The early pioneers of Aikido in Hawaii- The Four Sensei

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L-R Kazuto Sugimoto, Isao Takahashi, Mitsuo “Koa”Kimura, and Yukiso Yamamoto

When Koichi Tohei sensei arrived in Hawaii in 1953, one of his biggest challenges was to overcome was the skepticism of the Issei and Nisei some of whom were seasoned martial artists in their 40’s and 50’s. These four senior high ranking martial artist converted to practicing Aikido during the early 1950’s and helped pave the way for us today. These early practitioners helped lead the way for the dissemination and growth in Hawaii and the mainland.

Yukiso Yamamoto (1904-1995) was an Issei born in Hiroshima. Yamamoto Sensei moved to Hawaii to join his parents when he was  19 years old. A long time Judo practitioner, he was 49 years old when he met Koichi Tohei Sensei in 1953. Yamamoto Sensei was amazed at this young man who could throw him effortlessly despite training in Judo for over 30 years. Yamamoto Sensei Became the Chief instructor for the state of Hawaii in 1959 and was the Chief instructor at the Honolulu Aiki Kwai after its construction in 1961. Yamamoto Sensei known for his brutal nikkyo and hard training in the early days. When asked why he applied techniques to harshly Yamamoto Sensei said “That is mind control..I wanted to show you how to protect yourself in case you are in that situation”. Sometimes he was known to be quite harsh on certain individuals to test what they would do and see if they caught what he was teaching. Clyde Takeguchi Sensei said of Yamamoto Sensei’s black belt seminar class “Eight hours of agony…just training…you would be crawling out afterwards”. ” According to Meyer Goo Sensei , he stated ” he could take you down and choke you in 10 seconds”. Donald Moriyama Sensei said” He was a dojo disciplinarian..if you were a beginner there certain principles you had to learn, until he felt you had understood them he did not show anything else”. He was known to have used atemi techniques to vital areas, but only showed those techniques to certain individuals in secret. When Koichi Tohei created the Ki Society Yamamoto sensei joined and was active till his passing in 1995. In his later years his style became more soft and he became more philosophical. Ira Lerner wrote an excellent book called “Diary of the Way” containing a biography and photos of Yamamoto Sensei along with 2 other high ranking Hawaii based martial artists in 1976.

Isao Takahashi (1912-1972) was born in Maui but lived in Japan during his youth for a number of years. Takahashi was a high ranking kendo sensei when he started training in Aikido in 1953. Takahashi sensei was known for his gentle and soft technique. His training in kendo had given him advanced understanding of ma-ai, being centered and relaxed. He was appointed assistant instructor in the late 50’s. Meyer Goo sensei said “Takahashi would constantly say don’t use your strength use your mind”. He would often use live blades in class to demonstrate how the blade could take your mind and how important it was to be relaxed to cut properly. One of the things Takahashi taught was the 4 diseases of the samurai: fear, surprise, worry and doubt. In his bokken lessons, Takahashi Sensei would teach to leave openings for a small cut but, counter with a vital cut. One of the stories I heard (I am not sure if he visited Hawaii during O Sensei’s visit) was of Takahashi Sensei meeting O Sensei and training with the bokken. O Sensei put his bokken on Takahashi Sensei forehead and Takahashi Sensei was unable to move or find any openings to strike. Takahashi moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and became the head of the Los Angeles Aikikai.

Kazuto Sugimoto (1908-1973) was a quite and gentle instructor. Sugimoto Sensei was a Judo instructor and his  technique was soft and counter based. His style contrasted with Yamamoto Sensei who was aggressive and hard. Meyer Goo Sensei states ” Sugimoto Sensei was flexible and soft ..his style was like Kyuzo Mifune Sensei”. He often said “There may be a time and a place to put your life on the line”. His attitude was by keeping a non offensive attitude hopefully the situation can resolved without conflict. He was made an assistant instructor along with Takahashi Sensei in the late 50’s. Unfortunately there is little information about Sugimoto Sensei in general.

Mitsue “Koa” Kimura (1902-1997)  was born in Makaha Valley on Oahu. His nicknames were Koa after the one of the hardest trees in Hawaii and the Palama bull for being strong as one. The story goes that after being picked on for being small as a child, Koa Sensei started training with a punching bag full of rocks and stones. He would push the bag and punch it when it swung back. After training for some time (He eventually could stop the swinging 200lbs bag with a punch will no injury)he got in a fight with 4 local Hawaiians and severely beat (He broke a couple of jaws and knocked them out.)them earning the name Koa. Koa Sensei trained in Lua and Kempo Karate but never revealed who he learned any of his training from. In those days Lua training was very secretive and not just anyone could train. Koa owned a body fender shop and would take out dents by putting a wood block on the dent and punching the dent out!  According to Roy Suenaka Sensei, Koa Sensei would punch a tractor tire 1000 punches every day before work. Once at Pearl City dojo (Where he taught) in a talk with Koichi Tohei Sensei, he told Tohei Sensei “This is Ki!” jumped and punched the concrete ground full power in front of the students. Tohei sensei calmly stated ” That is Baka (fool)” and told everyone not to do that. Randy Scoville Sensei recalled Koa Sensei doing a tsuki technique with Tohei Sensei, to which Tohei Sensei avoided and Koa Sensei punched and cracked a concrete wall to no ill effect. Koa Sensei was a generous kind person often bringing meat from hunting to dojo parties and using Hawaiian deep massage to realign organs and improve health. According to Ralph Glanstein Sensei “On the mat he was a murderer… he had perfect timing”. Koa Sensei taught at Honolulu Aikido dojo, Windward dojo and was the head instructor at Pearl city.

Special thanks to Clyde Takeguchi Sensei, Meyer Goo Sensei, Donald Moriyama Sensei and Randy Scoville Sensei for contributing information. Meyer Goo provided the picture.

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5 thoughts on “The early pioneers of Aikido in Hawaii- The Four Sensei

    • Thanks Anna! I really thought the contrasts between the “Hard” and “Soft” teaching styles must have made an interesting contrast at the dojo. It is a shame there is not much more information on these teachers.

    • Thank you Muromoto Sensei! You are one of my prime influences for researching Aikido and martial arts in general. Thank you again!

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