Hideo Ohba – The Aikido of “Quiet Taste”

More than anyone else, Ohba Hideo sensei can be considered the ‘teacher’ of Tomiki Aikido. Prof. Tomiki was the architect of Kyogi (Competitive) Aikido, the developer of systems and technique and conductor of seminars. As Tomiki had his professorial duties at Waseda and his academic work within the Kodokan and learned Budo societies, it was very much Ohba’s job to teach the student clubs and develop the next generation of teachers. I have always described Ohba as the most perfect self-effacing disciple but I think he deserves to be considered the most perfect partner that Tomiki could have wished for


Hideo Ohba Shihan, 9th Dan Aikido, second Chairman of the Japan Aikido Association and Kenji Tomiki’s life long friend and collaborator, has exerted a profound influence on Tomiki Aikido as it has been practised by the British Aikido Association and sister organisations in Europe since the 1970s. Indeed, in contrast to Japan, the performance of the prosaically named koryu kata, from dai ichi to dai roku have been considered to be an essential complement to sport and randori orientated practice. Within the BAA the kata that Ohba worked on and developed in addition to the koryu goshin no kata (dai san) and the koryu nage no kata (dai yon) wrought by Tomiki, are seen to provide a vital link to the original forms taught directly to both Tomiki and Ohba by Morihei Ueshiba, aikido’s founder.
There has always been a lingering disappointment in the UK that Kenji Tomiki was never able to complete plans to come to England to teach his method of aikido directly. Although in the early years of the BAA’s history the Association benefitted from long stays in the UK by Waseda University Aikidobu alumni. Figures such as Riki Kogure (later to become the JAA’s third Chairman), Ehara, Inoue and Haba, the UK never had the opportunity to witness Tomiki’s teaching at first hand. When Ohba Shihan came to teach in the UK in 1976 it was therefore an event of great emotional significance which shaped the character of the BAA’s understanding of Tomiki Aikido. That this visit should have such consequence is completely understandable, for who could be said to have stood closer to Tomiki sensei than Hideo Ohba?

The BAA was not to be disappointed by his visit for Ohba Shihan seemed to completely exemplify the character and spirit of the true Japanese sensei that we had read of in our books. Here was a polite, modest dignified and gentle man, who exuded a confident command of aikido. Here was a man of refined spirit who played the shakuhachi (Japanese flute) and yet he could be playful and full of fun. There is no doubt that during the five weeks of his visit he formed the aikido mind of a generation of BAA instructors that continues to resonate today.

Sen Rikyu, the tea master most responsible for defining the aesthetic of chado, the way of tea, described his own practice as the “tea of quiet taste”. Not concerned with ostentation or flamboyant performance, but calm, simple and direct. During his all too short stay in the UK Hideo Ohba came to personify an aikido of “quiet taste”.

To determine some of the differences in perspective and practice that have grown between the Japan Aikido Association and the BAA, since the death of Hideo Ohba in 1986, is in part to understand the importance each organisation has given to Ohba’s legacy. For the BAA this has been a determination to preserve the study of the koryu kata he systemised. For the JAA his memory and legacy has been interpreted differently. Now in the light of the schism within the ranks of the world Tomiki Aikido family drawn between the JAA loyalists and the newly constituted Shodokan Aikido Federation, a reaffirmation of his life and work seems particularly apposite.

The Study of Judo

Jigoro Kano executing hikiotoshi

Hideo Ohba first met Kenji Tomiki in 1931, when Tomiki took a position as a teacher of public affairs at Kakunodate Junior High School in Akita Prefecture. Ohba had entered the school when it opened on April 8, 1925. He attended the school with his younger brother Yoshio and neighbours remembered them walking together from their home in Okazaki, Kamishiro Village to school, wearing the peaked hats edged with white, black ties and white shirts characteristic of the Japanese schoolboy. In this they enjoyed good fortune as only a few were able to attend a middle school of this kind in 1920s Japan, where at that time school was very much a privilege.

During his school career the young Hideo had become a committed and effective judoka working his way during his five years at the school to become ‘captain’ of the Judo Club. His judo teacher Tokugoro Ito 7th Dan, had marked him out from his first year at school as likely to become a good practitioner. Indeed such was the acknowledgement of his talent that he was offered a part time post as an assistant judo instructor at Kakunodate after his graduation in 1930.

In order to improve his skills he would go to stay with his sister in Tokyo and train at the Kodokan, the prestigious home dojo of Jigoro Kano’s judo. In 1931 he was pro-moted to Nidan (2nd Dan) and continued to teach judo at Kakunodate Junior High School. When Kenji Tomiki joined the staff he brought with him an experience of judo marked also by his study of the Daito Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, he had been learning from Morihei Ueshiba. This fresh approach seems to have greatly influenced the younger Hideo Ohba and from then on Kenji Tomiki would take on the role of his teacher and mentor.

War in China

Further study with Tomiki was to be interrupted by war between Japan and China. On the 18th September, 1931, a small quantity of dynamite was detonated by Lt. Kawamoto Suemori of the Japanese Imperial Army be-side the tracks of the Japanese owned South Manchuria Railway near Mukden. Although the explosion failed to destroy the railway tracks and a train passed soon after-wards, this act of sabotage was falsely attributed to Chinese dissidents. Known to history as the Manchurian or Mukden Incident, this so called terrorist act was used by Japan as an excuse to seize Manchuria from China and set up the puppet state of Manchukuo. Japan’s perfidy was soon exposed and facing world condemnation forced a their withdrawal from the League of Nations, the precursor of the UN.

Japanese troops in action in China

Like many other young men at the time Ohba found himself called to service in China, serving with the 17th Akita Infantry Regiment. He proved himself to be an able and courageous soldier, facing many dangers in close combat during this bitter struggle between China and Japan. Ohba’s proudest moment was when he was awarded a medal, the ‘Kinchi Kunsho’ for a particular act of personal bravery. He was sent on a reconnaissance mission that involved exposing himself to enemy fire whilst he signalled from behind enemy lines. Not only did he win his medal for this feat but it came with the financial reward of an annuity of 150 yen. This annuity was to prove a useful additional support in his later married life.

Demobilized in 1933, Ohba returned to Kakunodate Junior High School as Tomiki Shihan’s assistant Judo teacher. During the next few years he dedicated himself to developing his judo skills under Tomiki’s tutelage, committing himself to long hours of practice. Tomiki broadened and deepened Ohba’s knowledge of judo introducing him to techniques of increasing complexity and sophistication. Alongside his judo practice Ohba also began a study of kendo under the guidance of a colleague, Mr Fujiwara, who was an assistant kendo teacher at Kakunodate.

Although he became a good kendo player his love for judo did not diminish and it was in its practice that he placed his major efforts. So powerful was the pull of his judo ambition, fostered so successfully through Tomiki’s teaching, that he would often spend his summer holidays honing his skills at the Kodokan in Tokyo. In Octo-ber 1935 this dedication to judo was rewarded by his promotion to 5th Dan. During this period he was at the peak of his judo career, often beating five or six opponents in team competitions. There is no doubt that he became a consummate judo practitioner.

The pre-WW2 Kodokan

The Koto Player of Yokote

While a devotion to budo was the centre of his life’s work, Ohba sensei’s sensibilities were also formed by his love of music and the serious study of the bamboo flute with a shakuhachi teacher. Described by many that knew him as “gentle and simple by nature” his playing of the shakuhachi (the bamboo flute) with its haunting melancholy seemed to exemplify a character of ‘quiet taste’.

His love of the shakuhachi was to lead him to another long and abiding love. Hideo began to take great pleasure in visiting the well known young koto (Japanese harp) teacher, Keiko Ohba in Yokote. Fascinated by what Shishida sensei describes as her “pretty genius” he would seek every opportunity to persuade her to play koto and shakuhachi duets together. Gradually this relationship, cemented by a mutual love of musicianship, blossomed into another natural kind of love between a man and a woman. On the 3rd September 1936, they were married, Hideo taking Keiko’s family name Ohba. Hideo was twenty six years old and Keiko a little older at twenty eight. It was to prove a long and enduring marriage.

At this point it becomes incumbent to explain that Hideo was born into the Tozawa family in 1911, the second son and fifth of eleven children born to Teiichi and Taka Tozawa. Until his marriage to Keiko he bore his family name. However, as was the custom at the time for young men who married into families who had no sons of their own to inherit their name. If the bride’s family enjoyed higher social status, it was also common for the son in law to adopt his wife’s family name. Certainly Kei-ko’s reputation as a talented teacher and performer of the koto, gave her greater status than Hideo whose career was still at its threshold.

In 1940, Ohba’s budo career took a new and significant turn when Kenji Tomiki invited Hideo to Manchuria to assist him in teaching judo at the National Kenkoku Uni-versity in Shinkyo. Ohba greatly respected Kenji Tomiki, who had resigned from Kakunodate Junior High School in 1934, to further his own studies with Kano and Ueshiba in Tokyo in preparation for his appointment at this prestigious institution in Japanese occupied Manchukuo. From then on the lives and careers of Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Ohba were inextricably linked.

With Tomiki in Manchuria

Tomiki e Ohba in Manciuria

1940 found Hideo Ohba making plans to join Kenji Tomiki at the National Kenkoku University in Shinkyo, Manchuria. Manchuria was at this time a puppet state under Japanese occupation and many institutions had been set up and staffed with Japanese teachers, not least for judo, kendo and other martial disciplines. In 1933, after his demobilisation from the army Ohba had taught judo as Tomiki’s assistant at Kakunodate Middle School and regarded him with great respect for his budo and character. He was called to join Tomiki in the following year.

Tomiki had left Kakunodate Middle School in 1934 to go to Tokyo so that he could train closely in ‘aikibudo’ under the direct instruction of Ueshiba Sensei. Aikibudo was one of the names Ueshiba used to describe his art as he began to distance himself from his Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu teacher, Sokaku Takeda. In 1936, Tomiki left Japan to take advantage of opportunities in Manchuria, first as a part time teacher at the Daidogakuin, then in 1938 as an Assistant Professor at the new Manchurian Kenkoku University. During this time he also taught aikibudo as part of the regular curriculum and gave lectures on Bugaku. Ohba had been very busy training in judo since Tomiki’s departure from Kakunodate. Apart from his wartime service in the army, Ohba had been teaching and training in judo with great intensity. On Saturdays he would travel from Akita to Tokyo to attend the Kodokan, receiving a prize for regular attendance on nine occasions. He had also become proficient in many judo forms obtaining certification in national physical education forms, throwing forms, soft forms and kime no kata or decisive forms among others. This had culminated in his being awarded a licence to teach judo in high schools in February 1940. His rigorous and committed application to judo training was to serve him well in the challenges he was to meet when he arrived in April 1941 to work alongside Kenji Tomiki in Manchuria.

Tomiki had valued Ohba’s commitment as both student and assistant at Kakunodate Middle School and had arranged not only his judo teaching post at Kenkoku University but also as a judo instructor at the Shimbuden of the Shinkyo Grand Martial Arts Dojo. Such was his confidence in Ohba, that he was also found additional posts with the Shinkyo Metropolitan Police, the Shinkyo Imperial Household Agency, the Military Police Instructional Unit, the Japanese Officers club (teaching on Sun-days) and at the Shinkyo Industrial Bank. Tomiki, de-spite his more than busy workload at Daidogakuin and Kenkoku had also been teaching aikibudo at the Man-churia Martial Arts Association, the Manchurian Military Forces HQ and the Imperial Household Agency of the former Quing Emperor of China, Puyi, now installed as the Emperor of Manchuria (Manchukuo) under the protection of the Japanese forces. All these posts were prestigious appointments, which Tomiki gradually entrusted to Ohba, together with posts at other public and private institutions where he had been engaged.

Although Ohba had gone to Manchuria primarily to teach judo, he did not neglect his studies in aikibudo, or as it came to be known aikido, under the tutelage of Tomiki. In 1942 his efforts were rewarded with promotion to fifth dan in Tenshin-ryu Aikido from Ueshiba’s dojo in Shinju-ku, Tokyo. Following this promotion he also began to teach aikido to the Shinkyo Metropolitan Police. In 1943 he was promoted to sixth dan aikido. The previous year he had acted as Ueshiba’s uke for a demonstration performed at the budo tournament held in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the foundation of Manchuria (Manchukuo) by the Japanese.

Daido Gakuin in Japanese occupied Manchuria

A Budo Experience

While in Manchuria, teaching at Kenkoku University and the Shimbuden, Ohba came into contact with other budo teachers of great skill and reputation. It was an opportunity not to be missed and he began to study other martial arts in addition to judo and aikido, notably kendo, iaido and naginatado. Kendo was the first art he chose, but as aikido included shinken shirahadori (literally: real blade or white blade taking) in its repertoire, an under-standing of sword forms would deepen his knowledge. Always a shy man, an introduction to a master of Kendo, Tsunekichi Koga sensei, was arranged for Ohba by Takeuchi, a fellow staff member at the Shimbuden. Koga taught him well and Ohba was a diligent and adept pupil resulting in a very rapid promotion to fourth dan. However that was not enough for him and he asked Takeuchi for an introduction to Setsuko Yamada, a young woman in her 20s who taught Naginata. The naginata (a pole-arm) was considered to be the primary weapon of samurai women and consequently the majority of its greatest exponents and teachers were women. Despite his eagerness to learn it took much effort for Ohba to overcome his shyness in front of Yamada Sensei, who scolded him when he was too embarrassed to look her in the eyes. Despite this reserve he prospered under her guidance and went on to achieve a third dan.

His other major interest at this time was iaido, the art of drawing and cutting with the Japanese sword. Once again the stalwart Takeuchi provided the introduction and Ohba became a student of Goro Inoue. Inoue was the branch manager of a marine fire insurance company and not a professional budo instructor. Nevertheless he was very skilled and practiced alone every morning at the Shimbuden, between 6 and 7 am. Goro took on Hideo as his student and taught him Omori-ryu and Hasegawa-ryu among others. As Ohba’s teaching routine often meant he was training until midnight most evenings, this schedule was hard for him. Despite these difficulties, compounded by the fact that there were no trains so early in the mornings, Hideo walked or ran the 30 minutes it took to get from his home to meet Inoue sensei who waited for him in the cold dojo. This one to one training gave him a good foundation in the art of iaido.

His competitive spirit led him to participate in kendo matches and on one occasion, to test his naginata skills against an exponent of juken-jutsu. Juken-jutsu is the bayonet fighting art conducted with a mokujo, a wooden replica of a rifle with an extra long rifle barrel, representing the bayonet and covered with a felt cap at the end. Juken-jutsu players are also protected by modified ken-do armour and make thrusts and parries based on com-bat bayonet fighting. The occasion was a team challenge with kendo players matched against juken-jutsu exponents. Although Ohba was participating as a member of the kendo team, he requested an opportunity to substitute his naginata for his shinai (bamboo sword). The referee at first objected because Hideo’s opponent was not wearing shin guards, one of the legitimate tar-gets in competitive naginata-do. However, Ohba man-aged to persuade the referee to allow the match on the promise he would restrict himself to the upper body tar-gets usual in kendo; wrists, chest, throat and head. Hideo had expected the referee to say no, despite his promise but much to his pleasure the match went ahead and after a hard fight he managed to defeat his opponent. Further satisfaction came from his kendo team-mates, wielding shinai against mokujo, beating the juken-jutsu team.

Ueshiba and Tomiki seated, with Ohba standing behind O’Sensei

Tomiki, Ohba and Ueshiba in Manchuria

Ohba had joined Tomiki at a reflective stage in his budo career, just at the moment when he began to examine aikido from the perspective of physical education and adopt a systematic approach to teaching methodology, similar in concept to Jigoro Kano’s Kodokan Judo.

Tomiki had joined Ueshiba’s dojo in 1926 and had be-come a trusted and respected student. Upon the introduction of a kyu-dan rankings into aikido he became the first of Ueshiba’s students to be awarded 8 Dan. It had been with Ueshiba’s sponsorship and the connections to high ranking officers and officials he could call upon, that had gained Tomiki employment in Manchuria.

Ueshiba was more than content to see Tomiki teaching and spreading his aiki-jutsu or aikibudo to Manchuria and its military, police and educational institutions. Such was his interest in the project that he visited Manchuria giving demonstrations at martial arts events. The most famous of these occasions was a demonstration he gave in 1942, performed before the Emperor Puyi to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Foundation of Manchuria (Manchukuo).

The demonstration was received enthusiastically by Puyi who led a standing ovation for his technical brilliance by the audience of budo experts gathered there. Hideo Sonobe, said to be the greatest proponent of Jikishink-age-ryu Naginata-jutsu since the Meiji Revolution (1868) declared “This is a divine martial art!” upon seeing Ueshiba’s demonstration. Ohba himself had a somewhat more measured view of this event. Fumiaki Shishida sensei in his biographical article on Hideo Ohba [1] quotes this story from Ohba himself:
“Since the Emperor of Manchuria was in an exalted posi-tion at that time like the Emperor of Japan I thought I should not take ukemi for Ueshiba in the way I usually did. If Ueshiba Sensei were a true master he could freely handle a true punch, thrust or grab. Therefore, I decided to attack him seriously. When we stood on the platform I saw many martial arts masters present in the large dojo of the Shimbuden. When I glanced at Ueshiba Sensei, his beard was sticking out towards me, his hair was standing on end and his eyes were glittering. I thought to myself that he was indeed a true master. Then I concentrated on taking ukemi for him thinking how different it was to face a master. After the demonstration we bowed and sat in the corner of the dojo and were supposed to walk over to the seats where the masters were sitting. However, I heard someone thunder, ‘You idiot!’ Ueshiba Sensei was short-tempered. He couldn’t wait until we returned to our seats. He shouted at me in that way in front of everyone. Until then I thought he was a wonderful and truly great master, but his shout made my spirit pop like a bubble. We sat down. Ueshiba Sensei didn’t even smile. He was in a bad mood. So I felt tiny. Who do you think showed up then? It was Hideo Sonobe who was said to be without peer in Japan or anywhere in the use of the Naginata. She came all the way up to where the masters were sitting while Iai and Naginata kata were being demonstrated one after another. She said, ‘Mr. Ueshiba I have never seen more wonderful techniques than what you showed today. They were fantastic!’ Ueshiba Sensei, who had been in a bad mood, asked her what part she liked. He asked me to find a place where they could talk and we all went down to the basement of the Shimbuden and they discussed the theory of martial arts for two hours.
While I was listening to their discussion Ueshiba Sensei asked her what she liked and she replied that she liked the ‘connections’ (tsunagari) between techniques. However, I didn’t understand these connections. I understood that the Dai Nihon Butokukai [Kyoto-based organization which governed Japanese martial arts] was having a hard time trying to decide who they should choose as the best swordsman of that year and had asked Sonobe Sensei for her opinion. When I heard Sonobe Sensei tell Ueshiba Sensei that she had never seen such wonderful techniques even though she had seen him demonstrate often, I decided to learn Naginata in order to search for these ‘connections.’ “

Ueshiba e Ohba in a 1960s image

Later in Ohba’s life he would recount this episode to his students when he was in a particularly good mood. On one occasion Shishida sensei questioned him about this famous incident, asking him an important question: “Sensei, when you attacked Ueshiba Sensei seriously, could he execute techniques like he usually did in his regular demonstrations?” Shishida suspected that in view of the scolding Ohba received, Ueshiba had been somewhat challenged by Ohba’s committed attacks as uke. As Shishida relates in his article: “Of course he answered, ‘Ueshiba Sensei seemed to have a hard time executing techniques smoothly.’ I think that Tomiki was critical of the fact that Ueshiba’s demonstrations became gradually softer. Tomiki’s belief was that such softness was a way of making the person throwing look good and was different from how martial arts should be. This demonstration of Ueshiba and Ohba received the highest praise from a top martial artist because of Ohba’s serious attacks and the fact that he refused to participate in a prearranged performance the way he normally would have.”

In his article Shishida suggests that this is why Tomiki stressed the importance of simple effective technique in kata balanced by the emphasis he was to place on randori. Budo should be performed in as realistic a way as possible.

Tomiki & the Kodokan

Despite these emerging differences, Tomiki continued to believe in Ueshiba and the incredible effectiveness of his techniques. However, Tomiki had never abandoned his judo practice and his quest for a synthesis with aikido. He had always seen aiki-jujutsu as complementary to his judo training and indeed viewed it as ‘judo at a distance’, part of the same canon of koryu jujutsu from which Kano had forged Kodokan Judo. It is important to remember that Ueshiba’s aikido was itself not fully formed at this time. Ueshiba was on his own jour-ney from the Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu that he had learnt from Sokaku Takeda to an art that became much more overtly smoother and softer in application, with an important spiritual dimension.

Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Ohba

Tomiki’s vision for aikido lay along the same lines as Kodokan Judo. A turning away from the private intimate dojo practice of koryu budo, where the student has a direct relationship to the head of the school, to the mass democratisation of budo represented by Kano’s Judo. This was budo engaged with public education. It was to be taught in schools, universities and industry sponsored clubs, providing a healthy dynamic activity to a foster a healthy body, personal integrity and a flexible, open mind.

In 1940 Tomiki’s research into aikijujutsu and judo training received recognition from the Kodokan, when he was invited by the new Director, Jiro Nango to give a lecture to senior judoka. Tomiki was visiting Tokyo at the time with a Manchurian martial arts team. With the manager of the Kodokan, Keiji Fujisawa acting as his uke, Tomiki gave an impressive demonstration of aiki techniques, establishing the common relationships between judo and aikijujutsu. Nango instantly recognized the importance of Tomiki’s work and how it could contribute to the Kodokan Judo syllabus. In 1942 he set up a special re-search group, the Research Committee on Rikakutaisei Techniques, headed by Kunio Murakami.

Rikakutaisei or techniques used when standing apart from one’s opponent, as opposed to the grips on the jacket normally used in judo were to be researched to give judo greater depth as a martial art. Rikakutaisei would be employed against attacks using strikes, punch-es, kicks or some kind of weapon. The committee fo-cused chiefly on atemi, to knock down an opponent and kansetsu waza (joint-locking techniques, to control and neutralize an aggressor.

Each year until 1944, Tomiki came over from Manchuria to lecture and demonstrate to the committee, which consisted of the most prominent judoka of the day, including Nagaoka, Samura, Mifune and Iizuka. Undoubtedly his efforts played a major part in developing the Goshin-no-kata and other aspects of the Kodokan’s self-defence curriculum.

During his time in Manchuria Tomiki turned his mind away from the ‘body learning’ methods of Ueshiba, where he taught from an inspirational rather than rational perspective, with students being thrown by him continuously and having to make sense of the techniques in their own practice with their peers and seniors. Tomiki began to categorize groups of techniques and construct a systematic progressive curriculum to meet the needs of ‘modern’ physical education practice. There can be little doubt that Ohba, as Tomiki’s trusted assistant and constant uke, watched, learned and contributed to this process.

The end of the war in Manchuria

While Kenji Tomiki Sensei and his close student and assistant Hideo Ohba continued to work teaching judo and aikido in the Japanese protectorate of Manchukuo (modern day Manchuria), the war in China and the Pacific began to go badly for Imperial Japan. With the ad-vantage of historical hindsight it was clear that by 1943 Japan had neither the economic, technological or military resources to maintain its far flung Greater Asian and Pacific Empire. The Americans were on the move eliminating Japanese outposts on the string of Pacific islands leading back to Japan itself. Although the Japanese army and navy fought back fiercely, each island and territory taken continued to bleed Japan dry of money, men and material.

For Tomiki and Ohba in Manchuria, life was still insulated from these ferocious struggles and provided by comparison an ideal haven of peace for their teaching and study of budo. Tomiki and Ohba maintained a rigorous routine of practice, beginning at 5:30 am at the Shimbuden, a large dojo close to their respective homes. After practice, around 8:00 am, they would walk back together to enjoy a breakfast prepared for them by Fusae, Tomiki Sensei’s wife, no doubt enjoying earnest discussion about practice and planning their teaching for the day ahead. Breakfast completed they would walk together once more to Kengoku University where Tomiki held a professorship, teaching aikibudo in the curriculum with Ohba assisting.

This peaceful yet purposeful budo idyll could not last and by 1945 it was clear to all but the most diehard in the Japanese government that Japan was on its way to defeat. The Allies had brought the Soviet Union into the war against Japan and that August the Americans were to drop the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nevertheless in July 1945 amidst the chaos of a falling regime, Tomiki found himself conscripted to face the Russians advancing on the Manchurian border.

Japanese troops piling their weapons after surrendering to Red Army in Manchuria

While Tomiki was mobilised for the front, his wife Fusae and their four children joined the families of non-commissioned officers of the Kenpei Kyoshutai (a military police training detachment) in a desperate evacuation in the face of the Russian advance. Their evacuation did not go well and Fusae and the children had to leave the train they had embarked upon at Tong-Hua and take temporary shelter in an elementary school. The conditions were severe and many of the families sheltered there were traumatised and contemplating suicide rather than face capture by the Red Army. Somehow, Ohba, ever faithful and concerned for his sensei’s family, managed to find Fusae and the children. Abandoning his own escape plan he journeyed to Tong-Hua and joined Fusae in order to rescue them.
After many mishaps and diversions he managed to get them all to Phuong-yang where another blow was to strike them. Ohba was arrested by elements of the Korean army and delivered to the Russians at a large military airbase on the Soviet border. Despite this setback Fusae managed amidst great hardship to finally get back to Japan but in the process suffered the tragic loss of two of her children. It is not possible easily to contemplate what this loss was to mean emotionally and spiritually for Fusae and Kenji Tomiki throughout the rest of their lives together.

Hideo Ohba, found himself a prisoner and was forced to work for the Russians at a maintenance shop on the airbase. In the circumstances, although the conditions were severe and the regime harsh, he had survived and held the prospect of eventual release. After a year he was finally released and granted permission to return to Japan. Once again however, fate dealt another bitter blow in the shape of a bout of typhus fever contracted on his journey home. But for the compassionate nursing intervention of a young man in his party of fellow evacuees he may well have died and his life story never been told. Fortunately he survived and finally made it home to Japan.

Meanwhile, Kenji Tomiki had not been so fortunate. He was captured by the Soviet Army and spent three and a half years as a prisoner of war at a detention camp, near Lake Balkash in Soviet Siberia. In harsh icy winters and sweltering summers amidst swarms of biting midges he waited out his imprisonment. To keep his body and mind active throughout his exile he devised the solo taiso exercises that were to form an important foundation element of what was to become Competitive or Tomiki Aikido.

Japanese motor transport troops under Red Army guard in Manchuria

Repatriation and renewal

Ohba returned to Japan in the October of 1945 and spent the next year recuperating from typhus in the tender care of his wife in his home town of Yokote. His health recovered he embarked on a strenuous effort to revitalise and restore his beloved judo and the budo cul-ture of Japan. Initially, the Allied Powers occupation under the direction of General MacArthur, Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP), had prohibited the practice of judo and all martial arts because of its associations with Japanese militarism and the war effort. Later, with an encouragement that all budo be transformed into specifically sport-related forms SCAP relented and licensed judo and other martial arts as cultural activities. Judo was one of the first martial ‘ways’ to benefit from the lifting of the ban. There is no doubt that this ban and the conditions for its lifting played an important part in the continuing development of the ‘sportification’ of budo. The adaptations and changes made during this post war period to Japanese budo drove forward the development of the modern sport orientated forms that have spread across the world. Tomiki was to be an intellectual force of importance in this development.

Ohba was himself to play an important part in the judo revival in his region of Japan becoming vice-president of the Hiraka branch of the Japan Judo Federation in June 1949. In January of the following year he gained part-time employment as a judo instructor for his local police force in Yokote and saw his efforts rewarded with pro-motion to 6th dan Kodokan Judo. By 1952 he had be-come an adviser to the Ogachi-Yuzawa Judo Federation.
Ohba Sensei also received acknowledgement of his character and teaching skills from the Kodokan itself and was invited to teach in the Tokyo HQ four times between 1950 and 1953. This was partly prompted by the return of Tomiki Sensei to Japan and the prominent role he took in the reformation of Kodokan Judo, becoming head of the Kodokan office in 1951. He soon asked Ohba to assist him in the teaching of rikakutaisei judo (techniques against an attack from a distance) that was to form the basis of Tomiki’s Aikido Kyogi, or ‘Competitive’ Aikido.

Tomiki also became part of a select group of prominent judo teachers who had been invited by the US Air Force to teach judo to a cadre of its physical education instructors, having seen its relevance for developing the fitness and character of its airmen. In 1953 Sumiyaki Kotani 8th dan, Tomiki and a number of other leading judoka and karateka left Japan at the invitation of USAF to tour 15 US bases, teaching judo and karate to airmen. While Tomiki was on tour, Ohba stepped into his role and taught a group of 30 American servicemen at the Ko-dokan together with Kin’ichi Shibata. Shibata was nine years younger than Ohba and became a close friend and supporter helping through his contacts to promote Ohba’s career, particularly in gaining employment with various police departments.

Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Ohba performing ‘sword taking’ in early film footage

Shibata had been captain of the Akita Middle School judo club and upon his own return had played a leading role in forming the new improved Judo Ogachi-Yuwaza Judo Federation mentioned above. They enjoyed a trusting and close relationship and trained together reg-ularly from 1950 or 51 until the middle of 1954. The breadth of Ohba’s knowledge of budo was exemplified in that their practice extended from judo to aikido, ken-do, naginata-do and iaido.

During this time Shibata enthusiastically lobbied to get Ohba Sensei employment with the Akita Prefectural Police Department. In May 1951 his lobbying was successful and Ohba took up a post as one of three technical chiefs in what became the educational section of the Akita Prefectural Police Department’s headquarters.

Teaching the police

Through books such as Robert Twigger’s ‘Angry White Pyjamas,’ that chronicled his experience on the Yoshinkan instructor’s course, many in the West have come to think of police instruction as very much the prerogative of Yoshinkan Aikido. This gruelling programme teaches a group of civilian ‘instructors’ from beginner to black belt alongside an equivalent group from the Tokyo Riot Police. However, despite its high profile Yoshinkan has never been able to claim a monopoly of police training in aikido and Tomiki Aikido has played a considerable part in this process.

Ohba Sensei took up a post in the National Rural Police, soon to merge with the municipal police to become the Akita Prefectural Police Department on the 1 May 1954. At that time he was responsible for the teaching of judo and police tactics (arrest and compliance techniques), no doubt based on his aikido training with Tomiki.

National Police Reserve HQ Japan

His time at the Akita Police department was character-ised by the qualities that he is so much remembered for, his patience as a teacher, his concern to give praise and encouragement and his ‘quiet’ strength of spirit. He shared judo instruction at that time with Natsui Shokichi. Natsui Shokichi became the first judo world champion in 1956 and won the All-Japan Judo Championship the following year. His period at the Akita Police Department is remembered as a golden age when Natsui Shokichi led, with Ohba’s enthusiastic encouragement, the Akita Police judo team to many victories.

Natsui testifies to Ohba’s presence during his period at Akita in this remembrance recorded by Fumiaki Shishida Sensei:
“Ohba Sensei always did his best to take care of me as well as the department teams. He was very pleased when we won, too. Sensei was a very serious person who would never do anything outside of the rule book, and he never claimed credit for himself for anything, nor ever tried to appear in the limelight. Since it took him fully an hour and a half to get to the Police Department from Yokote, I think it was really hard for him when he went home after the evening practice. However, he had a very strong will and never said he was tired even if we had had a very hard practice. During our relaxation time, he would play his shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) for us. We would also drink sake or play go together.
Sensei was the type of a person who always tried to search for the “Way” (michi) in judo as well as in aikido. I suppose that this was because he was greatly influ-enced by Tomiki Sensei. He taught us the judo kata in great detail. It was all thanks to Ohba Sensei that we have achieved what we have now.”

Ohba was also famous for teaching by embracing the role of uke and allowing himself to be thrown by his opponents. Ryosuke Togashi described Ohba’s teaching methodology this way:
“Sensei used to let himself be thrown by his students. He was also a person who always tried to praise his students’ good points whenever he found them. He would praise them so much that they would feel embarrassed.”

Kenji Tomiki blocking knife attack from Hideo Ohba in early film footage

This quality of ‘giving’ and going out of his way to encourage and develop his students was a preeminent quality that the BAA’s Lesley Hepden, a much later student of Ohba Sensei readily endorses.

Ohba, as we have noted was not only an exponent of judo and aikido but very much an all round budo practitioner and participated in the police department’s kendo matches, often facing his opponents in unorthodox fashion. In one match with a rival team he chose to face his opponent with two smaller ‘shoto’ versions of shinai and in another noteworthy bout with his naginata.

We can speculate that this broad knowledge of budo helped inform the development of his koryu kata in his later life. This interesting, independent and rewarding career however, was soon come to a sudden and unex-pected close. In the September of 1959 Ohba resigned his position at the Akita Police Department in order to go to Tokyo at the request of Kenji Tomiki, his teacher and mentor.

We can imagine the importance that Ohba attached to Tomiki’s offer, necessitating the disruption of family life and career a move to Tokyo entailed. Yet it offered new prospects and a new challenge, the opportunity to once again engage in their shared project, the creation of modern, randori based aikido that would complement and match the performance of judo. Not only was this challenge on offer, but also the prospect through Tomiki Sensei’s patronage of the post of an aikido and judo in-structor in the PE department of Waseda University. A position at Waseda, one Japan’s premier private univer-sities, was a situation of great prestige which Ohba was later to speak of as “a greater privilege than he deserved” and one that he was “very grateful” for.

Hideo Ohba resigned his post as a judo and police compliance and arrest tactics (taiho jutsu) instructor for the Akita Police in 1959. This resignation was prompted by a request from Kenji Tomiki, to join him in Tokyo at the prestigious Waseda University. Tomiki Sensei had joined the university in 1951 as a full-time lecturer in the PE Department and was given charge of Waseda’s Judo Club. Under his leadership Tomiki had introduced the study of techniques for use in the rikakutaisei, or separated standing position taking ‘a distance apart’, as well as the more usual judo grappling forms taking a grip on the gi.

These were the techniques Tomiki had worked on in Manchuria with Hideo Ohba as his assistant, based on what they had learnt from Ueshiba Sensei.

In 1952 Tomiki extended these ideas and began to teach a course that he named Judo Taiso (judo exercises). At first this course was for women only but by 1953 it was opened to men. Tomiki taught this course based on both judo and aikido to Waseda students for next eight years. Finally in March 1960, the course name was changed to ‘Aikido’ and the first steps towards the creation of Aikido Kyogi, or ‘competitive aikido’ were taken.

The creation of Tomiki Aikido

Ohba joined the PE Department of Waseda University as a judo and aikido instructor at Tomiki’s behest in that same year, specifically to help further his ambitions for the ‘new aikido’. Fumiaki Shishida attests that with his typical modesty that he felt privileged to have such an appointment which he felt he hardly deserved and was very grateful for. Characteristically he threw himself into encouraging the students to more active study and practice of Tomiki’s new aikido techniques designed for ran-dori practice.
Waseda was not his only teaching assignment at this time as his third son Kiyoshi remembered:
“My father would go home immediately after practice at Waseda and then after he ate he would go to teach at the United States Armed Forces Base in Fuchu. Then he would come home again, this time to do some washing, and then go off somewhere else to teach. He was very busy every day going back and forth between his house and the places he taught, sometimes as many as four times a day.”

Fumiaki Shishida Sensei also recalls the tireless nature of Hideo Ohba’s teaching programme:
“The places at which he taught alone or together with Tomiki changed over the years, but he taught at a large number of locations. If I recall back to those times, he taught at many newly established clubs such as the Seidokan in Kasumi-cho, the Wrestling Hall in Aoyama, Sports Kaikan in Okubo, as well as at the Shudokan. He also taught the newly established aikido clubs of Seyo, Kokushikan and Meiji universities. Furthermore, he taught at each of the branch dojos established in Osaka (Shodokan), Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Imabari (Ehime Prefecture) and Niigata. In this way, he exerted himself teaching all over the country.”

In 1977 Ohba retired from Waseda University but that did not in the least stop his commitment to teaching Tomiki Aikido. Immediately upon retirement he took a post at Kokushinkan University and then in 1980 he became an instructor at the National Police Academy. He continued to pursue his passion to teach and communicate aikido until he finally retired to his home town in 1985, his spirit undimmed.

The 25 years of his teaching at Waseda and at numerous clubs both in Tokyo and across the country, ran in parallel to the development of Tomiki’s ‘Competitive Aikido’ and the formation and growth of the Japan Aikido Association (Nihon Aikido Kyokai). When Ohba Sensei joined Kenji Tomiki in 1959 at Waseda, the formation of the new ‘Competitive Aikido’ was still in its early stages.

Recruiting Ohba to Waseda enabled Tomiki to gain the support of an accomplished budo practitioner with whom he had worked closely with in Manchuria. Ohba had been his closest disciple, confidant and faithful friend. This combination of Tomiki’s questing intellectual vision, coupled with Ohba’s breadth of budo experience, teaching and performance skills, was to prove an enduring partnership of great benefit to the character of Tomiki’s ‘Competitive Aikido’.

Ohba’s arrival at Waseda came at a fertile moment of technical change within the nascent JAA. Up until that time the pattern of practice consisted of unsoku, tan-doku undo, yonhon no kuzushi (the original version of what was to transform into nanahon no kuzushi) and the basic jugohon no kata (15 technique kata) that formed the basis of Tomiki’s systemisation of aikido waza. Shortly after Ohba’s arrival, in and around 1960, this began to change taking the fundamental shape in which it is practised today with the creation of the ju-nanahon (17 basic kata). In addition to which the rop-pon no kuzushi was created and then the dai san or goshin no kata as a kata of classical aikido techniques responding to unarmed and armed attacks.

Takeshi Inoue who was a close student of both Tomiki and Ohba at this time, recalls this process of creation:
“During the mid-60s Ohba Sensei and others worked on the creation of the kata forms of the dai-ichi (first) to dai-roku (sixth), which we presently practise as the koryu no kata, in order to work on techniques for demonstrations and for purposes other than randori. What Ohba Sensei particularly stressed in formulating these kata was the organization of different techniques in such a way that students could learn connections between techniques easily and naturally. After he had organized the techniques to some extent, Ohba Sensei reported to Tomiki Sensei and demonstrated what he had done for him. He received some advice from Tomiki Sensei and then added corrections to the kata.”

Takeshi Inoue, who came to the UK and spent time teaching with the BAA, was the catalyst for the study of Ohba’s koryu no kata by prominent British instructors such as Ah Loi Lee and Lesley Hepden. It was Takeshi Inoue who first introduced Loi Lee to Ohba in March 1971 when she was taken by him to early morning practice at Aoyama. Both Loi Lee and Lesley Hepden, who also studied in Japan with Ohba, were profoundly impressed not only by his great skill but by the wisdom, humanity and gentle consideration he displayed as a teacher. Loi Lee and Lesley Hepden were to regard Ohba as their aikido mentor from that time forward, which would condition their own approach to teaching and practice and ultimately influence that of the BAA.

Such was Loi Lee’s and Lesley Hepden’s enthusiasm for Ohba’s teaching, that upon their respective returns to the UK, they easily convinced their aikido friends that Ohba Sensei should be invited to the UK to teach. Through the good offices of Takeshi Inoue, this was finally achieved in march 1976.

Hideo Ohba performs tenkai kote gaeshi on Bill Lawrence at the Renzukwai, during his visit to England

Ohba’s visit to England

Loi Lee in her book ‘Tomiki Aikido: Past and Future’ wrote of this time:
“It was typical of the man that when we met him for the first time at Heathrow Airport accompanied by Shinoha-ra San from Waseda University and took them to my flat, he insisted on playing his shakuhachi (bamboo flute) as his way of greeting us for the first time and also thanking us for the invitation. This is after a long tiring journey of 17 hours.”

Shinohara San was a 3rd Dan from Waseda University and was to act as uke, translator and to ‘look after’ Ohba. However Loi Lee describes many instances where Ohba was looking out for Shinohara and making the translations himself when he thought his assistant was being tardy and long-winded. Ohba stayed in England for five weeks teaching and also visited Stratford upon Avon, Brighton and the Lake District.

Importantly for the BAA, Ohba not only taught and demonstrated the kata of Tomiki Aikido but he introduced the practice of tanto randori for the first time. All those who attended his sessions were charmed by his engaging personality, and impressed by his technical mastery and charismatic teaching.

Ohba was to visit England once again three years later in 1979, to celebrate the opening of Loi Lee’s Yawara Centre dojo in London. This time he travelled without an uke from Waseda, as Itsuo Haba 4th Dan was already staying with Loi Lee while studying English. On this occasion he was only able to stay for two, all too short weeks, but nevertheless immensely regarded by all who had the benefit of his teaching.

“A rare close teacher and student relationship”

Kenji Tomiki and Hideo Ohba enjoyed, according to Ryosuke Togashi “a rare close teacher and student relationship” through the major part of their professional lives. Ohba’s devotion to Tomiki was the central pillar of his life and had been tested through the hazards of war in Manchuria and their long teaching partnership. It was never found wanting of an absolute commitment to Tomiki and his vision for aikido at all times. This was again confirmed when Ohba had news that Tomiki was critically ill in hospital. Ohba who was in Akita at the time immediately drove, without rest or sleep, across the country to be by his master’s bedside.
His hopes and prayers that Tomiki would rally and recover were to be disappointed. Three days later in December 1979 Tomiki died, leaving behind a great legacy of budo scholarship and technical insight and creative invention that had moulded the teachings of Kano’s judo and Ueshiba’s aikido into a coherent unity. Now it was to be Ohba’s mission to carry that legacy forward.

The second president

After Tomiki’s death Ohba Sensei became the second president of the Japanese Aikido Association, and stepped into the role of leading the instruction and dissemination of Tomiki Aikido throughout Japan and the wider world. In this capacity, despite his age, from his base in Tokyo he made regular visits to dojos in other cities across Japan to teach, encourage and inspire his students. This passion took him further afield, making as we noted a second visit to the UK and Europe and teaching trips to Taiwan and Australia. He also appeared in an episode of the BBC documentary series, “ The Way of the Warrior” entitled “Aikido & Kendo: The Sporting Way”, which can still be tracked down on YouTube.

His efforts to promote Tomiki Aikido bore fruit, particularly internationally, where clubs developed not only in the UK but in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain Australia, the USA, Brazil and Taiwan. Today even more clubs have opened in France, Finland, Russia, the Ukraine, Georgia, Canada and the Czech Republic. Giving a vital international dimension to Tomiki Aikido has eventually brought many countries together to celebrate and compete in both kata and tanto randori.

In the UK, Ohba’s koryu no kata have been continuously practiced and valued, even when they fell from favour in Japan. Now that the JAA are revisiting and reviewing these kata ad a vital contribution made by Ohba to Tomiki Aikido is hopefully being restored.

Eventually, despite his energy and commitment to spreading Tomiki’s Aikido across Japan and the world, age and illness finally caught up with Hideo Ohba. In 1982 he was taken ill and hospitalised. Upon leaving hospital he began teaching again, encouraging the belief that he had fully recovered. This was not so and he became ill again in 1985 and returned to hospital. This convinced him to leave Tokyo after twenty five active years and retire to Yokote, his old home and birthplace. Many students came to Ueno Station in Tokyo, to celebrate and witness the departure of Tomiki Aikido’s second greatest figure, Hideo Ohba and his wife Keiko to honourable retirement. Ohba Sensei finally died peace-fully, attended by his wife, in February 1986. Fumiaki-Shishida records that it was said that while ill in bed he kept a picture of Tomiki by his bedside and still hoped to recover and continue his work to promote his master’s aikido. Even at his end this spirit still burnt bright within him.

Hideo Ohba: Key points of his life

  • 1910 – He was born at Nakagawa-mura, Senboku-gun in Akita prefec-ture as the fifth child of Teiichi and Taka Tozawa. He was the second son among eleven siblings. The family moved twice before settling in Okazaki in Kandai.
  • 1925 – Hideo entered Kakunodate Prefectural Junior High School on the 8th April as a first year student. He belonged to the Judo club for 5 years and became the club Captain.
  • 1930 – Graduated from Kakunodate Prefectural Junior High School. He was blessed with physical strength and power so at this time he was unrivalled in Judo within the prefecture. Hideo became a Judo Com-missioner for his old school.
  • 1931 – Awarded his 2nd Dan in Kodokan Judo and met Kenji Tomiki who came to Kakunodate Prefectural Junior High School to teach civic education. From September he served in the army in China where he was awarded the Order of Kinshi for repeatedly crossing enemy lines.
  • 1933 – After demobilization, Hideo returned to the Kakunodate Middle School as an assistant instructor under Kenji Tomiki. He obtained his 5th Dan Kodokan Judo.
  • 1936 – He married Keiko Ohba who was famous as a young shihan of Koto (a Japanese stringed instrument). He took his wife’s family name as his own.
  • 1940 – He received a licence for teaching Judo at junior high schools.
    The following April he became a Judo teacher of Kenkoku University, where Tomiki Kenji held a pro-fessorship in the Japanese protec-torate of Manchukuo . Due to a request by Tomiki, Hideo held an additional post as Judo teacher of Shinbuden in Shinkyo.
  • 1942 – Morihei Ueshiba awarded him 5th Dan in Aikibudo after which he began instructing the police of the Manchukuo capital in Aikibudo. A memorial budo tournament for the tenth anniversary of the founding of Manchukuo was held during which Hideo acted as uke for Ma-ter Morihei Ueshiba.
  • 1943 – He obtained his 6th Dan in Aikido. While instructing Aikido and Judo in Manchuria, he also trained in Kendo, Naginata and Iai.
  • 1945 – Hideo returned to Japan after a period of forced labour at an aeroplane repair shop near the Soviet border. During this time he looked after Tomiki’s wife, Fusae, since Tomiki remained in detention. Hideo narrowly survived an attack of typhus.
  • 1950 – He recuperated for a year with support of his wife after which he became a Judo Shihan for the Yokote police. He obtained his 6th Dan in Kodokan Judo.
  • 1954 – He obtained the position of ‘Expert’ at the Akita Prefectural Police Headquarters and became a Judo Shihan at the Prefectural Police Academy. It was during his tenure that the Prefectural Police Judo Club enjoyed its “Golden Age”.
  • 1959 – He retired from his positions with the Akita Prefectural Police when Shihan Tomiki called him to Tokyo. He cherished a desire to help realize Tomiki’s development of aikido kyogi that was interrupted by the war in Manchukuo.
  • 1960 – He became an Aikido Club Shihan and an Instructor at the Physical Education Department of Waseda University.
  • 1977 – He retired from Waseda Uni-versity and became an Instructor at the Kokushikan University. He made great effort to instruct at many clubs; for students at Seijo Univ., Kokushi-kan Univ., Meiji Univ., the population at large in Osaka (Shodokan), Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Imabari and Nii-gata and overseas in the United Kingdom and Australia.
  • 1978 – He was awarded 9th Dan of the Japan Aikido Association from Tomiki Shihan.
  • 1979 – He became the Second Chairman of the Japan Aikido Association and the Director of the Shodokan upon the death of Kenji Tomiki Shihan.
  • 1982 – He fell ill but recovered and after leaving hospital resumed instruction.
  • 1985 – He retired and Mr. Tetsuro Nariyama succeeded as Instructor at the Kokushikan University.
  • 1986 – Hideo Ohba Shihan died in February at the age of 75.


[1] F. Shishida, Waseda University Aikido Club Magazine, No 19, Feb. 1980


Shishida Fumiaki, Hideo Ohba Biography 1 & 2, AikiNews, 1990
Lee Loi, Tomiki Aikido: Past & Future, self published book, 1988
Commemorative Anthology of Ohba Sensei on his 100th Anniversary, Japan Aikido Association

Copyright Paul Wildish ©2014
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