Master Koichi Tohei Sensei, Founder

Master Koichi Tohei (1920 – 2011) was a 10th Dan aikidoka and founder of the Ki Society and its style of aikido martial art, officially Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido (literally “aikido with mind and body unified”), but commonly known as Ki-Aikido.

Early Life

Koichi Tohei was born in 1920 and as a boy he was sickly and frail, leading his father to recommend Tohei for judo studies. He trained hard and his body prospered, but soon after beginning his pre-college studies at Keio University, he developed a case of pleurisy (which at the time was considered life threatening).

Tohei was distressed at the thought of losing his newfound strength of body and his means of training it, so he decided to replace his judo studies with Zen meditation and misogi exercises, which he learned at the Ichikukai Dojo in Tokyo. As with his judo studies, Tohei approached this new training of his mind with fervor and soon excelled despite his serious health issues.

Discovery of Aikido with O’Sensei

After recovering from pleurisy he returned to judo, but after being exposed to the rigorous mental training he received at the Ichikukai Dojo, he knew he needed more than just physical training – he needed training for both his mind & his body. He no longer thought judo was the right art for him to practice. So in 1940, when he was 19, Tohei’s judo instructor, Shohei Mori, recommended Tohei meet with the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (O’Sensei) and begin training under his supervision.

Tohei rapidly excelled in Aikido and quickly rose to become Ueshiba’s top student. After only six months he was sent as O’Sensei’s representative (dairi) to teach Aikido at the Shumei Okawa school and the military police academy (an unprecedented honor).

World War II

In 1942, Koïchi Tohei graduated from the Economics Department of the prestigious Keio University and in 1943 joined the Japanese military. Once Tohei had begun his military service, Ueshiba presented Tohei with the rank of 5th dan. Shortly after, Tohei took a leave of absence to serve in World War II.

In February 1944, Tohei Sensei was sent to lead an infantry unit into occupied China. There he came to understand, under enemy fire, the importance of calming one’s mind in the face of extreme adversity. He developed his concepts of “One Point”, “Weight Underside”, “Relax Completely” and “Ki Breathing” while in battle and on long marches across China. Because of the lack of doctors available to treat his troops for chronic fatigue & pain, Tohei developed what he later named Kiatsu Therapy (an injury treatment therapy intended to stimulate the body’s healing abilities by applying pressure to the injured area with your fingers while “extending Ki”). Tohei Sensei maintained throughout his life, that Ki principles and leaving things up to the Universe helped him to stay safe during the war, as well as the eighty men under his command. His war years greatly influenced his philosophical approach to teaching Aikido and would serve as the foundation for the creation of Ki-Aikido.

Tohei Sensei Introduced Aikido to America

After returning home from the war, O’Sensei placed even greater authority onto Tohei Sensei. In 1953 Koïchi Tohei Sensei became responsible for the introduction of Aikido to the West. It was the first time the Founder of Aikido allowed for the art to be taught outside of Japan. Over the next decade, Tohei Sensei rose to become second only to O’Sensei in the world of Aikido and was widely regarded as the foremost authority on Aikido next to O’Sensei himself. In 1969, Tohei was asked by Ueshiba to accept the new rank of 10th dan, which Tohei accepted, after having previously refused the same offer (due to his view that 10th Dan represented perfection, and no one alive could attain perfection). The top rank in aikido had been 8th dan at the time. Shortly after Tohei’s promotion to 10th Dan, Ueshiba passed away.

Founding the Ki Society

Several years later, Master Koichi Tohei established the Ki Society in 1971 and eventually left the Aikikai Aikido Organization to establish his own style of Aikido called Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido in 1974. Tohei Sensei led the Ki Society and expanded upon his teaching of Ki Principles and Ki-Aikido until his death in 2011. As of 2015, Ki-Aikido has spread to include hundreds of dojos all over the world and has thousands of practitioners observing Tohei Sensei’s teachings.