Toyoda, Aikido Shihan, was born in Japan on November 8, 1947 and passed
away in Chicago on July 4, 2001.
The Toyoda name is
an old one, tracing back to a branch of the Fujiwara clan, one of the
ancient noble families that vied for control during the early civil wars
in Japan. It was such conflicts that ultimately led to the settling
of this branch of the Toyoda on their current family lands in Tochigi
prefecture, some 60 miles north of Tokyo. This occurred about 400
years ago; at that time, the area was undeveloped and far from the center
of power in Kyoto. It is believed that the Toyoda, having backed a
losing side in war, were forced to move to this place. There, they
took up the life of the samurai-farmer. Their mon (family crest) ꠠ that of the Fujiwara- can still be seen on the eaves of the old family
At the battle of
Sekigahara, which resulted in a decisive victory for Tokugawa Ieyasu,
founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, the Toyoda were this time on the
winning side. The result was a large amount of land, which remained
in the family until the land-distribution policies of MacArthur reduced
it. Today about 50 acres remain. Interestingly, these
ancestral lands are adjacent to the lands of another prominent Aikido
teacher, Koichi Tohei, who first popularized Aikido in the United States.
The Tohei and Toyoda families have been neighbors for centuries,
periodically squabbling over their boundary, which is marked by a stream.
This close proximity
to the Tohei family was to have a decisive impact on the direction of
Toyoda Shihanfe. His older brother Toshi, an Aikido student
under Koichi Tohei Sensei, would often take the young Toyoda with him
while attending classes. At first this was a babysitting
arrangement. At age 10, however, Toyoda Shihan himself began Aikido
throughout his childhood, also studying Judo from age 12. Eventually he
abandoned Judo to concentrate fully on Aikido. At age 17 he was
awarded his shodan rank. Tohei Sensei was in Hawaii at the time
instructing, so the examination was given by the famous Morihiro Saito
It was at age 17
that Toyoda Shihan also began misogi training, a tradition at the dojo of
Tohei Sensei. This was training in breathing and Zen meditation
given at the notorious Ichikukai Dojo in Tokyo. Ichikukai was
founded by a student of the renowned Meiji-era swordsman, calligrapher and
Zen master Yamaoka Tesshu; it still carries a reputation for extremely
difficult training of a type rarely undertaken by present day students.
At age 18, Toyoda
Shihan entered Senshu University to begin studying law. He lived for
a brief time with the late Akira Tohei Sensei at an apartment near the
Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, attending classes with Osensei, Morihei
Ueshiba, as well as the future Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba. Shortly
after, while still continuing to train at the Hombu Dojo, he moved into
Ichikukai dojo as Jyoju, a resident disciple. Here, in addition to the
misogi training , he formally began Zen training under the guidance of
Tesso Hino Sensei, the dojo-cho of Ichikukai, and Bokugyukutsu Keizan
Roshi, Zen master, who would come once monthly to conduct sesshin
(intensive Zen retreat).
For three years he
endured the training at Ichikukai, while also going to school and training
in Aikido. He recalls this time as being one in which there was no
time for rest. The severity of the training at Ichikukai, coupled
with his studies, tested his endurance to its limits.
After completing his
time at Ichikukai, Toyoda Shihan moved to an apartment near Hombu Dojo,
where he continued to attend classes three hours each day. At this
time he finished his law studies and graduated from Senshu University.
But, upon reflection, he had an important realization: he was not
interested in law as a career. Aikido, and the life of shugyo or
intensive training, was what truly mattered to him. Making the
decision to pursue Aikido professionally, he enrolled as uchideshi
(live-in disciple) at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. By this time Osensei
had died. Toyoda Shihan therefore became the first uchideshi
directly under the new Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
Now at age 22, he
was ranked sandan and was assisting with instruction at several locations.
At this time, the current Doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba, was beginning his
At age 24, Toyoda
Shihan was awarded the rank of yondan. His teaching activities in
Japan would eventually include classes at 11 dojo, including Daio Bunka
University, Seikei University, and International Christian University.
He also traveled to South Korea, where his instruction included classes
for hapkido groups and the Korean CIA. He traveled often as otomo
(attendant and demonstration assistant) for Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and had
contact with many other prominent teachers such as Saito Sensei and Yasuo
The dramatic split
which shook the Aikido world occurred at this time, when Koichi Tohei,
then the Chief Instructor at Aikikai Hombu Dojo, left the Aikikai to
develop his own Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Society) organization. Toyoda
Shihan followed his obligation to his original teacher, and sided with
Tohei Sensei. Eventually, he was given the position of Chief
Instructor of Aikido technique for the Ki Society. He also was the
author of the bylaws for that organization. In 1974, at Tohei
Senseiऩrection, he settled in Chicago to begin spreading Aikido in
the United States. He was 27 years old, and now held the rank of
There was very little Aikido in the mainland United States in 1974, and
so there was little base to build upon. Through tireless work,
Aikido began to spread and develop. Traveling nearly every weekend
for many years to teach and organize across the United States, Toyoda
Shihan ranked rokudan and independent from the organization of
Koichi Tohei Sensei 毵nded his own organization in 1984: the
Aikido Association of America. Dojo were established in cities and
towns which had no Aikido; students trained and eventually became
instructors; new affiliates were born.
Along with these
travels, Toyoda Shihan worked to develop AAAਥadquarters in Chicago.
It was there that the first of the National Instructorӥminars was
held; AAA was the first organization to offer such a training, 塣hing
how to teach⡴her than simply practicing. It is this
recognition 䨡t teaching requires a unique and advanced set of skills
not necessarily imparted through general practice alone 䨡t has been
at the core of Toyoda Shihan෯rk. Today, all of his instructors
are required to be re-certified through attendance at such a seminar at
least once every two years.
The result of Toyoda
Shihan's work is that the Aikido Association of America became the largest
organization under a single Shihan-level instructor in the United States.
While it is easy to talk about this growth as a natural process, it is
truly only through the physical work of Toyoda Shihan, traveling and
sacrificing on a daily basis with the same intensity and energy he learned
as a young trainee at Ichikukai Dojo, that this occurred.
international as well. Responding to the request for quality Aikido
instruction from many other nations, Toyoda Shihan founded a sister
organization of AAA, Aikido Association International (AAI). At the
time of Toyoda Shihan's death, the AAI was responsible for instructional
programs in 11 other nations 鮣luding new branches in Japan itself.
A third organization, Aikido International Foundation (AIF), was founded
as well. A federally tax-exempt, not-for-profit educational and
charitable organization, AIF provides economic and other assistance to
Aikido practitioners in many nations.
There have been
other activities. The Japanese Culture Center, a place where persons
of any background can gather to receive instruction in traditional arts
such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy, as well as
Japanese language and various martial arts, was founded in Chicago in
1978, and has become the model for several similar institutions across the
country. More than 1,000 persons per year attend classes there, in
an atmosphere of cross-cultural understanding and sharing.
Zen Dojo Sogenkai, a lay organization devoted to promoting Rinzai Zen
meditation and training methods, was also founded in Chicago in 1979 and
has spread to a number of affiliated branches. Toyoda Shihan,
confirmed as a Zen master in 1997 with the Buddhist name of Tenzan Gensei
Roshi, acted as chairman of the board. The Sogenkai is committed to
propagating the teachings of the late Omori Sogen Roshi, a Zen, sword, and
calligraphy master, considered the greatest Zen master of the 20th
century. Sogenkai is affiliated with Daihonzan Chozen-ji, a Rinzai
temple founded by Omori Roshi in Hawaii and overseen by his successor,
Tenshin Tanouye Roshi. Toyoda Shihan was a successor of Tanouye Roshi.
This unique lineage, integrating the teachings of Budo (martial arts),
Zen, and the fine arts, is unlike any other in the world.
In 1994 a historic
development occurred: Toyoda Shihan re-established ties with the Aikikai,
through the help of Kisaburo Osawa Sensei, a former mentor, and with the
approval of then Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
At the beginning of the new millennium, Toyoda Shihan continued to
build upon and stress what became the hallmarks of his instruction:
powerful, effective technique, clear instructional methodology, the
importance of instructor certification and training, and the spirit of
Budo which must inspire and motivate all of our activities. Recently
celebrating his 25th year teaching Aikido in America, he saw the coming
decades as filled with promise and hope for the continued growth of Aikido
in America and in the world. Toyoda Shihan was determined that the
AAA/AAI would be at the center of this growth. Supporting and
respecting the art௲igins in Japan, while at the same time creating
our own expression and strong art here where we stand, AAA and AAI proudly
move forward with the legacy of the man whose dream created them, and has
driven them so successfully.