AKI Australia History

1960s and 70s

Our origins are with Yamaguchi Shihan

Yamaguchi Seigo Sensei, 9th Dan was an Aikido Hombu dojo Shihan of World Aikikai Foundation. He started training with the founder, Morihei Ueshiba Sensei (O-sensei) as an uchi-deshi (live in student) in 1950. He started teaching aikido from very early in the history of aikido, and passed away in 1996. Refer to his website for more detail: http://www.yamaguchi-aikido.com/html/sei/seigo-e.html

Yoshinobu Takeda Shihan was a senior student of Seigo Yamaguchi Shihan. Here is a photo of Takeda Shihan and his students when they were all training under Yamaguchi Shihan.

 L to R: Hideo Numata Sensei, Yasuyuki Suzuki Sensei, Takayoshi Seino Sensei, Takeda Shihan, unknown and William Gleason Sensei. 


Stewart Letford, Ralph Pettman & Bob Gibbon meet Yasuyuki Suzuki

While training with the Aikikai at the Australian National University, Yasuyuki Suzuki arrives from Japan to study English in Canberra. Stewart, Ralph and Bob are impressed by Yasu's soft but powerful style and ask him to teach them. The first trainings start unofficially at the Police Boy's Club (now Police and Citizen's Youth Club) in Turner, ACT.

Bob was training in Newcastle, and throughout the '80s he travelled regularly to Canberra and eventually found a job in Canberra. More about the History of Aikido in Newcastle


Stewart travels to Japan and trains with Takeda Sensei and Shonan Aikido Renmei (Australia) is formed.

After Yasuyuki Suzuki returns to Japan, Stewart decides to search for an Aikido Sensei that suits him. He trains in Japan with many Senseis, including private training with Koichi Tohei Sensei, 10th Dan, but decides to seek alliance with Takeda, Yoshinobu Sensei. Stewart asks Takeda Sensei if he can help with training in Australia. Takeda Sensei agrees.

Stewart then returns from Japan and, in discussions with Ralph and Bob, and agreement from Takeda Sensei, Shonan Aikido Renmei (Australia) is formed. Shonan Aikido Renmei (SAR) basically translates to "the Aikido Organisation from the Shonan area of Japan".

Stewart starts the first official Shonan Aikido Renmei training at Turner Dojo, PCYC, Turner.

Bob Gibbon (then based in Newcastle) and Steve Seymour (based in Sydney) decide to go to Japan for a 3 month training intensive under Takeda Sensei. Subsequently Steve Seymour founds the first Shonan Aikido Renmei dojo in Sydney.


Takeda Sensei visits Australia for the first time, setting a tradition of visiting international instructors.

Yoshinobu Takeda Sensei and his wife visits Australia for the first time, conducting a summer camp at Canberra, followed by recreation at Batemans Bay. Stewart, Ralph, Bob, Steve and their few students confirm their decision to train under Takeda Sensei. 

Annual visitors to subsequent Australian Easter Camps and Summer Camps (usually held in Sydney or Newcastle) include many of Takeda Shihan's top students, such as: Satoshi Takeda Sensei, Hideo Numata Sensei, Yasuyuki Suzuki Sensei, Seino Sensei, Kadoya Sensei,  Yamamoto Sensei and others.

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Bob Gibbon Sensei moves to Canberra, founds Erindale dojo while continuing to help Newcastle students.

Bob Gibbon moves from Newcastle to Canberra for work. He founds Erindale dojo, which is to become a pivotal place for future annual Easter Camps. Initial training is first conducted on acro mats in Richardson Primary School while the current PCYC is being built. The Erindale PCYC Gym Hall is long used as the venue for annual Easter Camps, prior the the opening of Tengoku dojo in 1998.

Meanwhile Bob continues to travel back to Newcastle to train with Newcastle students in long grass, in dust, on the beach, and sometimes in successive dojos, including the University of Newcastle, Toronto YMCA, Mayfield Police Boys Club, Tighes Hill YMCA, Windale PCYC and Maitland Police Club. For more information on the history of AKI in Newcastle, refer to Chris Rodgers' History of Aikido in Newcastle.


Stewart Letford moves from Canberra to the Gold Coast and starts SAR Qld

This includes opening the "House of Light", which operates for several years before closing (refer to the Stewart Letford interview for details).


AKI Expands

Dave Dempsey moves from Canberra to Adelaide and starts SAR SA. Ken Wilson moves to Broulee, near Batemans Bay, and starts the South Coast club.


Ralph Pettman Sensei moves to New Zealand and founds SAR New Zealand.

Ralph also publishes his work on Aikido philosophy: "Going for a Walk in the World: The Experience of Aikido". Refer to the Ralph Pettman Sensei page for a copy.

Please refer to the AKI Network page for more information on AKI New Zealand.

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SAR changes to Aikido Kenkyu Kai International

In order to reflect a more official international organisation, Shonan Aikido Renmei is changed to Aikido Kenkyu Kai International, simply meaning Aikido Research Group. However, the name Shonan Aikido Renmai is still used within Japan.


Stewart opens Mike Macgregor's Tengoku Dojo.

The annual Easter Camp is held at Tengoku Dojo on Mike Macgregor's property near Captains Flat in NSW, where Stewart Letford officially opens Tengoku Dojo.

Tengoku Dojo is the achievement of Mike Macgregor (Big Mike). Situated 15 minutes east of Queanbeyan in a bush setting, Tengoku Dojo is a 36 mat purpose built dojo with a beautiful outlook onto a bush valley. It is very tranquil and beautifully crafted. The ACT Region Aikido group helped in the demolition of a local sports facility, and in rearranging it to form a coil sprung floating floor. The training surface is comprised of tatami mats, and feels like the Meiji University dojo floor in Ochanomizu which 'ducks' when you step onto it. With plenty of light and fresh air and with an open heart the dojo extends its welcome to those who wish to explore the Aiki path. Great for special events and regular training with Big Mike.


Masao Ishii Sensei, 6th Dan, visits Canberra.

Masao Ishii Sensei is an instructor at Mie University, Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, Japan. He was a long serving student of Yamaguchi Sensei. He visited Canberra, Australia for 6 months in 1999/2000 on sabbatical to Australian National University. In this time he taught AKI Canberra students, who enjoyed his excellent clear instruction and attention to detail.ds.


Stewart opens refurbished Turner Dojo 28 October 1999.

Stewart opens the refurbished Turner Dojo - almost 20 years after he founded it. The dojo was refurbished to a tune of $4000. The old 24 mat half-falling-apart tatami and carpet with canvas covering was replaced by a 32 mat new tatami surface raised on a sprung floor and surrounded by varnished WA cowrie wood boards.

The sprung floor was made by 3rd Dan Mike MacGregor for a dance company which later went bankrupt. The floor is worth over $1000 dollars, but we bought it for $300.

Additional tatami was bought from Steve Seymour, who had some second hand mats available, as well as getting several new ones from a distributor in Brisbane. All the wood work and floor construction was done by Shodan Drago Zovak and his friend Mick.

Overall, an excellent job and lots more room to move - with style!


Bob Gibbon Sensei passes away.

Sadly, one of the most important people in AKI suddenly passes away. There was considerable mourning in AKI around the world. Please download the Bob Gibbon Sensei 'In Memoriam' document, which is a tribute from AKI members as well as colleagues from the Australian Taxation Office where he worked.


Chris Guthrie and Berin McKenzie return from Japan

Two sandans return to Sydney after several years of training with AKI Japan and Takeda Sensei, providing some timely re-energising of the club. Chris will return to Japan to live several years later.


Stewart Letford Sensei retires from Aikido.

After struggling with severe back and leg problems Stewart announces his retirement from the art. AKI Australia was sad to hear the news, although Stewart does attend a few seminars in the following years to watch.


Turner Dojo closes.

After 26 years of AKI history, the founding dojo for AKI, Turner Dojo, closes. Turner PCYC was closed due to 'structural issues' and moved to Charnwood ACT. The PCYC plans to rebuild the Turner facility, but we'll wait and see. The passing of the dojo was celebrated by a special training event where all instructors who had instructed at the dojo conducted part of the session.


Takeda Shihan receives 8th Dan.

On March 21, 2006, a celebration was held in Kamakura, Japan to honor the promotion of Yoshinobu Takeda Shihan to 8th dan. Festivities began with keiko at Hachiman Shrine in Kamakura in the morning. After keiko, a special embukai (demonstration) was held. After keiko and the embukai, people had time to freshen up for a party at the Park Hotel, overlooking the ocean.

Representatives from AKI Australia dojos included Stephen Seymour (AKI Sydney), Chiko Xerri (AKI Noosa), and Berin Mackenzie (AKI Bondi Beach). Jean-Rene Leduc represented AKI Canada Dojos and Lia Suzuki represented AKI USA Dojos. Speeches were made by some of these dojo-cho and also some of Takeda Shihan's senior students, including Seino Sensei and Numata Sensei.

Congratulations was passed to Sensei and he was thanked for all his support and inspiration over the years.


Ralph Pettman Sensei relocates to Melbourne, Australia.


AKI Australia matures

AKI in Australia came of age when our longest serving members were awarded senior Aikikai gradings. Ralph Pettman received 6th dan, and Steve Seymour, Bruce Lowes and Chicko Xerrie received 5th Dans. Mike MacGregor also received a 5th Dan soon after, in 2009. This is a tribute to the organisation's maturity and longevity.


Seino Sensei and Numata Sensei receive 7th Dans

Two of the top Senseis in Takeda Shihan's AKI Japan organisation received their 7th dans from the Aikikai. Both Seino Sensei and Numata Sensei have visited Australia many times.


Takeda Satoshi Sensei receives 7th Dan

Congratulations to Takeda Satoshi Sensei who received his 7th Dan from the Aikikai.

AKI 30 Years Celebration

In 2010 AKI celebrated 30 years at a number of events throughout the year. All international students were invited to Japan in May for a celebratory Gashuku and a special training event with the Doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba. Over 30 Australians attended, as well as a number of North and South Americans. A number of senior gradings were held.

In October Takeda Shihan came to Australia to conduct several special training events to celebrate the 30 years. A number of Japanese also attended this event including Takeda Satoshi Sensei and Hiroshi Sensei. Again, more senior gradings were conducted resulting in a strengthening of the senior ranks of AKI Australia.


Yasuyuki Suzuki Sensei and S. Takahashi Sensei receive 7th Dans.

Another two top Senseis in Takeda Shihan's AKI Japan organisation recieved their 7th dans from the Aikikai. 'Yass' Sensei is a regular instructor in Australia and Y. Takahashi Sensei visited Australia in the 80's.

Reconnection to William Gleason Sensei.

AKI Australia invites William Gleason Sensei for Easter Camp. Gleason Sensei trained under Yamaguchi Sensei for 10 years with Y. Takeda Shihan and his top senseis in the 1970s and 80s. A former student of Gleason Sensei's, Michael Dreyer, moved to Hobart and started training with AKI Hobart. Gleason Sensei accepted our invite via Michael.

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Steve Seymour Sensei receives 6th Dan, Ayano Seymour and Berin Mackenzie receives 5th Dan.

After many years of diligent training, building up the AKI Australia club and brand, and liaising with the Japanese and other high level senseis, Steve, Ayano and Berin deservably receive gradings awarded by the Aikikai Hombu via Y. Takeda Sensei. By having such high level local senseis to rely on, it consolidates the international standing that the club holds.

Takeshi Suzuki Sensei receives 7th Dan

Congratulations to Takeshi Suzuki Sensei who received his 7th Dan from the Aikikai.

Related gradings of note that were awarded at the same time were Masao Ishii Sensei to 7th Dan via Y. Takeda Shihan (Ishii Sensei, a long standing student of Yamaghuchi Sensei, visited Canberra in 1999/2000 and taught AKI students), and William Gleason Sensei to 7th Dan via M. Saotome Shihan.

Ralph Pettman Sensei returns to Japan.

Ralph returns to Japan to live with his wife, leaving a small club in Melbourne to continue to train and study. Ralph even skypes into the training sessions at times to continue his instruction to the club.