Aikido Kobayashi Dojo

Aikido, My Way.

Part 3 Koichi Tohei Shihan

Koichi Tohei Sensei, the present head of the Ki no Kenkyukai, wasn’t around when I entered Hombu Dojo because he was teaching in Hawaii. Once in a while there’d be a letter and once there was a photo included. It showed people the size Konishiki and Akebono (two famous Sumo yokozuna) practicing. After six months he returned and I had a class from him for the first time. We practiced ikkyoundo, nikkyoundo, kotgaeshi undo, tenkan, kaiten, irimi: taisabaki techniques with names easy to understand and remember. This is the way Tohei Shihan developed in Hawaii to teach so many people at once. At this time, there was no standardized method of teaching and Kisshomaru Sensei and the other instructors all had different emphases. I tried to teach Kisshomaru Sensei’s techniques but when I practiced in another sensei’s class, I imitated his particular style. Tohei Sensei’s method of teaching was very simple, clear and rational. He had all of us young deshi’s heartfelt admiration. According to one story, he introduced Aikido at the American National Judo Meet. He had several students grab him at once and then the image of him throwing all of them was broadcast on TV, so instantly making Aikido famous. At the same time, the publisher of the Yomiuri newspaper visited Hombu Dojo to see a demonstration. He offered to sponsor a match between Aikido and Sumo, however much it would cost. Tohei Sensei refused because Aikido doesn’t have matches. I was there so I heard this first-hand. Apparently when Tohei Sensei was in Hawaii, he instructed a pro wrestler who then defeated Rikidozan, a famous Japanese pro wrestler also, had, heard of this so he escaped the match.

Tohei Sensei was gone several months out of the year to teach Aikido in Hawaii and the American mainland. In this manner, Aikido greatly expanded overseas. Domestically, as well, Aikido was rapidly increasing in popularity. I acted as Tohei Sensei’s private secretary and was with him through many of his activities. Whenever we would return from the Yurakucho Dojo by taxi, we would always go by way of Yotsuya, where Tohei Sensei would get out and send me back by myself. When I asked a senior about this, he smirked and said “I know that place;” apparently Tohei Sensei had a date.

In 1969, Tohei Sensei was promoted to Aikido’s highest rank of 10th dan. It could be said that Hawaii and the U.S. mainland were Tohei Sensei’s kingdom, so influential was his teaching that perhaps Aikido wouldn’t be there if not for him.

O Sensei passed away April 26, 1969 and for a brief time, Tohei Sensei was the head of Hombu Dojo, at the same time founding the Ki no Kenkyukai. Gradually he withdrew from Hombu Dojo. On the morning of March 31, 1973, about 10am, Tohei Sensei formally resigned as head instructor and with over half the instructors and many dojo members, gave a nod to Kisshomaru Sensei and departed Hombu. Many of the people who left with him were the young, able instructors. I was in the office and witnessed this. After a while, Kisshomaru Sensei came into the office and noticing me, mumbled “Kobayashi, you sticking around?” I had many conflicting thoughts. The head instructor had great ability and technique and explained ki in easy-to understand terms. On the other hand, I felt it was a mistake to take lightly the fact that Kisshomaru was the 2nd doshu. Troubled, I recalled my father’s situation. He lived as a merchant through various connections. I made my decision to keep the connection with headquarters.

There were instructors who left with Koichi Tohei Shihan but then later returned to Hombu. One of those was Fumio Toyoda Sensei who had a dojo in Chicago. Through Chicago he built a big association of dojos throughout America and Europe (the AAA or Aikido Association of America). Then, at an awards ceremony for Kisshomaru Sensei, Toyoda Sensei and Kisshomaru Sensei talked for the first time in eighteen years. The discussion reflected a spirited mutual understanding and they agreed on dojo exchanges. My son Hiroaki and Hatayama Shihan were asked to give seminars there and we held joint practices with Toyoda Sensei and students when they came to Japan. However, Toyoda Sensei suddenly passed away three years ago. Kobayashi Dojos continue to cooperate with the AAA and the relationship has steadily grown more secure.

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