Morihiro Saito: “I saw nothing but the real thing for 23 years!”

“It is a big mistake to think that there is no ki no nagare practiced at Iwama. The ki no nagare techniques of Iwama are executed faithfully as O-Sensei taught them.”

The article we published yesterday, “The Iwama Aikido Conundrum,” by Stanley Pranin, generated a strong response. One commenter, Marius, submitted a list of quotations–many from Aikido Journal’s published interviews–of Morihiro Saito where he clearly explains what and how he was taught by Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei, and his personal contributions in the form of devising a technical methodology to preserve O-Sensei’s technical curriculum. Taken together these comments shed a great deal of light on this fascinating subject. Here they are:

“I don’t know any aikido other than O-Sensei’s.”

“Many shihan create new techniques and I think this is a wonderful thing, but after analyzing these techniques I am still convinced no one can surpass O-Sensei. I think it is best to follow the forms he left us.These days people are inclined to go their own way, but as long as I am involved, I will continue to do the techniques and forms O-Sensei left us.”

“It is a big mistake to think that there is no ki no nagare practiced at Iwama. The ki no nagare techniques of Iwama are executed faithfully as O-Sensei taught them. People tend to train in a jerky way. And when people do soft training they do it in a lifeless way. Soft movements should be filled with the strongest “ki.” People can’t grasp the meaning of hard and soft because they didn’t have contact with O-Sensei.”

“The aikido world is gradually distancing itself from O sensei’s techniques. However, if the techinque of aikido become weak it’s not a good thing, becouse aikido is a martial art. My practice of aikido is always traditional, the old-style way. Now I am looking after my Sensei’s dojo. Also, I am guardian of the Aiki shrine, the only one in the world. Many teachers create their own techniques, but I can’t do that, I’ve got hard head! I’m following exactly the teachings of my Sensei.”

“O-Sensei taught us two, three or four levels of techniques. He would begin with kata, then one level after another, and finally, it became just so… and now I teach in exactly the same way. Because O-Sensei taught us systematically I’ve got to teach in an organized way, too. Generally speaking, 0-Sensei would make remarks like the following: “Everything is one. Everything is the same.” He taught us in that way. I’m just following his example.”

“When O-Sensei explained Aikido he always said that taijutsu (body techniques) and ken and jo techniques were all the same. He always started out his explanation of Aikido using the ken. Although he didn’t use a one-two-three method, he always taught us patiently and explained in detail what we should do.”

“O-Sensei also drilled us in a step-by-step manner. I am simply trying to make this method my own through hard study and to have others understand it. As I follow 0-Sensei’s instructions my students are appreciative.”

“O sensei would say: “That’s not the way. Every little detail should be correct. Otherwise, it isn’t a technique. See, like this… like that!” I was very lucky O-Sensei taught me thoroughly in detail, and I’m following his example.”

Morihiro Saito with Pat Hendricks, c. 1988

“When I starting teaching myself I realized O-Sensei’s way of teaching would not be appropriate so I classified and arranged his jo techniques. I rearranged everything into 20 basic movements I called “suburi” which included tsuki (thrusting), uchikomi (striking), hassogaeshi (figure-eight movements), and so on so it would be easier for students to practice them.I was taught first how to swing a sword. I organized what I learned and devised these kumijo and suburi for the sword. O-Sensei’s method may have been good for private lessons, but not for teaching groups. In his method, there were no names for techniques, no words.This was why I organized the movements into tsuki (thrusts), uchikomi (strikes) and kaeshi (turning movements) and gave them names.”

“I saw nothing but the real thing for 23 years, I don’t really know anything other than Iwama style, my role is to preserve these teachings. That’s the main thing.”

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  1. Rick Post says:

    I certainly appreciate the words of Saito Sensei, and his ability to cherish the techniques that were taught to him by OSensei. Without Saito Sensei’s patience & fortitude to catagorize all the techniques we would not have the material that OSensei made famous. Because of Saito Sensei’s dedication and management ability Aikido is here for all future generations to follow.

  2. I was honored and privileged to attend several of Saito Sensei’s American workshops, and my principal teachers were his students. Speaking for myself, I had a hard time making the transition from kihon to ki-no-nagare. I found that with a few years experience asotei (practicing by oneself) helped with balance and continuous extended motion. I still have things to work on. I recently noticed a gap in extension on the sankyo tenkan transition to sankyo…

  3. Robert Pruitt says:

    How beautiful!

  4. Nev says:

    Ki no nagare has a million nuances.. and then some!
    Anyone who does not understand, or refuses to understand that, “taijutsu (body techniques) and ken and jo techniques are all the same,” is not practicing Aikido.
    Saito sensei was one of the great exponents and it shows in his legacy, the impeccable standards of his deshi.

  5. Nick Regnier says:

    Thank you for this brilliant article! This should provide a very good reflection for thoughts to anyone unsure about Saito Sensei. Without him, it would be a very different Aikido of O’ Sensei and we owe Saito Sensei a lot to have created this fantastic weapons teaching with easy and clear break down of all suburis, kumitachis, kumijo, ken tai jo!

  6. Tom Huffman says:

    The statement that O’Sensei didn’t name anything is very interesting. It’s a Japanese way of teaching. Watch carefully and try to do exactly the same. Enlightenment may come later. I practiced Aiki Toho Iaido with Nishio Sensei and I don’t recall him ever really naming what he was doing while teaching in Japan. Consequently I have had to interpret and figure out what techniques he was doing with each kata. The interpretations from the videos are more like; “Do this, then go here and then do that”. Now there is a great site from Denmark or Finland that gives every kata a name and corresponding technique. However he has one he named Irimi that has very definite elements of Sankyo, yet he demonstrated to me and one of the Kanagawa University students as Taiotoshi. This makes it confusing unless you allow that perhaps it is all the same and you can get multiple techniques out of the same movements. Very possible. More practice. Sorry to stray from Saito Sensei. I’m just suggesting that other students of O’Sensei had to come up with their interpretations as well.

  7. tahanaim says:

    The article is excellent; furthermore, it shows again that today aikido which have become an international martial art embraces many respectful styles. But, one can be lost in translations and unfortunately none of the existing styles can match or translate O’Sensei style except for the Iwama style which has remained faithful to the path of its Founder.

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