Historical photo: Koichi Tohei, 10th dan, escapes from bear hug of huge American soldier

This is a rare photo of Koichi Tohei Sensei, 10th dan, teaching a group of military personnel in Hawaii. Here he seems perfectly at ease even while a large American applies a powerful bear hug from behind. Tohei Sensei had an uncanny ability to easily escape from such holds by maintaining his center and a perfectly relaxed state. No doubt he won over a number of converts among the military through his convincing demonstrations.

Tohei Sensei is credited with being the first to introduce aikido to Hawaii in 1953. Subsequently, he made many trips to the islands solidifying a large group of dojos and developing many instructors. Several of the senior Hawaii instructors relocated to California and helped with the early spread of the art on the west coast of the USA.

Koichi Tohei was the only person to be officially awarded the 10th dan by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Moreover, he was the “shihan bucho” or chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for many years until his resignation from the Aikikai in May 1974.

Tohei Sensei was by far the most recognizable aikido teacher in the west mainly as a result of his extensive travels and publications on aikido and ki, which were also translated into several European languages.

Following his departure from the Aikikai, Tohei operated the Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Society) with centers in Tokyo and Tochigi Preferecture, and branch schools in many foreign countries for many years. Aikidoka the world over were reminded of Tohei Sensei’s huge contributions to the early growth and spread of aikido following his passing in May 2011 at the ripe old age of 91.

The are many documents on Koichi Tohei Sensei including articles, photos, videos, etc. on the Aikido Journal Members Site.


  1. TO me, Tohei Sensei is the real father of American Aikido.

    Your in Aiki
    Earl Rogers,jr.

  2. God bless him. I started aikido very shortly after his resignation and much of his legacy was still in current practice. I’m a terrible pack rat and had no idea until Pranin Sensei started exploring his contributions how many of the odds and ends in my collection were gifts of Tohei Sensei…

  3. Unfortunately, few current aikidoist really know who he is.:( Or realize his importance.

  4. Bill Atkinson says:

    Fortunately, his approach to aikido through Ki Aikido continues both in Japan and in North America under Kashiwaya Sensei out of Seattle and Tabata Sensei in Portland.

  5. Keith E. McInnis says:

    I had the honor of training with Minoru Oshima Sensei who learned from Tohei Sensei. It was my first experience with Aikido. Oshima Sensei also taught me Kiatsu which I use on fellow Akidoka, friends and family for the last 20+ years. My teacher today trained with Nishio and Saito Senseis and others. His ‘feel’ is very ‘ki strong.’ For me the ‘astounding feats’ of Ki school and Tohei Sensei are the result of personal gifts and dedicated training and practice. In the space between technical training and Ki enlightenment there is room for focusing on the goal and on the details of technique. I am honored to have experiences with both ‘styles.’ In the final assessment, it is all good Aikido and in the spirit of the Founder.

  6. steve kwan says:

    I think searching for, and studying “Ki” and “Aiki” is a life long endeavour, requiring commitment, and enlightenment .

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