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History of Ki Aikido

Morihei Ueshiba founded Aikido, Koichi Tohei trained under Ueshiba and then went on to develop our line of Ki Aikido. It is that history which is described here. Tohei was born on 20 January 1920 and had a number of health problems during his early years. These started when his mother was pregnant and contracted pneumonia. This was nearly fatal; both survived but his mother was very protective of Tohei after the experience. His father recognised that this ‘protection’ actually seemed to be causing more sickness and set about ‘toughening up’ Tohei. From the age of 9, this included Judo training, where he reached 1st Dan level by the age of 14; Tohei’s father was himself a 4th Dan. Tohei studied at the Keio Gijuku University Preparatory School from age 16 and was in the judo team. After a bad throw he injured his chest and had to take a year out after the doctors’ diagnosed pleurisy. Worse, they advised his fragile body should be subjected to no more exercise than a brief walk, he should not raise his voice and should not raise his left arm too high. Tohei initially followed the advice but became sicker. After reading some books on self- improvement, Tohei was able to make some progress toward healing himself. The real inspiration came after his sister brought him a book called ‘My teacher’ by the then still living Tetsuju Ogura; the ‘teacher’ being Tesshu Yamaoka, a famous swordsman and calligrapher. After reading the book Tohei travelled to a dojo in Tokyo where he met Tesso Hino who agreed, despite Tohei’s admission of pleurisy, to let him join, provided he first practised Zen meditation and then the demanding breathing and chanting of Misogi. This was a very demanding regime but Tohei learnt how to sleep whilst being fully aware of what was happening and being said around him. This earnt him the nickname, ‘Sleeping Buddha’.
As Tohei’s health and strength returned, he resumed judo but was dissatisfied with its emphasis on strength and technique and the absence of any consideration of the influence the mind can have on performance. Then he met a former pupil who gave him a letter of introduction to a powerful martial arts teacher, Morihei Ueshiba. Tohei, now 19, went to Ueshiba’s dojo and witnessed him throw people much larger than himself; something that rarely happened amongst equally graded judo black belts. On being thrown himself, easily, Tohei was sufficiently impressed and began training with Ueshiba. After graduating from university on 30 September 1942, Tohei was drafted into the army; at which point Ueshiba awarded him his first Aikido grade – 5th Dan (he eventually became a 10th Dan in 1969, 3 months before Ueshiba died). Army training was hard but in many ways not as physically or emotionally demanding as the time spent doing Misogi. Staff made the life of recruits difficult but Tohei adopted an unconfrontational approach that along with some clever thinking and his skills meant that they usually left him alone. On passing boot camp in 1943 he was selected for officer training for a further 8 months. The final test was 3 days and nights of marching and hard training followed by a written test. Tohei’s ‘Sleeping Buddha’ ability came in useful once again and enabled him to be the first student ever to score 100% on the written test. In February 1944 Tohei was posted to the battle front in China. He quickly earned the respect of his colleagues due to his ability to focus and concentrate for long periods and to sense, and hence avoid, danger. However, despite his meditation and earlier resolve to face death with an unmoveable mind on the battlefield, Tohei found himself becoming fearful of death. This lasted until he was able
to retrain his mind to believe his fate would be determined by the universe. From that time, he was able to relax; accompanied by a vague realisation that only when relaxed did he have the ki necessary to move safely through life. He found this to be true not only when facing physical danger but also to any problem or pressure. He had been taught in Zen and the martial arts that if one put their strength into the lower abdomen (by tightening it), the mind would become fearless and unmovable. In practice, under enemy fire, he found that tightening his abdomen soon resulted in tiredness and restricted his movement but, keeping it loose, resulted in feeling his fears. The solution he discovered was to focus his mind in the lower abdomen; later he was to name this point of focus the ‘One Point’. Tohei returned to Japan, out of the army, in August 1946. He tried farming and business but neither worked out. He did, however, return to his practices of misogi and Aikdo, where Ueshiba promoted him to 6th Dan. Tohei also met Tempû Nakamura Sensei, who taught that the mind and body were inseparable and should be unified. Tohei had noticed that Ueshiba’s verbal teaching was vague, mystical and sometimes contradictory, so his students would often struggle; but Ueshiba himself had perfect mind and body coordination and was always smooth in the execution of his moves, even with much larger opponents. On this realisation, Tohei learnt from what Ueshiba did rather than what he said. In 1953 Tohei made his first trip to Hawaii to spread the principles of Ki and Aikido. He devoted his life to its development; forming the Ki Society International on 16th September 1971 to teach the principles of Ki, and Mind and Body Coordination. In 1974 he formed Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido Kai to teach Aikido with Ki.

The Story of Koichi Tohei and Ki Aikido

The main source of the Story of Tohei and Ki Aikido is the book: “Ki: A Road That Anyone Can Walk”, William Reed; 1992; Japan Publications Inc. ISBN 0-87040-799-6