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Background on Kenji Tomiki Sensei

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #43 (December 1981)

The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of James Day.

Until his death in 1979, Kenji Tomiki Sensei was one of the most articulate and respected spokesman for martial arts in Japan. A professor of physical education at Waseda University for many years, he developed a competitive system of aikido based on a point system where one opponent attacks the other with a rubber knife with the other defending. The two then reverse roles and points are totaled and a winner determined.

As will become clear from reading this interview, Tomiki Sensei’s first love was actually judo and he had great respect for judo founder, Mr. Jigoro Kano. Deeply influenced by Kano Sensei’s work in the reorganization of various traditional jujutsu forms into a competitive sport that became known as judo, Tomiki Sensei launched a similar attempt with aikido techniques during the 1950’s.

The response to his efforts in many aikido circles were very mixed. Many, including O-Sensei himself, did not approve of his activities and were set against aikido ever becoming a sport and, moreover, felt that competition was the very “antithesis” of the art. I have spoken with Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba on a number of occasions and whenever Professor Tomiki’s name is mentioned there is a quite obvious emotional response even to this day.

I personally find Tomiki Sensei’s arguments quite intriguing and, if you accept his premisses, his process of reasoning appears quite sound. Ironically enough, Tomiki, like O-Sensei saw the budo of old as being cruel and overwhelmingly concerned with fighting and victory. This characteristic was naturally related to the historical function of martial arts as instruments of warfare. While O-Sensei developed an approach based on harmony of movement and a non-fighting mind, Professor Tomiki felt the answer lay in channeling the aggressive energies stirred by martial training into sports. This led to stressing the ideals of sportsmanship, friendly competition and an emphasis on pedagogical approach. Tomiki was also very concerned with the systemization of technique, the adoption of standard nomenclature and teaching method—in short, the modernization of the art. Therein, perhaps, lies his greatest contribution to aikido.

Professor Tomiki was very knowledgeable in the history of Japanese martial arts as well as Japanese cultural history. During the course of the conversations I had with him he would speak at length about the cultural backdrop against which the development of aikido was set mentioning many well-known figures, especially, from the field of education of that period. We have chosen to leave a number of passages of this sort intact as they provide an important perspective with which to more fully appreciate the historical relevance of aikido. Whether or not one agrees with Professor Tomiki’s approach to aikido or his theory of sports, the following two-part interview should prove stimulating reading.

We thus present Mr. Tomiki’s views in keeping with the policy of this publication of exposing readers to a variety of viewpoints which, thought widely divergent and at times diametrically opposed to orthodox aikido thinking, nonetheless, have as their starting point the Founder’s creation of aikido.