Presiding Shihan



Shihan Mitsugi Saotome Sensei is the Founder of the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba.

Saotome Sensei has devoted his entire adult life to the study and teaching of Aikido. For fifteen years until the Founder’s passing in 1969, Saotome Sensei lived as his personal disciple, studying under his guidance the practice and philosophy of Aikido. 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 Sensei left a highly respected position as a senior instructor at the World Aikido Headquarters in Tokyo to come to the United States. When asked why he made this decision he replied, ‘I meditated on O Sensei’s spirit for three days and three nights and I felt it was his wish that I should go. This country is a great experiment, a melting pot of people from many different cultural backgrounds living together, the world condensed into one nation. The goal of Aikido and O Sensei’s dream is that all the peoples of the world live together as one family, in harmony with each other and with their environment. The United States has the opportunity to set a great example.”

While Saotome Sensei resides in Sarasota, Florida, and often teaches there and at the nearby Shrine Dojo in Myakka City, Florida, he also travels to many ASU dojos which he and his students have opened throughout the country leading seminars and training camps.

Saotome Sensei has given many demonstrations of his art both here and abroad, among them demonstrations for the International Peace Academy and Diplomatic Community at the Japan House in New York City, and has taught many special seminars including a U.S. Military Special Forces seminar and special training of the U.S. Security Forces in Washington, D.C. 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 Aikidoand Aikido: Living by Design. He has also authored several training videos.

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Aikido has been my deepest inspiration since I was a child, beginning my training at the age of 11 in 1975 in Stockholm, Sweden. At that time, I trained with several aikido teachers. Among the most influential was Hermansson Sensei, Itchimura Sensei, Kobayashi Sensei and Igarashi Sensei.

In 1983, I left for Japan, and lived in Tokyo for 3 years, training mainly at Hombu dojo. There I met with Endo Sensei who became my personal teacher. He has been my deepest aikido inspiration for over 30 years. In Hombu dojo I was also strongly influenced by Osawa Sensei and Yamaguchi Sensei. In 1986 I returned to Europe and in 1987 I met with Tissier Sensei who also became my personal teacher. Tissier sensei is a fantastic teacher and inspiration.

In the 2019 Kagami Biraki ceremony I received 7th dan Aikikai from Doshu by recommendation from Endo Sensei, Tissier Sensei and the Swedish Aikido Federation.  I am very grateful to all my teachers who taught and inspired me for so many years, and still do.
When it comes to other martial arts I have studied some Judo, Karate and Daitoryu Aikijujutsu (I hold the rank of 2:dan Daitoryu Roppokai from Okamoto Sensei). I also began studying Tai chi chuan with Master Mantac Chia in 1998. In addition to martial arts, I have studied traditional Chinese and Japanese healing arts since 1979; working for many years in Sweden with Acupuncture, Shiatsu, Reiki and Qigong. Zazen has also played an important role in my life and I try to sit as often as possible.
All of these arts have influenced my aikido profoundly on many levels. Today I see more similarities than differences. Trying to look for what is behind the shape.
Saotome Sensei has been an icon in Aikido from the very earliest days of my training.
I was fortunate to have met with Saotome Sensei twice, a long time ago (maybe 30 years), both in Japan and in France. His charismatic presence, skill, and flowing movements made a strong impression that remains on my mind today.
I am honored and accept this momentous opportunity with a deep bow of gratitude.


Marsha Turner Sensei anchors the Chicago Aikikai as its chief instructor and its dojo-cho. A long-time aficionado of aikido, she is known in particular for her strong weapons work. “Weapons work has been a particular fascination of mine since I studied fencing in college. In aikido, weapons work teaches distance and timing in an explicit way that often gets fuzzed over in open hand training. By going back and forth between open hand and weapons we are able to study clean lines and clear movement that add to both the beauty and effectiveness of basic technique.” Turner Sensei began her study of aikido in 1986 under Kevin Choate Sensei, and has spent the past three decades studying, training and teaching. In addition to Choate Sensei, Shihan Hiroshi Ikeda and Shihan Mitsugi Saotome have been very influential in her aikido development. Her extensive background in ballet, gymnastics, and traditional fencing (foil) allows her to bring elements to her current training that make her aikido unique among her peers. “Aikido caught my attention and pulled me away from fencing. I loved the rigor of fencing, but the physicality and the opportunity to throw around people bigger than me sealed the deal for aikido.” In addition to aikido she has studied ballroom dance, competing in and winning several pro-am competitions. Turner Sensei also holds a shodan in Iaido. She is a past instructor for Winter Term at Oberlin College, and has supervised a number of dojo in the Midwest. Turner Sensei received her rokudan in aikido from Shihan Mitsugi Saotome in 2017.


Dan Messisco Sensei holds the rank of rokudan (6th dan) and has been training in martial arts since 1964. His martial arts background includes extensive training in both Korea and Japan. He earned his Chodan in Tang Soo Do in Korea and studied under Hwang Kwan Jang Nim, son of Grand Master Hwang Kee. He also trained at Hombu dojo in Tokyo, Japan. Messisco Sensei studied under Mitsugi Saotome Shihan in Sarasota, Florida where he earned his shodan (ASU). He also studied under Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan in Boulder, Colorado where he received his nidan and sandan rank (ASU). He received his Aikikai yondan in Japan, godan while studying in Pennsylvania, and rokudan while in Michigan.

Senior ASU Instructors

Robert Aikido Pic 1


Robert Deppe Sensei 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.



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.



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.



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).



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.



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.



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.