“The spread of aikido abroad in a nutshell,” by Stanley Pranin

Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Morihei Ueshiba, and Koichi Tohei at Aikikai c. 1962. Photo courtesy of Leo Tamaki

Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Morihei Ueshiba, and Koichi Tohei at Aikikai c. 1962. Photo courtesy of Leo Tamaki

“What is perhaps less understood is the importance of Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei in the early growth of aikido beyond the shores of Japan.”

Aikido Journal Editor Stanley Pranin Over the years, I have explained my reasons for crediting Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei, 10th dan, with the lion’s share of responsibility for shaping aikido in postwar Japan. Of course, there were others outside the Aikikai that played important roles in developing the art in the early years such as Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki, and Minoru Mochizuki, to name a few. However, the reality is that with the passage of time, the Aikikai Hombu Dojo organization headed by Kisshomaru and Tohei came to dwarf the other aikido groups in size and influence.

I have specifically identified Kisshomaru and Tohei as the two individuals who spearheaded the development of the curriculum within the Aikikai system following World War II. Both had tremendous influence on technical matters during the 1950s and 60s. Tohei resigned from the Aikikai in 1974, and from that point forward, Kisshomaru’s leadership prevailed both technically and administratively.

What is perhaps less understood is the importance of these influential figures in the early growth of aikido beyond the shores of Japan. With the exception of Minoru Mochizuki who was the first to teach aikido in France starting in 1951, the dispatch of Aikikai instructors to foreign lands was also overseen by Kisshomaru — first and foremost — and Tohei whose focus was Hawaii and the continental USA.

Beginning in the 1950s, the pioneers of aikido in Europe namely Tadashi Abe and Kenshiro Abbe, both maintained an affiliation with the Aikikai. Tohei himself went to Hawaii first in 1953, and subsequently on many occasions, progressively setting up a large network of dojos on the islands.

In the 1960s, the second wave of instructors from the Aikikai to relocate to Europe included Mutsuro Nakazono, Masamichi Noro, Aritoshi Murashige, Nobuyoshi Tamura, Hiroshi Tada, Katsuaki Asai, and Kazuo Chiba. These were the individuals who solidified aikido’s base on the European continent including the UK.

In the USA, Tohei’s pioneering efforts in Hawaii spread to the mainland where he began conducting seminars in 1965. The first Japanese instructors to set up schools in the USA tended to be influenced technically by Tohei during their formation at the Aikikai. The best known teachers from this era are Yoshimitsu Yamada, Mitsunari Kanai, and Shuji Maruyama. They were based on the east coast and traveled extensively in the region overseeing instruction and establishing new schools. During that period, Tohei’s curriculum and teaching methodologies were widely used in the United States until his departure from the Aikikai.

Other notable pioneers who taught in far flung locations in the early years included Aritoshi Murashige, Mutsuro Nakazono, and Seigo Yamaguchi who taught in southeast Asia, and Seiichi Sugano who established aikido in Australia in 1965.

Perhaps this brief overview of how aikido came to gain a foothold outside of Japan under the guidance of Kisshomaru and Tohei will further contribute to readers’ understanding the dominant influence of these two giant figures on modern aikido.


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  1. Ted Dardis says:

    What about the Los Angeles Aikikai,. have we been forgotten?

    • The Los Angeles Aikikai, of which I was a student in the mid-60s was under the direction of Koichi Tohei Sensei mentioned in the “nutshell” article.

  2. Perhaps overlooked are the non Japanese who helped develop aikido and spread the word. An English man Mr Ken Cottier Shihan was asked by Hombu in 1971 to travel to Hong Kong and re establish aikido in the then run British colony. He was head of the Hong Kong aikido association until he passed away some years ago. I believe he travelled to the Philippines on behalf of the Hombu to look at a couple of groups who wanted to be recognised by Hombu.

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