One of Aikido’s Great Masters!
By Emil Farkas

When I first began researching the various martial arts for what was later to become my book The Martial Arts Encyclopedia, I had the honor of befriending Mel Bruno, one of the pioneers of judo in America, and one of the premier experts in the world on hand-to-hand combat. Mel Bruno at the time was a 7th dan in judo and was the head of the Strategic Air Command’s (SAC)
hand-to-hand combative training program during the 1950s.

It was at his prompting that SAC sent a group of airmen to Japan, where they were to receive instruction in the various martial arts from some of Japan’s leading sensei. I remember asking him one day, who among all those top judo, karate, aikido and ju-jutsu masters impressed him the most. Without hesitating he responded, “Tomiki Sensei was the most impressive. He was a top judo and aikido sensei, and he could take our strongest airman and twist him around his finger.”

When I asked him what made Tomiki Sensei so much more impressive then Nishiyama or Nakayama Sensei he only smiled. “Watching these great karate masters in action was impressive. Their kicks and punches were powerful, but it looked a lot like boxing with kicks; However, to see Tomiki Sensei take a 210-pound soldier’s wrist and twirl him around like a puppet was really
impressive. None of the airmen could believe how effortlessly he could control them. He really was a true master.

Kenji Tomiki was born in March 1900 in Akita Prefecture. At age ten he began studying judo and when he entered Waseda University he became the captain of its famous judo team. He became an uchi-deshi (live-in student) of Jigoro Kano and eventually reached the coveted rank of 9th dan in judo. In 1926 Kano Sensei met Morihei Ueshiba and was so impressed by Ueshiba’s skill that he urged Tomiki to study under Ueshiba and learn this new skill that wasn’t
even named yet. Tomiki Sensei went willingly and within a decade became Ueshiba’s best pupil. He was the first person to be awarded the menkyo kaiden (teaching credential) from Ueshiba. When Aikido embraced the dan system, Tomiki became an 8th dan.

In the 1930s, Tomiki Sensei became a professor of calligraphy at Kongoku University in Manchuria and while there he became the University’s judo coach. In l954 he became the head of the Physical Education department at Waseda University in Tokyo and was put in charge of the University’s prestigious judo club. While teaching judo, Tomiki also began an aikido program, but it wasn’t until 1958 that the University was willing to formally recognize an aikido club. This recognition came only under the conditions that some method of competition be included within the aikido program.

When Tomiki Sensei began to formulate this new concept within aikido, the traditional aikido community began to shun him, claiming that he was not adhering to the path set forth by Master Ueshiba. Tomiki Sensei, on the other hand, felt that aikido like judo should have a randori or free practice, and like judo players, aikido students should be able to compete with each other within the guidelines of rules that made the sport safe from injury. He began formulating this new aikido style and today this system, known as Shodokan Aikido (AKA Tomiki Aikido), is one of the most widely practiced in the world. Eventually Tomiki Sensei developed 17 techniques that could be used in randori and became the first aikido Sensei to establish a method of competition. Tomiki’s concept was so successful, that by 1970 the first All-Japan University Aikido Championships were held in Tokyo’s Okubo Sports Center.

There are three main types of aikido competition. They are individual randori competition (aiki randori ho), in which contestants try to defeat an attacker either hand-to-hand (toshu randori) or against a rubber tanto or dagger (tano randori); embu competition in which two competitors acting as a pair, perform a kata and then are scored against other contestants also performing the kata; and mixed team competition, which combines randori and embu.

Although Tomiki Sensei passed away on December 25, 1979, his legacy is carried on by the thousands of followers who now study Shodokan Aikido worldwide. His organization, the All Japan Aikido Association (Zen Nihon Aikido Kyokai), continues to spread Tomiki Sensei’s philosophy of mushin mugamae, in which the mind becomes so focused that it is undisturbed by external effects of any kind, which makes possible the performance of skillful technique without a conscious effort.

Emil Farkas is an internationally recognized martial arts expert and a leading writer on the martial arts. He is the chief instructor of the
Beverly Hills Karate Academy and is the author of the world famous Martial Arts Encyclopedia. He can be reached at

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