with Roy Suenaka Sensei for almost 20 years now. Suenaka Sensei’s first aikido teacher was Tohei Sensei and many of the contributions that Tohei Sensei introduced to Aikido are still practiced in our dojos to this day. In fact, most of the “systemized” way of looking at Aikido comes from Tohei. If your school practices Taiso before class, that is a Tohei influence. I think you are very right in making sure that the history, regardless of the feelings, is preserved.

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