“I can’t think of a scenario in which I would have challenged Koichi Tohei or Seigo Yamaguchi on or off the mat. It’s not the aikido way, and it’s not my way!“
One reader took pains to comment on my recent article titled “Towards A Reform of Aikido Technique.” Having read my thesis, he states that I consider the aikido of the senior Aikikai instructors of the postwar era to be “unworthy.” He specifically mentions Koichi Tohei and Seigo Yamaguchi. The writer goes on to wonder aloud how I would personally have fared if I had attempted to demonstrate the “unworthiness” of the martial skills of these two instructors by challenging them on the mat.
I frankly scratched my head at reading these comments in response to my article. In fact, I doubted that the commenter was referring to the article in question because my thesis was totally misrepresented. Allow me to restate very briefly my viewpoint in simple terms to avoid further misunderstandings.
The thrust of my article is that the curriculum, teaching methodology, and spiritualism of Founder Morihei Ueshiba were largely rejected by the postwar figures most responsible for the dissemination of aikido in Japan and abroad. The four important teachers I mention by name are Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Gozo Shioda, and Kenji Tomiki. I discuss the martial arts background of each of these famous instructors and attempt to estimate the years of training they received under the Founder.
I further stated that, in the years following the war, the disillusioned Japanese frowned on the practices and policies of the nation’s recent militaristic past. This was equally true of the ideologies that supported them, including State Shinto. Morihei Ueshiba was heavily involved in the war effort and taught martial techniques and tactics at several military institutions. He was also a leading member of the powerful Omoto religious sect that had its roots in Shintoism.
This social climate affected the practice of postwar aikido in which training tended to be low-keyed and non-martial. Further, the use of atemi, kiai, and weapons were discouraged because of the image of militarism they conjured up and fear of possible reprisals from occupation forces who had initially banned the practice of Japanese martial arts. This observation refers specifically to the Aikikai, by far the largest aikido organization. Yoshinkan Aikido retained the practice of atemi and kiai, and Kenji Tomiki introduced a sport component in his approach centered at Waseda University.
In a like manner, I wrote that Morihei’s spiritual views were not embraced by any of the four leading teachers mentioned. They were considered to be incomprehensible, anachronistic and inappropriate for inclusion in a modern teaching curriculum.
At the end of the article, I point to the special case of Morihiro Saito who happened to live near Morihei’s country dojo in Iwama and have a job that permitted him to spend a great deal of time training and assisting the Founder in his daily life. During the Iwama period, Morihei was training intensively and focusing a great deal of effort on the study of weapons, mainly the ken and jo. Also, he was teaching an elaborate taijutsu system to the few students attending his country dojo attached to his home.
The four teachers mentioned above and who were active in Tokyo had little or no exposure to the Iwama training regime in the late 1940s and 50s. This is simply historical fact.
That I have long been personally captivated by O-Sensei’s techniques and spirituality and was also a long-time student of Morihiro Saito is irrelevant to my historical account of the specifics of that era. I have investigated the subject thoroughly and interviewed all four of the instructors on mulitple occasions. The Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba provided me with a great deal of information and confirmed much of what I have written. While in Japan, I conducted over 200 interviews with prominent aikido-related personnages.
I wrote nothing about the individual martial skills of any of these four teachers or Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei, all giants in their own rights. I alluded to their teaching methodologies, how they were different from that of the Founder and affected by the tenor of the times.
The commenter mentions the “superiority complex” of Iwama Aikido practitioners. I cannot refute this. I would only point out that practitioners at the Hombu Dojo, and schools of the Ki Society, Yoshinkan Aikido, and Tomiki Aikido all have similar views of their systems and founders, and consider their aikido practice to be “superior.”
In closing, I can’t think of a scenario in which I would have challenged Koichi Tohei or Seigo Yamaguchi on or off the mat. It’s not the aikido way, and it’s not my way.