About Icho Ryu

Bernie Lau - Icho Ryu founderIcho Ryu is the creation of Bernie Lau, a retired Seattle police officer, who felt traditional Aikido as it was practiced did not meet his needs as a police officer or serve as a self-defense system for civilians, despite the claims it did by many instructors.

Lau began training in 1955 under Koichi Tohei in Hilo, Hawaii.  Other sensei in Hilo responsible for Lau’s early Aikido training included Nagata and Nonaka.  Lau was privileged to tour with Tohei and attend classes and events when Ueshiba Morihei visited Hawaii.  While serving in the US Navy, Lau studied in Honolulu with the numerous sensei there, including Yamamoto, Goo, and Yoshioka.  He was awarded his shodan and nidan in Japan, his ranking certificates personally signed by Morihei Ueshiba.

Lau, despite his numerous years training in Aikido, came to feel that the traditional methods of training and the views of the organizations that existed were counter-productive to the needs of law enforcement officers.  He resigned from Aikido to form the Washington Budokan, a private dojo, where he developed tactics and techniques more applicable to law enforcement and civilian self-defense. The result of this effort was Icho Ryu, a fusion of his training and influences in Aikido, Goju Ryu Karate, Danzan Ryu Jujutsu methods from Wally Jay, modern Judo, Aikijujutsu from the Yamate Ryu and Shidare Yanagi Ryu, and practical experiences as a uniformed patrol officer, undercover narcotics and vice detective.  Lau chose to use the term Aikijujutsu as a means to  distinguish his teachings from Aikido and the politics that existed at that time.  In 2003, the term Aikibudo was adopted for use with Icho Ryu.

While Icho Ryu maintains the use of many Japanese culturally derived practices, it is actually a Goshin Budo and has no connections to any Japanese organizations aside from friendships.

Icho Ryu seeks to provide the students:

  • physical and psychological techniques for applications in self-defense situations and daily life.
  • an understanding of how to recognize and diffuse a potentially violent situation.
  • the ability to handle a situation that has turned violent, both psychologically and physically, as well as to deal with the aftermath.
  • a methodology to deal with the everyday stresses of life.

Icho Ryu monPhilosophically, Bernie Lau maintains “the simpler the better.”  Bernie’s creed for Icho Ryu is simple: ”Train your mind, Develop your body, Polish your spirit.”  By regular practice, we seek to understand how to better apply what we learn via training in our own lives.  Through the stresses of physical training, we are forced to confront ourselves on physical, mental, and spiritual levels and grow as a result.  This is budo as taught in Icho Ryu.

In 2004, Bernie Lau officially retired and turned over responsibility for Icho Ryu to the current chief instructor, Neil Yamamoto.

(Used with permission by Neil Yamamoto)

Class Information

If you are interested in watching or participating in Icho Ryu classes, please contact Neil Yamamoto for permission before coming to the dojo. Contact Neil Yamamoto by clicking here

Beginners classes in Icho Ryu are Tuesdays at 6:15 p.m. The beginners’ series is a 3 month course open to interested students at the chief instructor’s discretion.  There is a heavy emphasis on ukemi (falling and rolling), as well as solo exercises and partner drills to develop the basics needed for advanced skill levels.  All students interested in Icho Ryu must attend beginners’ classes regardless of prior experience in other martial arts.  Students may join after a series starts but may experience more difficulty in learning as a result.  If you have questions, please contact Neil Yamamoto by clicking here

Icho Ryu senior classes are only by chief instructor’s permission.  If you have questions, please contact Neil Yamamoto by clicking here


Rank, known as “mudansha” or “kyu” (non black belts) and “yudansha” (black belt level), is not used in Icho Ryu.  One is either a student, instructor, senior instructor, or chief instructor.  Icho Ryu does not make use of colored belts.  Testing is not done either, since it is the final decision of the chief instructor as to when one is ready to be an instructor.