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Morihei Ueshiba and Kenji Tomiki

by Stanley Pranin

From Japanese Wushu Magazine

Kenji Tomiki (1900-1979)

Among the many distinguished disciples of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, Kenji Tomiki stands out for his intellectual stature and skill in articulating the historical and ethical rationale of the art. Whereas the founder viewed life and, consequently, his budo, mainly in religious terms, Professor Tomiki espoused a view of aikido which included competition and placed it within the larger context of the history of Japanese martial arts. An academician as well as an athlete, Tomiki authored several books and formulated a theoretical basis for aikido that was understandable by the average person. In this article we will briefly touch upon Professor Tomiki’s background, his relationship with Jigoro Kano and Morihei Ueshiba, and his contributions to present-day aikido.

Early education

Kenji Tomiki was born to a family of landowners in Kakunodate, Akita Prefecture on March 15, 1900. It was there that he received his primary and secondary education by which time his academic and judo talents had already become evident. Following graduation from high school, he set out for Tokyo to prepare for university entrance examinations. After nearly four years lost to illness, he finally succeeded in entering Waseda University in 1923. Tomiki joined and became a standout member of the highly-touted Waseda Judo Club, advancing to the rank of fourth dan by his senior year. It was during this period that he began to frequent the Kodokan where he was exposed first-hand to the theories and methods of the great educator and founder of judo, Jigoro Kano. Professor Kano’s thinking had a profound effect on the young Tomiki, particularly his view of judo as a vehicle for self-improvement and health education. Tomiki would later expand on this philosophy of education and apply it in a unique way to aikido. His devotion to judo during his university days did not, however, cause him to neglect his studies and he maintained his academic standing being dubbed “the scholar from the sports division.”

Meeting aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba

It was in 1926 that he first met Morihei Ueshiba in Tokyo and was highly impressed by the latter’s mastery of jujutsu techniques. After graduation from Waseda in 1927 with a degree in political science, Tomiki entered graduate school majoring in economics. During the summer of that year he spent a month of intensive training in Daito-ryu aikijujutsu under Ueshiba Sensei at the Omoto headquarters in Ayabe, near Kyoto. For Tomiki, Ueshiba Sensei’s art included a huge body of essential jujutsu techniques which served as a vital complement to his judo training. Following completion of his formal education, Tomiki was employed by an electrical company in Sendai. In addition, he entered the prestigious Imperial (Tenranjiai) tournament in 1929 as the judo representative from Miyagi Prefecture and placed within the top 12 after being forced to withdraw due to an injury. Tomiki later became a junior high school teacher in his hometown of Kakunodate. While serving in this capacity between 1931-34, he would pass his summer and winter vacations in Tokyo training under Ueshiba Sensei. His sights set on Manchuria then under Japanese rule, Tomiki resigned his teaching post in 1934 and spent the next several years in Tokyo in preparation for his move. For a time he rented an apartment near the Kobukan Dojo of Ueshiba Sensei in Wakamatsu-cho and was one of the senior instructors. He also played a major role in preparing the manuscript of the 1933 manual of Ueshiba’s techniques entitled “Budo Renshu.”

To Manchuria

In the spring of 1938, Tomiki was appointed to the staff of the newly established Kenkoku University in what was then Shinkyo (present-day Choshun). Largely through Professor Tomiki’s efforts aiki training become a compulsory subject for students of judo and kendo, and therefore he sent for his close associate Hideo Oba, then a 5th dan, from Akita in order to develop a teaching corps. Moreover, Morihei Ueshiba made regular fall trips to Manchuria during these years also conducting classes at Kenkoku University. Professor Tomiki made great strides during the Manchuria years in fleshing out his theory of “rikaku taisei.” This term refers to the use of techniques for dealing with attacks by an opponent separated from the defender. This was part of Tomiki’s view of a “complete judo” which encompassed two parts: “grappling judo” (kumi judo) which equated to Kodokan Judo, and “separated judo” (hanare judo) which was equivalent to aikido.

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