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Aikido Comes to Hawaii
Aikido Comes to Hawaii
by Francis Takahashi
Aikido Comes to Hawaii

About the year 1953, a representative of Aikikai, and of the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, was invited to introduce this nascent art of Aikido to Hawaii. The vehicle was the Nishi System of Health Engineering, called the Nishi Kai, with its headquarters in Japan, and a branch in Honolulu. The person who negotiated this invitation was one Noriyasu Kagesa, my grandfather. As the president of the Hawaii chapter, he also took it upon himself to see to it that this representative from Japan was properly treated and kindly looked after. For the remainder of his life. Mr. Kagesa and his wife did just that.

Being nine years old at the time, details are sketchy at best, and we would all benefit from the input and corrections of others who were more mature and active at that point in time. It is my hope that this will happen in the not too distant future. For now, this is what I remember, so please understand, and bear with me, as I attempt to give only a brief historical perspective of this time.

The whole story definitely needs a book to adequately chronicle all important details of the beginning, the selection process for the initial instructors, and the subsequent development of Aikido's popularity in the Islands. Again, I will defer to future researchers to finish the job correctly. You are sadly getting a very restricted viewpoint from a kid who happened to be present at the time.

This memorable representative was Koichi Tohei, who was regarded as the "Shihan Bucho" at Aikikai headquarters. This meant that he was the chief instructor of the other instructors at headquarters, called "Hombu Dojo". Both he, and the Founder's son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, were married to sisters, probably cementing the official relationship at Headquarters.

Tohei Sensei was, and remains the singular individual credited with introducing Aikido to the world, via his initial introduction in Hawaii. An extremely charismatic and physically talented man, he became an overnight superstar, and was unconditionally loved and accepted by those who joined Aikido during those amazing years. The Aikido landscape in Hawaii today still has certain oldtimers and their students, who maintain their loyalty and love for this historic and vitally important figure in Aikido, not only for Hawaii, but internationally as well.

Nearing the end of my recollections, I do recall that he appointed three indigenous martial artists in Honolulu to head start the Aikido program there. The names of Yukiso Yamamoto and Kazuto Sugimoto, represented men of a Judo background. An Isao Takahashi was added, who had a sound Kendo background. Together, these men were referred to as the "big three", and did their level best to represent the Aikido taught by Koichi Tohei Sensei. Later on, Tohei Sensei appointed other personalities to monitor training, most notable of which was the late Shinichi Suzuki Sensei of Maui.

In 1961, the Founder himself disembarked on Hawaii's shores to commemorate the opening of a new concrete dojo in Honolulu. This was a major event, not only for Hawaii, but for American Aikido as well. Again, Mr. Noriyasu Kagesa generously offered his Japanese style home in Honolulu for both the Founder, and his otomo, Nobuyoshi Tamura, to enjoy a traditional Japanese setting.

Next year, 2011, the Hawaii Aikido faithful are commemorating a 50th year anniversary of the Founder's visit. The current Doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba, will be a featured presence, along with other celebration events scheduled.

I highly advise the attendance of any and all aikidoka worldwide to join this momentous occasion, and to affirm the international brotherhood of Aiki we now share, which had its humble beginnings in Hawaii.

Hope to see you there!!!
Francis Takahashi was born in 1943, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Francis began his Aikido journey in 1953, simultaneously with the introduction of Aikido to Hawaii by Koichi Tohei, a representative sent from Aikikai Foundation in Tokyo, Japan. This event was sponsored by the Hawaii Nishi System of Health Engineering, with Noriyasu Kagesa as president. Mr. Kagesa was Francis's grandfather, and was a life long supporter of Mr. Tohei, and of Aikido. In 1961, the Founder visited Hawaii to help commemorate the opening of the new dojo in Honolulu. This was the first, and only time Francis had the opportunity to train with the Founder. In 1963, Francis was inducted into the U.S. Army, and was stationed for two years in Chicago, Illinois. He was the second instructor for the fledgling Chicago Aikido Club, succeeding his childhood friend, Chester Sasaki, who had graduated from the University of Illinois, and was entering the Air Force. Francis is currently ranked 7th dan Aikikai, and enjoys a direct affiliation with Aikikai Foundation for the recommending and granting of dan ranks via his organization, Aikikai Associates West Coast. Francis is the current dojo-cho of Aikido Academy in Alhambra, California.
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Old 02-12-2010, 10:29 AM   #2
SeiserL's Avatar
Location: Florida Gulf coast
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 3,902
Re: Aikido Comes to Hawaii

Osu Sensei,

I appreciate your attendance and contributions here on Aiki Web.

You have much to offer.


Rei, Domo.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 02-12-2010, 04:01 PM   #3
Boris Spassky
Boris Spassky's Avatar
Location: Spring Valley, CA.
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 32
Re: Aikido Comes to Hawaii

Sounds like a great event! Thanks for the history as well-

If it were not for Tohei Sensei and the efforts made in Hawaii in those early days I might not be an aikidoka!

My proud linegae is:
Tohei Sensei
Tokuji Hirata Sensei/ Ben Sekishiro Sensei
My teacher
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Old 02-15-2010, 02:04 PM   #4
crbateman's Avatar
Location: Orlando, FL
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 1,502
Re: Aikido Comes to Hawaii

Good to see you writing here, Francis Sensei. I always enjoy reading you. Time to write the book...
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Old 04-16-2010, 02:52 PM   #5
R.A. Robertson
Dojo: Still Point Aikido Center
Location: Austin, TX, USA
Join Date: Jul 2002
Posts: 346
Re: Aikido Comes to Hawaii

Hi Francis,

I've been meaning to get to this for a while now, but, once I've written an article, I tend not to post very regularly. I think I'm missing out on some great conversation!

Anyway, back when I was affiliated with Seidokan, Rod Kobayashi would talk from time to time about Tohei's first visit to Hawaii. The Seidokan web site history section states:

[Kobayashi] was first introduced to Aikido by his father who had great influence in inviting Master Koichi Tohei, who was then Chief Instructor of Aikido at the Aikido World Headquarters in Japan, to Honolulu in 1953. However. his formal training in Aikido did not start until 1957, after his 3 years of military service. His first teachers at the Hawaii Aikikai were master: Yukiso Yamamoto, Kazuto Sugimoto, and Isao Takahashi. These masters were the first students of Tohei Shihan, the foremost authority on Aikido and Ki in the United States. Each of these masters was unique in his own way, and had a great influence in Kobayashi's understanding of Aikido and Ki.

I was wondering if the two of you were very much in each other's company back then, and if so, what memories you have of him, and what role his father also shared in brining Tohei Sensei to Hawaii.

Thanks so much for sharing with us what is truly a significant part in aikido's spread throughout the world. Any insights from that time are deeply appreciated.


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Old 04-16-2010, 03:32 PM   #6
Dojo: aikido academy/alhambra,california
Location: Los Angeles, California
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 371
Re: Aikido Comes to Hawaii

Hello Ross,

Thank your for your deeply insightful articles, and your obviously great love for Aikido. I do enjoy the different perspectives you bring, and find much to learn from them, and from you.

Sadly, I did not have much of a relationship with Kobayashi Sensei, as I was considered to be Isao Takahashi Sensei's son via marriage, and not part of an inner circle which was close to Tohei Sensei and his mission.

Although I did have dealings with Tohei Sensei on other levels, mainly because of my being the Chicago Aikido Club's second instructor after Chester Sasaki, I did move in different circles, and chose to develop my Aikido in different directions.

I have heard of Kobayashi Sensei's family involvement with Tohei Sensei's coming to Hawaii, but have no resources to confirm this. I gladly accept at face value your recollection of such a historical account, but can only honestly recollect being told of my own grandfather's involvement.

Again, because of Kobayashi Sensei's decision to unconditionally support Tohei Sensei and his mission, this resulted in a barrier of sorts, both due to my personal philosophy of supporting the Founder, the late Doshu, and of Aikikai Foundation, and the fact that I married a key figure in Aikido's history, who knew all the players at the Aikikai, especially the Founder. As such, my allegiance to Aikikai Foundation and of its loyal personalities, made me appear to be antagonistic to both Tohei Sensei's ambitions, and to those who purported to support him in the fashion they did.

As we age, and hopefully mature, what seemed true in the past takes on different hues, scents and importance with additional knowledge and thoughtful review. It would have been a true gift to now have conversations with Kobayashi Sensei, and with others who chose to follow Tohei Sensei and his organizational direction.. What a wealth of insights and shared experiences we would have had, mending a rift of purposes in the true spirit of the Aiki of the Founder.

Thanks again for your kind words, and I look forward to benefiting from your future contributions to the Aiki Web, and to Aikdo.

In Oneness,
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