When I spent the summer in Japan in 1969, the late Terry Dobson was the senior foreign student at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. I can remember a group of gaijin (foreigners) who would sometimes gather to chat after class at the Kojimaya coffee shop near the dojo. This was the favored haunt of virtually anyone who regularly attended the Hombu Dojo given its proximity. On any particular day, you were likely to encounter several of the best-known shihan of the aikido world sitting in tables around the little shop just a few feet away.
Terry would delight us with all sorts of stories about the famous teachers then at the Aikikai. He had lived among the uchideshi at the Hombu Dojo for a couple of years in the early 1960s and was privileged to know the inside scoop on many fascinating subjects. Some of Terry’s tales were of events that he had witnessed first-hand, while others were the stuff of rumors. It didn’t matter which was which, the gaijin who had made the trek to the Mecca of aikido from all parts of the world hung on his every word.
One day, the subject of discussion came around to who was the best shihan of the day. First, let me give you an idea of the names of the teachers who instructed at the Hombu at that time: Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, Kisaburo Osawa, Morihiro Saito, Sadateru Arikawa, Seigo Yamaguchi, Shigenobu Okumura, Yasuo Kobayashi, and several junior instructors who later became well known. Quite a variety to choose from among!
Anyway, Terry fielded the question in an interesting way. He said that O-Sensei considered Morihiro Saito and Shoji Nishio to be his top students. To be honest, I don’t know whether it is a fact that O-Sensei actually said this. Maybe someone said that O-Sensei said this. In any event, I’ll never forget Terry’s words and he seemed to be in agreement with this assessment.
Coincidentally, that summer I attended Saito Sensei’s Sunday classes at the Aikikai, and even went out to Iwama one day together with Bill Witt. Also, I would train twice a week at a private dojo in Sugamo where Shoji Nishio Sensei taught. I thought he was terrific and very innovative. I’m sure Terry’s words strongly influenced me in my choice of teachers.
Well, if you are a regular visitor to this website, I know you know who Morihiro Saito was, but are you familiar with the fantastic aikido of Shoji Nishio Sensei?
Check out these videos.
For more background on Nishio Sensei, see here.