Presiding Shihan and Chief Instructor

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SHIHAN MITSUGI SAOTOME
(FOUNDER)

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan is the Founder and supervisory instructor for more than 100 affiliated Dojos of the international Aikido Schools of Ueshiba association.

Saotome Shihan has devoted his entire adult life to the study and teaching of Aikido. He began as a special apprentice with the Founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei (O Sensei) in 1955 and continued as uchideshi for 15 years until the Founder’s death in April of 1969.

From 1960 until 1975 Saotome Shihan taught at the World Aikido Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. During this period he was accorded many positions, honors and achievements. He appeared publicly at many events in Japan and abroad for the purpose of spreading the understanding and knowledge of Aikido.

In 1975 Saotome Shihan decided to leave his highly respected position as a senior instructor at World Aikido Headquarters in Tokyo to come to the United States. In addition to regularly scheduled national and international seminars, Master Saotome has taught many special seminars including a U.S. Military Special Forces seminar, special training of the U.S. Security Forces in Washington, D.C. and has spoken before the United Nations General Assembly on the role of Aikido in world peace efforts.

Saotome Shihan has published a number of highly respected books on Aikido including A Light on TransmissionAikido and the Harmony of Nature, The Principles of Aikido, and Aikido: Living by Design. He has also authored several training videos.

Special Guest Instructors

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CHARLES WEBER SENSEI

I started Aikido in 1975 in Denver, Colorado, with Seiji Tanaka sensei of Waseda University and Tomiki Aikido. Tanaka sensei and his assistant Stan Hartz were very kind to me. When Hiroshi Ikeda sensei moved to Boulder he and Glenn Bluestone introduced me to Mitsugi Saotome sensei. I was fortunate to have these people share their ideas about aikido with me as an aikido-crazy beginner. In 1981, I moved to Washington, D.C., to be a bicycle messenger and study with Saotome sensei. In 1988, Saotome sensei asked me to start a dojo with Charles Page in Baltimore.

In addition to receiving the rank of nanadan, Chuck Weber sensei has been given the Ueshiba Jukudesignation by Saotome shihan. Ueshiba Juku translates as “academy of the Founder.” It recognizes that the recipient has shown exceptional leadership in transmitting the teachings of O-Sensei and is a true inheritor of the teachings of O-Sensei through Saotome shihan.

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MARY HEINY SENSEI

For fifty years, Mary Heiny Sensei has followed a path of physical and spiritual inspiration as a student and teacher of Aikido. She started this journey in 1965 after watching O’Sensei teach a class at Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, Japan. The effect of this first encounter has inspired her through long hours of training and study.

“As I watched, a part of me could not believe what I was seeing and sought a rational explanation while another part of me understood immediately that this man had attained a profound understanding of nature and possessed amazing power.”

After studying at Hombu Dojo from 1968 to 1973 with O’Sensei’s direct students and with Hikitsuchi Sensei, 10th dan, in Shingu, Heiny Sensei returned to the United States and began teaching at the University of California in Santa Cruz. In 1976, she went to Seattle and opened Seattle School of Aikido. After nine years, she turned that dojo over to her students and left to begin another journey.

Sensei was invited to the Ottawa Aikikai in Canada in 1987 where she worked for three years developing the club into a full time dojo. When the school had grown to her satisfaction, she handed it over and embarked on another period of personal training and increased activity in teaching seminars and workshops in Canada, the US, and Europe. In 2001, Heiny Sensei returned to Seattle. She is now a popular seminar instructor, traveling nationally and internationally to teach.

Mary Sensei brings to every class, workshop, and seminar she teaches not only her years of aikido training and teaching, but also her extensive experience and study of Japanese culture, language, Shinto and Buddhist philosophies, and Non-Violent Communication. She strives always to communicate the beauty and challenge of O’sensei’s desire that we use Aikido to become empowered as creative, compassionate beings and learn to appreciate each other as members of one human family.

Senior ASU Instructors

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ROBERT DEPPE SENSEI

Sensei Deppe is one of the top instructors in the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba. He holds the rank of rokudan (6th degree black belt) and is an instructor at the Aikido Shobukan Dojo in Washington, D.C. He is a personal student of Saotome Shihan, and is a member of the Ueshiba Juku which indicates that he is a disciple of Saotome Shihan and a direct inheritor of the teachings of O Sensei. He is especially known for his powerful and precise weapons work.

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JOSH DRACHMAN SENSEI

Josh Drachman has over 30 years of Aikido experience and has been actively training under Saotome Shihan since 1995. He is a Rokudan in ASU, a member of Ueshiba Juku and Treasurer of the ASU Board of Directors. He began his Aikido training under Saotome Shihan in 1982 and trained at the Aikido Shobukan Dojo in Washington, D.C. from 1982-1984. He trained at the Aikido Hombu Dojo in Tokyo from 1985-1991, where he studied under numerous shihan including Yamaguchi Sensei, Endo Sensei and Masuda Sensei. He is a yudansha in two forms of Karate (Soshinkan and Shotokan), a yudansha in Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu, a member of a classical Japanese sword school, and an active practitioner of internal power training under Dan Harden and T’ai Chi energetics under Scott Meredith. He co-translated “A Light on Transmission” by Saotome Sensei   as well as the English version of “Karate and Ki” by Kenji Ushiro Sensei.  He ran his own dojo, Aikido of Palm Beach County, from 2003-2010 and is currently the Assistant Dojo Cho at Aikido Eastside.

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TRES HOFMEISTER SENSEI

Tres Hofmeister Sensei is ranked nanadan (7th degree) in Aikido. He is a student of Mitsugi Saotome Shihan and Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan. He began his training in 1978 and entered Boulder Aikikai under Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan in 1980.

Hofmeister Sensei is a senior instructor for Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (ASU), teaching regularly at Boulder Aikikai and at seminars throughout North America and abroad. Hofmeister Sensei is also a certified practitioner of the Feldenkrais Method®. He has a particular interest in the process of learning in Aikido and its relationship to self-understanding.

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GEORGE LEDYARD SENSEI

George Ledyard Sensei began his Aikido studies in 1977 under the direct instruction of Mitsugi Saotome and has continued this association ever since. Ledyard Sensei currently holds the rank of 7th Dan in Aikido and Shodan in Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu (under Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna Senseis). He counts Hiroshi Ikeda, William Gleason, Howard Popkin and Joe Brogna (Daito Ryu Ginjukai), Mary Heiny, Tom Read, Endo Seichiro, and Dan Harden as strong influences on his Aikido. He is the chief instructor or Aikido Eastside aikido dojo in Seattle, WA.

Ledyard Sensei was made a member of the Ueshiba Juku by Saotome Shihan. This connotes a direct line of “transmission” from the Aikido Founder, Morihei Ueshiba, through Saotome Shihan to his personally trained students.

Ledyard Sensei believes that Aikido should be both a spiritual practice and a martial art. He is known for his work with the staff and sword and also for an innovative approach to applied empty-hand technique which brings in elements from his training in Japanese Koryu, Iaido, Filipino martial arts and Systema. He has  over thirty five years of Aikido teaching experience, and often teaches seminars nationally and internationally.

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JOHN MESSORES SENSEI

John Messores is ranked as nanadan (7th degree black belt) in Aikido. He is one of the most senior instructors in the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba organization, and among the highest ranked Americans affiliated with Aikido Hombu (the world Aikikai headquarters).  Messores Sensei is also a member of the Ueshiba Juku, a designation recognizing direct transmission from the Founder and Mitsugi Saotome Shihan.

Messores Sensei began his training in Aikido in Sarasota, Florida in 1973. He was a member of the original Aikido dojo that invited Shihan Mitsugi Saotome to come to America in 1975, which became Saotome Shihan’s first dojo in the United States. In those initial years after Saotome Shihan came to America, Messores Sensei and a few other early students trained with him several hours a day under very intensive conditions for several years as Saotome Shihan’s true deshi (apprentices / disciples). Messores Sensei has been a personal student of Saotome Shihan for over forty years.

Messores Sensei was featured in the 1986 book Aikido and the Harmony of Nature (Shambhala Press) by Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, the 2002 production The Budo Experience (Budo Productions LLC), and the 2002 Aiki Expo  video (Aikido Journal).

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CHETAN PRAKASH SENSEI

Chetan Prakash,  Sixth Dan Aikikai, has been practicing Aikido since 1983. His teacher is Mitsugi Saotome Shihana long-term direct disciple of O Sensei and founder and head instructor of Aikido Schools of Ueshiba (ASU).

In 2012 Saotome Shihan awarded Prakash Sensei theUeshiba Juku designation, identifying the recipient as belonging to the lineage of O Sensei.  The designation is a testament to ability, character and loyalty, and is based upon the recipient’s firm commitment to the vision of O Sensei. The status is indicated by wearing the calligraphy, written by Saotome Sensei and shown at the right on the formal Dogi.

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ANIA SMALL SENSEI

Ania Small Is a godan (5th dan) in Aikido. She began her Aikido training in Warsaw, Poland in 1983. Right before coming to the US in 1989, she lived in London and trained Aikido there. After coming to Boston, Ania joined Shobu Aikido and studied with Gleason Sensei. In 2001 she moved to Maine to open a dojo with her husband Gary. Ania has been part of ASU and studying with Saotome Sensei since coming to US. She is the new ASU Board member. Ania holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is interested in the role mind plays in Aikido practice.

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WENDY WHITED SENSEI

Wendy Whited Sensei is an Aikido Shihan and 7th dan (ASU and IAF), but has also studied Iaido, Judo, and Shorei Ryu Karate. She began her study of Aikido at Northern Illinois University in January, 1973 after studying Judo for a year. After college, she continued her training at the Illinois Aikido Club in Chicago. With other club members, Whited Sensei met Saotome Sensei at the Winter Seminar in January of 1976. Subsequently Saotome Sensei sent one of his students, Shigeru Suzuki Sensei, to teach at the Chicago dojo. Whited Sensei trained with Suzuki Sensei until his return to Japan. She was also awarded a shodan in Iaido.

In July 1978 she visited Japan for the first time, training with Hikitsuchi Sensei in Shingu for three weeks. Having fallen in love with Japan, in 1987 she responded to an ad for the Japanese Exchange of Teachers Program (JET); she spent two years in Funabashi, Chiba Ken and taught in forty-four different junior high and five different elementary schools. She got very good at riding trains and buses.

On her return from Japan, she took up Shorei Ryu Karate while continuing to attend Aikido seminars. In 1990 she began teaching at the University of Chicago Aikido Club until, in 1992, she received permission to start Inaka Dojo in the bustling metropolis of Beecher, Illinois (population 2,000). She is now a popular and effective seminar instructor, and is invited to teach (and train) all over the world.