May 6, 2004 by

Mitsunari Kanai


Categories: Education

Mitsunari Kanai, a revered martial arts instructor who helped found the United States Aikido Federation, died on March 28 from a heart attack. He was 64.
Born in Manchuria, Kanai and his family settled in Tokyo after World War II ended. He developed an interest in judo in his teens, and took night courses in German and older forms of Japanese in order to read historical documents about the martial arts.
Aikido, which means “the way of spiritual harmony” in Japanese, is a martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba (O Sensei) in the 1930s. Based on aikijutsu, aikido is considered a disciplined and non-aggressive art that uses an opponents’ energy against them. Kanai apprenticed with Ueshiba for a decade.
In 1965, Kanai moved to Boston and started teaching aikido classes. He eventually opened his own dojo — the New England Aikikai in Cambridge, Mass. Over the next 38 years, Kanai Sensei would teach 6,000 students from all over the world.
An eighth degree black belt, Kanai also taught classes in the use of the staff and the katana, a Japanese long-sword. He became such an expert in the weapon’s history and usage that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts consulted him on the display of its sword collection. Most recently, he served as the director of the technical committee of the United States Aikido Federation.

5 Responses to Mitsunari Kanai

  1. Charles Aarons

    I started attending Kanai Sensei’s seminars in 1971 in the mountains of New Hampshire. He was and always will remain an inspiration. Over the years, though I have trained with other shihan, he was a favourite. I remember quite well a summer camp in Vancouver British Columbia where all of the yudansha gathered to ask him about how hard it was to take hard ukemi these days. Kanai Sensei insisted the ukemi were the same and spent the next morning giving an absolutely magical class on ukemi. Sensei you will be sorely missed.
    Charles Aarons

  2. Leslie Mulholland

    I hope that all students of aikido everywhere strive to remember the beautiful teachings of Kanai Sensei. His influence on his students was very deep and very good. I was always respectful of how completely he maintained the purity of the idea of aikido. There are things that could be learned only from Kanai Sensei, and he will not be forgotten.

  3. van shimizu

    I have met four teachers in aikido all have pass
    away I have not seen any of them over the last
    ten years but I hope they will have a sae spiritual path i seen the spirit of several I hope
    that they are in a higher place.

  4. beverly nelson

    I joined NE Aikikai in 1973 and practiced there for 3 years before leaving to live in South America. While I studied and since I left, I have seen how being centered is really part of everything about being alive.
    I was priviledged to study with Kanai Sensei, and my fellow students, while there was still room on the mat to move around! It was a joy to see him always. I know I learned only a small part of aikido form, but the heart message went deeper.
    I will always remember how Kanai Sensei would show us a move and then lift up his arms and say: “Now you do”
    I left without saying goodbye to all my friends at the dojo… it was just too hard and I had to move on, but I want to take this opportunity to bow to you if you read this and remember me. Thank you for your help on the path.
    Thank you, Sensei.
    Thank you, world.
    beverly nelson elder

  5. Bill Venieris

    I had the chance to see Kanai Sensei teach an Iaido class at Aikido de la Montagne (Claude Berthiaume) in Montreal, back in the mid-90’s.
    I am greatful for this opportunity. My condolences to Sensei’s family, friends, colleagues and students.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *