Thursday, November 19, 2009

When Tomiki met Ueshiba

There is a correction that needs to be made in the writings and beliefs of some Tomiki Aikido historians.

Some people believe that Kenji Tomiki was an 8th dan in Kodokan Judo when he met Ueshiba. The myth is spread that when Tomiki met Ueshiba he was defeated in combat. Because of this Tomiki saw his study of judo was in vain, so he began the study of aikido.

Let's review the facts

March 15th, 1900 Tomiki was born

1910 Kenji Tomiki started judo

November 1919 he received shodan in Judo. Soon after wards he became ill and took three and a half years to recover. One might presume his training was limited in this time.

1923 He studied at university. Tomiki studied Political Economics. He joined the Waseda Judo Club, advancing to the rank of fourth dan by his senior year.

1926 Tomiki met Ueshiba. Tomiki was a young man of 26. He was a fourth dan in judo when he met Morihei. Kenji Tomiki was receiving a dan a year during university so he was not a well seasoned mid ranked Judoka. He had an inflated rank by modern standards. Ueshiba, around 43 was hardly a master level teacher at the time, having only been studying Daito Ryu for the past ten years. He had only been an official instructor of Daito Ryu for 4 years.

There is talk in the Daito Ryu community that Kano sent Tomiki to study because of Sokaku Takeda's fame,  Ueshiba was a branch school of Takeda's Daito Ryu, so it likely was he was simply the local representative of the more famous martial artist at that time.

Tomiki made a statement in 1927 that he was unable to find a chance to break Ueshiba's balance with judo techniques when sparring with Ueshiba. This is hardly a statement of butt kicking, or a judo master turning away from his art. Instead a young man met a man whom he could not defeat with his current strategies, so he found a new teacher.

Tomiki did not drop his judo career to study aikido exclusively. In fact in 1927 he was awarded 5th dan in Judo (continuing his rapid ranking trend) He entered the prestigious Imperial Martial Arts Tournament (Tenranjiai) in 1929 as the judo representative from Miyagi Prefecture.

He saw aikido and judo as compliments. I believe he was a judo man at heart and often wrote of aikido in judo terms. He had a 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. He even introduced classical jujitsu and aikido into the Kodokan kata system through the goshin jitsu kata in the 1950s.

Ueshiba promoted Tomiki to 8th dan in 1940. Tomiki was the first person to receive this rank from Ueshiba and this honor reflected the high regard in which he was held by the aikido founder. It also shows how rapid advancement was in those days, as Kenji Tomiki received 8th dan only 14 years after first meeting Ueshiba. There is some speculation he received advanced rank early so he could have the credentials to be able to teach at a university in Manchuria.

It was not until 1971 that Kenji Tomiki received 8th dan in Kodokan Judo, 45 years after Tomiki and Ueshiba first met, and two years after the death of Ueshiba.

So when these two men met they were both still quite young and novice in their marital careers. Neither was a great master yet, neither in Judo or in the yet to be conceived art of Aikido. What they did see in each other was a fellow on the path. They became friends and helped each other advance their arts until separated by death 43 years later.


  1. I agree. This jives with my understanding of the timeline. I'd always heard that Tomiki was 4th dan in judo when he started aikido. Don't know where that 8th dan legend came from. He also, obviously didn't quit judo to do aikido. He definitely understood aikido in terms of what Kano had taught him.

  2. The other factor overlooked by aikido sycophants is that Ueshiba trained in judo under Kiyoichi Takagi from age 24 to 26. Ueshiba had the advantage because he knew the judo repertoire and how a judoka moves, whereas Tomiki knew nothing of aikido. I would guess that Ueshiba neutralised Tomiki by preventing him from taking a jacket grip. Not what you would call a 'win' by normal standards.
    You get tired of the repeated myth that any aikidoka can kick a judoka's butt. Such comments often coming from soft-style aikidoka who have never executed a technique against resistance, nor sparred free-style in their lives.
    Thanks for setting the record straight.