Apr
22

“Morihiro Saito’s Aikido Bible!” by Stanley Pranin

While living in Iwama, Japan in 1981, I conducted an interview with one of the few remaining prewar students of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, a man named Zenzaburo Akazawa. During the course of our conversation, Mr. Akazawa pulled out an old book full of photos of a young Morihei Ueshiba demonstrating martial techniques. I had no inkling that such a book even existed!

Knowing that this was a major discovery, I asked everything I could think of about the book’s origin and purpose. Mr. Akazawa informed me that this training manual was published privately in 1938 and was given to a limited number of Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s top students and patrons. It also served the purpose of providing income for the dojo which, at that time, was in poor financial condition because of the depletion of its ranks due to an intensification of the war effort.

What are the contents of Budo, the title of this technical primer, and why is it so important? The manual consists of 50 techniques demonstrated by Morihei Ueshiba, with one to three photos used for each. The techniques depicted include many basic techniques from the Aiki Budo period that are surprisingly modern in character. Also, included are numerous weapons techniques using the sword (ken), staff (jo), and training bayonet (juken). The emphasis on the latter techniques is certainly a reflection of the times.

Mr. Akazawa was gracious enough to allow me to borrow the book. When I had finished the interview, I headed directly over to Morihiro Saito Sensei’s house nearby. I could hardly contain my excitement at having found such an amazing document! To my great surprise, Saito Sensei had neither seen nor heard of this little book and he was obviously delighted as he turned the pages of Budo and scanned its contents with an expert eye.

This manual turned out to be very important to Saito Sensei because it provided irrefutable evidence that the techniques he was teaching at the Iwama Dojo were indeed a faithful representation of what he had learned from the Founder. It enabled him to deflect criticism often directed at him that he had created a “Saito-style” aikido that was a marked departure from Morihei’s technique. He could now shake his finger at his critics and say, “I’m teaching exactly what I was taught by O-Sensei in Iwama and here is the proof!”

This did not entirely silence his critics, but anyone taking a good look at Budo could not help but acknowledge the close resemblance between what Saito Sensei was teaching and the techniques demonstrated by Morihei in the book. Moreover, Budo provides ample evidence that the Aikido Founder attached great importance to weapons practice as an essential part of aikido training, a matter of controversy even today with the Aikikai Hombu Dojo taking the position that weapons practice is but an adjunct to the taijutsu techniques of aikido.

The above will serve as a preface for a story I have never written about before that might be of interest to our readers. Knowing the significance of this book, I succeeded in convincing Saito Sensei to demonstrate all of the techniques of Budo in front of a video camera. The opportunity arose while we were in Italy in 1987 conducting a seminar sponsored by Paolo Corallini Sensei. Paolo was inviting Saito Sensei regularly every year and would record the seminars using the services of a professional videographer.

Paolo fully supported the project and engaged the cameraman for a full day of shooting. It was an ambitious project as Saito Sensei had to read aloud the entire text of Budo and then demonstrate each technique, one by one. This was only part of the labor involved. Allow me to elaborate.

Only some of the techniques in the book had names associated with them. Since it would make for an awkward presentation to show techniques with no names, I sat down with Saito Sensei for a planning session where I gently “coerced” him into coming up with terminology for these “nameless” techniques. At one point, Sensei–hardly the literary type–became frustrated and exclaimed he couldn’t think of names for several of the techniques. Still I pushed him so that we could finish this part of the project in the limited time remaining. Finally, he exclaimed in exasperation, “Pranin, you name the techniques!”

What was I to do now? Even being a foreigner with a reasonable command of Japanese, this was beyond my level of competency and I found myself in quite a pickle! I tried as best I could to calm him down by reassuring him that we were “almost done,” how this book “proved the authenticity of his aikido,” and that we should “think about how important this project was for future generations of aikidoka.” He continued grumbling, but we somehow managed to come up with acceptable names for every technique in the book. Whew!

What more than twenty years ago seemed a huge, tiring task, has proven in retrospect to be a landmark event in the documentation of the evolution of aikido technique.

I have only sketched a few details here about Budo and its widespread impact following its discovery. I have written about it extensively elsewhere should you wish to research the subject further.

Just to remind AJ readers, for the duration of this week, we are offering a sale of Morihiro Saito’s book and DVD that explain in detail all of the 50 techniques of O-Sensei’s “Budo” book. This is an excellent opportunity to obtain these wonderful instruction materials that will give you the keys to significantly improve your aikido practice.

Click here for more information on the Book and DVD offer and to order.

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Comments

  1. Gil Gillespie says:

    Great article, Stan. and what an exciting time that must have been! An experience you no doubt cherish and which, at the same time, has become extremely important to all of us. “Budo” is a book I have long wished to peruse, probably at the top of my list. And I concur with your criticism of the current Doshu for relegating weapons training to an unnecessary lower rung of the aiki curriculum in direct contradiction to his grandfather. And also to my shihan and sensei, whose aikido is directly connected to the ken.

  2. I really enjoy you and Saito’s film effort and only regret that the sequel he alluded to at the end didn’t happen.

  3. Tim Ward (Myanmar Aikikai) says:

    Seigo Yamaguchi lived in Rangoon Burma for about a decade in the 1950′s to start an Aikido School. There he taught my teacher Oo Thaung Din.

    Myanmar Aikikai has books photo copied from an older source of 50 techniques; and it sounds precisely what has been described above.

    Important, too, is Myanmar Aikido has not deviated 1 degree from the teaching methodology of Yamaguchi Sensei. For those who love the anthropology of Aikido and Aikido techniques a trip to Yangon, Myanmar would be a magnificent treat.

  4. Do we know that weapons were de-emphasized by the current Doshu? I was at hombu in the mid nineties, and there were no signs of weapons anywhere. How long ago did weapons training stop at hombu?

  5. To my knowledge, the only person to have taught weapons consistently at the Aikikai was none other than Saito Sensei over a 10-year period starting around 1960.

  6. Hu weishun says:

    Stanley, based on your experience which aikido is the most resemblance to osensei? Ive trained both aikikai & iwama style. They are quite different confused which one is correct & also in hombu each sensei have their own variation .. So which to follow ?

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