Aikido San Diego

// September 4th, 2012 // Aikido, Aikido San Diego

Most people who have heard of Aikido imagine a very old Japanese martial art with a rich history steeped in images of feudal warriors in traditional loose-fitting black and white wrapped uniforms engaged in horse-mounted combat.  This is half correct.  Aikido is a Japanese martial art, but it was developed much later than most people realize and actually found its way into San Diego very early in its development.

Aikido is unique among martial arts in that its purpose is not personal defense at the expense of the attacker, as opposed to Krav Maga.  In developing Aikido, Ueshiba’s specific intent was to create a martial arts system in which a practitioner (or aikidoka) could defend themselves while at the same time protecting the attacker from injury.  This approach is the exact opposite of other modern self-defense systems, such as Krav Maga, which emphasize doing maximum damage to the attacker as quickly as possible.  In contrast to Krav Maga’s emphasis on violent defenses and direct striking, Aikido utilizes an opponent’s momentum in order to initiate joint locks and throws designed to neutralize threats and attacks.

At the heart of Aikido is Omoto-kyo religion.  Founded by Onisaburo Deguchi, Omoto-kyo emphasizes the attainment of utopia during the practitioner’s physical life, steps to which included demonstrating love and compassion to all, including those who desire to harm others.  (This is the heart of Aikido’s creed of a defender protecting both himself and his attacker from significant harm.)

Aikido was developed by Morihei Ueshiba starting in the early twentieth century.  Although he mostly taught in Japan (Ueshiba’s first dojo, located in Tokyo, still operates), by the time of Ueshiba’s death in 1969, Aikido had grown into an international phenomenon with dojos across Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Aikido first came to the United States in 1953 when Kenji Tomiki (the father of shodokan aikido, ‘sport aikido’) and a team of other martial artists embarked on a demonstration tour of fifteen states.   (Other practitioners had already begun to spread aikido throughout Europe the previous year.)  Within a year, the first Aikido dojo had opened in San Diego.

San Diego was the site of the first Aikido school on the United States mainland.  Ben Tsuji (who had earned an 8th Dan in traditional judo before training in Aikido) relocated from Hawaii to San Diego (El Cajon) and founded his school in October of 1954.  Tsuji popularized Aikido in San Diego County through weekly public demonstrations at Sea World’s Japanese Pavilion.  Within its first decade, Tsuji’s San Diego school, San Diego Aikikai, had trained over 2,000 students.  They have since produced dozens of internationally recognized Aikido masters who have gone on to open schools of their own.  San Diego Aikikai still operates in El Cajon.  Its sensei, Deena Drake (5th Dan), is a lineage student of Tsuji.

San Diego has several other high profile Aikido dojos including Jiai Aikido of San Diego (principal instructor Jeff Sodeman) and Ryushinkan Aikido (headed by Martin Katz, 5th Dan).  All of these are true to the principle of self- and attacker-defense – defending self while at the same time protecting the attacker from severe injury.

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