Kenji Tomiki – A Student of Sensei Jigoro Kano in Judo and of Sensei Morihei Ueshiba in Aikido

Kenji Tomiki in 1928

Continuing my “return to the past” trip while going through my old pictures, it came to my mind, that before the 1964 Japanese Olympics I went to Tokyo for some judo trainings in order to complete my preparation for this big event. Some of them took place in one of the most famous and renown Japanese Universities, the Waseda University (Tokyo), thanks to my Sensei Ken Otani.

I was 23 years old and quite high thinking, that I was in judo’s home and Japan itself was not at all as it is today. My Sensei continuously introduced me to famous and important people within our discipline, but not knowing the language and never having heard of them for me they were simply people in my way for my trainings. Only now I realize what important people I have met then! Why?

Someone I was introduced to and from whom I had the honor to receive a judo lesson was Sensei Kenji Tomiki!!!  He was born on 15th March 1900 in the akita Prefecture (Japan). He started with Martial Arts very early at the age of 6 first with the stick bokken and then with kendo. At 10 he started practicing judo.

When he went to the Waseda University he continued his hard trainings and became the captain of the team at the official competitions Upon graduation he became a member of the Kodokan. Jigoro Kano Shihan looked after him and considered him thanks to his skills among his best studentsi uchi deshi.

Sensei Morihei Ueshiba with Kenji Tomiki in 1933

The founder of Aikido, Sensei Morihei Ueshiba came to Tokyo in 1926 in order to meet Jigoro Kano Shihan. He wanted to introduce him to the new discipline he was developping. In those days Kano Shihan was considered an authority in the field, therefore an approval from him was certainly welcome.

The father of Judo was positively impressed both by Sensei Ueshiba and by his new discipline. He asked him to join the Kodokan as he did with the other jujutsu schools, so that with his contribution he would enrich judo’s technical patrimony. Sensei Ueshiba declined the offer, but accepted to teach aikido to two Kodokan students: Hidekazu Nagaoka and Kenji Tomiki.

Therefore Tomiki became Ueshiba’s direct student for about ten years until he reached the level of Menkyo, the highest rank in the old Japanese martial art system. Later on when Ueshiba’s aikido adopted the dan system, all the old menkyos received the 8th dan.

In 1930 Tomiki became professor ot the Kengoku University, that the Japanese government had founded in Manchuria (China,  in those days under Japanese ruling)  He was imprisoned by the Red army for three years, during which he continued his aikido exercises developing a new system called shodokan aikido, that was completed in 1948.

Returning to Japan he took up his old position at the Waseda University and besides teaching judo at the Kodokan he also became the official trainer at the Waseda Judo Club. His aikido experience could be well used after the 2nd World War within the Kodokan. In 1952 he had the opportunity to develop a kata dedicated to self-defence. In 1956 the “Kodokan Goshin Jitsu” was ready and his “debt” with Jigoro Kano paid off. In fact the Kodokan Goshin Jitsu allows the judokas to study the technical patrimony of aikido and of the ju jitsu “Daito” and “Takeda” schools, allowing in this way to pursue Jigoro Kano’s plan which had aimed at Budo’s globalization within Modern Judo.

Kenji Tomiki with Sensei Morihei Ueshiba at Kenkoku University (Manchria) in 1942

Even though he continued to teach judo, his enthusiasm for Aikido was always high. As a prisoner he had conceived a synthesis between judo and aikido and such idea continued to follow him for the following thirty years. Tomiki’s basic idea was to use judo’s training methods also within aikido. Jigoro Kano has conceived judo as a peaceful way to transmit the ancient Ju Jitsu (and therefore the Budo) to the new and modern generations. In order to do that he had selected part of the technical patrimony of jujutsu making sure, that it was safe and appropriate for the new way of practice. The Katas and the Randori were the two main exercises to be combined in order to give support to each other. Tomiki thought to apply the same rationalization to aikido.

This is how Shodokan Aikido was born: 17 basic techniques on which to coordinate several exercises as for example: Nana-hon Nage Kuzushi Waza and a series of rules in order to practice a refereed fight. At the beginning of the 60s Tomiki’s project continued. He started the ‘Aikido Kyogi, (an aikido competition) at Waseda in 1958. In 1964 there were many colleges, that practiced his method and the success continued until 1970, year in which the first All Japan University Student Aikido Championship took place. Today Shodokan Aikido is practiced in 14 states. In 1967 Tomiki started the Shodokan Hombu Dojo, which became the headquarter of the Japan Aikido Association. Today it is run by Sensei Nariyama, 8th Dan, Tomiki’s direct student. Tomiki died on 25th December 1979, in his life he reached the 8th dan in Aikido (recognized by the Aikikai) and the 9th dan in Judo.

I am sorry for not being able to publish any picture together with this great Sensei, which I had the honor and privilege to meet at the Waseda University  in 1964 before the Tokyo Judo Olympics: it was one of the few times I left my camera at home!! I was quiet unprepared.


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