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Kashiwaya Sensei: Living Legend

Updated: Apr 26

I had the privilege of traveling to Lawrence, Kansas last month for a Ki Aikido seminar with Kashiwaya Sensei and something dawned on me as I was watching him teach—I am witnessing a living legend.

Kashiwaya Sensei demonstrating a throw with a student. Image courtesy of Carrie Saunders.

The way people speak about the teachings and accounts of training with Koichi Tohei Sensei and Morihei Ueshiba (O Sensei) are akin to the way many Ki Aikidoka will one day speak about Kashiwaya Sensei.


Kashiwaya Sensei was born in December 1949 in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, but his family soon relocated to Tokyo, where he grew up.

He began his Aikido journey in 1969 while attending Risshou University and, in 1971, met Tohei Sensei, then the Chief Instructor of Aikikai. Kashiwaya Sensei trained as Tohei Sensei’s uchideshi (live-in apprentice) and then was sotodeshi (in the early 1970’s). Over the next few decades, he would become a life-long student of Tohei Sensei.

Kashiwaya was initially hooked when he heard then Aikikai's Chief Instructor, Koichi Tohei Sensei's words—“If the mind moves, the body follows.”

A few years after completely his sotodeshi training, he relocated to Seattle, Washington, at Tohei Sensei's request, to assist Hirata Yoshihiko Sensei, with instruction and administration of Seattle Ki Society. He then moved to Boulder, Colorado where, in 1977, he founded Rocky Mountain Ki Society in Denver, Colorado, and then later, Midland Ki Federation. In 1983, Tohei Sensei appointed Kashiwaya Sensei Chief Instructor for Ki Aikido in the USA.

Kashiwaya Sensei currently holds the rank of Hachidan (8th degree black belt) in Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido and Okuden in Ki Training. He has Ki Lecturer teaching certification from Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido Kai, and is a certified judge for the International Taigi Competition. Kashiwaya Sensei conducts testing and evaluation for 25 schools member schools throughout the United States, as well as Brazil and Canada. Kashiwaya Sensei will be retiring at the end of 2023.


Kashiwaya Sensei is already a legend in his own right. Stories of his teachings and trainings precede him throughout Ki Aikido communities in the United States.

Upon learning of his retirement at the end of the year, I decided I wanted to follow him to as many seminars as possible, to soak up his teachings while I can. I could have grief that I showed up late to the game and that Kashiwaya Sensei is retiring years before my own Shodan test or I can bask in the moment that I still get to witness him in person, and that I get to be one of the many fortunate people with their own Kashiwaya Sensei stories to tell. Last month, I chose the latter.

I was sitting on the mats at the White Schoolhouse, home of Kansas Ki Society, in Lawrence, Kansas, and it dawned on me while Kashiwaya Sensei was speaking, what a precious and fleeting moment in time I was witnessing.


I have been training Ki Aikido in Boulder, Colorado for a year and a half and something my Ki training has given me is a greater ability to be present in each moment. To know the value of something I’m witnessing while I’m witnessing it, rather than years after the fact.

Kashiwaya Sensei teaching at the White Schoolhouse in Lawrence, KS

The seminar in Kansas was not my first time to meet Kashiwaya Sensei and train with him. Kashiwaya Sensei came to Boulder and Denver, Colorado, in September of 2022, to conduct black belt and upper level Ki Development testing, as well as teach a weekend seminar.

On September 11th, 2022, Kashiwaya Sensei tested my Sensei, Abel Villacorta, for the Ki Development rank of Joden. This was another moment in time where I was able to understand how rare of an event in my own Ki Aikido journey I was witnessing. My Sensei’s Joden test was the last test he’d ever be given, it was the last opportunity to ever witness my own Sensei test, my last (and only) opportunity to witness my Sensei being tested by his Sensei, and close to one of the last tests I would ever witness Kashiwaya Sensei conduct. Witnessing such a rare and special moment filled my heart completely, I knew while I was watching it what a special occasion I was privy to.