“Can you learn Aikido from a video? Of course not, but…,” by Stanley Pranin

I remember once asking a famous teacher of a classical Japanese martial art if he thought a person could learn his budo by watching a video. His answer was, not surprisingly, “Of course not!” This seemed like a reasonable answer, one that I had heard many times before, and I thought nothing of it. Then, a short time later, someone at one of his seminars asked permission to videotape his class. “Dame da! Waza ga nusumareru!” (Absolutely not! My techniques would be stolen!) was his curt reply.

Later, he confided to me that a couple of students had visited his dojo from Eastern Europe. They had never studied with him or any of his affiliated instructors. Saying that they had merely been studying on their own by watching a videotape, the by-now-curious teacher told them to demonstrate what they had learned. He said he was amazed at how well they could mimic the martial forms just by studying the videos.

I never forgot what he said and, after many years, publishing and marketing videotapes, I have come to believe that such visual materials can indeed be a valuable aid for the martial arts learner.

This especially became the case after I began editing the Lost Seminars DVDs of Morihiro Saito Sensei. I realized that an edited version of a videotape containing complete subtitles would maximize the experience for the viewer, particularly if that person had some experience with Saito Sensei’s style of aikido.

Saito Sensei’s seminars presented techniques in a logical, organized manner as was his custom. What he presented was like a catalog of techniques ordered according to a specific theme. I myself attended many seminars with Sensei and served as his interpreter on numerous occasions. Nonetheless, I had forgotten how much had slipped my mind in the intervening years. I can’t tell you how valuable it was for me to see those old videotapes again.

Please have a look at our description of the Lost Seminars DVDs, view the sample footage, and see what you think! Can you learn from a videotape?


  1. bruce baker says:

    Videos are indeed a great source of information .. but only with the proper foundation and educational study about the human body as well as the forces employed to create said result from said technique.

    My point? Even those who steal techniques from watching videos must then … students must practice until they come close to figuring out how the physical forces of application needed will be employed, and that can only happen from hours, weeks, sometimes months of practice .. practice .. practice, and even then … it might take a master practitioner to refine the mistakes the student makes.

  2. Rick Triplett says:

    The Lost Seminars are a gold mine of information to study. For feedback about my practice I need my living senseis and for practice I need my training partners; but I have learned a lot from repeated observation of Saito Sensei’s video, especially when he shows the same waza from different angles or comments on a variation.

  3. trying to learn anything from pictures is going to be challenging; sort of ‘paint by the numbers’. but if you already have some framework of live instruction, pictures help a lot. illustrated technical manuals of martial arts go back centuries. videos are even better than pictures. the first time i watched Saito Sensei’s weapons movies, it felt just like being in class with him. i don’t watch them very often just to preserve that magic.

  4. I do not practice Iwama style, being a practitioner of a Tomiki style. I have the 7 Saito Sensei Lost Seminars DVDs which I do watch from time to time. I also find them a gold mine of information. I seldom copy direct from them, but I always find something that explains or adds to my practice of Aikido. Watching explanatory (versus demo) video(s)of any master is usually beneficial to me!

  5. I have learned more from Saito Sensei posthumously than almost every living teacher. The digital nature of the media helps as I can magnify the video and play it at varying speeds to focus on different body parts in motion.

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