Kenji Tomiki (1900 – 1979)

Kenji Tomiki Sensei, founder of Shodokan Aikido.
Kenji Tomiki Sensei, founder of Shodokan Aikido.

Kenji Tomiki was born in Akita Prefecture, Japan, on 15th March 1900. The young Kenji Tomiki started learning to use a Bokken (the Japanese hardwood sword) when he was six years old, and he joined the town Judo club when he was ten.

Kenji Tomiki did very well in Judo and graduated from junior high school with the top prize in both academics and in physical education (i.e. martial arts).

In November 1919 Tomiki received his Shodan (1st Dan black belt) in Kodokan Judo, but he became seriously ill and was confined to bed for three and a half years.

In 1924 Kenji Tomiki joined the Political Economics Department of Waseda University. He was renowned for his top Judo skills, and was secretary of the Students’ Judo Association in Tokyo. There, he was greatly influenced by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.

In 1926, Kenji Tomiki met Morihei Ueshiba, was most impressed by him and enrolled in Ueshiba Sensei’s dojo to learn what was then mostly Daitoryu Aiki Jujitsu. Master Ueshiba would later change the name of his art first to Aiki Budo and, later after World War II, he started callinh it Aikido.

In 1929, Kenji Tomiki was selected to compete in the first National Judo Tournament before the Emperor of Japan. In 1931, Tomiki returned to Akita Prefecture to be a high school teacher. There he met Hideo Ohba, who became his lifelong friend and assistant teacher.

Then, three years later, Kenji Tomiki moved to Tokyo to learn Aiki Budo from Morihei Ueshiba Sensei.

Kenji Tomiki (L), Morihei Ueshiba (R) and Hideo Obah (back R).
Kenji Tomiki (L), Morihei Ueshiba (R) and Hideo Obah (back R).

In 1936, the Japanese army invaded China. Both Morihei Uyeshiba and Kenji Tomiki joined in this ‘adventure’ and Tomiki was appointed a physical education (martial arts) instructor at the Daidogakuin University in Japanese-occupied Manchuria (located north of China and south of Siberia, Russia).

By 1938, Tomiki was an Assistant Professor at the Japanese University there. He taught Aiki Budo as part of the regular curriculum and also taught Japanese ceremonial dance. Hideo Ohba worked there as Tomiki Sensei’s assistant.

This photo shows Kenji Tomiki and Morihei Uyeshiba seated. (Tomiki is on the left.) Hideo Ohba is the taller young man (standing at the back right wearing a crewcut). I do not know the identity of the young man wearing spectacles at the back left.

In 1940, Kenji Tomiki was presented with the world’s first Aikido 8th Dan by Morihei Ueshiba. He then began work to modernize Japanese martial arts (Budo).

For the next four years Tomiki taught Judo to senior Dan grades at the Kodokan dojo. He would train them in Judo until they were ready to drop, and then he made them do Aikido afterwards!

In 1945, when Japan was defeated and the Second World War ended, Professor Tomiki was made a prisoner-of-war and locked up in Siberia. Even in captivity, he continued to experiment with his Aikido. It was here during his three years’ confinement that Tomiki invented the Unsuku Ondo and Tanduku Ondo (foot movements and hand movement exercises), which are unique to the Tomiki style of Aikido.

Kenji Tomiki Visited the United States

In 1953 Tomiki went to the United States as part of a Judo delegation to instruct the U.S. Air Force in 15 US states.

In 1954, Kenji Tomiki became a professor at Waseda University (in Tokyo) and placed in charge of the university’s Physical Education Department. He published the Judo Taiso – an instruction book on Judo.

Two years after that, Tomiki published a book in English called Judo with Aikido (later re-named Judo and Aikido). This helped bring Aikido to the Western world. A French translation was published in 1960.

In 1958, he founded the Waseda University Aikido Club and was the club’s first Director. He published Aikidonyumon which is still in print today. At about this time he began to develop Aikido Kyogi (Sport Aikido).

In 1964 Tomiki Sensei published The New Aikido Textbook, and in 1967 he opened the Shodokan Dojo – the first Dojo established exclusively for the study of Aikido.

In 1970 Kenji Tomiki retired from Waseda University and published Taiiku To Budo (Physical Education and Budo). He also presided over the First All Japan Students’ Aikido Tournament.

Tomiki received 8th Dan in Kodokan Judo in 1971, and founded the Japan Aikido Association in 1974. Kenji Tomiki was appointed its first President.

1975 – he became Vice President of the Nippon Budo Gakkai (Martial Art Society of Japan), and in 1976 the new Shodokan Headquarters and Main Dojo of the J.A.A was established in Osaka, with Tomiki Shihan as its Director.

Tomiki Aikido In Australia

In 1977, Kenji Tomiki visited Australia at the invitation of Mr John Gay, founder of the Australian Aikido Association.

Tomiki Sensei died on 25th December (Christmas Day) in 1979. He was 79 years old.

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