“What was the reason for the delay and did Morihei Ueshiba actually authorize Tohei Sensei’s 10th dan promotion?”
Koichi Tohei Sensei is one of aikido’s most famous instructors and was the head of the Aikikai Instructors Staff for many years prior to leaving the Aikikai. Tohei gained fame as one of aikido’s pioneers and was responsible for taking the art to Hawaii in 1953. He also authored numerous early books on aikido that greatly contributed to the early success of the art.
The subject of Tohei Sensei’s 10th dan promotion has generated quite a bit of controversy over the years. It seems that enough time has elapsed that access to source materials is scarce and therefore the rumor-mill has taken over and various speculations have been made.
The unclear point has to do with the fact that an “Inauguration Party” for Tohei Sensei’s 10th dan was held on October 16, 1970, fully 18 months after the passing of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. What was the reason for the delay and did Morihei Ueshiba actually authorize Tohei Sensei’s 10th dan promotion?
Actually, the answer to this seeming discrepancy is easily found by consulting the Winter 1970 issue of the “Aikido” newsletter published by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. It seems that Tohei was awarded his 10th dan officially by the Founder himself on January 15, 1969 at the Kagami Biraki celebration held at the Hombu Dojo.
What happened next explains the confusion. The Founder fell ill in February and passed away on April 29, 1969. A high rank such as a 10th dan award would obligatorily involve a large-scale congratulatory party. However, due to the passing of Morihei Ueshiba and the official one-year of mourning, it was inappropriate to hold any type of celebratory event for Tohei’s promotion. Tohei’s congratulatory party also had to wait until after the official inauguration of the Second Aikido Doshu, Ueshiba’s son Kisshomaru, after a one-year wait.
As a result of this sequence of events, Tohei Sensei’s 10th dan party actually took place in October of 1970 at the Akasaka Prince Hotel with hundreds of guests attending including a Who’s Who of the aikido world and several of Tohei Sensei’s friends from his school years. A famous portrait from the event, now nearly forgotten, has survived. In it, Tohei is accompanied left to right by the following Aikikai instructors: Minoru Kurita, Fumio Toyoda, Seijuro Masuda, Koretoshi Maruyama, Sadateru Arikawa, Norihiko Ichihashi, Koichi Tohei, Shigenobu Okumura, Kisaburo Osawa, Shizuo Imaizumi, Masando Sasaki, Akira Tohei, Yoshio Kuroiwa, and Mitsugi Saotome.
This photo is very telling in the sense that among those posing with Tohei are several Hombu instructors who were most closely allied with him. After Tohei resigned from the Aikikai in May 1974, several of those appearing joined Tohei on his departure. Also, noteworthy is the absence of the Second Doshu and several of the higher-ranking Hombu instructors in the “official portrait.” As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
I hope this clears up any confusion involved with Koichi Tohei Sensei 10th dan ranking. Actually, there is more to say about several other teachers who received 10th dan from the Founder outside of normal organizational channels or posthumously that we will save for another occasion.