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What is "Tenshin Aikido"?
Original Article Written By Clough Sensei

Tenshin Aikido is the common term used to describe Shihan Steven Seagal's aikido.  Specifically, it refers to this methodology, but if you happened to be a student 30 years ago in Japan from 1973 to 1982, or L.A. from 1982 to 1997, it simply would mean "aikido practiced at Tenshin Dojo."

There is a common misconception that exists in the aikido community that the term "Tenshin Aikido" refers to a specific style of aikido.  This is not true.  Seagal Sensei does not refer to his aikido as a particular style, and Tenshin is not a style of aikido.  He will tell anyone who asks simply that he practices and teaches aikido...that, "Aikido is aikido."

"... if you happened to be a student 30 years ago in Japan ... or L.A. ... at Tenshin Dojo, it simple would mean 'aikido practiced at Tenshin Dojo'."

In fact, you can even look at the more well-known students of Seagal Sensei, who began their study of aikido with him in Japan in the 1970's (Craig Dunn, Haruo Matsuoka, Jim Berkley, Nick Scoggins...), and you will not find any of them touting "Tenshin Aikido" as their aikido.  To them, the term does not have any specific, special, mysterious, powerful or ultimate meaning.  It simply is the aikido that was practiced at Tenshin Dojo.

Seagal Sensei's aikido is unique, but not enough to have earned itself a separate style status.  Unlike many who have separate styles of aikido and their own organizations, Seagal Sensei does not.  Seagal Sensei does not recognize any U.S.-based organizations or endorse or desire to be a part of any international group, organization or association other than the Aikikai, Aikido World Headquarters, Japan.  This includes the recently emerging, Tenshin Aikido Federation.  All of his rank is issued directly through the Aikikai, and not through any other means.  None of his paperwork indicates anything about "Tenshin" or a style or "way" of aikido.

From a purely technical aspect, there is not nearly enough difference in Seagal Sensei's aikido to establish it as a separate style, unlike forms of aikido such as Tomiki and Yoshinkan, which use competition and kata, much like karate styles.  These are recognized as styles of aikido.  Tenshin is not.

"Seagal Sensei does not recognize any U.S.-based organizations...[including]...the recently emerging Tenshin Aikido Federation."

Seagal Sensei's prime divergence from the mainstream aikido community is his approach.  He takes very seriously the use of aikido principles and techniques for defense and protection, and has searched for the most practical ways to apply them.

Another divergence is mindset.  There is a very combative mindset built into his methodology.  Most other aikido taught in the United States, or Japan for that matter, does not have that mindset, and are overly concerned about philosophical and spiritual aspects, and not a more balanced practice of the art.

When speaking about physical technique, some of Seagal's ways of executing technique are not seen in mainstream aikido.  However, there are technical similarities between Seagal Sensei's way of presenting aikido and "Iwama style" aikido.  Seagal Sensei was influenced early on in his study of aikido by Shihan Hiroshi Isoyama, of Iwama fame.  Isoyama Shihan conducted testing occasionally at Seagal's Tenshin Dojo in Juso, Osaka, Japan.  Seagal and Isoyama Shihan have a continuing relationship to this day.

Seagal Sensei is an amazing teacher who truly believes in the practical application of aikido technique.  While he differs in this area from many of his contemporaries, those differences alone do not qualify his aikido as a separate style.

"... Seagal Sensei issues black belt accreditation...signed by the Doshu, not Seagal Sensei."

Students seeking learn Seagal Sensei's methodology should be very careful of those making claims that they officially represent Seagal Sensei and "Tenshin Aikido".  There are only a handful of students still teaching Seagal's methodology and none of these students are a part of any organization claiming to be teaching "Tenshin Aikido".  As previously mentioned, Seagal Sensei only endorses and recognizes Aikido World Headquarters, in which he is a Shihan, 7th dan.

When Seagal Sensei issues black belt accreditation it is a rare occasion, indeed.  In fact, only a handful of students in the U.S. have been promoted by him.  When Seagal Sensei issues black belt accreditation, it comes directly from the Aikikai and is signed by the Doshu, not Seagal Sensei.  None of the paperwork will indicate anything about "Tenshin Aikido" or a style or way of aikido.  It will clearly state that the paperwork is for dan rank through the Aikikai Foundation.

The only place Seagal Sensei's name will appear is on the Yudansha booklet under "examiner", which only occurs if the test is conducted by Seagal personally.  Seagal Sensei, despite being asked by students in the past, has not and does not authorize remote black belt testing by another instructor on his behalf.  He will always be the test giver.

Anyone claiming to have Seagal Sensei's blessing to form an organization to represent him and "Tenshin Aikido" is, quite frankly, a liar.

Hopefully, this clears up any misunderstandings and misrepresentations floating around about "Tenshin Aikido".  If you have any questions regarding this article, or wish to write an article to be posted in response to this article or another topic, feel free to contact Clough Sensei  directly.  He would be more than happy to respond.