Koichi Tohei’s 1974 Letter of Resignation from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo

Finally after 37 years!

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.

Here is the background to the story. In 1969, Morihei Ueshiba officially awarded 10th dan rank—the first ever—to Koichi Tohei. Following Ueshiba’s death, Tohei’s attempts to have the Aikikai Hombu Dojo instructors’ staff adopt his teaching methods which emphasized the principle of Ki were unsuccessful. He proceeded to set up the Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Research Society) on his own in September 1971. On 1 May 1974, Tohei finally resigned from the Aikikai after several years of strained relations with Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and other Aikikai teachers. At the same time, he founded the Shin Shin Toitsu Aikidokai (Society for Aikido with Mind and Body Coordinated).

On May 15, 1974, he sent a widely-distributed letter in Japanese and English versions to hundreds of dojo heads in Japan and abroad explaining the reasons for his severance of ties with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. This letter, in which Tohei details his reasons for leaving the Aikikai, has only been seen by a few people over the years and has largely been forgotten. Anyone attempting to understand these pivotal events in aikido history will find this document to be invaluable as Tohei expresses in his own words his version of the events that transpired.

After preserving this letter for the past 37 years in our archives, we have now decided to release it to the general public.

Paid subscribers may download a PDF file of the letter from Aikido Journal’s new Members Site
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  1. Had unity been fostered instead of fear riddled division, The Founder’s vision would have been closer sooner and Aikido would be greater for it today.

    Can you imagine all the greats working together instead of scattered? Which goes to show that we are a species that can not live without war. But Great Nature is outside the process. Whether the seedlings sprout close to the parent tree or are blown far away from the parent tree, if valid they will still grow.

    Reconciliation is inevitable in the nature of the Great Universe, even though it may not always take the form we would expect. Aikido exists as a universal current no person or organisation can claim ownership of, or force into a closed box of parochiality. It is an essence that transcends such petty and mundane consideration and one which has the potential of making the human burden easier. Hubris has no place in budo because it degenerates it into a destructive force instead of the protecting power it is and should remain.

    Petty little men will always play petty political machinations and their footsteps invariably reveal their true stature in the scheme of things and with their disgraceful behaviours reveal that they are guilty of war.

    Greed, pride, perversion, hubris, vanity, immorality and thirst for glory distorts all good things. The issue of “ki” or “no ki” is irrelevant and a moot point of conjecture. The principles Tohei taught are and have always been valid for all Budo. I still can not understand such a fuss by grown up, adult men.

    Responsibility, however, should never be taken lightly. The business of a sensei is to teach as best he can and nothing else. He should also support himself independently. If he wants to serve using politics he should prove himself in government and not contaminate such good works as the Aikido Morihei Ueshiba gave to the world.

    Despite the hindrance of these fools, Aikido is still here and stronger by the day without them.
    Aikido will still be here when the fools that worked against it are long forgotten.

    The question arises: Will you serve the greater good through Aikido, or merely your own insignificant self?

    “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

  2. Alister Gillies says:

    In the fullness of time:

    Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,
    To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,
    To stamp the seal of time in aged things,
    To wake the morn and sentinel the night,
    To wrong the wronger till he render right,
    To ruinate proud buildings with thy hours,
    And smear with dust their glittering golden towers;
    To fill with worm-holes stately monuments,
    To feed oblivion with decay of things,
    To blot old books and alter their contents,
    To pluck the quills from ancient ravens’ wings,
    To dry the old oak’s sap and cherish springs,
    To spoil antiquities of hammer’d steel,
    And turn the giddy round of Fortune’s wheel;
    To show the beldam daughters of her daughter,
    To make the child a man, the man a child,
    To slay the tiger that doth live by slaughter,
    To tame the unicorn and lion wild,
    To mock the subtle in themselves beguiled,
    To cheer the ploughman with increaseful crops,
    And waste huge stones with little water drops.

    WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, The Rape of Lucrece

  3. Alister Gillies says:

    I have practiced both approaches, although predominantly so called Ki Aikido, for many years. Now it seems to me, apart from some stylistic differences (and there are many within the Aikido world in general), the task confronting a student of any style with an adequate grounding in kihon waza is to discover the principles inherent in the kata that can lead to developing whole body power.

    That this is intimately connected to relaxation and concentration goes without saying, almost – any craftsman will tell that skill develops with application and dedication to the craft. Tesshu Yamaoka used a carpentry analogy to describe the training process as one of “rough planing, smooth planing and fine planing.”

    Ki Aikido and Aikikai are like an old married couple who live at opposite ends of the same house. The love has gone, communication is non-existent and they have forgotten what brought them together in the first place. Antagonism has become a habit fueled by resentment over past differences.

    The lust for power and attendant political rivalry are twin scourges of Aikido, whatever its complexion. It seems that even so called masters have not listened to their teacher, nor got what he was offering.

    The late Sunadomari Sensei told me, through an interpreter, that you cannot get what Aikido has to offer unless you purify your heart. In practical terms, what this means is developing a non-contesting mind and body – taking physical power out of your Aikido. Aikido is misogi, a way of purifying the heart.

    This far from easy, and very few have achieved true mastery. It is a lifetime study where each achievement is a point of departure taking us back to the beginning.

    There are many in Aikido who are preoccupied with politics, style of practice and personal advancement. But there are also small groups of people – including some Shihans – who practice together, sharing the same roof, where the love is not forgotten and knowledge is shared freely.

    According to the Tao: the great is ever diminishing and the small forever growing. The wheel keeps on turning. The world of corporate Aikido is a relative one. Practicing to correct one’s heart touches the absolute.

  4. Jan Robberts says:

    I have not read this letter and for me the content is not that important;
    Separations and divorces happen everywhere… Between couples, friends, business partners, even countries!

    Often not the most pleasant at the time,u nless done amicably, there are many instances where the parties involved and their respective teams become stronger and happier as a result.

    Having been involved in a few splits in our Aikido federation, and agreeing that politics and ego should have no place in our wonderful art, those choices were not easy at the time but were discussed amongst the members and a democratic decision about the long term future benefits for the group was taken.

    Harmony, just like positivity, is something we should all strive for… But we must also know that every concept, every perception, every ideal has its flaws and its moments.

    Should parties stay together when not in alignment or agreement,which ever form or strength this takes,and just suffer in silence?…when there is no longer real harmony?
    …or should they go their separate ways for the good of further development and restoration of harmony and inner peace?

    I personally think that people should be able to express their own personality and perception into techniques,as long as the main concept remains true.

    We can never be someone else and should never want to be someone else but,instead,strive to be the best we can be and be therefor the best teachers we cam be,with our own personality attached.

    Aikido,in ALL it’s different styles is flourishing with many people around the world benefiting from a stronger healthier body,a more positive mindset and a better outlook on life with more harmony and less stress.

    have,through traveling extensively with my job,practised at several clubs with different styles and feel most fortunate and grateful for this privilege.
    As my Japanese instructor informed me,You can always learn,provided you keep an open mind!

  5. Nice to see this published, Stan. We’ve had a copy of this in our organization since it was released. It’s always been sketchy as to whether or not we should share it outside our organization. Do you by chance have the rebuttal someone wrote? I would like to read that as well.

    • I do have the rebuttal, but no intention to publish it in the foreseeable future. It would reopen too many wounds!

      • Geoff Yudien says:

        With all due respect, I have a bit of hard time understanding this, especially coming from an historian who has just put into the slip-stream of Aiki-public opinion a document that gives but one side of what’s an important piece of the history of Aikido in America. Certainly, the contents of the 37-year old Tohei letter held the potential for some embarrassment and the opening of old wounds, yet, obviously, it was determined that its historical importance out-weighed whatever negative could come from releasing it. I can only imagine that the same standard applied to the rebuttal document would lead that historian to the same conclusion, especially where the result would be, overall, a fuller view of the events of the day.

  6. …The world is an imperfect place. People, even (especially?) with the best of intentions are narrow minded. We usually deal better with adversity than success. I would maintain that anybody seeking overtly “to serve the greater good” is unlikely to do so. The more attractive their vision is and the more adherents it gathers the more intolerant it is likely to become. As to aikido, it is natural for people to be attracted to beauty. My belief, however, is that the beauty of aikido is simply a byproduct. Those who seek the beauty are akin to those in Musashi’s quip about ‘the flower being of more value than the fruit’. There is a beauty to really good martial technique, as there is a beauty to many things that work efficiently. Unfortunately martial technique is about resolving conflict through victory. Victory implies its opposite and consequences for all. Yes, afterwards (surviving) combatants may be reconciled. Valor can be respected by any warrior. But that is not the veneer which is so common in society and often layered on more thickly in dojos. Yes, sincere training CAN provide a simulacrum of combat. It may even create a venue for a reconciliation of warriors. Going through the motions, however, is unlikely to do so. So here I am, an advocate of training forms, asserting the inherent inadequacy of forms…

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