Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Little Tomiki History

In response to a recent request, here’s a little bit about my primary martial art:

Tomiki Aikido is primarily a teaching method used to teach aikido from a judo perspective.

Aikido, as most martial artists know, was developed mainly from the techniques of Daito-Ryu aiki-jujutsu, in the early years of the 20th century, by Morihei Ueshiba. In the 1920s, Ueshiba was performing a demonstration of his new art, and Jigoro Kano (developer of Judo and founder of the Kodokan) was in attendance. The story goes that Kano was so impressed with Ueshiba’s new martial art that he gave his top student to Ueshiba.

Of course, some sources report this differently. Some say (and it may be entirely correct, I can’t dispute it because I wasn't there) that Kano assigned his top student to train under Ueshiba in order to gain a better understanding of Ueshiba’s art.

Either way, Kenji Tomiki, already a Menkyo Kaiden holder in Kodokan Judo, found himself training as a beginner in Aikido.
Eventually, Tomiki Sensei earned the Menkyo Kaiden in Aikido also. He was the only person ever awarded the highest available rank in both Judo and Aikido, directly from the founders of both arts. When Kano developed the modern belt ranking system, it originally only went up to 8th dan, and as Menkyo Kaiden was assumed to be the penultimate rank, all holders of Menkyo Kaiden were graded to 8th dan. So Tomiki was the first official 8th dan in both Judo and Aikido. *

At its core, his style of Aikido contained the same techniques that Ueshiba had always taught, but Tomiki approached it from a Judo background. This gave him a better understanding of the use of off-balance, body rise and fall, and weight-shifting in both arts. He developed his own unique training methods and began teaching his style of Aikido. He developed a style for use in Judo-like competitions, which is referred to mostly as Shodokan Aikido today. But continued to teach non-competition Aikido as well. It’s a bit of a misnomer to call Tomiki Aikido “competition Aikido,” although there is certainly a prominent competition component taught in many Tomiki Aikido schools. Sometimes you'll see the terms Shodokan Aikido and Tomiki Aikido used as though they refer to two separate arts - this is also incorrect. Basically it's all the same Aikido, but used differently, and thus sometimes taught from different perspectives.

In the 1970s, Tomiki Sensei sent his student Kogure Sensei to Houston, where he stayed for 6 or 7 years, training Karl Geis Sensei in the art. Geis Sensei was already an accomplished Judo player who had trained with many big names in Japan, and he took to the Tomiki style of Aikido well. Geis Sensei went on to develop his own teaching method for Tomiki Aikido, based on the non-competition, self-defense principles of the old Tomiki system. My sensei trained under Geis Sensei for more than 20 years, and in was in Geis Sensei’s Houston dojo that non-competition Tomiki Aikido first took root in the United States.

Tomiki Aikido makes extensive use of the principles of balance and off-balance, body rise and fall, and the ability of one player to shift the weight of the other. This is accomplished through the use of a number of basic physical precepts that should familiar to any Judo player: straight posture, hands in a push position, unbendable arm (not the ki trick but rather an elbow position similar to how you’d hold your arm if you were pushing a car), same hand same foot, move from your center, etc. The Tomiki Aikido stylist avoids the direct attack by stepping off the line of the attack and taking his attacker’s balance, thus creating in the attacker a need to react. He then uses that uncontrolled reaction as an opportunity to throw, pin, or otherwise defeat the attacker.

*8th dan was the highest available rank in either art at the time of Tomiki's promotion. Today, promotion beyond 8th dan is possible in both judo and aikido, but is largely considered an administrative action rather than an actual, tested grading. Tomiki Sensei left the Aikido Hombu dojo at the grade of 8th dan, and personally graded Geis Sensei to 6th dan before he (Tomiki) died in 1979. Geis Sensei was the only non-Japanese martial artist to be graded to 6th dan by Tomiki Sensei. In a world where 8th dan was the highest possible rank, to be a Westerner (a Texan, no less) and graded to 6th dan must have been huge. Many people challenged Geis Sensei in the following years, and many of his students became great martial artists in their own right.