Aikido in the Postwar Years: 1946-1956
By Stanley Pranin
Although the term "aikido" was first adopted in 1942, the
growth of the art did not pick up momentum in Japan until the late 1950s.
Not surprisingly, the devastating effects of World War II created a set
of adverse circumstances that limited the art's early development. Together
with the economic and physical debilitation of Japan, there existed a
strong negative bias toward anything connected with the prewar militaristic
apparatus and mentality. As such, the martial arts that had been held
in high esteem and which were an institutionalized part of the education
system, fell into disrepute.
Since only a relatively small percentage of aikido practitioners have
more than a vague acquaintance with the origins of the art, there are
a number of common misconceptions about how aikido attained its current
status as one of Japan's modern budo. The most glaring misunderstanding
is the idea that the founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was the driving force
behind the postwar spread of aikido. This is far from true. Rather, his
role can more accurately be described as inspirational in terms of his
impact on early practitioners. In reality, it is the technical and pedagogicial
approaches of other key figures such as Koichi Tohei and Kisshomaru Ueshiba
--the founder's son-- within the Aikikai, and Gozo Shioda of Yoshinkan
Aikido (an early student of aikido), that became the de facto standards.
Even today, the training methods adopted by the majority of aikido organizations
and independent schools can be traced back to these figures.
In this article I will attempt to describe the first challenging years
of aikido in postwar Japan, the principal figures whose thinking and
actions shaped the early development of the art, and the confluence of
circumstances that allowed aikido to gain momentum in Japan and flourish
Status of aikido at war's end
It is generally known that the Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP)
banned the practice of martial arts in 1945. Actually, this ban was directed
primarily at educational institutions and also included the dissolution
of the Dai Nippon Butokukai, the umbrella organization for martial arts
that oversaw the practice of martial arts in wartime Japan. There was
some confusion over what specifically was banned and what was permitted.
However, the net effect was that few practiced the martial arts openly
for fear of reprisal by the occupying forces. Besides, given the general
economic plight, martial arts training was a luxury that few could afford.
Founder flanked by Koichi Tohei
and Gozo Shioda and many prewar and early postwar students and
In light of the above, conditions in the old Wakamatsu-cho dojo of Morihei
Ueshiba after the war were not at all conducive to the practice of aikido.
The dojo--formerly known as the Kobukan in the prewar years--was one
of the few buildings left standing in this bombed-out neighborhood of
Shinjuku ward, a densely populated district of Tokyo. The dojo itself
was in a state of disrepair. Only part of the dojo had tatami mats and
they were badly worn. Beginners had to train on the wooden floor. Several
displaced families were sharing a section of the dojo and the smells
of cooking often permeated the dojo. At one point, dances were even held
in the dojo with the tokonoma serving as the bandstand. It was primarily
students of Waseda and Takushoku Universities--alma maters of Kisshomaru
and Gozo Shioda, respectively--that tended the premises in the absence
of Kisshomaru who was in charge of the dojo. There was no regular training
schedule and sometimes no one would show up to practice.
Founder Morihei Ueshiba,
Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei, for his part, had been living in Iwama (a
small country village in farming country north-east of Tokyo) since 1942
with his wife Hatsu while engaged in farming, meditation, and instructing
a few local students. He seldom ventured down to Tokyo and was not involved
in teaching or the operation of the Hombu Dojo.
Administratively speaking, the headquarters had been relocated to Iwama
from Tokyo. In fact, the Zaidan Hojin Aikikai was incorporated in Mito,
Ibaragi Prefecture in 1948. Having official recognition was an important
first step to later being able to offer aikido training to the general
public. The headquarters remained in Iwama until about 1955 when Kisshomaru
finally was able to stop working to devote full time to the dojo.
Kisshomaru Ueshiba Ueshiba, c.
The role of the Second Doshu (hereditary grand master), Kisshomaru Ueshiba,
as the focal point of the growth of postwar aikido is poorly understood.
This is due in large part to the fact that Kisshomaru's personality and
aikido technique were rather reserved compared to charismatic figures
such as the founder, Koichi Tohei, and Gozo Shioda.
Kisshomaru assumed leadership of the Kobukan Dojo in 1942 while still
a student at Waseda University. The founder (his father) had retired
to Iwama this same year at a time when operation of the dojo became very
difficult due to the negative progression of the war and, especially,
the fire bombing of Tokyo.
After spending the first years following the war in Iwama with his parents,
Kisshomaru took a position with Osaka Shoji, a securities firm, in Tokyo
in 1949. That same year he began conducting a limited training schedule
at the Hombu Dojo although attendance was sparse. It was also around
this time that the prohibition against the practice of martial arts was
lifted by the Occupation Forces.
A quiet, soft-spoken man, Kisshomaru was assisted by a coterie of advisors,
most of whom had been associated with the Ueshibas since before the war.
Morihei Ueshiba had gathered around him a group of individuals from military,
political, business, and intellectual circles that facilitated his success
as a professional martial arts instructor early in his career. Among
these patrons and supporters who continued to assist Kisshomaru after
the war were names such as Kin'ya Fujita and Kenji Tomita, originally
members of the board of directors of the Kobukai Foundation. In addition
there were were Seiichi Seko, Kisaburo Osawa and Shigenobu Okumura, the
latter two senior practitioners who began practice during the war.
Revival of training
Saburo Osawa, c. 1955
Most of the top students of Morihei Ueshiba from the prewar era had
entered the military by the late 1930s thus cutting short their training
careers. After the war, only a few resumed training while others maintained
a social connection with the Ueshiba family. Some of the prewar students
who did filter back to the Hombu Dojo were Kenji Tomiki, Gozo Shioda,
Koichi Tohei, and Osawa and Okumura mentioned above. These senior students
were joined by a number of young men who took up practice in the late
1940s and early 1950s. The list includes such well-known names as Morihiro
Saito, Sadateru Arikawa, Hiroshi Tada, Seigo Yamaguchi, Shoji Nishio,
and Nobuyoshi Tamura. Many will be surprised to learn that names normally
associated with Gozo Shioda and Yoshinkan Aikido such as Kiyoyuki Terada,
Shigeho Tanaka, and Tadataka Matsuo also joined the Aikikai around this
time. This was before the separation of the Yoshinkan from the Aikikai.
Koichi Tohei: "Giri no onisan, big brother-in-law"
Tohei, c. 1953
This would be an apropos moment to mention the role of Koichi Tohei
in the early spread of aikido. It is a delicate task to discuss his contributions
within the context of the Aikikai organization. Tohei's departure from
the Aikikai under unpleasant circumstances in 1974 has resulted in his
dominant role becoming minimized in the subsequent publications of the
Aikikai. For his part, Tohei has downplayed the influence of Morihei
Ueshiba in his formative years and portrayed his involvement in the Aikikai
in a negative light in his later publications and interviews.
The eventual outcome of Kisshomaru and Tohei going their separate ways
was certainly not what was envisioned starting in the late 1940s when
their relationship was extremely close based on their mutual love for
aikido and the blood tie between the two as a consequence of their marriage
After an unsuccessful attempt at a business venture in his native Tochigi
Prefecture, Tohei made his first trip to Hawaii in 1953 at the invitation
of the Hawaii Nishi Kai and remained for one year. Already an 8th dan
at the tender age of 32, Tohei established his reputation as a top-level
martial artist and made a name for aikido that reverberated back to Japan.
The Hombu Dojo was in a state of disrepair in the early 1950s and Tohei
sent back money from Hawaii to make much needed repairs and acquire new
tatami mats. After his initial visit, Tohei made regular, extended trips
to Hawaii and later the continental United States where he strengthened
his reputation as aikido's top teacher. Tohei's success brought him fame
not only internationally, but also gave him a special standing within
the Aikikai. Many of the young uchi deshi (a live-in student and direct
discple) and regular students attended Tohei's classes, and followed
his example by practicing misogi (ritual purification) breathing at the
Ichikukai and joining the Tempukai, a self-development association, created
by Tempu Nakamura.
Tohei was made Shihan Bucho (Head of the Instructors' Staff) at the
Hombu Dojo in 1956 and his teaching methodology influenced several of
the junior level instructors in particular. Certain of the more senior
instructors eschewed Tohei's methods and continued to teach in their
own manner. This would eventually become a point of contention.
At this point in time, Kisshomaru and Tohei were still on good terms.
Bonded together by marriage, it seemed as though the future of aikido
was assured with Kisshomaru as "Doshu" functioning as the titular
and administrative head of the Aikikai, and Tohei overseeing the instruction
and development of the art.
Gozo Shioda and the Yoshinkan
Shioda demonstrates throw, c. 1955
Many who have been brought up within the Aikikai system consider Yoshinkan
Aikido as a "poorer cousin" because of its lesser status in
numerical terms compared with the Aikikai organization. What is overlooked
is the fact that it was Gozo Shioda and his close associates who took
the lead in reviving aikido after the war.
Shioda was one of the founder's early students who enrolled at the Kobukan
Dojo in 1932. He spent eight years studying prewar "aiki budo" before
becoming involved in the war in a civilian capacity while spending most
of these years in Southeast Asia and China. In the fall of 1946, a few
months after his discharge from the imperial army, Shioda spent several
weeks of intensive training and farming at the home of Ueshiba in Iwama.
Still a young man and with his teacher in retirement, Shioda then returned
to Tokyo and like most others struggled to make ends meet in poverty-stricken
In 1950, as fate would have it, Shioda was asked to guard the Tsurumi
facility of the Nihon Kokan steel company in the wake of the "Red
Purge." This refers to an anti-Communist movement led by General
MacArthur to stifle the influence of the powerful Japanese trade unions
in which about 11,000 union activists in government and industry were
dismissed. Shioda gathered together some 55 of the strongest members
of the kendo, judo and sumo clubs of his alma mater, Takushoku University,
to serve as a security force. This led to him being asked to teach aikido
on a regular basis at various plant locations starting in 1952. Shioda
also gave demonstrations at numerous police departments in the early
In 1954, Shioda participated in a large aikido demonstration held in
Tokyo sponsored by the Life Extension Association that was attended by
some 15,000 persons. Morihei Ueshiba was scheduled to appear in this
demonstration, but was unable to attend due to illness and instead Koichi
Tohei represented the Aikikai.
Shioda's performance received a favorable reception from the huge audience
and little by little the nascent Yoshinkan group began to achieve prominence.
Also, around this time, Shioda's activities became known to various members
of the business world. In particular, a certain Shoshiro Kudo who headed
the Tomin Bank came to the aid of the Yoshinkan and backed the construction
of a dojo. The Tsukudo Hachiman facility was opened to the general public
It is quite revealing to look at group photos from the early to mid-1950s
and see faces associated with other aikido organizations appearing alongside
Aikikai instructors. For example, Shioda, and such senior Yoshinkan students
as Terada, Tanaka, and Matsuo mentioned above can be seen together with
Kisshomaru, Tohei, Saito, Arikawa, Tada, Yamaguchi, Nishio et al from
Since the Yoshinkan Aikido organization did not come into being until
1955, prior to this time active practitioners of aikido formed a loose
brotherhood where virtually no organizational distinction existed. As
circumstances would have it, Shioda was able to build his core group
and achieve financial backing at a time when the Aikikai was taking its
first tentative steps.
After the establishment of the Yoshinkan, the Aikikai remained very
conscious of its progress. In fact, it could be said that somewhat of
a "friendly rivalry" existed. As an example, the Aikikai even
adopted the practice of accelerating dan promotions in an effort to match
the ranking levels of Shioda's instructors. In fact, in this age of "dan
inflation" several well-known Aikikai instructors skipped dan rankings
in order to achieve a par with the Yoshinkan. By this method, high-ranking
instructors could be produced on short order to make it easier to spread
the art. Morihiro Saito Sensei once told me that he skipped two dan ranking
levels during the 1950s.
Early uchi deshi and "commuter" students (kayoi deshi)
The uchideshi system at the Aikikai that produced many of the famous
teachers of modern aikido both in Japan and abroad did not achieve full
swing until the late 1950s. Before that, arrangements were very informal
and not everyone who stayed in the dojo was there to practice aikido
seriously. Those who came and went while sharing a communal life with
Kisshomaru and his family were just as likely to be university students
attending college or young men seeking work in Tokyo looking for a temporary
place to stay. The common bond among them was usually some prior connection
of their families with the Ueshibas or someone at the dojo.
Nobuyoshi Tamura, c. 1957
One standout uchi deshi who enrolled about 1952 was Nobuyoshi Tamura
who went on to become a famous aikido instructor in France. Tamura entered
the dojo through a connection with Seigo Yamaguchi and lived with the
Ueshiba family for more than ten years. He was the most senior of the
uchideshi from the 1950s and is still active in Marseille, France.
Another early "commuter student" who entered in 1954 was Yasuo
Kobayashi. He too went on to become a prominent figure establishing the
Kobayashi Dojo network of schools in Japan and abroad. Masamichi Noro
became an uchi deshi in 1955 and also went to France at an early age.
Today he teaches "Ki no Michi" in Paris.
Andre Nocquet in Tokyo,
A young French judoka named Andre Nocquet spent the years from 1955-57
as an uchi deshi sharing life with the Ueshiba family at the Aikikai
Hombu Dojo. Nocquet was well connected in diplomatic circles and arranged
for numerous foreign dignitaries to come to the Aikikai dojo to witness
demonstrations. He returned to France and active spread aikido in Europe
until his passing in 1989.
The roster of so-called "commuter" students of the Aikikai
contains a long list of important names several of whom are still active.
Keep in mind that the Aikikai was not setup to accommodate many live-in
students in the late 1940s through early 1950s given its limited resources
and the still small interest in the fledgling art. A partial list in
approximate order of seniority includes key figures such as Sadateru
Arikawa, Hiroshi Tada, Seigo Yamaguchi, Shoji Nishio, Fukiko Sunadomari?
who also lived at times in the dojo--, Yoshio Kuroiwa, Masando Sasaki,
Masatake Fujita, and Akira Tohei among others who joined from the late
1940s to about 1957.
The Founder ventures out from Iwama
Morihei Ueshiba had spent some 13 years in voluntary isolation in the
town of Iwama in Ibaragi Prefecture. About 1955 when conditions at the
Aikikai dojo stabilized, Morihei started dividing his time between Iwama
and Tokyo. The founder also began traveling more and more especially,
to Osaka and Shingu in Wakayama Prefecture. He was not, however, heavily
involved in management and organizational matters at the Aikikai. It
certainly can be said that he had a strong impact on the uchi deshi and
students of the Hombu Dojo, but he was not the type of person who would
follow a set teaching schedule and no one knew from one day to the next
when he would appear at the dojo.
Kenji Tomiki and Minoru Mochizuki
Kenji Tomiki at Waseda University
Two other well-known names outside the Aikikai organization who were
associated with Morihei Ueshiba from before World War II are Kenji Tomiki
and Minoru Mochizuki. Tomiki was the senior of the two and reestablished
connection with the Aikikai following his repatriation to Japan in 1948.
Tomiki joined the staff of Waseda University, his alma mater, and taught
judo and aikido. He took charge of the Waseda Judo Club starting in 1951
and also continued research on aikido techniques. During the 1950s, Tomiki
at times taught classes at the Aikikai and was part of the loose-knit
group of senior students of the elder Ueshiba who worked at promoting
the art in the early postwar period. His falling out with the Aikikai
occurred around 1958 when he introduced a system of competitive aikido
at the urging of the administration of Waseda University.
Minoru Mochizuki was a talented student of Morihei Ueshiba who began
practice in 1930. Although his training days as an uchi deshi under the
founder were brief, he maintained an association with the founder until
the latter's death in 1969. Mochizuki is known as the first person to
teach aikido abroad when he traveled to France in 1951 as a judo instructor.
Based in Shizuoka City, Mochizuki kept his ties with the Ueshiba family
and would participate in social functions of the Aikikai over the years.
As a senior student from the prewar era, Mochizuki would sometimes be
consulted by Kisshomaru as his opinion was respected.
Noriaki Inoue active as independent
Noriaki (Yoichiro) Inoue, the
Founder's nephew, c. 1946
It should also be mentioned that Noriaki Inoue (born Yoichiro), Morihei
Ueshiba's nephew then known as "Hoken," was active in Tokyo
teaching at the Tachikawa Air Base just prior to the outbreak of the
Korean War. He later taught in Yoyogi Shinmachi. Although not documented,
it seems that Inoue was using the name "aiki budo" at this
time. His art would later come to be called Shinwa Taido and finally
Shin'ei Taido. Inoue remained independent of the Aikikai and had minimal
contact over the years until his death in 1994.
American GIs in Japan
Although attention is seldom drawn to the fact, the presence of members
of the occupation forces who studied aikido in the years after the war
was yet another factor in the steady growth of the art. To have members
of a foreign conquering army as students learning a Japanese martial
art was certainly a confidence builder for the young aikido organizations.
The Yoshinkan especially counted a number of American soldiers among
its ranks. Several of these including men such as Thomas Makiyama and
Eugene Combs were among the early students to spread aikido in the U.S.
Turning point: Demonstration at Takashimaya Department Store
In September 1956, the Aikikai held a five-day demonstration on the
rooftop of the Takashimaya Department Store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, the
first of its kind after the war. Up until that time, demonstrations were
limited to lecture presentations given by the Founder or guest performances
at formal martial arts exhibitions only when he consented to participate.
This is the first time senior Aikikai instructors were allowed to demonstrate
alongside the founder. From this time forward, frequent public demonstrations
were conducted. Around 1960, regular yearly demonstrations were held
first at the Yamano Hall, and then the Hibiya Kokkaido, and later at
the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo starting in 1977.
From this point onward, the growth of aikido began to steadily accelerate.
A major factor in this regard was the publication of the first books
on aikido. Part two will pick up the thread from that point forward.
About the Author:
Stanley Pranin: (b. 24 July 1945) is a 5th dan in aikido (Aikikai).
He is a well known teacher, author and editor on the subject of aikido
and founder of the well known and respectedc website AikidoJournal.com.
Pranin has an M. A. in Spanish from University of California at Los Angeles
i(1968). He is also fluent in Japanese. He began his training in YOSHINKAN
AIKIDO under Virgil CRANK in August 1962 in Lomita, California. Later
began AIKIKAI HOMBU-style under Isao TAKAHASHI. He was promoted to 1st
dan in August 1965, 2nd dan in 1967, 3rd dan in 1973, 4th dan in 1976,
and 5th dan in 1983. Taught aikido in various locations in Northern and
Southern California from 1965-1977. He is the founder and editor of AIKI
NEWS, established 1974. He represented Northern California at inaugural
INTERNATIONAL AIKIDO FEDERATION Congress held in Tokyo in 1976. In August
1977 he relocated to Japan in where he published Aiki News and later
Aikido Journal, the latter now an online publication. Pranin is Editor
of the book “Aikido Masters” and is author of “Encyclopedia
of Aikido.” He is also the author of numerous articles, interviews
and editorials on aikido, daito-ryu aikijujutsu and related subjects.
Currently he operates the Aikido Journal website and is President of
Aiki News publishing company in Sagamihara, Japan.