Jul
14

“When Saito Sensei last met Tohei Sensei,” by Stanley Pranin

During my many years in Japan, one of the highlights I especially remember took place on October 29, 2001 when Morihiro Saito Sensei visited the home of Koichi Tohei Sensei after a hiatus of nearly 30 years. This meeting came about due to a request from Saito Sensei’s son, Hitohiro Sensei, who asked me to attempt to arrange the meeting because of the advanced age and health of these two aikido legends.

First, a little background. During my years of close association with Saito Sensei spanning the late 1970s through the 1990s, I often heard him mention with respect and nostalgia his “sempai,” Koichi Tohei. When Saito Sensei enrolled in the Ueshiba Dojo in 1946 at the age of 18, it was Tohei Sensei who was the standout figure at the Iwama Dojo. Everyone looked up to him, Saito Sensei being no exception. It was this early era that Saito Sensei most fondly remembered.

Their association was cut short in 1974 when Tohei Sensei resigned from the Aikikai organization. There was no particular animosity on either side because of this unfortunate event, but the normal occasions when they would meet such as demonstrations, meetings or parties no longer brought them together. Their relationship was simply one of the fallouts of the political problems that occurred at the Aikikai during those years.

In any event, being ever the “nakodo” or go-between for this sort of situation, I actually tried to reunite the two sometime during the 1990s by contacting the Ki Society. In the mid-1990s, I had a chance to conduct a series of interviews with Tohei Sensei, so I took advantage of one of these opportunities to make the attempt. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful and reported the fact to Saito Sensei who appeared disappointed but understood Tohei Sensei’s reluctance.

After Saito Sensei became ill, Hitohiro Sensei asked me to once again try to arrange a meeting. To my great surprise and pleasure, this time Tohei Sensei agreed to meet with Saito Sensei. We were to visit Tohei Sensei at his ancestral home near the “Ki no Sato” in Tochigi Prefecture. Hitohiro Sensei drove Saito Sensei, me and two Iwama uchideshi to the Ki no Kenkyukai headquarters in the countryside for the meeting. It was about an hour’s drive to the west from Iwama.

Tohei Sensei greeted us with a warm smile as he walked somewhat unsteadily–he had undergone a hip replacement operation–down the hall. We sat down for a chat with the four of us present in the room: the two Senseis, and Hitohiro Sensei and myself. The two chatted cordially for a little over an hour. I offered a comment here and there, but was quite contented just to sit back and take in this historic scene of these two giants of the aikido world enjoying each other’s company.

I have not met Tohei Sensei since that day and only saw Saito Sensei one more time before he passed away in May of 2002. It was a day I’ll never forget. I hope you enjoy the commemorative photo we took that day.

For more on Koichi Tohei Sensei, please have a look at the information on his new DVD we have just released.

An abundance of material on Morihiro Saito Sensei can be found here and here, and elsewhere on this website.

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Comments

  1. Had unity been fostered instead of fear riddled division, The Founder’s vision would have been closer sooner and Aikido would be greater for it today. Can you imagine all the greats working together instead of scattered? Which goes to show that we are a species that can not live without war. But Great Nature is outside the process. Whether the seedlings sprout close to the parent tree or are blown far away from the parent tree, if valid they will still grow. Reconciliation is inevitable in the nature of the Great Universe, even though it may not always take the form we would expect. Aikido exists as a universal current no person or organisation can claim ownership of, or force into a closed box of parochiality. It is an essence that transcends such petty and mundane consideration and one which has the potential of making the human burden easier. Hubris has no place in budo because it degenerates it into a destructive force instead of the protecting power it is and should remain.

  2. This is an incredible photo. I believe I will know more about these two Aikido legends as I gradually read more. Most of my knowledge is simply that each (including Pranin Sensei) have been paramount in significantly enhancing Aikido to its state we enjoy in today’s world.

  3. Clark Bateman says:

    It is good when we can keep some of our attention on “the ones that got away”. A broader vision gives perspective far better than heads in the sand. Politics, however, is a powerful ally to confusion.

  4. Great picture and wonderful work by you Stan.

    I gather Aikikai are promoting a function to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Osensei’s visit to Hawaii in February next year.

    What a wonderful opportunity for Aikikai and Ki Society to meet and reconcile, and what a great signal that would send to the aikido world, if only it could be arranged.

    Stan, would your nakodo powers be up to making that suggestion to both parties?

    David

  5. Stan,

    Thank you for sharing such an incredible photo . Just viewing the photo made me realize, Aikido, one always build bridges . To have been in the presence of both Shihans is an honor .

    Thank you,

    Jon

  6. Larry Novick says:

    Stan – thank you for this. It is really meaningful for some of us.

  7. Wow! This is a moment that will be etched in the history of Aikido. Stan, that was a great accomplishment to get those two tegether after all of those years. Great job!

  8. William E. Ashton, II says:

    Mr. Pranin,

    As I ‘opened’ my daily email digest of Aikido Journal’s news, I was taken aback, and even reading twice, the heading “When Saito Sensei last met Tohei Sensei”. “A misprint”, I thought. After navigating to the article, I was warmed by the photo of both sensei (Saito and Tohei), and not merely one of the informative articles.

    This being said, I must agree with Lynch Sensei, as ask that you use your powers of unification and grace, to reunite these seemingly divergent paths of the aikido world. While none of us, I’m sure, are seeking an aikido homogeny, I can be certain that the majority of aikidoka out there would like to see “ai” brought back between these two influential groups (AIkikai and Ki Society).

    Thank you for your consideration in this, and also for keeping a forum for diverse aikidoka to meet, study, and celebrate in our unique Budo.

    Respectfully,

    William E. Ashton, II
    Aikidoka
    Nippon-Kan, Denver, CO

  9. Most of my gratitude is not directly to Tohei’s and Saito’s immense bodies of skill. It is much more toward the fact that they kept with Aikido for so much time, as if they were totally captured by its almost incomprehensible wealth. That wealth is there for anyone willing to pursue it, usually in place of exorbitant monetary wealth. I think these two shihan recognized that subtle yet incredible wealth that is beyond yen. I hope they fully enjoyed teaching what required so much energy for them to learn. To me, it’s not about celebrity worship of any sort; it’s gratitude for their spiritual guidance and setting incredible examples.

  10. steve kwan says:

    Thanks ! Stan. The meeting and the photo show the beauty and power of reconciliation and harmony. We, as human beings, should always work hard to achieve this kind of beauty and power with ourselves, with the nature, and with our mighty God. Good work! Stan, you are the messenger of Peace.

  11. Bravo! To grow a bodies cells continually divide, thus 1 becomes 2 becomes 4 becomes 8 etc.. Would the aikido body have the insights of takemusu, shin shin toitsu and many other perspectives without this kind of growth?

  12. According to the Yin and Yang principle – This polarity of the universe is what makes Ki and Dou. That is the process of evolution, which is not possible if Union was the Goal – The variety of all Life forms is not based on Union but in a Universal Harmony among all living manifestations. Unity is a concept of political sciences – where as Harmony is a concept of philosophic values. O´sanseis DOKA “The Art of Peace” tells us the Harmony is the Path to lasting peace.
    The work of all aikidoka is to create harmony and peace among all men of Good Will.