Koichi Tohei (1920 - 2011) grew up in an upper class Japanese family, north of Tokyo. He was sickly as a child and was introduced to Judo and Zen by his father to try to strengthen his constitution. Later he became involved in misogi and various forms of Japanese Yoga. These events and training shaped much of what was to develop in later life.
In 1939, he met O-Sensei and was introduced to the art of Aikido. He expressed some amazement that despite his Judo training he was unable to deal with this much older man and quickly became a serious student of the Art. In 1942, he was called up to the army and spent time in action in China. After the war he returned to his role as uchi-deshi to O-Sensei, becoming one of the strongest and most influential figures within the Aikido world. In 1953, he was sent by O-Sensei to Hawaii, becoming the first teacher to introduce Aikido to the United States.
Tohei-Sensei rose to the position of Chief Instructor at the Aikikai Hombu dojo and was the only person awarded 10th Dan by O-Sensei and issued with a formal scroll of rank. After O-Sensei's death, Kisshomaru Ueshiba-Sensei became the second Aikido Doshu, and Tohei-Sensei continued to be the Chief Instructor for a few years.
In 1971, while still the Chief Instructor of the Aikikai, Tohei-Sensei founded the Ki no Kenkyukai, to teach the principles of Ki and Unification of Mind and Body, outside the Aikido framework. He later resigned as Chief Instructor and founded the Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido.
Ki Aikido demonstration - Japan (1978)
This style is one of the softest styles of Aikido and is characterized by soft movements that often involve the practitioner jumping or skipping during the movement. Most schools are not concerned with practical application of the techniques, considering them exercises to further develop ki. In recent years, Tohei-sensei has been moving further and further away from Aikido and has devoted himself almost exclusively to Ki training.
Biography of Tohei Sensei
Tohei-sensei was born in 1920 and grew up in an upper class Japanese family, north of Tokyo. He was sickly as a child and was introduced to Judo and Zen by his father to try to strengthen his constitution. Later he became involved in misogi and various forms of Japanese Yoga. These events and training shaped much of what was to develop in later life.
In 1939, he met O-sensei and was introduced to the art of Aikido. He expressed some amazement that despite his Judo training he was unable to deal with this much older man and quickly became a serious student of the Art. After training for a short time, he was called up to the army and spent time in action in China. During this time, he became aware of the importance of a calm mind and the unification of mind and body that were to shape much of his later training, and developed quite a reputation as a "lucky" officer who never lost a single man under his command even during the most fierce fighting.
After the war he returned to his role as uchi-deshi to O-sensei, becoming one of the strongest and most influential figures within the Aikido world. In those days, challenges to the teacher were common and it was Tohei-sensei who usually had to respond to people coming to the dojo to test O-sensei. Quite a few people were "bounced on their heads" including a group of US wrestlers who had previously tried to arrange a challenge at the Kodokan Judo HQ!
In 1953, he was sent by O-sensei to Hawaii, becoming the first teacher to introduce Aikido to the United States. Over the next decade or so, Tohei-sensei came to the US many times and was responsible for training many of the fine teachers in the U.S. today. It was during this period that his Aikido underwent a lot of change, since dealing with HUGE Americans was quite different to the conventional training in Japan. During this period, his practice also started to drift away from some of what was being practiced by other instructors, as can be seen if you compare the book written in the late 50s by Tohei-sensei with that written about the same time by K. Ueshiba-sensei -- both of which were approved by O-sensei.
Tohei-sensei rose to the position of Chief Instructor at the Aikikai Hombu dojo and was the only person awarded 10th Dan by O-sensei and issued with a formal scroll of rank. We have a video tape of an American TV show from 1957, in which Tohei-sensei acts as interpreter for O-sensei during an interview. He was certainly one of the most noticeable figures in the Aikido world, due to his large outgoing personality.
After O-sensei's death, Kisshomaru Ueshiba-sensei became the second Aikido Doshu, and Tohei-sensei continued to be the Chief Instructor. For the next few years things continued as before, but there were tensions building within the senior Aikido-ka.
Tohei-sensei had very clear ideas about the best way of teaching Aikido, ideas that were based largely on the principles of Unification taught by one of his Yoga teachers. He proposed to introduce this system of teaching Ki within the Aikikai but met with much resistance from the more traditional of the senior teachers there.
So, in 1971, while still the Chief Instructor of the Aikikai, Tohei-sensei founded the Ki no Kenkyukai, to teach the principles of Ki and Unification of Mind and Body, outside the Aikido framework. This position continued for a few more years until the rift between Tohei-sensei and the rest of the Aikikai became too big and he resigned. He then founded the Shin-shin Toitsu Aikikai, to teach Aikido in accordance with the Ki principles.
Koichi Tohei Sensei - Part 1 (1974)
This split caused a great divide in the Aikido world since many people were torn between following Tohei-sensei, who was the most senior Aikido teacher, or staying with the Aikikai which was headed by O-sensei's son. This choice caused much bad feeling, some of which still exists today.
Tohei-sensei continued to refine and develop his methods of teaching Ki and Aikido and the Ki no Kenkyukai grew and spread branches throughout the world. In recent years, Tohei-sensei seems to have tried to disassociate himself from Aikido and to only emphasize Ki training.
In a recent book containing both a biography and a description of his teachings, Aikido is not mentioned very much and O-sensei is given less than one paragraph. This trend has been the source of dissatisfaction amongst many members of the KNK and in recent years, the 5 most senior members in the US have resigned, taking their organizations with them. Some have returned to the Aikikai, some are now independent.
KNK is also involved in building a huge dojo and museum on Tohei-sensei's family land north of Tokyo and now spends much of its time and energy on revenue producing events, like stress reduction seminars for large Japanese corporations. Most recently, he seems to have devoted a lot of time and energy into establishing Shin-shin Toitsu Aikido as a competitive sport - further distancing himself from most of the traditional Aikido community.
Koichi Tohei Sensei - Part 2 (1974)
Tohei-sensei is a very special individual. Almost everyone agrees that, excepting O-sensei himself, Tohei-sensei's Aikido was probably the finest to be seen. In addition, he is one of the most gifted teachers the Aikido world has seen, developing most of the teaching methods used in many dojos today. The system we follow, that of Ki exercise within Aikido owes it existence almost entirely to Tohei-sensei and we should acknowledge our debt to him and continue to show him the respect he rightly deserves. He has long been famous for teaching Ki to many well-known athletes including Sadaharu Oh and his one-legged batting stance, as well as taking care of Chiyonofuji's dislocated shoulder.
Furthermore, Ki Society International is the only facility specializing in the study of Ki in Japan, having been approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 1977. In order to spread Ki, he has recently opened the Ki Health Institute and created an "at-home" course in which students become Ki Health graduates in their own homes. His books include Ki no Iryoku ("Power of Ki"), Seiko no Hiketsu wa Ki ni ari ("The Key to Success is Ki") and countless others. His latest booke is Ki ni ga Suru no Michi ("The Way to Union with Ki"). An English translation is soon to be available.
Timeline of Events1920
Born on January 20 in Shitaya ward of Tokyo. At the time of his birth, his mother was suffering from a severe case of pneumonia. As a result, he is sickly throughout his childhood. 1937 At 16 years of age he enters the Keio Preparatory School. During Judo practice, he falls hard on his chest and develops pleurisy, causing a year's absence from college. From his return to his studies he feels keenly the weakness of his mind and as a result of this subjugation devotes himself to Zen Misogi training. He studies Zen and misogi at Daitokuji in Kyoto with temple head, Josei Ota Roshi, who was the top student of Yamaoka Tesshu Kyoshi. He also studies in depth with Tetsuju Ogura Sensei and his successor, Tesso Hino Sensei.
He studies aikido under Morihei Ueshiba Sensei (later attaining the highest rank of 10th-Dan)
His graduation from Keio University is advanced a half year at which time he enlists in the Utsunomiya Eastern Division. After that he enters the Toyohashi Officers Preparatory Academy. At the time of graduation he is awarded the commissioner training prize (Kyoiku Sokansho).
At 23, he is dispatched to a platoon near the Central China front. Showered with bullets, he realizes through personal experience that true battle is very different from sports matches. A sports match should not be any different from life situation such as in a real battle where the instant you slacken your Ki could mean death. That is, you must master keeping one point.
Demobilized from Central China, he once more studies misogi and aikido while at Gokokuji in Otowa, Tokyo. He also studies Tempudo with Tempu Nakamura Sensei.
At 32 years of age, he begins to spread Ki Principles and aikido in Hawaii. Since that time, he has been spreading Ki Principles in America and Europe for 40 years.
He establishes the Ki Society International (Ki no Kenkyukai) in order to spread Ki Principles.
Recognizing that Ki Principles contribute greatly to the promotion of national health, the "Ki no Kenkyukai" (Ki Society International) foundation is approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
He establishes the Ki-Aikido Academy.
The 20th anniversary commemorating the founding of Ki Society International is held at the newly constructed Ki Society Headquarters complex, Ki no Sato. The Tochigi site will be the world headquarters for the foundation.
At the Tochigi world headquarters he establishes the Tochigi Ki Health Institute.