In 1964, the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba or O-Sensei, dispatched one of his uchi-deshi (live in students) at the Hombu Dojo (Aikido World Headquarters) to New York City in answer to the request of a small group of enthusiasts eager to learn the traditional art of Aikido. The arrival of Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei was soon followed by Mitsunari Kanai Sensei, Akira Tohei Sensei and Kazuo Chiba Sensei, whose efforts and teachings led to the formation of the United States Aikido Federation (USAF), a national not-for-profit organization and the sole United States representative to the International Aikido Federation.
Though the USAF was incorporated in 1976, the arrival of these Sensei to the United States spanned many years, starting in 1964 and ending in 1981. The USAF was made up of regional federations under the umbrella organization. Yamada Sensei settled in New York City in 1964 at the New York Aikikai, the future Headquarters for the USAF. Kanai Sensei became Chief Instructor of New England Aikikai in Cambridge, MA in 1966. Yamada and Kanai Sensei headed the Eastern Region of the USAF. Akira Tohei Sensei came to Chicago in 1972 and established the Midwest Aikido Federation. In 1975, Tohei Sensei founded the Midwest Aikido Center and the Midwest Region then joined the USAF. Upon Chiba Sensei’s arrival to the states in 1981, he settled in San Diego, creating San Diego Aikikai and heading the Western Region of the USAF. These Sensei, along with Sadao Yoshioka Sensei of Hawaii Aikikai, formed the USAF Shihankai (teaching committee) in 1982 to administer the new "regions." In 1987, Seichii Sugano Sensei, also an uchi-deshi of O-Sensei who had previously taught Aikido throughout Australia, and Belgium, joined Yamada Sensei at the New York Aikikai.
This unique formula of the regionalized USAF, with its distinct and vital instructors throughout the country, led to the rapid growth of the USAF membership. It was a rare opportunity for students in such a vast country to have close access to the spirit and intent of O-Sensei through the teachings of these men. Each Shihan portrayed his own unique style and personality, though they shared a dedication to spread O-Sensei’s Aikido. The spirit and quality of their instruction attracted a following of students that often spanned the country and crossed regional lines. These students were in turn motivated to start dojo and pass on what they had learned, thereby forming a nucleus of the USAF that was directly linked to O-Sensei.
In 2005, the USAF Board and Shihankai unanimously voted to unify the regions, with the goal of creating a durable centralized organization that would survive its remaining founders and continue the spirit and quality of Aikido as envisioned by O-Sensei. With over 4,000 members, the USAF is now governed by a Board of Directors with representatives from many parts of the country, and a Technical Committee overseeing testing and teaching requirements. Yamada Sensei acts as both President of the Board and Chairman of the Techincal Committee. It is with great appreciation that the USAF remembers its leaders, Yoshioka Sensei who passed away in 1990, Tohei Sensei who passed away in 1999, Kanai Sensei who passed away in 2004 and Sugano Sensei who passed away in 2010. Their students and heritage remain an integral part of the USAF, as does Chiba Sensei, who, after founding Birankai International, remains a close, lifelong friend of the USAF.
The USAF maintains friendly relationships with other Aikido based organization as part of its role as the US representative to the International Aikido Federation. It also has strong relationships with dojo in South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. A bright future for Aikido in the United States is as vital to the USAF as its history. A direct lineage to O-Sensei and close relations with Hombu Dojo and Doshu (world leader of Aikido) enhance the unique qualities of the USAF.
Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei
Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan, Hachidan, 8th dan
New York Aikikai
In 1955, at the age of 18, Yamada Sensei was accepted in the Hombu Dojo uchi-deshi program (live-in apprentice) to study directly with O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido. In addition to O-Sensei, he also studied under such Aikido masters as Kissomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Kisaburo Osawa, Kenji Tomiki, Hiroshi Tada and Seigo Yamaguchi, among others.
An invitation to demonstrate Aikido at the 1964 World’s Fair brought Yamada Sensei to New York City. He stayed on to become Chief Instructor at the New York Aikikai. By 1972 he already assumed his role as Aikido ambassador to the world at large, introducing his vigorous, inspiring and joyful teaching style to thousands of appreciative students on practically every continent.
Mitsunari Kanai Sensei
Mitsunari Kanai Shihan, Hachidan, 8th dan
New England Aikikai
Chief Instructor of New England Aikikai from 1966-2004, Mitsunari Kanai Shihan was one of the last uchi deshi (live-in apprentice) of the founder of Aikido, Professor Morihei Ueshiba, or O-Sensei, with whom he studied intensively for over ten years. An 8th dan in Aikido, Kanai Sensei was also a master of other martial arts of Japan and expert in the use of the sword and staff. He was assigned to New England Aikikai in 1966 by Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo.
Kanai Sensei was instrumental in the founding of the United States Aikido Federation and was Technical Director for the Eastern United States. He taught widely in Japan, Europe, and throughout the United States and Canada. He passed away on March 28, 2004.
Akira Tohei Sensei
Akira Tohei Shihan, Hachidan, 8th dan
Tohei Sensei was born in 1929 in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. He began his practice of Aikido in 1946 under the direct instruction of Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba.
In 1963, Tohei was asked by the Aikido founder to accompany his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba on a three-month tour of Aikido dojo in Hawaii. After which, Tohei was asked to stay and teach Aikido throughout the Hawaiian Islands for nine months. In 1964, he returned to Japan and joined the teaching staff at Aikido World Headquarters (Hombu Dojo).
For the next eight years Tohei, in addition to his teaching at the headquarters, was also an instructor at Asia University, Akita Economics University, Keio University, Nihon Women’s University, the Ground Self-Defense Forces, and the Naval Self-Defense Forces.
In 1966, Tohei Sensei was awarded the title of Shihan (Master Instructor, "teacher of teachers") by the Aikido founder. Tohei was then dispatched to Chicago in 1972 where he founded both the Midwest Aikido Federation, and in 1975, the Midwest Aikido Center. Shortly thereafter the MAF became the Midwest Region of the USAF.
Tohei Sensei was promoted to 8th dan in 1989 by Aikido Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba. He also served as Chairman of both the USAF Technical Committee and North American Shihankai.
Through Tohei Sensei’s guidance and leadership, the Midwest Aikido Federation grew to over 50 dojo throughout the Midwest. Up until his death on July 2, 1999, he was the most senior Aikido instructor in the United States.
Kazuo Chiba Sensei
Kazuo Chiba Shihan, Hachidan, 8th dan
Kazuo Chiba Sensei was born in Feb. 5, 1940 in Tokyo, Japan. After studying judo and karate, he began his Aikido training in 1958, when he was given permission by the Founder of Aikido to become his uchi-deshi (live in student). For seven years, he lived at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo and trained intensively under Morihei Ueshiba, and his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba. As part of the world-wide dissemination of Aikido, Chiba Sensei was sent to Britain in 1966, where he founded the country's first national Aikido organization, the Aikikai of Great Britain, later known as the British Aikido Federation.
In 1981, on the invitation of Yamada Sensei of the United States Aikido Federation (USAF), Chiba Sensei moved to San Diego, California, where he opened San Diego Aikikai. Over the next 25 years, as Chief Instructor of San Diego Aikikai and Chairman of the Teaching Committee, he directed the USAF Western Region, while continuing to travel and teach in Britain and continental Europe.
In 2001, Chiba Sensei founded Birankai International, a new Aikido organization designed to bring together all his students throughout the world under one umbrella. In 2006, after the USAF unified its regions, the dojo of the USAF West formed Birankai North America.
In 2008, Chiba Sensei retired as Chief Instructor of San Diego Aikikai. He remains as Founder of Birankai International and Technical Director of British Birankai, and Honorary Chair of the Birankai NA Senior Council. He continues to teach seminars and Summer Camps around the world.
Yoshioka Sensei, the Chief Instructor of the Hawaii Aiki Kai, began his training in 1955 under Yukiso Yamamoto. In 1959 He was assigned as an assistant instructor to Yamamoto Sensei at the Nuuanu YMCA in Honolulu. He became the Head Instructor of Aikido classes at the Nuuanu YMCA in 1960.
With the approval of the Hawaii Aiki Kai, the Honolulu Aiki Dojo sent him to Japan in 1967 for further training at Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. He was able to spend six weeks there. While in Japan, he lived with Akira Tohei Sensei, to whom he is deeply indebted. It was through Tohei Sensei’s support, tutelage, and encouragement that he was able to learn the intricacies of Japanese etiquette and philosophy. Yoshioka Sensei had the honor of being personally invited to spend a day at the Iwama home of the late Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. He was also the Hawaii delegate at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Hombu Dojo building.
Along with his Aikido training, Yoshioka Sensei, through Akira Tohei Sensei’s recommendation and sponsorship, successfully completed the very rigorous Misogi training at the Ichiku-kai Dojo. He was not only the oldest member of the class, but also the first foreigner to graduate from this school.
Upon the retirement of Yukiso Yamamoto in 1970, Yoshioka Sensei was appointed by the Hawaii Aiki Kai as its next Chief Instructor. This appointment was approved by the Aikido World Headquarters in Tokyo.
Ever since the inception of Aikido in Hawaii, Yoshioka Sensei has repeatedly shown his dedication and commitment to furthering Aikido as taught by the Founder. From one dojo in 1953, the Hawaii Aiki Kai -- the governing body of Aikido dojos for all Hawaii -- has grown to 15 dojos. Yoshioka Sensei was also the Head Instructor of the Honolulu Aiki Dojo, which served as the headquarters of the Hawaii Aiki Kai.
Highly respected by his peers and his students, he was appointed a member of the Superior Council of the International Aikido Federation. Yoshioka Sensei passed away on January 19, 1990 at the age of 68.
Seiichi Sugano Shihan
Seiichi Sugano Shihan, Hachidan, 8th dan
New York Aikikai
Born in 1939 in Otaru, Hokkaido, Sugano Sensei had been studying judo for six years when he read about Aikido in a magazine and went to Hombu Dojo in 1957 to begin his training. After about a year, he entered the uchi deshi program. In 1965, he moved to Australia, staying for thirteen years and establishing a strong base of Aikido practitioners. He then moved to Belgium, and began teaching throughout Europe before coming to New York City and the New York Aikikai in the late 80’s. Like his friend and colleague, Yamada Sensei, Sugano Sensei travels the world regularly, teaching Aikido and inspiring his students.
Sugano Sensei passed away on August 29, 2010.