Fumio Toyoda Shihan

Fumio Toyoda Shihan, born in Japan on November 8, 1947, is the founder of the Aikido Association of America (AAA) and the inspiration out of which Zenshinkan Dojo was created. Toyoda Shihan passed away on July 4, 2001. The Toyoda name is ultimately traced back as a branch of the Fujiwara clan, one of the ancient noble families that vied for control during the early civil wars in Japan. It was such conflicts which ultimately led to the settling of this branch of the Toyoda on their current family lands in Tochigi prefecture, some 60 miles north of Tokyo. This occurred about 400 years ago. There, they took up the life of the samurai-farmer. Their family crest, that of the Fujiwara, can still be seen on the eaves of the old family farmhouse.

These ancestral lands are adjacent to the lands of another prominent Aikido teacher: Koichi Tohei Shihan. The Tohei and Toyoda families have been neighbors for centuries. At age 10 Toyoda Shihan began Aikido training. He continued throughout his childhood, also studying Judo from age 12. Eventually he abandoned Judo to concentrate on Aikido completely. At age 17 he was awarded his shodan rank.

It was at age 17 that Toyoda Shihan also began misogi training, a tradition at the dojo of Tohei Shihan. In particular, this was the training in breathing and Zen meditation given at the notorious Ichikukai Dojo in Tokyo. Ichikukai was founded by a student of the renowned Meiji-era swordsman, calligrapher and Zen master Yamaoka Tesshu; it still carries a reputation for extremely difficult training of a type rarely undertaken by modern persons.

At age 18, Toyoda Shihan entered Senshu University to begin studying law. During this time, he was attending Aikido classes with O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba as well as the future Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. Shortly after, while still continuing to train at Hombu Dojo, he moved into Ichikukai dojo as Jyoju, a resident disciple. Here, in addition to the misogi training mentioned earlier, he formally began Zen training under the guidance of Tesso Hino Shihan, the dojo-cho of Ichikukai, and Bokugyukutsu Keizan Roshi.

For three years he endured the training at Ichikukai, while also going to school and training in Aikido. The severity of the training at Ichikukai, coupled with his studies, tested his endurance to its limits. After completing his time at Ichikukai, Toyoda Shihan continued to attend classes at Hombu Dojo three hours each day. At this time he finished his law studies and graduated from Senshu. Toyoda Shihan realized the life of shugyo or intensive training, was what truly mattered to him. Making the decision to pursue Aikido professionally, he enrolled as uchideshi (live-in disciple) at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Toyoda Shihan became the first uchideshi directly under the new Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba.

Now at age 22, he was ranked sandan and was assisting with instruction at several locations. At age 24, Toyoda Shihan was awarded the rank of yondan. His teaching activities in Japan would eventually include classes at 11 dojo. He also traveled to South Korea, where his instruction included classes for hapkido groups and the Korean CIA. He traveled often as otomo (attendant and demonstration assistant) for Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and had contact with many other prominent teachers such as Saito Shihan and Yasuo Kobayashi Shihan.

The dramatic split which shook the Aikido world occurred at this time, when Koichi Tohei Shihan, then the Chief Instructor at Aikikai Hombu Dojo, left the Aikikai to develop his own Ki no Kenkyukai (Ki Society) organization. Toyoda Shihan followed his obligation to his original teacher, and sided with Tohei Shihan. Eventually, he was given the position of Chief Instructor of Aikido technique for the Ki Society. In 1974, at Tohei Shihan's direction, he settled in Chicago to begin spreading Aikido in the United States. He was 27 years old, and now held the rank of godan.

Traveling nearly every weekend for many years to teach and organize across the United States, Toyoda Shihan - now ranked rokudan and independent from the organization of Koichi Tohei Shihan - founded his own organization in 1984: the Aikido Association of America. Dojo were established in cities and towns which had no Aikido; students trained and eventually became instructors; new affiliates were born. Along with these travels, Toyoda Shihan worked to develop AAA's headquarters in Chicago.

Toyoda Shihan founded a sister organization of AAA, Aikido Association International (AAI). AAI currently oversees instructional programs in 11 other nations - including new branches in Japan itself. A third organization, Aikido International Foundation (AIF), was founded to provide economic and other assistance to Aikido practitioners in many nations. Also, a Japanese Culture Center was formed in 1978, where persons of any background can gather to receive instruction in traditional arts such as the tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy, as well as Japanese language and various martial arts.

The International Zen Dojo Sogenkai, a lay organization devoted to promoting Rinzai Zen meditation and training methods, was also founded in Chicago in 1979. Toyoda Shihan was confirmed as a Zen master in 1997 with the Buddhist name of Tenzan Gensei Roshi. The Sogenkai is committed to propagating the teachings of the late Omori Sogen Roshi, a Zen, sword, and calligraphy master, considered the greatest Zen master of the 20th century. Sogenkai is affiliated with Daihonzan Chozen-ji, a Rinzai temple founded by Omori Roshi in Hawaii and overseen by his successor, Tenshin Tanouye Roshi. Toyoda Shihan is a successor of Tanouye Roshi. This unique lineage, integrating the teachings of Zen, Budo, and the fine arts, is unlike any other in the world.

In 1994 Toyoda Shihan re-established ties with Aikikai Hombu Dojo, with the help of Kisaburo Osawa Shihan, a former mentor, and with the approval of then Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. In this manner, it can now be said that the activities of Toyoda Shihan have brought further connection and growth to the original home of world Aikido.

Toyoda Shihan's tireless efforts formed a vast network of dojo, which became the largest Aikido organization under a single Shihan in the United States. His organization and vision of quality Aikido practice and instruction continue to thrive in his students around the world. Toyoda Shihan's goal of developing an International Aikido Headquarters was realized with the completion of the Aikido International Foundation (AIF) facility in Palatine, Illinois. His magnetic personality as well as his dynamic and powerful technique attracted a following of diverse persons from all walks of life that currently make up the legacy that he left behind. Toyoda Shihan's Aikido is a living art, passed to him by the founder of Aikido, O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, and Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and passed to us through his mind, his sword and his spirit.

(Historical information on Toyoda Shihan was obtained through the Aikido Association of American and the Toyoda family)