Autobiographical article (2): “Koichi Tohei – Training in Japan” by Stanley Pranin

In my last article I covered the circumstances under which I began my practice of aikido in 1962 and some of my strongest memories from those first few years. I would like to pick up the thread of my narration where I left off last time. The year is 1965 and I am a student at the University of California at Los Angeles. In the intervening two years I had been promoted to ikkyu by Takahashi Sensei. Although the demands on my time for studies were heavy I managed to continue training on Fridays and weekends. Also, my interest in aikido had grown to the point that I began to take Japanese language classes as an elective at the university.

At that point in time I did most of my training at the Los Angeles Aikikai. It was one of the first dojos established in the mainland U.S. and continues to operate today. Besides the chief instructor Isao Takahashi Sensei, most of the senior students were nisei or sansei and several of them had moved to California from Hawaii where they had earlier begun their aikido training. As I recall, more than half of the dojo members were of Japanese descent. Some of those early aikidoka did much to spread aikido in California during the early years and such names as Clem Yoshida, Rod Kobayashi, Dan Mizukami, Francis Takahashi, and Daniel (Kensho) Furuya stand out most in my mind.

That summer at the dojo was a very exciting time for everyone as we were anticipating a visit from the Head of the Instructors’ Staff (Shihan Bucho) of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, the famous Koichi Tohei Sensei. Tohei Sensei was at that time perhaps the most well-known aikido teacher in the west due to his frequent travels to America and the publication of his early books in English. He had introduced aikido to Hawaii in 1953 and remained there teaching for about two years. At that point in time, the image of aikido in the minds of most foreigners was primarily shaped by his concept of the art which emphasized ki and, in this sense, Tohei was more influential outside of Japan than even the Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Tohei was known for his unrivaled technique, and easy-to-understand, entertaining teaching approach. For those of us who had never met him, we were anticipating a man almost bigger than life.

Click here to read entire article.


  1. In my mind and that of my students, he was by far the greatest. He was and always be Aikido.

  2. For every serious aikidoka your website is the Holy Grail. I still go through your site to know more about what is happening around aikido world. It is the constant source of knowledge for all aikido lovers.

  3. With respect if and where it may be due, regarding: “Within the budo context, it goes totally against proper etiquette for a student of one teacher to train with another, let alone several, simultaneously…” is an unscientific, parochial, separatist and cultish attitude neither borne out by facts of history, nor people with common sense of today.

    Numerous students have always sought to expand their horizons in the search of excellence. Ueshiba himself to name one, studied with many teachers before embarking on his own research. Another is Tomiki who was sent to expand his horizons and/or spy on. And many others.

    Today we have YouTube and if you have the time to wade through piles of junk, as well as practice, there is some excellent work there as well.

    “Founder’s way of expressing himself ..” may not have been one of skilled articulation within the framework of his listeners educational levels, but were nonetheless entirely valid and an attempt to share clarity of insights, using the poor and unclear tool, words.

    Habits passed of as “cultural” are often nothing more than hubris politics and complacency of spirit, not worth much and a loss to those weak willed enough to allow themselves to be thus swayed.

    I have immense respect for Tohei sensei and always rallied at the unjust way he had been treated, but let’s face it, it could be possible that he contributed to bringing such consequences on himself by his uncompromising attitudes.

    Somewhere in front of the ki and the do there is a little ai; and a little ai can go a long way. Otherwise it is mere ki, the stuff, which when unyielding, forced and arrogant, is what wars are made of.

    I think that everyone has something valid to offer. Anyone seeking to exclude others instead of honouring their contributions, generally succeeds only in excluding themselves. There is no “them” in the human family. Only All of US! On this basis we can all learn from each other, if even what not to do as it may lead to less than salubrious outcomes.

    Ultimately Aikido is a study of responsibility, choice, cause and effect and outcomes and not merely willfulness.

  4. However, I do concede that for beginners, training with several teachers at the same time is not productive as it can confuse, waste a lot of time, calcify erroneous opinions and basically be a nuisance to all concerned as you cannot mix different methodologies in the beginning of a process.
    At the bottom of a mountain one path must be chosen.
    At the peak they all meet at the same pinnacle.

Speak Your Mind