Archives for March 2012


“Using Koichi Tohei’s Model as a Baseline” by Mike Sigman

A young Steven Seagal attempts to lift Koichi Tohei, c. 1972

“Steven Seagal can’t lift Koichi Tohei!”

One of the big problems with many of the Aikido articles printed by westerners is that they are opinion articles, often with fuzzy interpretations of numerous Aikido or Aikido-related ideas. Sometimes the idea of “Aikido-related” is a far stretch indeed, getting into self-help, psychology, and other areas that Ueshiba never directily mentioned or advised on in his life.

Although Koichi Tohei is treated by many Aikido practitioners as someone who does “a different brand” (or some other minmization), Tohei had some innovative ideas that I think the other styles would do well to borrow, particularly in light of the recent (and very late) realization that many of the “ki” things Tohei speaks of are substantive and they are essential components of Aikido techniques.

If much of the confusing and poorly-translated comments about ki are muted and the function of Tohei’s Aikido are examined, his ideas are not fuzzy at all. Tohei has shown substantive use of physically-verifiable aspects of ki in his techniques since well before he left Hombu Dojo as the Chief Instructor. When formulating the approach for the Ki Society, Tohei used the ki skills as a baseline for usage in all techniques and also as a separate study line for practitioners to base their overall development upon. Frankly, it would appear that he had a good idea. The question is why, other than as some aspect of internecine rivalry, so many other Aikidoists ignore and don’t understand the reason and utility of the basics of ki studies in their own Aikido.

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Video: Vladimir Vasiliev — Aiki Expo 2005 Demonstration (member video)

“Russian Systema: Aikido’s Kindred Martial Art”

Duration: 7:15 minutes
Access: Free through Saturday, March 10

This video presents the entire demonstration of Vladimir Vasiliev of Russian Systema at Aiki Expo 2005. The Expo featured both Vladimir Vasiliev and the art’s Founder, Mikhail Ryabko. Vladimir’s demonstration showcases the completely natural movements of Systema in dealing with a variety of empty-handed and weapons attacks. The relaxed and benevolent nature of dealing with attacks makes Systema something of a kindred art to aikido. You will notice many aikido-like movements being applied in the demonstration. At the Expo, a large number of aikidoka joined the Systema workshops to try out this discipline.

The antecedents of Systema go far back in Russian history and much of the credit for the preservation of these traditions is due to Russian Orthodox monasteries. Following the Russian Revolution the military coopted these fighting skills and taught them to elite troops. Mikhail states that he received his training from one of Stalin’s bodyguards starting from boyhood. He further refined the knowledge transmitted to him eventually developing Systema into its modern form.

The technical curriculum taught to the Spetsnaz forces is extremely rigorous and designed to eliminate the fear of death in the trainees. Many of the drills inflict tremendous pain and suffering among the men in an effort to harden them for the battlefield and dangerous special missions. The training develops the trainees’ intuition to a high degree and teaches them to act spontaneously when in harm’s way.

About Vladimir Vasiliev — Director and Chief Instructor of Systema Headquarters

Born in Russia, Vladimir received intense combative training and is the top student of Mikhail Ryabko. He spent some 10 years with a Special Operations Unit of the Russian Army Special Forces. Vladimir moved to Canada, and in 1993 founded the first school of Russian Martial Art outside Russia – Systema Headquarters. He has since personally trained and certified well over 500 qualified Russian Martial Art instructors and schools in 30 countries worldwide.

Aikido Journal Members Site subscribers: If you are already a subscriber, click here to login and view the demonstration of Vladimir Vasiliev at Aiki Expo 2005

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Hitohiro Saito Seminar in Reno, Nevada, March 23-25

10 Year Memorial Seminar
March 23-25, 2012 Reno, Nevada, USA

Welcome! We would like to extend a special invitation to Aikidoists of all skill levels to train with us in a three-day seminar, March 23-25, 2012 hosted by Aikido of Reno. We will focus on the teaching of Morihiro Saito Sensei. We have invited Saito Sensei’s son, Hitohiro Sensei, to lead the seminar to share his unique understanding of his father’s aikido.

Hitohiro Sensei has the unique perspective of spending his youth with his father training together at the Iwama dojo with O’Sensei. Hitohiro Sensei has spent his life in “shuren”, serious practice and training of Aikido, and will share his experience and understanding of aikido technique from his years with O’Sensei and his father.

Aikido of Reno is pleased to host Hitohiro Sensei and to honor the memory of his father in 2012, the year of the 10th anniversary of his passing. Hitohiro’s father, Morihiro Saito Shihan, was the Chief Instructor of the Iwama dojo and Keeper of the Aiki Shrine. We hope you will join us as we gather to train and to honor, in harmony.


“Why is this man important to Aikido History?”, by Stanley Pranin

Prince Tsunenori Kaya (1900-1978)

Those familiar with the prewar era will know that Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba had a wide circle of contacts consisting of supporters and students who considered him an extraordinary martial artist and a fine gentlemen. Most of the names of these individuals who played greater or lesser roles in their support of Morihei and the development of aikido are unknown to present-day practitioners of the art. Our ignorance of the identities and activities of Morihei’s social contacts is mainly due to the time and cultural differences that separate us from the actual events.

Morihei’s admirers consisted of many of the elite of Japanese society of the era; prime ministers and politicians, admirals and generals, intellectuals, businessmen, martial artists, and religious leaders were among them. How one of them–among the most illustrious persons of the day–is barely recorded in aikido history is somewhat of an enigma. I refer to a certain Prince Kaya.

Prince Kaya who full title was “Kaya no miya Tsunenori ō,” was the head of one of the collateral royal families of Japan, the Kaya no miya branch. He was a first cousin of the wife of the Showa Emperor Hirohito. Prince Kaya pursued a military career as was the custom of males of his family status, and he knew Morihei Ueshiba in this connection.

Morihei was long associated with high-ranked military officers–both army and navy–as he taught at various military institutions over a period of some 15 years. The Prince was a martial arts enthusiast, and sometime around 1937, studied Aiki Budo under Morihei. Given his lofty social status, Prince Kaya received “royal” treatment at Morihei’s Kobukan Dojo. Presumably at Kaya’s suggestion, Morihei agreed to be photographed performing his techniques and the Prince brought in a camera crew to shoot photos.

The result was the private publication in 1938 of a training manual titled simply “Budo,” that includes 50 techniques, including both beginning and advanced material, that reflected Morihei’s art of that time frame. “Budo” bears the distinction of being the only book Morihei ever published in which he personally demonstrates techniques. A few technical sequences from the postwar era and a number of films have survived, but this is the only book.

During my research in Japan, I unearthed a copy of the book totally by chance during a 1981 interview with Zenzaburo Akazawa who happened to possess one. My teacher, Morihiro Saito Sensei, had never seen “Budo,” and was delighted to read it as it was a missing link between Morihei’s “Takemusu Aikido” of the 1940s and 50s and the prewar form of the art. Saito Sensei always carried a copy of the book when he instructed, and would pull it out to prove that Morihei executed techniques in a certain way or elaborate on a technical point.

In the magazines I edited, both Aiki News and Aikido Journal, “Budo” and its contents were often mentioned, and in 1991, Kodansha published an English translation of the book by John Stevens with the backing of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo.

Babe Ruth with Prince Kaya and his wife

Morihei Ueshiba maintained his connection with Prince Kaya after the war. As mentioned above, the Prince was fond of Japanese martial arts, and served as the honorary chairmain of the Kokusai Budo Renmei (International Martial Arts Federation) during the 1950s. He was also an avid baseball fan and met Babe Ruth in 1934 during a tour of the USA. There is even a photo of the Prince with the “Bambino” that has survived. The Prince was a strong supporter of Japanese baseball throughout his lifetime.

In the late 1980s, Morihiro Saito read and demonstrated the techniques of “Budo” for a video produced by Aiki News. That video was republished as a DVD with an added documentary and historical films. Saito Sensei later published a book of the same title that covered all 50 techniques of “Budo” along with detailed descriptions and numerous historical photos of Morihei Ueshiba.

I wrote a lengthy introduction to Saito Sensei’s “Budo” book that we would like to offer as a free PDF file for those interested in delving into this fascinating subject.

Click here to download the PDF file containing the introduction to “Takemusu Aikido Special Edition: Budo”

In summary, this book is the only published volume in which O-Sensei personally demonstrates his techniques. The contents of “Budo” are very close to the techniques of modern aikido, and are thus an invaluable resource for those interested in researching Morihei’s technical evolution. Saito Sensei comments in his book and DVD on various changes made by the Founder in later years and the rationale for these refinements. A familiarity with “Budo” is an invaluable aid for those striving to master higher-level aikido techniques.



Aikido Journal has created a definitive set of 3 downloadable source materials that thoroughly document Morihei Ueshiba’s 1938 Training Manual titled “Budo.” This set includes (1) Morihiro Saito’s 43-minute video recreating all of the 50 techniques of “Budo” in high resolution, (2) Saito Sensei’s illustrated textbook titled “Budo: Commentary on Morihei Ueshiba’s 1938 Training Manual” in PDF format, and (3) a PDF facsimile copy of the original Japanese book. This offer is available for the discounted price of $24.95.

For those who prefer to receive the physical editions of these products, we offer a hard copy of “Takemusu Aikido Special Edition – Commentary on Morihei Ueshiba’s 1938 Training Manual,” and Morihiro Saito Sensei’s “Budo” DVD, a detailed analysis of each of “Budo” 50 techniques. The set price for these two products shipped to you is $34.95.




Free download thru Tuesday, March 6 – Magazine: Aikido Journal Number 102, 1995

“Even if you cut off my head, it has no more effect than stroking the spring breeze that whispers now across these fields.”

Aikido Journal Number 102, 1995


     ● Editorial – Can competition enhance O-Sensei’s Aikido?, by Stanley Pranin
     ● Letters to the Editor
     ● Interview with Kazuo Chiba, by Stanley Pranin
     ● Improvisations, by Ellis Amdur
     ● The Omoto Religion and Aikido – Part 5, by Yasuaki Deguchi
     ● Coping in a Violent World, by Dennis Fink
     ● Famous Swordsmen of Japan: Kanenori Dengoro Kurokochi, by Yoshinori Kono
     ● Takemusu Aikido — Shomenuchi yonkyo omote, by Morihiro Saito
     ● Sokaku Takeda & Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, by Stanley Pranin
     ● Interview with Rick Stickles(1), by Derek Steel
     ● Classical Martial Arts & Ways, by Meik Skoss
     ● Photo Gallery: Three Generations of the Ueshiba Family
     ● Thoughts & Opinions, by James Williams
     ● The Book Page, by Diane Skoss
     ● Heard in the Dojo
     ● Events & Announcements
     ● The Last Word, by Diane Skoss

Aikido Journal Members Site subscribers: If you are already a subscriber, click here to login and download the PDF file of Aikido Journal Number 102

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“Aikido – Responding Harmoniously to Aggression,” Nev Sagiba

Responding harmoniously to aggression, whilst not impossible, requires the developing of a new paradigm of consciousness. Whilst this paradigm is already extant in the nature of the universe itself, it is not a common understanding in primitive minds.

Let me explain.

On the planet we find ourselves, evolution, call it slow creation if you want to, (there is no real argument between the two and a plenum of proofs,) began as a long struggle for existence.

This very struggle gave rise to consciousness because of pain, fear and the will to live.

As life forms evolve they tend to reflect the nature of the universe and its processes. Can this be so unusual?

No, not really. In the face of the fact that water tends to reflect what is there, so also does the microcosm, reflect the great vast macrocosm. When you consider that in the face of a creation which appears infinite, our galaxy is a but a spec of dust, this becomes obvious.

Now expand that spec to the size of a football field and select one grain of sand from inside that field. That is our Sun. Now expand that grain of sand to the size of that football field again and our Earth is about the size of a golf ball in that field. Expand the golf ball to the size of a football field yet again, then pluck a flea from the dog (equivalent to a small island on the Earth) walking across the field, then expand that flea to the size of ten football fields. (A good exercise is to zoom down using Google Earth – a free software available at:
[Read more…]


“Toshiro Mifune meets Yoshio Sugino”

Yoshio Sugino instructs actor Toshiro Mifune on the set of "Yojimbo"

“Ueshiba’s techniques were truly alive, whether he was empty-handed or holding a staff or sword. You could almost ‘see’ the ki flowing from his hands.”

Yesterday, we made available to our readers a wonderful article titled “The Last Swordsman: The Yoshio Sugino Story, by Tsukasa Matsuzaki. This piece is an extraordinary read. Sugino Sensei was involved in many aspects of aiki history, the film industry, and a 70-year martial arts teaching history. His story is truly awe-inspiring.

The article is a lengthy one and must reading for anyone interested in the early history of aikido, Kurosawa samurai flicks, and a plethora of other budo-related topics.

The photo above is one I thought you would find it interesting. Here you see Sugino Sensei instructing Toshiro Mifune in the use of the sword on the set of “Yojimbo”–an absolute must-see-film–while famous director Akira Kurosawa looks on.

The whole article is freely available through Monday, March 5th, so please take advantage of this opportunity!

Aikido Journal Members Site subscribers: If you are already a subscriber, click here to login and read this definitive article of famous swordsman Yoshio Sugino, an early student of Morihei Ueshiba

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“The Last Swordsman: The Yoshio Sugino Story,” by Tsukasa Matsuzaki

“One day a message arrived informing him that film director Akira Kurosawa would be making a new samurai drama, ‘The Seven Samurai’, and hoped Sugino would instruct the actors.”

Yoshio Sugino (1904-1998)

Yoshio Sugino, swordsman of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, is respected worldwide as one of the elder statesmen in the world of Japanese kobujutsu (classical martial arts). Born in 1904, his life has paralleled much of the development of modern Japan, and during that time he has been fortunate enough to know and study under many of this century’s legendary martial artists.

He has also provided martial arts instruction for many of Japan’s most popular historical movies, including Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, adding dynamism and reality to what had been staid and poorly stylized fight-scene choreography. He has also appeared frequently in the media as a representative of the world of Japanese kobujutsu. In such ways he has contributed much toward introducing the truly wonderful aspects of Japanese martial arts to the public. But despite Sugino’s tremendous service to the budo world, information on him has been limited to fragmented interviews and popular articles that do little toward painting a realistic portrait of the man himself, his origins and his history. In this series I look back on Sugino Sensei’s life and the paths he has taken, along the way presenting some of the thoughts on bujutsu he has developed during his 92 years.

In November 1995 Yoshio Sugino suddenly noticed a queer sensation in his left arm while reading a book at his home in Kawasaki, a feeling that told him something was very wrong. The arm had lost all feeling and his elbow, wrist and fingers had become as lifeless as a doll’s. As if the flesh was no longer his own, he could not put any strength at all into the arm. Staring down at his useless arm, he was shocked to see that the entire length of it, from the upper arm to the back of the hand and even the palm, had turned a deathly shade of white. He knew only too well that his physical condition was not the best. The previous summer he had fallen at his home and struck his head and the doctors had ordered him to forgo his beloved budo training. And now this! “Perhaps it’s the nerves,” he thought. “There must be something wrong with the nerves.”

Free access through Monday, March 5!

Aikido Journal Members Site subscribers: If you are already a subscriber, click here to login and read this definitive article of famous swordsman Yoshio Sugino, an early student of Morihei Ueshiba

Not yet a member? Please enter your name and email address below to gain instant access to this item and the hundreds of other free aikido-related documents that await you!