Historically, Morihei Ueshiba founded the Art of Aikido officially in 1941. He produced three well known students: his son Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei and Morihiro Saito. His son was given the responsibility to continue the tradition by running his organization called the Aikikai. His focus was on classic Aikido with fluid movements.
Koichi Tohei ran the main Tokyo Dojo under the supervision of the founder’s son until three years after the founder passed away. He left to become the founder of his own style called Ki-Aikido. He emphasized the Aikido techniques he learned, but added health practices and an underlying theory related to the philosophy of Ki.
Meanwhile the founder had retired to Iwama to practice farming for the last 23 years of his life. Morihiro Saito studied intensively with the founder there during that period and continued on in the tradition precisely the way the founder taught in the Iwama school. Unlike Koichi Tohei, he never left the Aikikai, but he taught a distinctive style tended to be more direct with a strong emphasis on weapons. In fact, since the founder invented his weapons system in Iwama, Saito Sensei was the only senior student to inherit the Aiki weapons system. Other Aikido masters typically combined other weapons systems with the empty handed technique of Aikido based upon their understanding of the art. Our dojo continues in the tradition or Morihiro Saito Sensei.
In addition to these key historical figures, other instructors separated from the founder’s style of Aikido during the early years. They would include Gozo Shioda, who founded Yohinkan Aikido with permission from the founder. Also, masters such as Tomiki and Mochizuki.
Shioda Sensei is known for a step by step instruction method where he taught harsh technique. While the founder reversed the traditional order of instruction in martial arts, teaching how to control an attacker first and later allowing the students to explore more destructive responses as needed, Shioda Sensei returned to the original approach. As in Daito Ryu Aiki Jujitsu, he taught destructive technique first and followed up with teaching control.
Mochizuki Sensei was not only an advanced student of the founder of Aikido, but also of the founder of Judo and even held a 5th Dan from the founder of Shotokan Karate. He felt martial arts training became too specialized and wanted to return to a more generalist approach. His method incorporated aspects of all three martial arts. There is very little instruction available in his system in the United States.
Last of the secondary historical figures is Tomiki Sensei, who was also an advance practitioner of Judo. The founder of Judo asked him to study Aikido, where he also reached advanced rank. While the founder of Aikido was specific that his martial art should not contain any forms of competition, Tomiki Sensei returned to his Judo roots and introduced some forms of competition in his system. In fact, his system of Aikido is normally taught alongside Judo. For that reason, it is questionable whether his approach should be called Aikido, or an entirely different martial art. Historically, his system was called Tomiki Aikido, but more recently Shodokan.
Nihon Goshin Aikido merely rides the coat tails of the Aikido name. The founder of that system never actually studied Aikido, but was another student of Sokaku Takeda, who by chance also taught Daito Ryu Aiki Jujitsu to Morihei Ueshiba. Nihon Goshin also includes other martial techniques as well.
Hapkido is a Korean martial art whose founder also studied Daito Ryu Aiki Jujitsu. It is often taught in combination with Tae Kwon Do. While again there may be some similarities with Aikido, the founder of Hapkido never studied Aikido with Morihei Ueshiba.
As we have reviewed the major historical figures, we will now turn to the next generation of instruction with an emphasis of availability in our broad geographic area. Many of these instructors correctly claim to be direct students of the founder, but they actually studied in the Tokyo Dojo after the founder retired to Iwama, Japan. He would only visit once a month, while the majority of their instruction came from Koichi Tohei and the founder’s son.
Our organization follows in the tradition of Morihiro Saito, known as Iwama Aikido discussed in the Main Schools section above. While the founder trained local Japanese and dispatched them to other countries, Saito Sensei invited foreigners to his dojo to train them and return them to their native origins. In the US, they have a heavy presence on the west coast and Mark Larson Sensei is a senior student who teaches in Minnesota. Aikido Westchester NY is the only dojo in the tri state area following this tradition. We are supervised by Hoa Newens Sensei, another senior student of Saito Sensei from Davis California.
A large presence in this area is the United States Aikido Federation, headquartered in Manhattan and currently run by Yoshimitsu Yamada. Yamada Sensei as well as Kanai Sensei in Boston (deceased) and Akira Tohei in Chicago (deceased) were direct students of the founder who were dispatched to the US in the 1960’s. Nobayashi Tamura (deceased), a more senior practitioner in France, described their purpose in this country as instruction in the basics. Tamura Sensei explained that his role in the organization was to give “the feeling of training with the founder.” In addition, Seiichi Sugano (deceased) was dispatched to the NY headquarters of the USAF in 1989 and provided more advanced instruction in timing and weapons. The USAF trained many black belts who have schools across the tri state area.
Chiba Sensei, another direct student of the founder, joined the USAF by moving to San Diego in the 1980’s and remained for some time. He since left the organization to found his own sub-organization which remains affiliated with the founder’s son. His system includes harsh training designed to evoke fear. He proceeds to teach his students how to respond without fear. He has a few schools spread in the tri-state area.
Mitsugi Saotome, another direct student of the founder, came to the US in the 1970’s and developed an organization that spans the country known as Aikido Schools of Uyeshiba (ASU). He currently teaches along with his younger disciple Ikeda Sensei. While their primary presence is in Florida, Washington DC and Colorado, there is a school in NYC as well. The focus of practice is the study of connection and they have an extensive weapons system.
Another group came to the US in the 1970’s as well. When Koichi Tohei split from the founder’s organization three years after he passed away, he brought many students with him. Koichi Tohei actually created the first presence of Aikido in the US in Hawaii in the 1950’s after challenging all of the victors of a Judo tournament to attack him simultaneously. He was described as simply throwing each one from one end of the room to the other. Among the instructors he brought with him and dispatched to the US were sensei’s Toyoda, Shiohira, Maruyama and Imaizume.
Eventually all of them left Koichi Tohei’s organization. Sensei’s Toyoda (deceased) and Shiohira both returned to the founder’s organization eventually. Toyoda Sensei’s students populate the tri state area to a limited degree, although many have splintered off with some of his top students, such as Andy Sato (Chicago) or Ed Germanov (Bulgaria). Shiohira Sensei is most active on the west coast. Sensei’s Maruyama and Imaizume remained independent. Maruyama Sensei returned to Japan, but has regular trips to the US on the East to support his students that remain. Imaizume Sensei continues to run his school in Manhattan. These students all retained some emphasis on Ki as was characteristic of Koichi Tohei. They also have advance practice and weapons training.
As far as the relevant next generation of instructors are concerned, it is difficult to mention the word Aikido in the US without the name Steven Segal coming to mind. As both an Aikido instructor and actor, his unique presence introduced the idea of Aikido to many in this country. Over the years he has developed into a legitimate martial arts master, although he does not have much of a presence in this region of the country.