Yoshimitsu Yamada, 8th Dan, Shihan Chief Instructor New York Aikikai President, US Aikido Federation
In 1955, Yamada Sensei was accepted in the Honbu Dojo uchi deshi program (live-in apprentice) to study directly with O Sensei, the founder of aikido. He was 18 years old with no martial arts experience. His was the pure aikido experience.
Besides O Sensei he studied under such aikido masters as Kissomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Kisaburo Osawa, Kenji Tomiki, Hiroshi Tada and Seigo Yamaguchi, among others.
An invitation to demonstrate aikido at the 1964 World’s Fair brought Yamada Sensei to New York City. He stayed on to become chief instructor at the New York Aikikai and introduce aikido to the east coast of the US.
By 1972 he already assumed his role as aikido ambassador to the world at large, introducing his vigorous, inspiring and joyful teaching style to thousands of appreciative students on practically every continent.
With the amazing global growth of aikido since his days as uchi deshi, Yamada Sensei continues to bring the spirit and heart of aikido that he learned from O Sensei to every class he teaches, whether for beginners or advanced students. He believes that a solid foundation in aikido basics is crucial for every student’s advancement. Without uttering a word, his teaching shows that the best path to physical and spiritual development lies in sincere, positive and intensive training.
Born in 1939 in Otaru, Hokkaido, Sugano Sensei had been studying judo for six years when he read about aikido in a magazine and went to Hombu Dojo in 1957 to begin his training. After about a year, he entered the uchi deshi program. That period was very intense for him; he was completely focused on training and on O Sensei.
"To me," he recalls, "O Sensei was the zenith. My training was geared entirely to striving toward that peak." "Even where we’re teaching technically no one is just like him. He was a unique person so no one could really copy him. So, perhaps the biggest influence from him is probably to make each person free to search for something individually."
Sugano Sensei's own path has led him to live and teach in different parts of the world.
In 1965, he moved to Australia, staying for thirteen years and establishing a strong base of aikido. He then moved to Belgium, and began teaching throughout Europe before coming to New York City in the late 80's. In 2003, he lost his left leg below the knee to a bacterial infection. However, he did not let this affect his spirit, his enthusiasm for teaching nor his approach to life.
He traveled the world regularly, teaching aikido and inspiring his students. On August 29th 2010, Sugano Sensei passed away. He is greatly missed.
In 1965, Harvey Konigsberg, a promising young boxer at the time, attended an aikido demonstration by Yamada Sensei and Koichi Tohei Sensei. This soon compelled him to begin his training in aikido, and by 1970 he was already teaching at The New York Aikikai.
Nationally and internationally renowned for his strong yet subtle style, Harvey has taught numerous aikido seminars around the world.
"To me, Yamada Sensei embodies the principals of aikido in his technique and in his relationships with people. He has a generosity of spirit and brings his special creativity to aikido."
In the mid-1980s, Harvey became the Chief Instructor of Aikido of Woodstock, where he teaches regularly, while still maintaining weekly classes at The New York Aikikai.
Donovan Waite, 7 Dan, Shihan
Born in Jamaica, Donovan moved to England where he started aikido at the age of eight, earning his shodan before his 14th birthday.
Donovan continued training in the UK until 1984, when he moved to New York as an uchi-deshi under Yamada Sensei. Here, he continued his intense training as well as teaching, perfecting his aikido style for over a decade. It was during this time that Donovan developed his unique style of ukemi (art of receiving), which found significant following worldwide.
As one of the youngest to achieve the status of Shihan in the West, Donovan is currently Chief Instructor of Aikido of Center City in Philadelphia, which he founded in 1997.
He also serves as a member of the technical committee of the United States Aikido Federation. Highly popular around the world, Donovan travels extensively, teaching his precise and technical style, which is also presented on numerous instructional DVDs.
Mike Abrams, 7 Dan, Shihan
Mike started training in 1964 and teaching shortly thereafter. He has trained, traveled and taught seminars around the world and has been fortunate enough to have attended classes taught by O Sensei.
Mike’s classes are a straight shot of authentic aikido: “I feel it’s my obligation to pass on what has been given to me by Yamada Sensei and others.”
As one of the few founding members of New York Aikikai, Mike has been training and teaching at the dojo for over 50 years, and is Chairman Emeritus of the United States Aikido Federation.
Steve Pimsler, 7 Dan, Shihan
Steve started aikido at New York Aikikai in 1974, later becoming an uchi-deshi for four years, during which he travelled with Yamada Sensei as “otomo” (traveling apprentice). Steve assisted Yamada Sensei in setting up the United States Aikido Federation and served as its first treasurer. He also co-authored Yamada Sensei’s book, Ultimate Aikido.
Steve began teaching at The New York Aikikai in 1978, and continues to bring discipline and intensive energy to the mat. Alongside Yamada Sensei, he also teaches the special bi-monthly beginner’s classes, conveying fundamentals with distinctive clarity.
When not at the dojo, he helps run a small advertising agency in the city. And when not at either place, he's at home with his wife Cheryl (they met at the dojo, she holds the rank of nidan) and two giants, Sam and Ari, who claim to be his sons.
Robert Workoff, 7 Dan, Shihan
Robert began his training in aikido in 1974, having studied iaido for a few years. Since then, he has trained and taught at The New York Aikikai for over thirty years.
A dedicated, generous and supportive instructor, Robert closely follows Yamada Sensei’s dynamic style, which he incorporates into his early morning teaching.
Robert holds the rank of 6th dan and is a Shihan. He has been teaching at New York Aikikai since 1977.
Hal Lerhman, 7 Dan, Shihan
Hal was sixteen when he first got on the mat at New York Aikikai in 1964. With a strong background in ballet, Hal brings a deep knowledge of movement and anatomy to his unique approach to aikido.
He is thankful to Yamada Sensei for allowing him the freedom to pursue his own take on the art.
Hal teaches at Aikido of Park Slope, which he founded in 1981, and is regularly invited to teach seminars around the country.
Rick Stickles, 7 Dan, Shihan
In Memoriam (July 5, 1950 - June 21, 2015)
A distance runner for 10 years, Rick Stickles attended NYU on a full athletic scholarship, receiving a B.A. in theater and communications. Shortly after graduation, he was introduced to Aikido.
He began training under Yamada Sensei. During his apprenticeship, Rick Stickles traveled throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan, studying with over two dozen of the principal disciples of Aikido's Founder, Morihei Ueshiba.
He is the senior representative to the United States Aikido Federation in New Jersey. He continues to run on a regular basis and is a daily practitioner of Dzogchen (Tibetan) meditation. Outside the dojo he loves spending time with his family (he is married with three children) and playing a round of golf whenever and wherever possible.
He died suddenly and unexpectedly at his home in Cranford on Father's Day, 2015. He is missed.
Tina Shepard, 6 Dan, Shidoin
Tina started her training in 1971 at the New York Aikikai. An Obie-award winning actor, Tina teaches her classes with clarity and elegance.
An admired teacher of acting at New York University, Tina also explores wider applications of the art of aikido, teaching aikido to her acting students at the NYU Experimental Theater Wing.
In 1975 Dan Seltzer, head of the Program in Theater at Princeton University, invited Tina to teach acting in the Program. She continued teaching at Princeton until 1989. In 1988 she began teaching and directing at Williams College. She has directed nine productions at Williams, most of them original pieces created in collaboration with her students. She also teaches acting and voice at Smith College.
Douglas Firestone, 6 Dan, Shihan
Douglas began his aikido training in 1981 in California. He later moved to New York, joining The New York Aikikai as uchi-deshi in 1993 and spent several years training intensively with Yamada Sensei.
As a full time Aikido instructor, Douglas devotes all of his efforts to the instruction and advancement of Aikido and is currently Chief Instructor of Aikido of Westchester, the dojo he started with his wife, Sylvie, in 1997.
Known for his animated style, Douglas has taught at The New York Aikikai since the mid-90s, and his classes are well-loved for their uplifting and positive energy. He also teaches Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido, the art of Japanese swordsmanship.
Charles Koh, 6 Dan, Yudansha
In Memoriam (? - March 31, 2010)
Charles trained at the New York Aikikai since the mid-1970s, spending some time training in California in the intervening years.
Charles brought careful observation, remarkable discipline and peaceful energy to his teaching, and was well known for his dedication to Aiki Weapons instruction. His weekly classes offered solid foundations for weapons training, which were also featured in a series of instructional DVDs.
Charles passed away Wednesday March 31st 2010. He will be missed.
Dana Egan, 6 Dan
Claire Keller, 6 Dan, Shidoin
Training since 1980, Claire has been a student at New York Aikikai since the mid-1980s and began teaching a regular class in 1987.
Her goal as a teacher is to help students grasp the basics and find their own joy in aikido.
She has two lovely daughters and a husband, who happens to train at the NY Aikikai, too.
Ruth Peyser, 6 Dan, Shidoin
In the late 1970s, Ruth left her native Australia for New York City, an inspiring place for an artist and budding filmmaker. She began training at The New York Aikikai in 1980 and started teaching in 1987.
Ruth’s exceptional dedication to aikido instruction is reflected in her clear and well-constructed classes, as well as the individual attention to student progress.
“For me aikido is not only about technique, it is about examining the use (or uselessness) of force, how to deal with conflict, control issues and fear.”
Michael McNally, 5 Dan, Shidoin
Michael began training at New York Aikikai in 1981, under the direction of Shihan Yoshimitsu Yamada, 8th Dan. "Yamada Sensei's deep understanding of the heart of Aikido and his demonstration of the fundamental and progressive techniques of the art has been the quintessential aid for my practice."
In 2007 Michael founded Hoboken Aikikai on the west bank of the Hudson River where he has been able to introduce his friends and neighbors to the practical application of Aikido. "Although we don't talk much about the subject of breath or meditation, this is the foundation of our practice. Yamada Sensei begins each class with the breathing exercises putting us in the right posture over and over again."
"This centering - an art, a science, a practice - changes everything in your life: the way you sleep, the way you wake, the way you sit, the way you stand, the way you walk, the way you move, the way you breath, the way you feel, the way you think, the way you create. It is a way of being in the world. In order to do the techniques properly we must rest in the still center. Aikido practice develops this strong calm center from which we can deal with whatever arises."
Jerry Zimmerman, 5 Dan, Shidoin
Jerry began his aikido training in 1985 at the New York Aikikai, where he has been teaching since 1994. He started his own dojo, Aikido North Jersey, in 1997.
“Yamada Sensei has been the most influential person in my aikido life bar none. I use what he has given me to help me run my dojo.”
Known for his strong, fundamental style, Jerry teaches various seminars in the Unites States and Mexico.
Jaime Kahn, 5 Dan, Shidoin
Jaime started Aikido in 1990 while enrolled at NYU, joining a class taught by Claire Keller in the school gym. A devoted wrestler and team co-captain in high school, he expected to simply try out something new while preparing to join the university's wrestling team.
However, it was "love at first fall". “I was in great physical shape, and thought I was tough. Then I felt this small woman effortlessly throw me with such grace and power! I decided that however long it took, I would learn this art."
Soon after, Jaime began training at the New York Aikikai under Yamada Sensei and the amazing staff of instructors he had assembled there. Jaime lived in the dojo for the summer between his junior and senior year, and after graduating, returned to spend a year as uchideshi.
Since then, he has continued his Aikido training at the New York Aikikai, as well as traveled extensively for seminars.
Eran Vardi, 5 Dan, Shidoin
Eran started aikido in Israel in 1989, and began training at The New York Aikikai in 1992. He founded his dojo Aikido of Ramapo Valley in 1997, and recognizes Yamada Sensei’s great influence and leadership.
Eran’s classes are known for their fun, quick pace, and he is precise and technical in his teaching. As a professional aikidoist, Eran continuously explores the boundaries of the art, with his creative style.
The synthesis of these arts has provided him with a unique and insightful understanding of movement and human anatomy.
Junya Nakatsugawa, 5 Dan, Shidoin
Junya started aikido as a child in upstate New York. Three decades later, he continues to practice and teach in a precise and dynamic style.
New York Aikikai Instructors
The New York Aikikai was established in 1962 with
the help of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba
(O Sensei), to teach traditional Aikido.
Our chief instructor, Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan, 8th
Dan is a
direct student of O Sensei and continues to teach
traditional aikido as it was developed at
dojo in Tokyo, Japan.
Yamada Sensei has personally trained all instructors
at the New York Aikikai. With a vigorous mix of both
seasoned veterans and exciting, fresh faces, the
teaching staff offers unmatched inspiration for intense,
in-depth training on all levels. Several of our instructors
have opened dojos of their own in the New York
metropolitan area while maintaining their connection
to the New York Aikikai. All have had many years of
intensive training and teaching experience in the US
and abroad, and all have met Yamada Sensei’s rigorous
standards to qualify as a New York Aikikai instructor.
Seiichi Sugano, 8th Dan, Shihan In Memoriam (December 17, 1939 - August 29, 2010)