Miyako Fujitani Shihan



The Aikido Shoubu Dojo is one of the few authentic and internationally recognized branch school of the Famous Tenshin Dojo in Osaka Japan, founded by Miyako Fujitani Shihan and action star Steven Seagal.

During her over 50 years teaching the art, she has had countless interviews and seminars all over the world.  She is recognized for her unbelievable Aikido technique that is effective, yet she made it simple enough that anyone can do it. Her technique is so clean that it appears that she throws her opponents with ease.

She has an economy of movement that you can not find in the martial arts anymore.  She is a treasure to behold, and a star in the Aikido world.  At the Aikido Shoubu Dojo we are proud to call her our teacher, and lucky that she visits every year.
Interview of Fujitani Miyako Shihan

Tenshin Dojo, Osaka Japan

Aikido Today Magazine
#67; Vol. 14, No.1; January/February ’00
By Cody Lewallen


Cody: Sensei, why did you start Aikido?

Fujitani Shihan: When I was younger, I lived in Kobe City. Every day-really, every day- I was a victim of one of those dirty old men on the trains- you know, the ones who like to touch women. I took classes of many sorts in those days, including classical ballet, and it would be dark when I returned home. But, even in the daytime, I would get on the train, and there would be one of those dirty old men! Men would follow me all the time. I’m telling you the truth! I was scared. So, I learned Aikido.
I hated men back then. But now I like them!(winks)
I was weak-willed and very feminine back in those days, and I couldn’t get away from those guys!

Cody: Do you have any thoughts for women studying Aikido?

Fujitani Shihan: From the beginning, when I started martial arts, the common feeling was that they were for men only. That discouraged me. I found it best not to think about the issue.
Men and women are completely different, right? Men have more muscle and are very strong. But the more muscle you use, the slower you learn good technique-or the faster you forget it.
As Aikido students, and especially as women, it is important to learn how and when to use muscle. It’s important not to rely on it. A year into my training, my technique was awful. I was still trying to compete with men who wee much stronger than I was. I fought and fought, refusing to give in or to look weak. I used as much strength as I could muster to finish my technique and look strong. In the process, I broke almost every bone in my body-arms, wrists, knees, and even fingers.
Eventually, I had to quit for half a year. I felt completely discouraged by the dojo’s “men only” attitude.
When people struggle and use all their strength, they forget that Aikido is not fighting. So, they are not doing Aikido. Fighting your way through a technique and trying to look strong, you forget good technique and throw your respect for your partner into the trash.
Respect for your partner is key to good technique, but it is very difficult to master.
People who think they’re doing Aikido by using all their energy and trying to look strong should take up running or power lifting- or they should just go and do ukemi by themselves somewhere.

Cody: At least, if they played “ukemi solitaire,” they would understand how their partners feel!

Fujitani Shihan: Learning to care for your partner is vital. That’s why in my dojo everybody does ukemi- even the Cheif Instructor.
In some dojos, the teacher doesn’t do any ukemi. He just stands around showing how strong he is “teaching”. He’s something like a bak-seat driver. He’s not really important to the operation of things, and it would probably be better if he wasn’t there at all!
Of course, if an instructor is elderly, it’s understandable that he is not going to want to be thrown around. But you see instructors who are in their 20’s strutting around, and slamming people like they own the place. Maybe they do own the place. But it’s just not right.
One Aikido instructor I saw on the Internet was so fat that, if he were thrown, he would be killed! I am not saying that all fat instructors are unskilled- but if you can’t teah ukemi and care for your partner by example, something’s wrong.
I don’t think I am the toughest woman on the planet, but I am skilled. I’ll try to continue practicing and teaching until I die. I always want to think about growing.
Everyone thinks that Steve(Seagal)is so powerful because he is so tall. That’s not quite right. He is also highly skilled. O-Sensei was very short. Can you imagine how awesome he would have been if he were as tall as Steve?
There are times when short people can’t do some of Steve’s techniques. If ou got on your knees and did his sankyo as though you were a short person, you would open yourself up to a knee in the ribs. So, I do it a different way. It doesn’t matter. After all, people don’t continue to pay me their Aikido dues just because Steve is my ex-husband!(Laughs)

Cody: Speaking of Seagal Snesei- where did you meet him?

Fujitani Shihan: We met at the L.A. airport. It was July 1974, and there was an Aikido seminar going on. A huge group of Aikido students were waiting at the airport for (Koichi)Tohei Sensei to arrive from Japan.
When I met Steve, he had long hair, and he was very tall and skinny. (Chuckles) I hate that type-skinny with long hair. I was frightened: he looked like a Japanese ghost! And he had on one of those Hawaiian shirts- the real bright ones, you know?
Later, when I got to know him better, I noticed that he had very attractive eyes, and his way of speaking was nice and soft.
he said he was going to go to Japan. He had received some money from an insurance company because of a knee injury he got in Karate.
After the seminar, I visited the Aikido dojo where he was studying. I watched him test for shodan. (I was a nidan at the time) Tohei Sensei conducted the test.

Cody: How was Seagal Sensei received as an instructor in Japan.

Fujitani Shihan: Oh, it was a big deal. He was the first foreigner t be the head of a dojo in Japan. It was big news. The TV and the newspaper people came, and not just the little stations or papers. After that coverage, we got more students than we knew what to do with.

Cody: Was Seagal Sensei an Omoto practitioner at the time?

Fujitani Shihan: Steve said he wanted Omoto poeole to perform the opening ceremony for the Tenshin Dojo. My family was not Omoto. We got introduced to Omoto through a “friend of a friend”-an American who had been living in Japan. After being introduced to Omoto, we were granted the name “Tenshin” by the top man of Omoto at the time. He also did the “Tenshin” calligraphy, which is at the front of the dojo next to O-Sensei’s picture.
I remember asking Steve whether it was okay with his family for him to change his religion, and he said, “It’s no problem.” I asked him again,because I thought it was a big deal to change your religion, and he again said, “no problem; don’t worry.” He said that he had read a book in America on Omoto and that he believed it.

Cody: What was it like after he left?

Fujitani Shihan: Well, one of the uchideshi took over the classes. I had to kick this man out, because he was not sincere and because he created a lot of trouble. He would lie to the other students, and he tried to get them to dislike me.
I had to train a new uchideshi. I selected a person who was a lot lower in rank and a lot younger than many of the senior students, but I could see he was very eager to learn. I knew he would succeed.

Cody: Was Seagal Sensei supportive when he left?

Fujitani Shihan: Well, he left very gradually. He would go to America and run his dojo there. And, as you know, he was into the movies. But, once he was gone, he was gone.
When he left and I chose a new uchideshi, the students left too. I had to start all over. It was very hard.. Some days, I would go to teach class, and only one person would show up. On top of running the dojo, I had to raise my children. I don’t know how we got by. Sometimes we could only afford cheap brown rice for dinner.

Cody: What kept you going?

Fujitani Shihan: I think the thing that got me through those rough times was the love of my children. My kids got older and got into show business, and somehow i finally got on top.
Another reason for my success is my students. If I hadn’t had such good, loyal students, it would have been impossible to make it to where I am now.

Cody: I’ve heard rumors of mobsters and other problems. Can you tell me more about that problems you ran into?

Fujitani Shihan: You can read about that in my book! By the way- if there are any ATM(Aikido Today Magazine) readers out there who have any ideas about how I can get my book published in English, please E-mail me!

Cody: Can we talk about your book a little? What can we expect to find inside it?

Fujitani Shihan: Inside lies the foundation of my Aikido-the experiences that spawned it, some in the form of essays and some in the form of poems.

Cody: Experiences?

Fujitani Shihan: For example, meeting Steve, our divorce, how we lost a baby, raising our two children, their careers and movie debuts, and some very basic, important points on Aikido.

Cody: I definitely look forward to receiving your book. -There’s one last thing I would like to ask you about: ki.

Fujitani Shihan: If you use all the strength and power we were talking about earlier, you will not understand ki. To understand ki, it is very important to feel.

Cody: Feel what?

Fujitani Shihan: Anything. For example, if somebody is smiling an acting nice to you, you have to know whether it is coming from their heart.
Another example- if someone comes at you with a knife, you shouldn’t concentrate only one the knife. You will not feel the speed of the attack. You need to look at the attacker’s whole body and feel his motion, intention and ki.
You must flow like water. As water flows downstream, it does not fight against instinct.
If you’re always using strength in your Aikido, you will not be sensitive enough to feel. Just as the water does not flow upward, it is unnatural for us to train at the risk of our lives with as much strength and machismo as we can muster. Training taht way, you can not truly learn to feel.
As you walk down the street, somebody gives you the stiff shoulder. If your’re thinking “I’m strong,” you crash hard, and whoever is stronger wins. But, both of you get sore shoulders.
Flow like a stream; blend like a door that is pushed open. This is “tenkan.” Don’t fight your partner’s ki. Feel it.


Cody Lewallen (5th degree black belt) is the head instructor of the Aikido Shoubu Dojo in Tucson, Arizona, an official Tenshin Dojo Branch.
Fujitani Shihan (7th degree black belt) is the head instructor at the Aikido Tenshin Dojo in Osaka, Japan. She has been teaching Aikido for over 50 years.