Fumio Toyoda Sensei, A Memorial Tribute

Written by Gaku Homma

A formative figure in the history of Aikido has gone from us to heaven. His life, while short in comparison was not without impact. Especially for the development of Aikido in the United States, Fumio Toyoda Sensei’s life is a very important testimonial to the first generations of pioneer instructors in this country. Fumio Toyoda Sensei is the Founder of the American Aikido Association. Although very active in the United States and worldwide, his activities have not received wide spread coverage by the various Aikido publications.

I have known Fumio Toyoda Sensei personally since young adulthood and have a great deal of respect for his challenges and accomplishments. For this reason, I would like to share with you a profile of the man I have known and the obstacles he overcome in his lifetime.

I first met Toyoda Sensei when I was about seventeen. At that time, he was an uchideshi at Ichiku Kai Misogi dojo. Ichiku Kai Misogi dojo was also a place of misogi training for Koichi Tohei Sensei, who later became the founder of Ki Aikido. On the first floor of the dojo, Shinto misogi training was practice. The second floor of the dojo housed a space for Zen training. Many years later, Toyoda Sensei’s own dojo Tenshin Kan in Chicago, Illinois would house a Zen dojo on the second floor, like the dojo of his youth. The training practiced at Ichiku Kai Misogi dojo was also later incorporated into the Ki Aikido taught by Koichi Tohei Sensei.

Misogi shugyo at the time, consisted of three continuous days of vigorous chanting seated in seiza,(a sitting position on ones knees) spurred on by slaps and yells of senior students. Only short breaks for rest were allowed, making this training exceptionally difficult. This training was held once every month. When the uchideshi were not practicing misogi they were involved in Zen training. The practice was hard and strict, but as a rule, the windows and doors were always open and unlocked. If an uchideshi wished to quit his training and run away, the door was always open. In some ways this temptation made training even more difficult: if the doors had been locked, it would have been easier to resign oneself to not being able to escape.

Toyoda Sensei and Koichi Tohei Sensei were both born in the Tochigi prefecture in the same hometown in Japan. Growing up in the same hometown, Toyoda Sensei practiced Aikido under Koichi Tohei Sensei. After living as an uchideshi at Ichiku kai dojo, Toyoda Sensei enrolled in college. At school, Toyoda Sensei soon became a leader in the University Aikido club. It was not long before Toyoda Sensei became All Japan University Aikido Federation President. He was highly respected by his peers, and was commonly seen surrounded by students in black school uniforms (Gakusei fuku). There were accounts told of a young Toyoda Sensei venturing into downtown Shinjuku in Tokyo to attend a function accompanied by over one hundred students in black! Like something from a movie, so impressive was he that even Yakuza (like Japanese Mafia) bosses would step out of his way. Following a natural progression, after graduating from the university, Toyoda Sensei became an uchideshi at Hombu dojo under second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. He took up quarters at Hombu dojo on the 1st floor in the custodian’s quarters. He was the number one hopeful as a future Aikikai shihan (instructor). During this time he was used extensively as primarily uke for Doshu Kisshomaru. He was a role model for his peers and his future seemed guaranteed. In 1974 however… his life was to change forever.

With the death of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in 1969, the smell of smoke was in the air. In 1974 the flames erupted. Toyoda Sensei was caught up in a power struggle amongst those above him in rank and position that would affect the rest of his life.

Before this time, Koichi Tohei Sensei was Aikikai’s chief instructor (shihan bucho). In 1974 Koichi Tohei Sensei broke from Aikikai to form his own organization. Toyoda Sensei was caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, he felt loyalty to his first instructor, Koichi Tohei Sensei. On the other hand he felt loyalty to the Founders organization Aikikai, in whose stead lay ahead a promising future. After much deliberation, Toyoda Sensei chose Koichi Tohei Sensei to follow, and moved to Chicago to begin a new chapter in his life.

The division in Aikikai at this time was having its affects on domestic relationships in the United States Aikido community. As pioneer instructors, Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei, Mitsunari Kanai Sensei, Shuji Maruyama Sensei and Akira Tohei Sensei were a tight community. Except for Kanai Sensei, originally all of them had been students of Koichi Tohei Sensei. In a very strict martial art society atmosphere of loyalty, ranking and affiliation, these instructors were also faced with the same very difficult decisions to make.

In the end, Yamada Sensei, Kanai Sensei, and Akira Tohei Sensei chose to stay with Founder Ueshiba’s Aikikai organization. Shuji Maruyama Sensei who was also born in a town near Toyoda Sensei, ultimately chose Koichi Tohei Sensei who was also his first teacher. Shuji Maruyama Sensei in Philadelphia, along with Toyoda Sensei in Chicago, and Shiohira Sensei in San Fransisco started a new organization under Koichi Tohei Sensei called Ki-No-Ken Kyu Kai.

This was a time of instability and confusion in the United States and many disputes followed. It was a difficult time for both the instructors that remained with Aikikai and those that departed. Accusations were frequent and infighting concerning satellite Dojo affiliation was commonplace. The rifts that in sued have now become a painful part of United States Aikido history that in some ways remain to this day. Toyoda Sensei, with his background experience and skill at organizing dojos at the college level set about the task of aligning dojos across the US to join their new organization; Ki Aikido.

Toyoda Sensei with his bold and creative management style laid the foundation for the American Kino Ken Kyu Kai Organization (Ki Aikido) that we see today in the United States. By the way, the name “Ki Aikido” was created by Shuji Maruyama Sensei from Philadelphia. Before this name was created, Koichi Tohei Sensei’s organization was called Shin Shin Touitsu Aikido.

Toyoda Sensei opened his own Ki Aikido branch dojo; Tenshin Kan, in Chicago. Chicago was also home to Akira Tohei Sensei and his Aikikai affiliated dojo. Both had deep reservations about each other’s loyalties, and the gap between them was one that was never to be breached.

In 1976 while Toyoda Sensei was still seriously involved in Ki Aikido, I met with him in Chicago. Finding him painting in a large empty garage space, he showed me his plans for building out the space as a future dojo with uchideshi quarters etc. That evening he invited me to visit a friend’s apartment, where he was currently sharing space, sleeping on the floor. It puzzled me at the time, that he did not even have a bed to call his own. Dinner that night consisted of cheap instant ramen noodles, which we shared as we talked into the night. That night was the first time I learned that he was ill. He spoke of not having any money, and that he had been surviving on plain rice, topped at times with a salty pickle, pickled seaweed or salty squid. There came a day when he could no longer taste the salt and this concerned him. He was told he needed serious medical attention but had no money or time for this. In fact he said that any money he might come into went into his Dojo and Aikido. This he confided to me as we stared up at the ceiling from the floor of his friend’s apartment where we both slept that night.

In 1980, Toyoda Sensei’s life was again to go through a major change. After spending years dedicating his spirit, his energy and his time to the teacher he had chosen to follow, it was time for a difficult break again. Toyoda Sensei and Maruyama Sensei sent a farewell letter to Koichi Tohei Sensei. I know first hand why they left, but out of respect for those who have passed, I will only say the following. Toyoda Sensei was a front line soldier that left Aikikai and his future to come to a new country in the line of duty to a teacher he held in the highest regard. He had little to eat, no comfortable place to sleep and worked continuously. These efforts were not recognized or understood by the ones he followed.

Maruyama Sensei went on to form his own organization, Kokikai Aikido. Toyoda Sensei left and formed the Aikido Association of America. The efforts of his past, all of the trials and the tribulations had already begun to take their toll on his health.

In instructional videos I have seen featuring Toyoda Sensei, he looks vigorous and healthy, but a bandage is sometimes visible on his arm where transfusions were given. It became apparent that his life was becoming endangered and after a long period of illness, his brother with whom he had a very close relationship with gave him one of his own kidneys. After this surgery, Toyoda Sensei visited me in Denver. He confided that when he was in the hospital he had a spiritual revelation. Before the surgery, all he could feel was incredible gratitude to his brother for giving him this chance. Afterwards, still groggy from the surgery, it took a team of nurses and aides to keep him from leaving his bed to find where his brother lay. When he fully awoke from the surgery he felt as if he had been given a second chance at life, one that he could not miss or waste one minute of. He felt as if he were no longer afraid of anything in life.

After his recovery, his actions became his testimony for his newfound dedication to life, his newfound enlightenment. He continued to build his organization Aikido Association of America with a passion and single-minded mission and purpose. Some who were not aware of his medical condition and history might even have considered him pushy or overly aggressive. Some publications fell into this category. Several times he even approached me to join his organization but I had seen too many politics in my lifetime and wanted to remain independent. In a gesture of affability, I allowed him take over affiliation of a few of my branch dojos closer to his headquarters in Chicago.

Though his efforts and perseverance, Toyoda Sensei built the Aikido Association of America into an international organization. Like a great artist that wants to paint the one great painting before his time is gone, I believe he felt that whatever time he had left, he wanted to dedicate to Aikido and his Aikido Association of America.

With his organization headquarters in Chicago, Toyoda Sensei weathered competition from the organizations of Koichi Tohei Sensei, Akira Tohei Sensei, and earlier, Mitsugu Saotome Sensei (a former Aikikai shihan later Founder of the Aikido School of Ueshiba). Earlier at Hombu dojo, I remember Toyoda Sensei and Saotome Sensei having very serious differences resulting on more than one occasion in fisticuffs. One occasion I remember involved the two of them in a physical “disagreement” on the eve of the Founder’s wake. But this is another story, for another time. Being the youngest of the Japanese instructors in this group in Chicago, Toyoda Sensei struggled with the burden of the loyalties he felt for his peers, his sempai (aikido student, senior in rank at the same dojo) and the Sensei he had practiced under. In front of him was Akira Tohei Sensei behind him was Mitsugu Saotome Sensei. Under what I can imagine was a great weight, Toyoda Sensei still managed to build his own international organization.

When Toyoda Sensei first came to the United States, I think the last thing on his mind was building his own organization. He came as an innocent, young martial artist who worked tirelessly and loyally for what he believed. Falling victim to leaders who did not appreciate his efforts, he was forced to sever relationships for his own survival. I can completely understand his feeling of not being able to go backwards, of feeling he had to forge ahead on his own. Later on I can remember him telling me that one-day he would build a large organization and return to Hombu (Aikikai Headquarters). Even though his organization had been formally accepted back into the Aikikai, when Toyoda Sensei attended the funeral services for the late Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and the inauguration of the present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba, he had to keep a low profile due to his previous departure from the Hombu Dojo many years earlier. Such is the nature of Japanese society.

The last message I received from him was last fall. It was delivered by one of my students who had been visiting his area. He said “Tell him hello please, I haven’t seen him in a long time”.

In America, Toyoda Sensei was one of the few Japanese Aikido instructors to have gone through such extensive Aikido training and practice in Japan. He has left a big footmark on the history of Aikido in the United States. I wish I could have listened more about his opinions on life and Aikido. My memories of him are from our youth together at Hombu dojo. I remember our days of practice, of drinking together, of talking long into the night in his 5 x 10 apartment above the vegetable store. I remember a scuffle with him in front of Hombu dojo that got us in big trouble with Doshu Kisshomaru.

He lived on the edge between life and death. He walked and he chose life. His dream is now spread all over the world through the Aikido Association of America. His strong spirit cannot compare to those who just talk about dreams. He won, he achieved his goal so then he could pass away. He has taught those of us who practice Aikido the lesson of never giving up by example. Never giving up, is stronger than who wins and who looses. His life story is proof of this. Even though his body is now gone, his message and his strong spirit will live on in our hearts.

The last thing I wish to convey is to his students.

Keep the dream and philosophy he has left to all of you. Help each other. Now that he is gone, stay on you own path. Don’t be pulled apart in different directions by others; you have had a very good instructor.

To Fumio Toyoda Sensei…Sayonara

Aikido Nippon Kan
Kancho Gaku Homma