Historical photo: Koichi Tohei, 10th dan, escapes from bear hug of huge American soldier by Stanley Pranin

“Koichi Tohei was the only person to be officially awarded
the 10th dan by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.”

This is a rare photo of Koichi Tohei Sensei, 10th dan, teaching a group of military personnel in Hawaii. Here he seems perfectly at ease even while a large American applies a powerful bear hug from behind. Tohei Sensei had an uncanny ability to easily escape from such holds by maintaining his center and a perfectly relaxed state. No doubt he won over a number of converts among the military through his convincing demonstrations.

Tohei Sensei is credited with being the first to introduce aikido to Hawaii in 1953. Subsequently, he made many trips to the islands solidifying a large group of dojos and developing many instructors. Several of the senior Hawaii instructors relocated to California and helped with the early spread of the art on the west coast of the USA.

Koichi Tohei was the only person to be officially awarded the 10th dan by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Moreover, he was the “shihan bucho” or chief instructor of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for many years until his resignation from the Aikikai in May 1974.

Tohei Sensei was by far the most recognizable aikido teacher in the west mainly as a result of his extensive travels and publications on aikido and ki, which were also translated into several European languages.

Following his departure from the Aikikai, Tohei operated the Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Society) with centers in Tokyo and Tochigi Preferecture, and branch schools in many foreign countries for many years. Aikidoka the world over were reminded of Tohei Sensei’s huge contributions to the early growth and spread of aikido following his passing in May 2011 at the ripe old age of 91.


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