The history and development of Professor Kenji Tomiki’s system of Aikido is fascinating. We have included several writings (in PDF format) by Sensei Kenji Tomiki regarding budo development in Japan in regards to Aikido, Judo, and Jujutsu. Seiji Tanaka wrote an article about his memories of Tomiki Sensei at Waseda University in Japan.
Kenji Tomiki was born on the 15th of March, 1900 in Akita Prefecture. His first martial arts training began at the age of 6, when he took up a bokken, and soon after began studying kendo. At the age of 10, he began his training in Judo. His skills and dedication to training were such that, after being the captain of the Judo Team at Waseda University in Tokyo, he became an uchi-deshi (live-in student) of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. It was through his association with Kano that Tomiki Sensei came to be acquainted with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido.
In 1926, Ueshiba Sensei arrived in Tokyo, and asked to meet with Kano Sensei, that Kano might be shown the new art form that Ueshiba was developing (and which he would a decade later christen “Aikido.”) Kano was much impressed by both Ueshiba himself, and by the system of budo that he was formalizing. In fact, he was so impressed that he offered his top Judo student to Ueshiba, urging Ueshiba to take that top Judo student under his wing and teach him the new art form. That top Judo student was Kenji Tomiki.
Tomiki Sensei went along quite willingly, as it was clear that Ueshiba had much knowledge to impart. Tomiki Sensei studied under Ueshiba’s personal direction for over a decade, and was such a diligent student that he was the first deshi to whom Ueshiba ever awarded a Menkyo, the much sought after teaching credential of the promotion systems of old style Japanese martial arts. It is roughly equivalent to an 8th degree black belt. (In later years, when Aikikai Aikido, Ueshiba’s style, went to a dan system, all old menkyo certificates were recognized as 8th Dan under the dan system.)
In the 30′s, Tomiki Sensei was awarded a Professorship at Kengoku University, which the occupying Japanese government had set up in Manchuria. Though it is little known outside the martial arts community, Tomiki Sensei was a famous calligrapher. To this day, his brushworks are much sought after by collectors. Knowing that, one will be less surprised to discover that Tomiki was in Manchuria not a Professor of Budo or Judo or Athletics, but of Calligraphy. He did, however, volunteer himself as the university’s Judo instructor, and made Aiki practice and principles mandatory for all of his students.
Tomiki Sensei taught in Manchuria for the better part of a decade and Ueshiba Sensei made the trip out to Manchuria to see him (Actually, if you can get hold of a good biography of Ueshiba, you will find that this trip to Manchuria was very eventful for the old teacher). In the picture, a vigorous, mustachioed Ueshiba is seated next to the wiry and laconic Tomiki. Standing behind Ueshiba is Ohba Sensei, a lifelong friend of Tomiki.
As the Japanese army suffered defeats throughout the Pacific theater, no thought was made of abandoning Manchuria to Sun Yat Sen’s nationalists. This was because a large chunk of the natural resources used in Japan’s war efforts came from the mines of Manchuria. Consequently, when Japan surrendered in August of 1945, the entire population of Japanese nationals that had been in the area during the occupation and during the war remained.
After the war, as many as two million Japanese were to return to the home islands from the defeated Empire. Most were able to return within a a year or two. Tomiki, however, was not. For the area of Manchuria in which he taught was taken over not by the Republican forces of Sun Yat Sen, but by Stalin’s Red Army. Being a University Professor at a school run by the Japanese, he was condemned and thrown into solitary confinement for three years.
This did not break his spirit, however. He spent the time drawing calligraphy on the dirt floor of his cell and in pondering over the martial arts that he had studied all his life. And, he kept in shape. The unsoku footwork exercises familiar to any student of Tomiki Aikido today were developed by Tomiki Sensei in his cell. As you will well notice, the unsoku can be done in a very confined space. You can imagine that he did it many times before his release in 1948.
Upon returning to Japan, Tomiki Sensei was awarded a coveted Professorship (in Calligraphy) at his alma mater, Waseda University. In addition to teaching Judo at the Kodokan (the world headquarters of Judo), he became the instructor of the Waseda Judo Club, of which he had been the captain nearly thirty years prior. Despite all his time spent teaching Judo, however, his ardor for Aikido was not diminished. During his time in confinement, he had conceived of a synthesis of sorts between Judo and Aikido. It was a synthesis whose development would occupy much of the next thirty years.
Tomiki’s basic intent was to apply the training methodology of Judo to Aikido. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo had invented his art as a peaceful way of practicing and passing on to successive generations of modern Japanese youth that which was best in its military tradition of Budo. Thus, in creating Judo (“the Gentle Way”), Kano had cut out vicious Jujitsu techniques that could not safely be done, and had created a safe, competitive sport, a sport that could, with daily practice, help the student to hone his character through discipline, exertion, and struggle.
Kano also rationalized old-style Jujitsu. Teachers were human. And what was practiced was what actually worked, not just what some revered soke said would work. Further, kata and randori were combined in his system to support and enhance and reinforce each other. To this end, the number of techniques was limited, and emphasis was placed on doing a few well, rather than knowing many techniques in theory but not being able to execute them in practice. Tomiki sought to perform the same rationalization for Aikido that Kano had performed for Judo.
So, taking the best students from his Waseda University Judo Club, he worked out over the course of a decade the basics of what has come to be the Tomiki Aikido curricula. He settled upon the basic 17 techniques, developed practice exercises like the Nana-hon Nage Kuzushi Waza, and created a set of randori rules and conventions such that students could practice full speed and full power without hurting each other; this is of course similar to Judo’s rules and conventions. (And he also, of course, passed on the unsoku of his captive days.)
By the early 60′s, Tomiki’s project was well on its way. He had started the first Aikido Kyogi (Competition Aikido) Club at Waseda in 1958. By 1964, there were enough colleges practicing competitive Aikido that tournaments could be held among the universities in the Tokyo area, and the sport grew so fast that by 1970 the first All Japan University Student Aikido Championship could be held. The first students in that first Aikido Kyogi Club in 1958 included the former (1999) Prime Minister of Japan, Sensei Obuchi. He and others of that first club’s members are now most gratified to see that the annual Collegiate Tournament in Japan draws competitors from scores of schools, and that the most recent World Tournament drew teams from 14 nations, many of them taught by members of that first class who have since settled abroad and set up dojos.
Tomiki Sensei died on Christmas Day, 1979. He passed away an 8th Dan in Aikikai (he never awarded himself any Aikido ranking) and an 8th Dan in Judo.