May
15

Work in progress: “Koichi Tohei: A Retrospective”

We are well along in our latest DVD project, tentatively titled “Koichi Tohei: A Retrospective” which will contain a wealth of important historical footage of Tohei Sensei spanning the early 1950s through the mid-1970s. The immediate task at hand is the preparation of the documentary section which will cover Tohei Sensei’s early years in aikido up through his departure from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in 1974. Below you will find an excerpt from the narration text for that portion of the documentary:

In May, 1974, an event occurred that shook the roots of the aikido world to its very foundations. It was then that Koichi Tohei, the chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, resigned from his post and left the headquarters organization to form his own school. Many aikido associations, dojos, instructors, and students, particularly in Japan and the U.S.A., were compelled to make a choice of whether to stay within the Aikikai system or join Tohei’s newly-created Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido organization. The impact on those who remained within the Aikikai organization was nonetheless traumatic because they saw the illusion of harmony at the highest level of leadership in the aikido world shattered. Regardless of where one stood on the issue, aikido at large had suffered a huge black eye.

From the viewpoint of the Aikikai, Tohei’s actions and attempt to dictate the technical curriculum and teaching methodology were unacceptable. In Tohei’s eyes, the aikido headquarters had snubbed his leadership and failed to sufficiently acknowledge his many accomplishments and contributions to the postwar spread of aikido, both in Japan and abroad. The contentious issue was further complicated by a web of long-standing personal relationships that had turned sour.

The upshot of this tragic situation was that in the aftermath of Tohei’s departure, neither he nor the Aikikai has wished to revisit this sad episode and the issue has been effectively swept under the rug for more than 35 years.

Who is Koichi Tohei and why is he so important to an understanding of the development of aikido? Should he be unceremoniously deleted from aikido history due to past grievances or should he be given due credit for his role in the shaping of the modern art of aikido?

For further information, you may want to read the following background articles on Koichi Tohei Sensei:

Koichi Tohei: Ongaeshi – Repayment of Kindness

Is O-Sensei Really the Father of Modern Aikido?

Watch this section for further updates on our progress.

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Comments

  1. I was reading through issue #85 of Aiki News with Andre Nocquet. In this interview there was a picture of Tohei, Nocquet, Saito, Tamura, Noro and the late Doshu all out drinking. While the picture didn’t catch Kisshomaru cutting loose like the rest of the men, one gets the feeling that he just straightened up for the picture. The sense of camaraderie evident in that picture really says a lot about how bad it must have gotten between them for it to eventually end the way it did. It was, to me, a sad picture.

  2. …sometimes things come together. O Sensei was unique, at least in our time. Getting the word out is a different skill.

    There’s a story about Jesus after he ascends back to Heaven. Gabriel meets him and says, “That was awesome! Now, what’s your plan for spreading the good news?” J – “Well, I left 11 guys to tell everybody.” G – “Uhhhhh. Fine. Uhhhhh…. what’s your plan B?” J – “I don’t have a Plan B.” Worked for Christianity.

  3. I have heard that there is an original batch of yeast that has been in continuous existence for hundreds of years. From this original source has come literally millions of starter yeasts for baking products of innumerable types and applications. Yet, the origin proves true, despite the vast dispersion of its progeny.

    Agreed that the Founder was not the ongoing architect of “modern” Aikido. Why should he be? He remains the Founder. Without his opus, this conversation does not take place. The true point is, whether one really wants to argue how “modern” Aikido is, or has become, the real test of how relevant the later versions are to the original should be what needs to be explored. The landscape after a volcanic eruption will never be the same. Yet, it is undeniably attributable to the intial eruption that caused the chain of events leading to permanent change. That explosion was the Founder’s gift to us. It is up to the students of Ueshiba Aiki to prove a connection to the Founder’s purpose, not the other way around.

    Considering the amazing creations that followed from using the original batch of yeast, who would or could have predicted what new varieties of products actually resulted, due to the originality of independent thought and ambition.

    The same is true regarding the Aikido manifestations we enjoy today, along with the further transformative editions we will experience in our tomorrows.

    The Founder was the starter yeast. Let’s be fair and give him that. As he envisioned, his Aikido has taken off into uncharted areas, dimensions of expression and the unpredictable products we experience today, and will undoubtedly witness tomorrow.

    So, let us give due credit to the awesome power of human genius that has produced the magnificent offshoots of the Founder’s original inspiration. Let us not, however, appear to sully the Founder’s memory, legacy and undeniable place in human history for his impact and his timeless creation.