1956 ~ 1966
This document focuses on those original pioneers that set the stage for those who would follow. The time line dates back to the mid 1950's through the 1970's. The information was compiled by making many phone calls and speaking with several people that were either direct students of these men, knew of them and searching the internet. This includes speaking directly to Dan Ivan, one of the first Americans to train under Shioda Gozo Kancho, Virgl Crank, Dick Taylor and Stephen Price who were all Yoshinkan Aikido students under these teachers. Many thanks to Mr. Price and Mr. Lambert for their contribution of historic photos.Anyone with information regarding the topic of this page is encouraged to contact me. I would love to hear from you and share your experiences with those who visit this site.
Aikido Yoshinkan Sacramento
Created: December 21, 1999
Author: Steven Miranda
Updated: February 16, 2010 by S. Miranda
Updated information for Mr. H.V. Crank for whom I have personally spoken to.
Note: This is the official copy of this document as created by the original author and editor noted above. All others are copies and most likely do not reflect the ongoing research and updating of this document, unless taken from this site.
Fast Facts | Photo Gallery
The history of Yoshinkan Aikido in the North America, has been traced back to two men. Lloyd Eugene Combs and Dan Ivan (RIP: 11/14/2007) . Both of these men started their Aikido careers in Japan while members of the CID (Criminal Investigations Detachment) that supported the Japanese National Police in the mid 1940's through the mid 1950's. Ivan, known more for his Karate, started his training in Aikido under Heidi Sensei. A student of Aikido founder, Ueshiba Morehei O'Sensei. Ivan grew to like Aikido, but was in search of a Martial Art more suitable to his work. After hearing about the Yoshinkan, he started training with Yoshinkan founder Shioda Gozo Kancho.
Dan Ivan introduced Aikido to Lloyd Eugene Combs in 1955 while stationed at Camp Drake on the outskirts of Tokyo. They both went on to be trained and promoted to the rank of Shodan by Gozo Shioda Kancho. At the time, Dan Ivan explains; there were only three Westerners training at the then Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo. The third gentlemen being an Englishmen named Cunningham.
Note: Many thanks to Inoue Kyoichi Sensei for identifying Mr. Cunningham as Sir John Brown Cunningham . He taught at several universities in Japan including Todai (Japan University), Kokushikan University, Chuo University, Asia University.
After his tour of duty in Japan in 1956, Combs moved back to the United States where he established what can be described as the first commercial Aikido dojo in the United States. Combs was more of the Aikido purist and set up shop in the small Southern California town of Lawndale. After several months had past, Dan Ivan joined Combs at the Lawndale Dojo. Around 1960, Combs would return to Japan to continue his Yoshinkan training and returned to Southern California around 1962 after receiving his Sandan. Combs continued his training at the Lomita dojo of Horace Virgl Crank where he promoted several students, including Mr. Stephen Price and Mr. Duane Christensen to the rank of shodan. Combs would later retire to Kentucky where he introduced Yoshinkan Aikido in the mid to late 1960's.
(April 1956 article from the Pacific Stars & Stripes magazine annoucing LE Combs receiving his 1st dan from Gozo Shioda Kancho)
Prior to his return to Japan, Combs' sold the dojo to one of his students by the name of Tom Corzine, whose last known rank was nidan prior to 1964, however this has not been confirmed. Some of the students training at the time of the purchase were Virgl Crank, Richard "Dick" Taylor and John Rudy Bowen (1996). Dick Taylor started his Aikido career in 1958, but would eventually be promoted to Shodan by Virgl Crank in 1961. In 1962, Dick switched over to the Honbu style (Aikikai). J.R. Bowen, passed away in 1996, but not after first conquering drug and alcohol abuse. Bowen had moved back to Japan to teach English and Aikido and continued his training in Yoshinkan. Bowen's last known rank was sandan and he credits, in an article written on him in 1994, Gozo Shioda Kancho for teaching him "The way toward excellence and restraint". Corzine would eventually return to his roots in karate and soon after purchasing the dojo, closed the school and began teaching Karate from his home.
In 1959, upon the closure of the Lawndale dojo and having received his shodan from Gozo Shioda Kancho, H. V. Crank opened a new dojo in Lomita, CA to continue the Yoshinkan Aikido legacy. Crank was born in Long Beach, California and graduated from El Camino Community College in Torrance, California. He began his training in Yoshinkan Aikido in summer of 1956 under L.E. Combs and is the founder of the American Aikido Association (Yoshinkai) and served as its Vice President and Chief Instructor. In 1964, at the recommendation of Mr. Kimeda and Mr. Yasuda, who had recently arrived from Japan, Crank was awarded his nidan by Gozo Shioda Kancho. Crank was called to serve in the US Armed forces in 1966 and was transferred to the Office of Public Safety where he was appointed as a Foreign Service Officer due to his combined expertise in police, military and the martial arts training. When the Office of Public Safety was abolished by act of congress in 1975, he had the equivalent rank in the military of a Lt. Colonel. It was during his trip overseas in 1966 while on his way to Vietnam that he visited the Yoshinkan HQ and was tested and received his Sandan by Gozo Shioda Kancho. Kyoichi Inoue and Takashi Kushida were among the senior instructors who greeted Crank and recommended him for testing.
During his tenure as the 2nd head master of Yoshinkan's first dojo in North America, the dojo played host to such students and teachers as Takeshi Kimeda (9th dan), Yukio Noguchi (8th dan, deceased), Mitsuru Yamashita, Stanley Pranin (Aikido Journal), Walter Foster (deceased), Victor Kato, Stephen Price, Duane Christensen, Mr. Yasuda and many other students from Tom Corzine's old dojo who wanted to continue training in aikido. At this time, Crank was one of the few men in the United States to hold a class "D" teaching credential to teach police science in colleges. Crank is also the first American to teach Yoshinkan Aikido overseas in Vietnam and Laos to the Military Services as part of his duties with the State Department. Upon his departure for military service, Combs appointed Mitsuru Yamashita as head of the dojo and turned over all his college classes to Yamashita. This appointment was discussed with and approved by Gozo Shioda Kancho during Combs' visit to Japan in 1966.
Today, Crank resides in Southern California and holds a Masters Degree in Humanities and Human Services from the University of Houston which he received in 1989.
Stephen Price was a student of Yukio Noguchi, 7th dan Yoshinkan Aikido, while in the U.S. Navy stationed in Yokosuka, Japan and studied from 1957 through 1958. Price had been introduced to Yoshinkan Aikido by Lt. Commander Robert Cramer who would open up a Yoshinkan dojo in Chicago. Price had received the rank of ikkyu from Noguchi and returned to Southern California. Upon his return to Southern California, Price was reunited with his brother-in-law, Duane Christensen, who was a member of the Long Beach Police Department. Price had taught his brother-in-law everything he knew. Mr. Christensen became the self-defense instructor for the LBPD in about 1961. They later found Virgl Crank's dojo in Lomita and studied and taught there. LLoyd Combes, who had returned from Japan, tested them and received their ranks of shodan. Duane Christensen became a full time staff member of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Academy as self-defense instructor and taught Aikido there for about three years.
Mitsuru Yamashita, was born and raised in Long Beach, California and began his Yoshinkan Aikido training in 1959 under the guidance of Virgl Crank. He would become the third head master of the dojo founded by L.E. Combs and assumed control of the AAA and the dojo after Cranks departure to Vietnam. The dojo was given the name of Sanbukan in 1990 by Gozo Shioda Kancho. Yamashita was promoted to shodan (1st degree black belt) by Takeshi Kimeda who had arrived from Japan in 1964 after being invited by Virgl Crank.
In the 1970's, Yamashita was promoted to 2nd and 3rd dan by Gozo Shioda Kancho and Yukio Noguchi Sensei, 4th dan in 1980 by Gozo Shioda Kancho and 5th dan in 1991 by Yasuhisa Shioda Shihan. In 2003, Amos L. Parker Shihan recommended Yamashita for 6th dan and in December of 2003 the Yoshinkan HQ national grading committee accepted the recommendation for 6th dan. Yamashita Sensei continues as dojocho and head master of the Yamashita Aikido Organization and was one of the first Americans not trained in Japan to be promoted to 5th dan by Shioda Kancho. Today, Yamashita is the the longest practicing Yoshinkan Aikido instructor in North American.
Earlier it was mentioned that a Navy Lieutenant Commander by the name of Robert Cramer was also teaching Yoshinkan Aikido in the United States in the 1960's. Cramer's top student was Gilbert James, 7th dan and head master of the Seigokan Dojo in Chicago, Illinois. James started his training in 1961 and was the head of the Mid-West Yoshinkai Aikido Association. One of the first associations recognized by the Yoshinkan Honbu. James is one of three Americans to not have trained directly in Japan to receive the rank of Rokudan (6th dan)and the only one to achieve the rank of 7th dan. After 40 years of dedication to Yoshinkan Aikido, James passed away on February 26, 2002.
Another student of Robert Cramer's was Robert Hackett. James indicated that Cramer is credited for teaching the first bilingual (English/Spanish) Aikido classes in the United States. Robert Hackett passed away in July of 1992 and had achieved the rank of Yondan.
Gilbert James also indicates that some of the other early students of Commander Cramer's where Thom Brasseur, Leroy Walgora and Tony Sereda. All members of the early Yoshinkan days in Chicago pictured below. Most all of the members of this club would later continue their training under the guidance of Takashi Kushida, who arrived in the United States in 1973.
Thomas H. Makiyama, Founder/Director of the KEIJUTSUKAI, began his budo career in 1947. A nisei from Hawaii, Makiyama was the first American ever promoted to the rank of 8th dan by Shioda Kancho. Like Dan Ivan and Lloyd Combes, Makiyama was a member of the CID in post-war Japan. Makiyama returned home from Japan in 1958 and in 1959, invited Shioda Kancho, Noguchi Sensei and Kushida Sensei to teach a very successful Aikido clinic in Hawaii. Makiyama had returned to Japan to further his own knowledge and is the author of many books and videos on Aikido. He maintained good ties to the Yoshinkan Honbu dojo. Thomas Makiyama passed away September 9, 2005.
Yukio Noguchi, Yoshinkan 8th dan, first came to the U.S in 1959 at the invitation of Thomas Makiyama and would return for good in 1962, making him the first Japanese instructor to come to North America full-time. Among his many students are Sam Combes, 6th dan and chief instructor of Aikido Yoshinkai of California (Kadokan Dojo), and Charlie Ii, Godan under Noguchi Sensei's Shizenkai Aikido organization. In 1980 Noguchi founded his own organization called Shizenkai and passed away in Hawaii in 1996. Among those he promoted were Mits Yamashita, to the rank of Sandan. In 1962, shortly after his arrival, Noguchi was the featured instructor in Lomita, California. Mr. Walter Foster, who also trained at the Yoshinkan honbu dojo, reported for Black Belt Magazine on this event.
Of notable mention is Jeanne Booth. Born in Washington, D.C., Booth attended Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass., and the Univ. of Virginia in Fredericksburg. When her husband was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan (1959 to 1963), she studied karate and Yoshinkan Aikido. She holds a 1st-Dan Black Belt in Yoshinkan Aikido and has been told she is the first non Japanese woman to attain this rank. Though not much more is known about Booth, her profile in Black Belt magazine indicated she was a school teacher in Troy, N.Y., where she taught Karate and Aikido at several YWCAs. Anyone with more information is encourage to contact us.
Now, with the above all said and done, it is important to note that we must never forget the contributions of our friends and teachers from Japan. For without them, Yoshinkan Aikido may not have ever grown to be the world leader in Aikido.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to Noguchi Yukio Sensei (1962), Kimeda Takeshi Sensei (1964),Karasawa Mitsugoro Sensei (1970, Canada), Utada Yukio Sensei (1972), Kushida Takashi Sensei (1973) and Morita Masatoshi Sensei (1975) for their efforts in the expansion of Yoshinkan Aikido here in the United States and in Canada. The dates next to their names represents the year they came to the United States.
All of these teachers studied under Shioda Gozo Kancho and brought those teachings to the United States and Canada, to share with us. Through their continued efforts during the late 1960's to present day, Yoshinkan Aikido has grown and flourished. I know I am extremely grateful to them for making it possible to learn Yoshinkan Aikido.
Update: June 2007
I have been blessed once again to meet yet another American who began his aikido life at the America School of Aikido, founded by L.E. Combs Sensei. Though now a member of the Aikikai, Mr. John Johnson was a student of the original Yoshinkan Aikido dojo. Documentation from Mr. Johnson reveals the address of the dojo to be formerly located at 16807 Hawthorne Blvd, Lawndale, CA. This was precisely where I had tracked it down to but until now, had know real evidence. Mr. Johnson remembers well Tom Corizine, whom he spent a summer living with, as well as Dick Taylor, Rudy Bowen and of course, L.E. Combs. I would like to thank Johnson Sensei for contacting me and providing some great insight to those early days.
Many thanks to all who took time from their busy schedules to share what information they may have had or found. I will continue to update this document as I receive new and updated information.
The above research information was gathered from the following sources and contacts:
Richard "Dick" Taylor
Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido
Aikido Journal Online
Black Belt Magazine