Yoshimitsu Yamada: An insider’s look at Aikikai Hombu Dojo in the late 1950s

Koichi Tohei Sensei throwing Robert Bugh in Arizona in 1972. Photo credit: Robert Bugh Sensei

Koichi Tohei Sensei throwing Robert Bugh in Arizona in 1972. Photo credit: Robert Bugh Sensei

The text below is excerpted from the “Biography of Yoshimitsu Yamada” appearing on the Aikido Sansuikai website, Sensei Yamada’s Official Website for Europe.

The Aikikai Hombu Dojo was at that time a completely different place compared to nowadays. The Ueshiba family house was attached to the dojo, and Morihei himself quite often, although irregularly, appeared on the mat. O’Sensei represented the ultimate authority for all of the uchi-deshi. Through his demeanor, he personified all of the qualities a young Japanese used to strive for at the time.

Yoshimitsu Yamada c. 1957

Training was demanding, and life the dojo almost ascetic in nature. This was related to the difficult economic situation in the country after II World War. The Hombu Dojo did not especially stand out from life in general in Japan. The building was not heated, so the temperature dropped below zero degrees in winter, and the summer heat was suffocating. The uchideshi did not have their own quarters or many personal items. Their life was subject to the rhythm of dojo life, and any private moments were very rare. Each of the uchi-deshi had to perform certain tasks and take active part in private lessons.

Yoshimitsu Yamada remembers the schedule from that time even today. The first training, conducted by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, started at 6:30, another one, at 8:00, was taught by Koichi Tohei or Kisaburo Osawa, whom once a week were replaced by Kenji Tomiki. Hiroshi Tada or Seigo Yamaguchi conducted classes at 15:00, practices at 16:00 and 18:30 were run by various other teachers. Koichi Tohei was an idol of many trainees and was impressive for his character and technical skills. Many uchideshi regretted the fact that he was increasingly involving himself in the operation of a school in Hawaii, and that he visited Tokyo rarely. Over time, the number of uchideshi grew, and Yasuo Kabayashi, Kazuo Chiba, Mitsunari Kanai and Seichi Sugano joined the dojo becoming a tightly knit group of friends together with Yoshimitsu.

[The above text has been edited for language and clarity. – Editor]

We invite readers to refer to Stanley Pranin’s article titled “Is O-Sensei Really the Father of Modern Aikido?” for more information on this subject.


  1. Great picture, I just noticed the writing on the board behind Tohei Sensei. On the right: “To unify spirit and body and become one with the universe is the ultimate purpose of my study.”

    On the left (partial obscured): “Let us have a universal spirit that loves and protects all creation and helps all things grow and develop.”

    The influence of Tohei Sensi is very obvious in Yamada Sensei’s first book. The book covers topics like relaxation, unbendable arm and keeping the one point. He even uses terminology that is associated with Tohei’s style, Ryote mochi instead of morote dori, tenkan and irimi instead of omote and ura, etc.

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