What is "Tenshin
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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
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
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.
Sensei does not recognize any U.S.-based
organizations...[including]...the recently emerging Tenshin
prime divergence from the mainstream aikido community is his
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.
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.
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.
Sensei issues black belt accreditation...signed by the
Doshu, not Seagal Sensei."
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
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.