Koichi Tohei, Founder

KoichiTohei

Koichi Tohei (1920-2011) is the founder of Ki Society and of the Aikido style known as Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (“Aikido with mind and body unified”), more commonly known as Ki Aikido. He was the leading student and the first to receive 10th Dan under Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido. He is best known for having spread Aikido throughout the West.

As a child, Koichi Tohei was frail. At age 9 his father taught him judo to strengthen his body. He trained earnestly, acquiring a black belt by age 14, but his training was so intense that he developed a case of pleurisy and had to take a year off from his studies at Keio University.

During this time he came to the realization that he needed to strengthen not just his body but his mind. He began practising Zen and Misogi breathing at the Ichikukai dojo led by Tetsuju Ogura, whose books he had read. He recovered from his pleurisy, and became convinced that the strong cultivation of ki had brought about his healing.

Tohei Sensei decided to seek an alternative to judo, and in 1940, upon his teacher’s recommendation, he was introduced to Morihei Ueshiba and was accepted as his student. Shortly after having begun military training, he was promoted to 5th dan.

Two years after graduating from Keio University, Koichi Tohei led a platoon into occupied China. During his four years there, he practised daily intensive ki breathing, which allowed him to maintain calm on the battlefield. He noticed that when he was unable to calm his breath, it was because the enemy was hidden nearby. As a result of his vigilance, no member of his platoon was killed or injured during the war.

It was during this time that he began to develop Ki principles: placing the mind in the one point in the lower abdomen, relaxing completely, and extending ki. After the war, Koichi Tohei continued practising Zen, Misogi and Aikido. He also became a disciple of master Tempu Nakamura, a founder of Japanese yoga, whose art of Shinshin toitsu do was based on the principle that “mind moves the body”. This principle became a central tenet of his Aikido teaching.

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In 1953, Tohei Sensei, who was Chief Instructor at the Aikikai and had already trained many now-famous Shihan, began introducing Aikido outside of Japan. He traveled first to Hawaii, then to the continental US and Europe, establishing a large network of dojos. He traveled extensively and, starting in the 1960s, published books on Aikido. He soon succeeded in spreading Aikido throughout the West – in cities, universities, business and sports organizations.

In 1969, Morihei Ueshiba awarded 10th dan to Tohei Sensei – the only time a Ueshiba student has received such a rank with official approval. That same year, Ueshiba fell ill and died. Though some saw Tohei as a successor, Ueshiba’s son was eventually named as Doshu. Due to subsequent differences in pedagogical approach, Tohei Sensei initally agreed to keep Ki development separate from his duties as Chief Instructor, and in 1971 he created the Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Society), which taught Ki principles independently of Aikido. In 1974, Tohei Sensei resigned from Aikikai to establish Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, incorporating Ki principles directly into the practise of Aikido. Several dojos followed Tohei Sensei and were consolidated into Ki Society, which has been active worldwide ever since.

In 1990 the General Headquarters of Ki Society were built in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. After Tohei Sensei’s death in 2011, Ki Society was placed under the leadership of his son, Shinichi Tohei.

Further reading: What is AikidoKi Society

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