Koichi Kashiwaya sensei began aikido training in 1969 at Risshou
University in Tokyo, Japan. He started training with Koichi Tohei
sensei back in 1970. He started teaching in the United States in 1971
at the Seattle Ki Society for four years then later returned in 1977
to found the Rocky Mountain Ki Society in Boulder, Colorado. He was
appointed Chief Instructor for Ki
Society USA by Tohei sensei in 1983. He now holds an 8th dan in
Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, an Okuden in Ki Training, a lecturer in
teaching for Ki Society International, and is a judge for the
International Taigi Competition.
AW: What was the circumstances surrounding your starting up aikido?
KK: During high school, I had trained as an athlete -- mostly in track
and field, running short distances. At that time, I wasn't interested
in martial arts that much. I was rather more interested in athletic
activities like how to use the body more efficiently so that I could
I didn't really study in high school. But, somehow, I got by into
college! [Laughs.] I did one year as a ronin (a year off between
high school and college). I was thinking about going to a university
for electrical engineers. I liked the idea and concept of electrical
engineering, but I had forgotten that you really have to study
mathematics and English. I liked physics, though. I think I'm more
into the theoretical than the calculations; I don't care much for the
formulas but I liked the ideas and the concepts in physics since I was
young. Maybe that's why I wanted to go to electrical engineering
Since I was a ronin, I wasn't doing much athletic training during that
year. I could no longer race very well because of that year off. So,
I thought about going into something that wouldn't really interrupt my
academic studies and leave me with some energy left after training.
Now, at the recruiting day, the Kendo club found me and made me fill
out a piece of paper with my name, number, and intent to join their
group. I was supposed to meet them later on campus with that piece of
paper. But, what happened was that I went to the wrong room!
I saw some people wearing hakama so I went into that room. Obviously,
some of the people came right up to me and asked, "May I help you?"
Well, by the time I stepped into the room, I knew that these weren't
kendo people but aikido people! Once inside, I didn't want to be rude
so I stayed and watched. Still, I didn't really get drawn by the art
of aikido then, but I felt like the atmosphere of the training was
really nice; I liked it. I can't say it was friendly -- martial arts
training in college is never friendly in Japan -- but, I felt like
people there were giving each other a little bit of space. The kendo
people really didn't give much space for me. "You have to do this."
"You have to go here." I think most martial arts training are lead
that way: military-like.
The aikido people in our university were different. I didn't know
whether they weren't sure about what they were doing or that they were
more confident. I let them know that I was supposed to go to the
kendo group. They told me that, "Oh, you could go at any time, but if
you'd like, you're welcome to stay and watch." I liked that -- it
gave me a little bit of freedom. Immediately, I said that I would
like to stay. I didn't know what they were doing, of course. I don't
really even remember what they were doing -- some kind of pin. But, I
liked the sense of freedom. I make decisions like that at times. If
it feels right, then I sometimes make a decision like that.
But, I was worried about the kendo people, too. I had told them that
I was joining their group beforehand. So, I talked to the aikido
people and let them know that I had already thought about joining the
kendo group. They told me not to worry that they would talk to the
kendo peopl and everything turned out to be OK; the kendo people told
me that as long as I was doing martial arts that they felt it would be
AW: So you did aikido all through college? What was it like?
KK: Yes, I did continue on with aikido all through college.
As far as what it was like, it was very much like the blind leading
the blind. Our group really didn't know much about aikido, but an
instructor from Aikikai hombu dojo would come and teach once a week if
we were lucky. But we don't have a real "dojo." We would walk to
this other Aikikai dojo about a 30 minutes' walk away from the
university. Our group was registered with Aikikai so we had a class
of our own pretty much every day, but an instructor from Aikikai only
came about once a week.
What we learned from our instructor would really never be enough and
it was hard to understand what they taught us. So, we had to come up
with our own idea of what and how we were supposed to train. At that
time, I was one of the junior students; anything that my sempai asked
us to do, we would do it.
We were sparring a lot, actually. We didn't even know that aikido
didn't have sparring! We would put on boxing gloves at times and
really try to punch to see if we could throw each other. That's how I
broke my nose...
AW: Was the training intense?
KK: I didn't find the physical training itself really that intense
because I was more athletic than most. Seiza was hard, though, since
we didn't do seiza in track. Everything else, I could keep up.
The first year of university training in aikido in Japan is basically
just being uke. We never got to throw anybody. I could fall down and
get back up many, many times without getting tired -- and my sempai
liked that! They gave me a lot of attention, but that attention also
got me to break my nose, dislocate my shoulder twice... The more they
liked using me, the more beat up I got! Sometimes they'd even bring
in shinai to see if I could dodge them! But, they were my sempai so I
couldn't do anything about it, of course. Later, I found out that
that wasn't really aikido, but I didn't know any better back then.
But after class when we went out -- which was pretty much after every
class -- my sempai would treat us kohai really nicely. I liked that
atmosphere. Maybe aikido was helping these sempai to be like this
outside of the dojo? Although we may not have understood the
technical side very well, maybe we were learning the philosophical
side of aikido. We all kept something in our spirit from the training
that we did.
I think it was a good introduction to aikido for me. If I had
encountered the conventional methods of aikido, I probably would have
quit right away -- it would have been too unsatisfying. Our club did
a lot of crazy things like sparring. I didn't like getting punched
but the craziness was just right for me; I wasn't really tired
afterwards and I still had the energy to study.
AW: When did you start going to Aikikai Hombu Dojo?
KK: The group itself was registered under the Aikikai so we had the
priviledge of sending a limited number of members to hombu dojo every
week. Of course, our sempai would always be the ones to go first, but
sometimes when the sempai decided not to go or picked one of us to go
instead, we would go train at hombu dojo.
AW: Was the training there different?
KK: It was much gentler than what we were doing! Surprisingly much
gentler! [Laughs.] I thought, "Oh, training at the Aikikai is very
nice! They're so gentle! So you don't have to kill your opponent!"
Still, I really didn't understand what they were doing. But, I was
able to finally see some of the higher ranking instructors doing
aikido. But, again, it felt kind of far away, watching these higher
ranking people. It still appeared a bit too fake, a bit too smooth.
But, I respected that.
We went to Aikikai to breathe in the atmosphere of their training.
But, as soon as we went back to the university, we went right back to
the rough, sparring kind of keiko.
It was about a year into my training if I remember correctly. So it
was then I went to see Tohei sensei.
AW: Do you remember your first class with Tohei sensei?
KK: The first class, I do remember. My first impression of Tohei
sensei didn't amount to too much. Again, he was ranked higher than
most of the instructors at Aikikai and we knew that he was spoken of
very highly by other instructors as well. But, I also knew that there
was some kind of political conflict there. There already were
feelings like "You shouldn't go to such and such a class if you're
training in this person's class" at the time.
Until that time, I trained with a lot of different instructors at
hombu dojo. But, as soon as I started going to Tohei sensei's class,
that began to change. I started feeling pressure from some of the
other instructors, basically that I was no longer welcome at their
class. Now, this was only from some of the instructors and not all of
them, but some of them did give me a hard time for being there.
Although I was very much a nobody there, I started feeling like I was
no longer welcome. I didn't tell people that I was going to Tohei
sensei's classes, but I guess they must have been monitoring even
college students like me.
AW: Did you like Tohei sensei's teachings in particular back then?
KK: At that time, I liked everyone's teachings -- not just Tohei
sensei's. Again, all of these instructors had a very "far away"
existence for me. If O-sensei were God, then Tohei sensei may have
been considerd the Pope or something like that -- he was way up there!
[Laughs.] Obviously, I didn't have much of a connection with him
since I was just a shodan out of many. So, I really didn't have any
feelings like "I like his teaching." It's not like that in Japan, any
way, especially at hombu dojo. If you start saying that you like
someone else's teachings over someone else's, you'd most likely get
banished by some other instructors.
It's a very political thing. So, if you're smart, you wouldn't say
things like "I like that" or "I dislike that instructor." So that's
why I really didn't put myself to go that way.
Then, slowly, I started going to Tohei sensei's class. Then he
started up his "Ki no Kenkyukai." I think that was my turning point,
in a way. My sensei called me and let me know that Tohei sensei was
starting up a ki class outside of hombu dojo. I don't know why he
called me to tell me that. But I had been taking Tohei sensei's
classes and I was feeling some pressure from some of the other
instructors that I was already in Tohei sensei's group. And Tohei
sensei's class did sound interesting.
I was in aikido not for the martial but so that I would be able to
move better. I wasn't also very interested in just aikido but
something a little bigger. Just learning how to throw someone didn't
interest me all that much. I thought that there was a bigger answer
than that -- "why am I here" kind of thing. I was a bit confused back
then about society and such and was a bit rebellious. I started
asking myself questions about why I'm here and where I'm going -- to
put a little bit of meaning to my life.
Aikido at that time was just for keeping in shape and being with the
people. I didn't really get much out of it except for a workout.
But, when I took Tohei sensei's class, I can now see that Tohei sensei
was teaching and giving something else to me. I didn't know it at the
Tohei sensei had a wonderful children's class back then. I got
invited by another instructor to watch, so I went to his kids' class.
The kids are much smaller and there were only a few adults who were
watching. He came up to me and asked if I were here to watch and I
said, "Yes, sir." He said, "Why don't you join?" So I went and lined
up with the kids in a standing posture to do some "ki testing."
Now, in his regular aikido classes, he wasn't doing any kind of ki
testing. But, this was a different kind of class than the regular
adult's class -- more thinking about mind and body.
I was clueless! Why is he pushing us?
So he came up to me and pushed my shoulder. I didn't know what that
meant that I moved. Then Tohei sensei smiledand said, "If your mind
moves, then your body moves." When I heard those words, something
clicked. I started to think that maybe Tohei sensei himself or what
Tohei sensei was teaching may give me some kind of answer to the big
questions -- not just about aikido, but about life.
Then, Tohei sensei also had his ki class at Yoyogi Olmpic center. It
wasn't very big -- only about fourteen members, mostly upper
executives and such. Most people in the class weren't aikido people,
either; they were from outside of Aikikai. Later, I found out that
Tohei sensei had spoken to Kisshomaru (Ueshiba) sensei that he wanted
to teach Ki class at Aikikai but that the classes would take place
outside of Aikikai.
So, I'm the only young college student there. And because I was the
youngest, I felt like I should help. I went there about an hour early
and helped Mrs Tohei set up. I wasn't in the role of an otomo or
anything like that but I just wanted to be helpful. So then, Tohei
sensei started recognizing me, too, since I was there earlier and I
was the youngest and all. Occasionally, Tohei sensei would be asked
to show some aikido throws and since I was the only person there with
aikido training, he would throw me around. That time was really the
first time I took ukemi from him.
Gradually, Ki Society added more classes and younger people started
coming in from aikido -- mostly from Aikikai, some from Yoshinkan.
Mostly these were people who didn't have any "ties" with any
particular teacher in Aikikai.
For me, I didn't have a lot of ties with Aikikai, any way. I would go
to Aikikai for practice and participate in Kisshomaru sensei's classes
and some other senior instructors' classes.
It wasn't like I felt like I had to follow only Tohei sensei. It just
happened that way.
AW: Do you think now that Tohei sensei's split from Aikikai was
KK: For me, it's done and over with.
Tohei sensei usually didn't initiate talking about it. Of course, any
time you have more than two human beings together, then it becomes a
political event -- that's human nature. I can not avoid politics, of
course, but I also do not like hearing about it very much. To me,
it's promote a kind of violence if it become over loaded.
I guess we were sort of like the a "sounding board" of sorts! (Laughs)
Every kind of deshi (apprentice) has to litsten to whatever teacher
said! It's part of our duty.
So, for me, if Tohei sensei had something to say to me, my job was
just to be there and listen.
AW: When did you come to America?
Tohei sensei asked me to go to Seattle in 1973 for two years to help
out with the chief instructor, Yoshihiko Hirata sensei, there. After
two years, he asked me whether I wanted to stay in the United States
or come back to Japan and become his Uchideshi. I went back to Japan
to do Uchideshi training for two years. After two years of being
Uchideshi, I asked Tohei sensei to come back to US. He agreed and
suggested I go to Boston or Chicago. I thought that anywhere was fine
with me except for those places where he had already been! (Laughs)
What I meant by that is if I went where Tohei sensei had already been,
it wouldn't have been good because Tohei sensei's influence would have
already been there. The people who had trained with him already look
up to him as their teacher so I didn't want to interfere. But, Tohei
sensei can't go everywhere, so I figured my mission was to go where he
hadn't been. Then maybe I could be like an agent for Tohei sensei.
I knew a judo instructor in Boulder, Colorado, who had studied with
Tohei sensei before. I contacted him and he said, "Sure, come on
out." So that's why I came out to Boulder in 1977.
AW: What was it like to start up aikido in Boulder?
KK: Fortunately, there was a jujutsu and judo dojo there already for
me to use. But, I didn't want to take their students. I started with
just one person. And, of course, there was the limitation that I
couldn't hold a lot of classes because they used the dojo most of the
time. Sunday and then early morning a few times a week -- that's
Then, some of the judo and jujutsu students started to come, too. I
talked to their instructors and said that I didn't want to take their
students but they said, "No, no, no -- it's OK. They like your class.
They really seem to be enjoying what you're doing." So, it ended up
that about half of the jujutsu class and half of the judo class joined
The classes then kept getting bigger and I didn't want to end up with
any potential conflicts with the other teachers. I felt like I had
enough students to move on. The judo/jujutsu place is an Alfalfa's
supermarket now; the building has been reconstructed, of course, but I
used to teach there -- maybe it's the meat section now or something!
AW: You mentioned that Tohei sensei helped you realize what it was to
be a human being?
KK: Right, right. He pointed out the fundamental things -- politeness
to others, respect, how you see others. Before that, I was just
concerned with learning how to throw people down. As an instructor, I
thought that was what people came to learn, but I was totally wrong
about that. Tohei sensei really came down strongly on that point to
me all the time. It seemed like everything I did was wrong -- and,
you know, it was wrong. Mostly, it was the way I thought about myself
was totally wrong.
He really helped form the foundation of who I am, more than teaching
I was only there as uchideshi for two years but I learned pretty much
all of the foundation of aikido in that time.
AW: What do you think is the aim of Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido?
KK: I enjoy teaching the technique-side of aikido. But, Tohei sensei
has said that Ki Soceity was formed to make society into a better
place. And, in a way, I was given that mission when I started to
I want my students to do their best on the mat first.
But, maybe people won't get anything else outside of techniques from
what I teach. But, if there's something "right" about it -- even if
one person understands what I' make me happy.
AW: A lot of people think that the Taigi in Ki Society is competition
and that competition is a bad thing in aikido. What would you say
that the role of Taigi competition in Ki Society?
KK: My personal understanding is that Taigi was not originally formed
as competition. Tohei sensei designed the forms as a gift for his
instructors so they wouldn't "screw up" [laughs] during a
At the time, most of his students were pretty young and going through
training kind of like in a military boot camp. We learned a lot from
Tohei sensei in a short period of time and we were able do the
techniques pretty well -- one by one. But, in a situation like a
demonstration, because the range of techniques were not that "well
digested," it became difficult. Tohei sensei gave us a tool -- the
taigi -- for us to use as a sort of guidance so we wouldn't feel like
we were getting lost. With this repertoire under our belt, we would
feel more comfortable giving a demonstration.
The people he was teaching was really close in training with him -- we
understood the basics really well with him. We were able to see him
doing these forms at demonstrations and we started noticing patterns
that he was doing. He formalized these forms a little bit later.
Later, he watched his students carefully and found that his students
were not doing the forms correctly. That's why he came up with the
idea of competiion so that we can polish what we were doing so we
didn't just plainly look alike.
A long time ago, companies like Honda were content at making passenger
cars for people like you and me to drive. But, they then started
entering auto racing like the Formula One. This was not due to their
wanting to make their passenger cars be able to drive at a high speed
like 200 miles per hour through the city. Rather, they used the
racing track as a sort of laboratory or a polishing stone to create
better technologies that they could then put back into their passenger
cars to make them into safer, higher efficiency, more ecological cars.
In a way, the taigi competition is like a Formula One racing track.
The students are not there to just "win" the competition but to use it
as a way to further polish his or her techniques. Tohei sensei always
paid close attention to how people were competing -- what was working
and what wasn't. Shallow practice would show up as people just having
technical form only. But, through taigi, people could refine their
mind and body coordination.
What goes on in the Taigi are not necessarily "street" applications.
Tohei sensei did show us those kinds of things -- arresting techniques
or how to deal with a very aggressive person. But, that's not
necessarily what we have to teach but for us to know in case we need
to teach it. We, as teachers, are expected to deal with a wide range
of students with different backgrounds. I may end up teaching a
police officer or a prison guard. But that's not something, I think,
that needs to be taught to everyone. A police officer may need to
know something that a civilian does not. A prison guard may be
restrictions on what they are able to do, so they may be taught
In regular practice, there's no need to focus on any specialized way.
Regular practice is mainly geared toward mind and body coordination.
But, there's a difference between teaching, say, a baseball player and
teaching a sumo wrestler. Teaching these kinds of people was to Tohei
sensei a sort of a personal hobby. [Laughs.] He's not teaching
baseball to a baseball player or sumo to a sumo wrestler. When he
would have time and they would ask him about things, he would teach
them about mind and body coordination.
AW: Where would you like to see Ki Society in twenty years?
KK: Oh, I hope I live that long! [Laughs.]
To look ahead so far, I would have to go back twenty years ago, then.
Back in 1980, it was still a confusing time for Ki Society. We were
still trying to organize ourselves into an organization, really. Ki
Society was not quite ten years old at the time -- it was still a
young age for an organization, and a lot of things still needed to be
Twenty years ago, Ki Society in the United States really felt a lot of
pressure from Aikikai. Ki Society had to become defensive somehow.
Twenty years from now, no one aikido to dominate, but to coexist --
not mix. We have to continue with each style. At least, that's my
general idea about any thing. For exaple, if American tried to mix
too much Japanese tradition with what is here-- It will get confuse,
even misunderstand. If American can appreciate the roots of Japanese
tradition but understand with separate languages and such as well,
then we can coexist and communicate. I'd like Ki Society to be the
same way. Maybe we won't mix with any other style but feel
comfortable with our own style so we can communicate.
Twenty years later, now, we definitely have a much better organization
that I can see.
Hopefully, Ki Society will continue to improve over the next twenty
years. In the whole organization of Ki Society, we only have a few
thousand people in the United States. It's still not a large
organization. It's really hard to predict twenty years from now, but
I think it may not be very "visible"in the public, but I think it will
integrate well with society in that time.
Ki Society now has a generation change coming up, too. All of the
senior instructors are getting old. So, naturally, the next twenty
years will be a new generation of instructors. So, I think the new
generation people need more "practical" things than older generation.
I understand the way Tohei sensei talks well, of course, but maybe his
language is a little bit too old fashioned for the younger
generations. I think Tohei sensei's generation had some ideals in
mind and pursued them. We appreciate all their efforts, but also we
have to apply their Ki to a new generation.
I think it has to happen because the generation is changing.
AW: Thank you very much, sensei, for your time.
KK: Thank you.