Koichi Tohei, Part 1

Editors Note: This is the first in a three part series written by Pietro Ignacio, one of our students.  Pietro has a black belt awarded by the Ki Society.

Early Years


Koichi Tohei was born in 1920. He graduated from the Economics Department of Keiko Univeristy where he was heavily involved in Judo. There, he injured his chest during practice which caused him to suffer from pleurisy and made his breathing difficult. Doctors told him he would never  be able to exert himself ever again.

In order to regain his strength and health, he engaged in Zen meditation and Misogi breathing. Tohei enrolled himself in the Ichikukai at the Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto.

After regaining his health, he returned to practice Judo but realized that after his Zen and Misogi training, he was no longer satisfied with just studying body movements without focusing on the movement of the mind.

Finding Aikido

In 1939, after slowly withdrawing from Judo, a senior Judo student gave Tohei a letter of introduction to Master Morihei Ueshiba.  Tohei took the letter to Shinjuku where Ueshiba’s school, (then called Aiki Budo), was located.  When he met Ueshiba, Tohei had several years of Judo under his belt and Ueshiba invited him to attack with all his might. He was thrown effortlessly.  According to Tohei himself, he could not feel any force being applied to any part of his body so he could not even think of a defense. He just found himself on the ground with no idea how he had been thrown.  From that point on, he became a student of Ueshiba.

After only six months of studying Aiki Budo, Tohei began to accompany Ueshiba in his teaching trips.  Sometimes, Ueshiba himself would ask Tohei to teach in his behalf.  At this time, although Tohei had a black belt in Judo, he had no rank in Aiki Budo. Nonetheless, and by request of Ueshiba himself, Tohei was already teaching people with 3rd or 4th dan rank in Aiki Budo.

War Interruption

In 1942, Tohei was conscripted into the army and was later shipped out to China.  His first taste of combat was being ambushed at night.  During this experience, Tohei felt ashamed to have been so scared that he immediately fell back into his practice of Zen.  It was at this moment in his life that he learned to concentrate on his one point and relax completely by surrendering in his belief that the Universe makes it’s own decisions on whether we live or die.

During the war, Tohei also learned to perform Aikiatsu and how to extend his Ki.

At the end of the war, Tohei returned to Japan and began farming.

Resuming Training

At the time of Toehi’s return to Japan, Ueshiba was also farming in Iwama where he also had a dojo.  Tohei visited him there and subsequently resumed his Aiki Budo training.  Tohei noted that at this time, Ueshiba’s techniqies had changed and matured.  Ueshiba could perform techniques that none of his students could.  It should be noted that during this time, when students practiced, they all resisted each other.

While resuming his training with Ueshiba, Tohei was introduced to Tempu Nakamura who was teaching Shinshin Toitsu Do or Unification of Mind and Body at the Gokokuji Temple.

It was during this study under Tempu Nakamura that Tohei first realized that “the mind moves the body”  Tohei started to re-examine O-Sensei’s techniques and realized that he was first leading his partner’s minds then throwing his body so the opponent could never resist.

Tohei realized that they have all been trying to move their bodies without leading the mind. From that moment on, no one in the dojo could throw Tohei except O-Sensei himself. This was to become the cornerstone of Tohei’s study and understanding of Aiki Budo.

Subsequently, Tohei was appointed Shihan Bucho or Chief Instructor and Master General of Aikikai by Morihei Ueshiba.

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