Toyoda Shihan


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Fumio 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 farmhouse.

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 Shihan଩fe.  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 training.

He continued 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 Sensei.

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 training.

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 Kobayashi Sensei.

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 godan.

Toyoda Shihan at the April 2001 Instructors' Seminar at Ryoshinkan Dojo, the new AIF Headquarters dojoThere 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.

Growth was 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.

The International 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.

Toyoda Shihan, smiling as usual, with James Nakayama Shihandai at the April 2001 Instructors' SeminarAt 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.