The task of documenting the history of aikido in the United States is a formidable one. The most obvious reason for this is the sheer physical size of the country and the almost total lack of communication among early practitioners from different areas. Also, a considerable number of American servicemen studied aikido while stationed in Japan and, on their return, taught the art in the U. S. In many cases, their activities were on a small scale and this, coupled with the fact that some have since died or abandoned their practice, has made it difficult to record their contributions.
Koichi TOHEI is considered the first to have introduced aikido to the U. S. when he traveled to Hawaii in February 1953 at the invitation of the Hawaii Nishi Kai. Tohei, at that time representing the AIKIKAI HOMBU, established numerous schools on the islands during his one-year stay. He also made a brief trip to California in May where he demonstrated aikido at an AAU-sponsored judo event in San Jose. In June of the same year, Kenji TOMIKI and a group of high-ranking judo instructors also visited the continental U. S. at the invitation of the U. S. Air Force. Some aikido techniques were shown during the seminars and demonstrations conducted on this tour. Thereafter, the Strategic Air Command sent groups of martial artists to Japan annually to study aikido, karate-do, judo, kendo, and TAIHO-JUTSU. Tohei made subsequent trips to Hawaii in 1955, 1959 and 1961, each time staying for extended periods. The 1961 trip was especially memorable because Tohei accompanied aikido founder Morihei UESHIBA on his first and only trip to Hawaii. Some of Tohei's senior Hawaiian students such as Isao TAKAHASHI, Ben Sekishiro, Tokuji Hirata, Clem Yoshida, Roderick KOBAYASHI and others relocated to California in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the Aikikai began to establish firm roots on the mainland.
As mentioned above, an early source of aikido instructors was returning servicemen who had practiced in Japan. One of these, Eugene COMBS, who had studied YOSHINKAN AIKIDO at Camp Drake near Tokyo, set up what may have been the first commercial aikido dojo in the Continental U. S. in 1956. Combs' school was located in Lawndale, California and he produced several instructors who helped pioneer Yoshinkan Aikido in Southern California. Among them were Tom CORZINE, Virgil CRANK, John Rudy Bowen and Richard TAYLOR. Crank, in turn, opened up a dojo in Lomita, California and among those who trained there were Mits Yamashita, Victor Kato, Walter Foster and Stanley PRANIN. Some of the first Japanese teachers of Yoshinkan Aikido in the U. S. were Yukio Noguchi, who was based in Hawaii from the late 1950s, and Takeshi KIMEDA, who later settled in Toronto, Canada in the mid-1960s. An early instructor of TOMIKI AIKIDO named Jack Mumpower set up a club in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1960 after having trained under Kenji TOMIKI at Waseda University.
The first full-time instructor dispatched by the Aikikai was Yoshimitsu YAMADA who arrived in New York in 1964. Yamada was and continues to be the leading figure in the Aikikai organization in the Eastern U. S. DOSHU Kisshomaru UESHIBA made his first U. S. tour in 1964 and this stimulated increased interest in the art. Yamada was followed in 1966 by Mitsunari KANAI who began instructing in Boston, Massachusetts. Another Aikikai instructor, Shuji MARUYAMA, also moved to the U. S. in 1966 and eventually settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Later in March 1972, Akira TOHEI was sent to Chicago to replace Isao Takahashi who had recently died. Tohei is the major Aikikai figure today in the Midwestern U. S.
Early Japanese teachers of Tomiki Aikido include Tatsuya Kibushi who was in New York City for two years beginning 1966, and Seiji TANAKA who opened a dojo in Denver, Colorado in 1969. Another major teacher of Tomiki Aikido, Riki KOGURE, spent about six years in Houston, Texas starting around 1970. He taught at the judo school of Karl GEIS and also trained Tony SEREDA in Chicago.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, many Aikikai-affiliated schools, particularly in the Western U. S. , were strongly influenced by Koichi Tohei. His teaching methodology, which emphasized the principle of KI, was widely adopted as a result of his extensive travels and the popularity of his books on aikido. However, a major change occurred in April 1974 when he announced his impending resignation from the headquarters dojo to become official on 1 May. Tohei called a meeting in Los Angeles with representatives from some 50 California dojos and requested that all aikido dojos declare their loyalty either to him or the Aikikai Hombu. This produced a schism among aikido practitioners in America who were forced to choose between the two sides, and the effects of this crisis lingered for many years.
Yoshinkan Aikido received a boost in 1974 with the arrival to the U. S. of Takashi KUSHIDA who settled in Michigan. He established a network of more than 50 schools centered in the Michigan-Illinois-Minnesota area known as AIKIDO YOSHINKAI ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICA. Kushida's political status has recently become unclear after the Yoshinkan Aikido Hombu Dojo severed relations with him in August 1990. This came about as a result of events concerning the creation of the INTERNATIONAL YOSHINKAI AIKIDO FEDERATION which Kushida opposed.
In 1975, one of the leading Aikikai Hombu instructors, Mitsugi SAOTOME, resigned his teaching post and moved to Florida where he taught in a private capacity. Saotome, who later relocated to Washington, D. C. , was not welcomed into the UNITED STATES AIKIDO FEDERATION and subsequently formed his own organization called AIKIDO SCHOOLS OF UESHIBA. After operating independently for many years, Saotome's organization was recognized in 1988 by the Aikikai which now registers its dan rankings. This group includes some 40 dojos at the present time.
The mid-1970s also saw the arrival in America of two leading instructors of SHINSHIN TOITSU AIKIDO who had remained loyal to Tohei after his departure from the Aikikai. Shizuo IMAIZUMI settled in New York City and Fumio TOYODA began teaching in Chicago, Illinois. Both instructors have since withdrawn from Tohei's organization. Over the years Toyoda built up a national organization called the AIKIDO ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA which claims 70 member dojos in the U. S. , Europe and Japan. Imaizumi also created his own group in 1989 called the SHIN BUDO KAI which is headquartered at his New York Ki Society dojo.
The creation of the INTERNATIONAL AIKIDO FEDERATION by the Aikikai in 1976 had strong political repercussions in the U. S. Plans to inaugurate the new worldwide organization met with some resistance and various U. S. dojos chose not to participate in the new UNITED STATES AIKIDO FEDERATION or join only provisionally. The U. S. was subsequently divided into four regions: the Eastern, Midwestern, and Western regions and Hawaii. These regional organizations were to be subordinate to the USAF, which would in turn handle communications and send rankings to Japan. Most dojos in the Western region, in particular, continued to conduct their affairs in a rather independent manner and refused to submit to central control. In the late 1970s, the AIKIDO ASSOCIATION OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA established an indirect channel to the Aikikai through Morihei SAITO for purposes of ranking. It later forged a direct link with the Aikikai as did another group of dojos in Southern California. The two independent groups combined account for some 70 schools.
Kazuo CHIBA, who had previously taught in the U. K. , relocated to San Diego, California in 1981 at the invitation of the USAF. Seiichi SUGANO joined Yamada at the New York Aikikai to share teaching duties in 1987. As recently as 1989, another Aikikai Shihan, 6th dan Ichiro SHIBATA, left his teaching post at the Aikikai Hombu to become the chief instructor of Aikido of Berkeley, in Northern California. Shibata works in close collaboration with Chiba, and the two often instruct at seminars together.
Although estimates as to the total number of aikido schools in the U. S. vary greatly, a range of 700 to 1,000 appears to be a reasonable guess. The USAF is the largest aikido organization in America with some 110 member dojos. The four regions now operate more or less autonomously. The Eastern region under Yamada and Kanai has some 73 dojos and has conducted a well-attended summer camp in New England for many years. Akira Tohei and Chiba oversee the Midwestern and Western regions, respectively, which include about 20 dojos each. Hawaii has a number of dojos connected to the Aikikai, but is unstable politically. Various other organizations such as Aikido Schools of Ueshiba and the Aikido Association of Northern California maintain independent affiliations with the Aikikai in Tokyo.
There are still many dojos in Tohei's KI SOCIETY network, although it was greatly weakened by the defections of Rod Kobayashi, Imaizumi and Toyoda. Shuji Maruyama also left Tohei's organization, but returned to Japan in the early 1980s. Yoshinkan Aikido is currently undergoing a restructuring phase due to the advent of the IYAF and the recent dismissal of Kushida. Other high-ranking Yoshinkan teachers are Yukio UTADA in Philadelphia and Masatoshi MORITA in San Francisco, Mits Yamashita and Sam Combes in Southern California. The IYAF is a loose, flatly structured organization and seems to be drawing a number of independent dojos into the fold.
Major Tomiki Aikido teachers are Seiji TANAKA in Denver, Yoji KONDO in Maryland, Nobuyoshi HIGASHI in New York City, and Bob DZIUBLA in Los Angeles. Yoseikan Aikido has a small presence primarily in Alabama and California and is under the technical direction of Patrick AUG
Famous senseis in the USA:
Yoshimitsu Yamada, a direct student of O Sensei for more than ten years, is an 8th dan and the chief instructor at the New York Aikikai. Currently, he is Chairman of the Board of the United States Aikido Federation and the Latin America Aikido Federation. He is the author of Aikido Complete and has made multiple aikido training tapes. Yamada Sensei is well known for his clear and strong basic technique. He teaches seminars all over the world where thousands of students attend his classes. Quote: "We must keep the spirit of budo no matter how we practice." Q: You were one of the earlier uchideshi at the Aikikai. What year did you start? A: When I joined as an uchideshi only Tamura Sensei and Arikawa Sensei were there. Yasuo Kobayashi was still in college. He came to the dojo every day. I entered when I was 17. I am 53 now, so it must have been 1955.
Kazuo Ciba:Professional aikido instructor. Entered the AIKIKAI HOMBU DOJO as an UCHIDESHI in February 1958. Promoted to 3rd dan in 1960. Assigned to Nagoya in 1961 to assist in the establishment of an Aikikai dojo. Received 4th dan in 1962 while an instructor at the Aikikai. Also taught at the Kokugakuin, the Self-Defense Force, Kogaku Kan and Aichi Daigakuin universities. Chiba was appointed official representative of the Aikikai for the U. K. in January 1966. He formed the Aikikai of Great Britain which received Aikikai approval that same October. Chiba's promotion to 6th dan came in 1970. Also, in that year, in an effort to unify instruction, he introduced a FUKU SHIDOIN and a SHIDOIN system where he taught his senior students a basic teaching curriculum for dissemination to their own students. Chiba, moreover, began to introduce training in the use of the JO and KEN as taught by Morihiro SAITO. His grading syllabus adopted in 1974 made aiki weapons a requisite for higher ranks. During his stay in the U.K., Chiba also invited many of his contemporary instructors in Europe to conduct seminars in the U.K. He also traveled widely to other European nations to instruct. He returned to Japan in 1976. leaving Minoru KANETSUKA as his successor. In Japan, he assumed the office of Secretary of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, International Division, and played an active role in the creation of the INTERNATIONAL AIKIDO FEDERATION. Chiba was appointed Assistant General Secretary of the IAF in 1976. He relocated to San Diego, California in 1981 at the invitation of UNITED STATES AIKIDO FEDERATION to establish the San Diego Aikikai and head the Western Region of that federation. Chiba has recently formed an international aikido federation known as the Birankai which also incorporates training in Batto-ho/Iaido. He is known for his powerful technique.
Kanai sensei:Chief Instructor of New England Aikikai, Technical Director of USAF,Born in 1938. Kanai Sensei entered the Aikikai in 1958 as an uchi deshi at Hombu Dojo. He came to the United States in 1966 and subsequently founded the New England Aikikai. He was instrumental in the early development of Aikido in the United States and Canada.
He teaught seminars widely throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. He was one of the founders and a Technical Director of both the USAF and the CAF.
Kanai Sensei passed away on March 28th, 2004.
Sugano sensei:Instructor at New York Aikikai, Technical Director for Australia and Belgium,Born in 1939. Sugano Sensei entered the Aikikai around 1957 and became an uchi deshi about one year later. He moved to Australia in 1965 to teach Aikido.
He pioneered the spread of Aikido in both Australia and New Zealand before moving to Belgium to instruct in Europe in 1979. He currently resides in the United States and teaches at New York Aikikai with Yamada Sensei.He periodically conducts Aikido seminars worldwide.
Shibata sensei:Chief Instructor of Berkeley Aikikai and Director of Dojinkai,Born in 1950, Shibata Sensei began practicing Aikido at the age of 16 and became an Aikikai uchi deshi in the early 1970's.He instructed at Hombu Dojo and at various universities prior to moving to California in 1989 to become chief instructor of Berkeley Aikikai. He has held many key techincal positions in the United States Aikido Federation. He is currently Chief Instructor of Berkeley Aikikai and Director of the Dojinkai.He regularly conducts seminars around the United States and internationally.