All of our teachers have trained and are ranked by both Birankai North America and Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Japan.  The majority of our teachers are certified instructors, having gone through years of intensive training with T.K. Chiba Shihan. Several teachers also have extensive experience in other Martial Arts, including: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Krav Maga, Jodo, Iaido, and Tae Kwon Do.

The teaching staff at San Diego Aikikai provide high quality, martial Aikido instruction while always ensuring the safety of members. Together with their students, they make up an open and supportive community of individuals looking to both self-reflect and connect with others.

Chief Instructor
Deena Drake
6th Dan, Shidoin

Deena Drake Sensei began training in Aikido in 1995 with M. Flynn Shihan in Northern California. She joined the kenshusei (teacher’s training) program in 1997 and continued her training as an apprentice to T.K. Chiba Shihan and M. Murashige Shihan in San Diego beginning in 2000. Drake Sensei graduated from the kenshusei program in 2007 as a fully certified instructor (Shidoin). She holds the rank of 6th degree black belt and is a member of the Board of Directors for Birankai North America. In her professional life, Drake Sensei is a Clinical Nurse Specialist for Palliative Care at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

Assistant Chief Instructor
Julian Frost
5th Dan, Shidoin

A native of England, Julian’s study of martial arts began at 8 years of age, with 9 years of competitive judo and continued with traditional Japanese Ju-jutsu, Karate and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Julian started Aikido in England in 1982, where his teachers included Dee Chen (6th Dan), Steve Beecham (6th Dan), Minoru Kanetsuka (8th Dan) and Nobuyoshi Tamura (8th Dan). In 1989, Julian relocated to San Diego where he spent 3 years as uchi deshi (live in student) and 8 years as kenshusei (member of the advanced teacher training program) at the San Diego Aikikai, under Kazuo Chiba shihan, 8th Dan. Julian is a retired police officer, is currently ranked 5th dan, and has been studying Aikido for more than 35 years. He also holds black belt ranks in Iaido and Jodo.

Leslie Cohen
6th Dan, Shidoin

Leslie began training in 1988 with Jerry Paup Sensei and the aikido club at UC Santa Cruz. From her first roll she was hooked and began training as much as possible, also joining North Bay Aikido under Linda Holiday Sensei. In 1990 she traveled to Shingu, Japan to study with Hikitsuchi Sensei. Soon after her return to San Diego in 1991, Leslie became the student of Chiba Sensei at San Diego Aikikai. She feels immensely grateful and fortunate to have been able to train with him until his retirement. As a Stay-at-Home Mom to her two children, she spends a lot of time volunteering at their school. Leslie also leads the Scripps Ranch Zen Group.

Gary Payne
4th Dan

Gary Payne (4th Dan) started Aikido in 1989 with Bruce Bookman Sensei (6th Dan) at Aikido Northwest. After an injury and a move out of the country Gary resumed Aikido in Argentina under Katsutoshi Kurata Sensei (7th Dan), and Ricardo Lopez Sensei (5th Dan). Upon returning to his native San Diego Gary began studying Aikido under K. Chiba Shihan (8th Dan) in 1997, and M. Murashige Sensei (6th Dan), and has been a part of San Diego Aikikai ever since.
From 1984 to 1989 Gary also practiced American Kempo Karate (San Diego), and Shito-ryu Karate (Seattle). He has subsequently studied Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under Fabio Santos (7th Dan), and Alex Brandao (3rd Dan), and has a purple belt in BJJ. Gary also practices at Impact Krav Maga Self-Defense. 
Gary is a photographer by profession, and an amateur musician (mandolin & violin). He is married and has three children.

William Ahrens
4th Dan, Fukushidoin

Wil (4th Dan) began his Aikido practice under the guidance of B. Bookman Sensei (6th Dan) in 1990 Seattle, WA. After finishing a degree in Respiratory Therapy, Wil moved to San Diego, CA to study under K. Chiba Shihan (8th Dan) and M. Murashige Sensei (6th Dan) in 1995. Wil has been a member of San Diego Aikikai to this day. Wil’s major emphasis is teaching, harmonizing energy and joy of practice. Wil is a husband, father of two grown daughters, and currently leads a Musu Shinden Ryu Iaido study group Friday nights.

Ram Lichtman
3rd Dan, Fukushidoin

Ram started Aikido in 1997, after a conversation with a colleague of similar military experience got him intrigued about finding a martial art that deals with conflict without the need to destroy one’s opponent.
Initially drawn to Aikido’s beautiful movement, Ram trained in Davis under David Bird (7th Dan, Shihan), and later at Berkley Aikikai. Ram then resumed his training at SD Aikikai, and has been here since 2012.
Ram enjoys exploring the transformative attributes of Aikido, and how it can be applied to other aspects of life such as leadership and his career in sales.

Uriel Murillo Sosa
2nd Dan

Uriel “Uri” Murillo Sosa began Aikido in 2013 at San Diego Aikikai and has trained continuously under Deena Drake Sensei. Uri was immediately drawn to SDA’s traditional and holistic approach in its development of body, mind, and spirit which inspired him to train as uchi deshi (live in student) in both the summer of 2014 and winter of 2015 at SDA. Uri has worked primarily as an English and Spanish language instructor to students of all ages and from all corners of the world, domestically and overseas (China, Spain). During his time abroad, Uri completed a master’s thesis on border immigration policy centered on social, cultural, political, and artistic responses to the impact of urban development on marginalized border communities. Uri currently holds the rank of 2nd dan and assists in teaching the children’s program.