Archives for June 2012


“Whose Aikido Are You Practicing?” by Stanley Pranin

Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba at Iwama Taisai c. 1992

Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba at Iwama Taisai c. 1992

Kisshomaru Ueshiba: “Architect of Today’s Aikido”

Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba (1921-1999)

Today’s world of aikido bears the stamp of Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba more than any other person. There is no other figure who is more influential, not even the Founder Morihei Ueshiba himself. I realize that, for many of the aikido faithful, this will be a shocking statement. Allow me to elaborate.

First of all, aikido is a post-World War II phenomenon. Morihei Ueshiba and his fledgling martial art were known primarily in martial arts circles, not by the general public, prior to the war. What has become aikido today has been shaped primarily by the Ueshiba family through the auspices of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo system after 1955.

The arbiter of this process of dissemination and the content of Aikikai aikido is none other than Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Founder’s son. In 1942, Kisshomaru assumed operational control of what would become the Aikikai at the tender age of 21. Morihei had retired to Iwama, World War II raged, and Tokyo would soon be bombed. Kisshomaru was thrust into a leadership position for which he was ill-equipped while a university student. He would continue uninterrupted as head of the Aikikai, the world’s largest aikido organization, until his passing in 1999.

The Aikikai was barely functioning as an entity after the war until around 1955. During that period, Kisshomaru was simply attempting to hold the remnants of the aikido structure together until better times, without much thought to the future direction of the art. In fact, he was obliged to hold down a full-time job in a securities company to support himself and the rundown Aikikai dojo.

Later on, as aikido began to gather some attention among the general public, it was Kisshomaru, in consultation with a group of elders and peers, who gradually began shaping the policies that would lead to a steady, if not spectacular, growth of aikido.
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“Arising Naturally,” by Alister Gillies

The Founder of Aikido talked of “Takemusu Aiki”, the spontaneous creation of form. It comes naturally from the study of basic technique. Basics are basics, but departing from basics and doing what comes naturally is frowned upon in many martial arts organisations. This is understandable, people doing just what they like all over the dojo mat would be unworkable.

But Aikido, like other martial arts, is constantly evolving. Change is not only inevitable, it is fundamentally necessary. It is built into the system. It is what makes Aikido a medium for personal transformation.

The organisational structure of Aikido is a vertical one, and is based on the ‘trickle down’ principle. That is, excellence and innovation are passed down through the hierarchical strata to the bottom. Usually it works very well. Difficulties arise, however, when pressure, dissent or innovation comes from lower down. In Japan, it is expected and predictably they have a convention for its occurrence. It is called Shu-Ha-Ri (keeping the form, breaking the form, and departing from the form).

An experienced teacher, one who has gone through the process of Shu-Ha-Ri themselves, will identify its onset in their students. The teacher now has two choices, both of which can have a positive outcome.

The teacher can accommodate what is a pivotal point in their students’ development and help them through it, incorporating whatever changes may emerge from the process into the system; or they agree that the changes are incompatible with what the teacher wants to do as a teacher, and they amicably part company.

Both are good, win-win results. In the former case the school or system benefits; in the latter, the teacher takes a proud interest in a new offshoot going out into the world to set up their own school or branch. In the West it is different. Few Western teachers have actually gone through the Shu-Ha-Ri stages of development, and people become teachers for very different reasons.

In Japan a student branching out on their own is usually the result of a very long apprenticeship, often not ending until the infirmity or death of their teacher. In the West students are encouraged to start up their own dojos with relatively little experience, and much less instruction than their Japanese counterparts. This Western ‘fast track’ approach has greatly assisted the rapid spread of Aikido throughout the US and Europe. But maturity takes far longer.
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“Centripetal and Centrifugal Aikido,” by Nev Sagiba


“The unskilled tend to bend over to achieve a ‘throw.’ This behavioural habit will render you at risk in the battlefield”

Navigating energy requires no attack. To remain stuck in the quagmires of aggression in the seeking of resolution is a primitive reptilian brain disposition that somehow failed to become extinct along with the dinosaurs. This approach is doomed to eventual failure each time. There is nothing more disgusting that Aikido techniques badly mimicked with a mind of a primitive lizard at work. It’s not Aikido.

Kuzushi, the refinement of it, requires no strength. No expenditures. No forcing. No gratuitous aggression.

Aikido relies on the natural forces inherent in the universe instead of headstrong wilfulness. Aikido seeks a resolution of conflict, not the repeated escalation of it which is the spiritual malaise that has haunted humankind for far too long.

Aikido deploys centered mind and natural predispositions such as the proper leveraging of centripetal and centrifugal force.

Centripetal force –
Centripetal force (from Latin centrum “centre” and petere “to seek” is a force that makes a body follow a curved path: it is always directed orthogonal to the velocity of the body, toward the instantaneous centre of curvature of the path.

In simple terms, centripetal force is defined as a force which keeps a body moving with a uniform speed along a circular path and is directed along the radius towards the centre. The mathematical description was derived in 1659 by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens. Isaac Newton’s description was: “A centripetal force is that by which bodies are drawn or impelled, or in any way tend, towards a point as to a centre.”

Aikido seeks the centre of the centre of the centre. To this end training. The rest is details which come and go.

But this finding of centre accrues other gains. Gains useful in meeting all the challenges that life can throw at you. It gives you the ability to respond instead of react.
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“On Kindness” by Charles Humphrey

“It is always one’s own fault for not being kind or
charitable enough, never one’s partner’s fault.”

I have not been able to write for some time. I am glad to be able to once again. I want to write about kindness. I think it is the heart of martial arts, both in aim and in practice. I would like to deal with it on two fronts, first in the strictly martial terms which will be most acceptable to those inclined towards these disciplines. Then I wish to expand it to the larger sphere.

My earliest encounter with the power of kindness in military terms comes from my childhood love of the novel “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. In it a child bred and trained for military genius believes he is to save humanity from a future invasion from an alien species, only to find that he is leading the invasion against said species. His success and skill stems from his combination of an ability to love his enemy while retaining his own purpose. I cannot explain it so well but that is the idea. I recently had that idea recalled when I watched a video of Systema teacher Mikhail Ryabko talk of the necessity to be kind to one’s training partner in order to follow their movements. Those words affirmed to me that my sense about Systema being one of the highest arts, developed from a distance, was correct. I had the opportunity to train with them for a short time thereafter and am grateful for the experience. I hope to have a chance to do so for a longer time in the future.
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Aikido Training in Las Vegas: “Aikido and an Empty Mind,” by Paul Barrett

“The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is incorrect.
Rather, it should read ‘practice makes permanent’.”

I’ve been doing various martial arts for well over 35 years and concentrating on aikido for about 20. I found aikido while searching for a martial arts style that was ubiquitous enough that I could easily slip from one dojo to another as first my schooling, and then my career moved me about the country. Naively I thought aikido would open up a world of standardization where all dojos taught the same techniques the same way. It didn’t take me long to realize the myriad of flavors among dojos and aikido organizations.

My profession continues to move me to new cities on the average of every five years. During my aikido journey I’ve been a formal member of seven dojos, three major organizations and attained the rank of nidan. I’ve also attended many national and regional gasshuku and workshops and visited numerous dojos as a guest while traveling for my work. I currently have the fortune of training semi-regularly with Sensei Stan Pranin with a small but eager group of students in his garage.
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II. “The role of the hero,” by Charles A. McCarty

“Heroism has been accorded to those valiant in battle,
noble in their aims and chivalrous in their actions.”

Central to mythology is the hero. The hero is the figure who represents both history and example. The stories in which the hero plays his part depict events the way they happened, or more likely, the way they should have happened. History is served by an approximation of events, while the function of exemplar is served by the idealization of those events. Myths are a teaching aid for future generations, without the shortcomings of their predecessors.

The hero figure has a powerful influence on the daily lives of each of us. Consciously or unconsciously, we have a tendency to mold our lives and pattern our actions after a past or living (but usually distant) individual. The unspoken desire is that of becoming a hero ourselves. The myths in which heroes slay dragons and acquire the love of beautiful maidens along with the power of a kingdom express a secret desire for recognition and acknowledgment for the difficult task of simply living. That it seems unlikely that you or I, as individuals, shall ever be enshrined as heroes, as examples for the ages, is a source of frustration, disguised by cynicism and black humor. (Check yourself. Is one of the first images that comes to mind as a hero a comic view of being dragged down by a monstrously large “hero” medal? It was mine.)

This sort of external view of heroism is indeed doomed to produce frustration, for the genuine and lasting heroes are rare, and the candidates great in number. It seems in fact that we are doomed to be no more than “players strutting and fretting” as our lives dwindle away. The small acts of good, evil and indifferent nature which characterize daily life fade as the years pass, as perishable as the yellowing newsprint on which the more noble or notorious of our actions may briefly be graven.

But what does it mean to be a hero? They have been regarded as of superhuman strength and favored by the gods in early Japanese culture. In more recent centuries, heroism has been accorded to those valiant in battle, noble in their aims and chivalrous in their actions.(5)

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“Youtube and Aikido – Is it really worth it?” by Sam Street


“Youtube has made it possible for Aikidoka all across the globe to access hundreds of fantastic videos of some of the greatest teachers the art has known.”

The internet has changed so many things for so many activities and past times. If not revolutionised, it has at the very least altered in some way, almost every part of people’s lives, even for the simplest of things. For example I was cooking from a recipe book just the other day, but the temperatures for the recipe were in ˚C, problem being that I have a gas cooker. So I jumped online and found a conversion table for gas marks. Now that may seem to be a perfectly normal thing to do in this day and age, and indeed it is, but it’s just another example of how the internet has changed the way so many things are done. Which brings me to Aikido…

Compared to other things, Aikido is probably relatively unaffected by the internet, but if there is one area where new possibilities have opened up for Aikido, it is the ability to share video footage, primarily on that well known source of pleasures, pains, and futile arguments-Youtube. There are many pros and cons of uploading videos of any kind to Youtube, let alone videos of Aikido. What I intend to do is examine the many ups and downs, points for and points against Aikido videos on the internet.

Let’s get the most overwhelmingly positive point out of the way first; Youtube has made it possible for Aikidoka all across the globe to access hundreds of fantastic videos of some of the greatest teachers the art has known. At the touch of a button you can watch pre-war footage of O-sensei, you can see Saito sensei demonstrating all manner of different Suburi, and Tohei sensei fending off a swarm of ukes. You can also see footage of the All Japan Embukai demonstrations which the vast majority of Aikido students will not get the opportunity to see otherwise. So for an Aikido student who wants to get a glimpse of their art’s history, Youtube is indeed an excellent resource.

Of course these videos only make up a certain portion of the Aikido presence on Youtube. There are of course many more user-made videos which all garner varying degrees of praise or insult. These videos range from teachers giving instruction on how to apply certain techniques, to relatively new students who want to either show the world their new found skills or get some feedback on their techniques, to people who haven’t the first idea about Aikido, but want to produce a spoof martial arts video simply for the fun of it. Whilst many of these videos are beneficial and worthy of praise, it is fair to say that they simply don’t command as much respect from viewers as the videos of the old masters and it is in this area; the ability to comment, where the downside of video sharing rear its ugly head.
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“Renshu and Keiko” by Nick Lowry

“Real Keiko is knowing and reflection with the whole body not to be confused with dry book learning or learning by rote.”

To know something you must do it one thousand times, To “really” know something you must do it ten thousand times And to completely realize something you must do it one hundred thousand times.
-Traditional budo proverb

As we train and practice seemingly endless repetitions of budo techniques day after day after year after year, as we pour our lives into the container of our chosen art, we inevitably find our actions and our lives being shaped and honed and turned toward an edge that transcends all that we know.

This edge is the product of the repetitive practice called renshu, and it is somewhat disconnected from “knowing,” for mere “knowing” does not even really touch what this process is aiming at—namely, mastery with the whole body and mind.
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“Lessons from Morihiro Saito Sensei (1)” by Stanley Pranin

“While the differences between basic and ki no nagare techniques are normally easy to comprehend, many people have found it difficult to grasp the distinction between oyowaza and henkawaza.”

Over the past several years Aikido Journal has released a series of technical DVDs featuring Morihiro Saito Sensei based on seminars he conducted abroad during the 1980s and 90s. In preparing the videotapes for publication, we have created literally thousands of subtitles that record Saito Sensei’s comments during these events. Over the course of the many hours of seminar footage, Saito Sensei explains and demonstrates hundreds of techniques that he learned from the Founder in the postwar period through O-Sensei’s death in 1969.

It is interesting to note that Saito Sensei would often present more detailed technical sequences and unusual techniques during these foreign seminars that he would seldom have time to demonstrate in Iwama. Thus these DVDs taken as a whole constitute an invaluable catalog of aikido techniques from O-Sensei’s Iwama years. In addition, Saito Sensei periodically makes comments that contain pearls of wisdom that unlock a deeper understanding of the art. For example, in the tape I am working on now, Saito Sensei states the following:
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“The Limits of Obedience,” by Anonymous

“When my own mind is so clouded as it presently is, how can I choose
a teacher to whom I can genuinely give my trust and obedience?”

faceless-imageI want to write today for two reasons. Well, perhaps more, but two overt reasons. The first is to seek feedback from others on my current situation. The second is to give others who might be in a similar situation pause for reflection on the state of their learning environment.

The issue I wish to write on today is about the limits of obedience. For the past year I have struggled with the idea of obedience and loyalty to a teacher. I have always sought to show respect and sincerity to those who teach, and the times when my own life and ego have gotten in the way of doing so even for a moment have left a bitter taste which only gets worse with time.

My understanding of most things is still very limited. I would estimate that about 10-15% of what I talk about when trying to express understanding is made up of actual experience-understanding and the rest is taken from words and actions of others. In time I hope this will improve but I am still young and “madda chotto yabanjin”, so please excuse my ignorance if I speak of things which I do not understand fully. I have read articles in many publications on the concepts of shu-ha-ri. I understand it to be a process of achieving freedom of movement, thought, etc., by way of initially mimicking another as closely as possible to overcome one’s natural ingrained tendencies and limitations, moving towards complete freedom. This idea has a parallel in the ideas of monastic obedience represented in the early monastic text The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It seems that in both cases obedience and mimicry, which in a crude way eliminate parts of a person’s accumulated personality, are counter-intuitive means of achieving freedom of action and thought. Freedom in this case is the freedom of responding seamlessly and thoughtlessly to the environmental stimuli, not the idea of an impossible “atomic” freedom so prevalent in Western culture today.

It seems to me that the necessity of obedience and the process of shu-ha-ri is reflected in the words of the song “you’re going to have to serve somebody/it may be the Devil and it may be the Lord but you’re going to have to serve somebody.” By placing the teacher at the head of our decisionmaking structure, we dethrone our hidden master, which I have simply come to refer to as the “Enemy.” Implicit in this relationship is absolute trust in the teacher. We must believe that like a national leader who is granted extraordinary powers in wartime, he or she will use our obedience only for the end of our eventual liberation and will relinquish their authority at the earliest possible opportunity.
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“Doing Things the Hard Way,” by Nev Sagiba

“To the spiritual warrior, it is evident that all beginnings
are uncomfortable and pain is the result of change”

The majority of humanity make the choice to be too lazy to overcome inertia or to take risks towards achieving a worthwhile goal that will make the world a better place. They mainly want to eat and indulge. These are not goals but necessities. That’s why people end up doing things the hard way for aeons until they GET IT! That’s the only “suffering” you are going to get. The one you make.

The Buddha was interpreted wrongly. “All life” is not “suffering.” That depends on attitudes and our skill in harmonising or the lack of it. All life is CHANGE. Probably because he got shell-shocked after witnessing reality, following a life of cotton wool over-protection as a spoiled princeling, it took him a while to learn to accommodate the inevitability of change. When you stop resisting change and learn to navigate it, it changes into something else.

The Universe contains every variable possibility. To navigate It’s variables safely, efficiently, effectively and harmlessly is tegoi. The skill to dance with change from an immutable centre.

Let me explain. To the lazy, alcoholic, drug riddled, self-indulgent couch potato with entitlement issues, jogging, or any other athletic activity is a no-no. Such would rather waste his life early in preference to self victory.

Whilst most people are not alcoholic, drug riddled, self indulgent couch potatoes with entitlement issues or criminal tendencies, they still want to cheat the Universe as-it-is and hide behind imaginary safety blankets instead of meeting the real and dynamically dangerous Universal life. Such people are easy to deceive and to exploit. And they are. There is a predator to accommodate them at every street corner. Except these are no longer sabre toothed but are in appearance just like you and I.

To the spiritual warrior, it is evident that all beginnings are uncomfortable and pain is the result of change. But her or she, instead of seeking avoidance at any expense, (which as it turns out is often far greater waste of time, space, effort, mind and self than simply just doing what the still small voice of conscience tells you is obvious) the spiritual warrior FACES IT on the way to a worthwhile goal using the technique of regular manageable installments.

To this he or she adds the exploration of the efficient – aiki. Relaxed strength combined with efficiency produces remarkable results as it serves to attune to the Great Universal River of Life, Kannagara no Michi.

“I build my strength in order not to use it.” Morihei Ueshiba

Fear and self doubt are a ball and chain, a millstone that imprisons minds. Bodies then follow. In the face of this, how many make the time, against the odds, to pursue a Do, Way or Path of daily self improvement?

Nothing is “easy.” There is a purpose to this. The Universal “banking system” requires that we show authentic intent by way of persistence, the secret of all success, before it will loan us more gifts. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Matthew 7:7,8

One installment makes of you nothing more than a bad actor. A fake. Mastery is a perennial journey.

You have to keep knocking at the portal of the Great Universal, again and again, through all the trials, tests and tribulations, and learn to make the impossible possible. The alternative is to sink comfortably (at first only) into the inertia of matter by letting mind and creative activity rot instead of activate.

It is hard finding the easy way. It requires persistence, effort, discomfort, pain, change, frustration, sacrifice, investment of time and energy, even anger to overcome. Indeed. But it is far harder persisting with the hard way that is doomed to failure with vain wishful imaginings in hoping that it will succeed by beating our heads on our own stonewalls. There is no light at the end of this sinkhole. The one that the bulk of humanity is now in. Slavery is not a viable or lasting option. Neither tyranny nor anarchy are a remote semblance of any responsible “freedom” of any kind.

Nor will Great Nature wait while we dither distracted by apps and other toys, only a small part which are truly useful, in-between drudge we hate doing. Fighting life. Aiki life and livelihood instead. Make work you love your means of livelihood and you enter a new dimension of not only increased productivity, but also increased happiness. Without Gross National Happiness, Gross National Productivity will decline.

Why are our “economies failing” ? Could it be that they are reflecting our attitudes? Is some external mythical devil making a victim of us all? Or is it we who are allowing real others to walk roughshod over our primary needs. Think clearly. Who are you giving your power to? Are you warrior enough to RECLAIM YOURSELF?

In appearance, we all are struggling against immense odds. But there is one place where we are permitted absolute jurisdiction: Ourselves! Our minds and our hearts, our speech and our actions. Our choices.

The easy way is hard at first, but leads on to self mastery. The hard way seems easy at first and then it flips out into protracted suffering. Choose!

If not, why not?


Aikido’s Bible of Basics: “Takemusu Aikido — Background & Basics” by Morihiro Saito, now an Ebook!

“The Bible of Aikido Basic Techniques!”

This work, Takemusu Aikido: Background & Basics, is the first of Morihiro Saito’s final series of Aikido technical manuals. In this authoritative 270-page volume, Saito Sensei, 9th dan and one of Aikido’s leading experts, presents more than sixty variations of ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, and yonkyo techniques, the most essential of the art’s basic forms. Illustrated with over 600 photographs and accompanied by detailed step-by-step explanations, Background & Basics provides an indispensable guide for both beginning and advanced practitioners.

Morihiro Saito is the author of the highly acclaimed technical series, Traditional Aikido, published in the early 1970s. Saito enrolled as a student of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in 1946. One of the art’s foremost technicians, he was the acknowledged authority on Aikido weapons training. Saito operated Ueshiba’s private dojo in Iwama, Japan and served as caretaker of the Aiki Shrine for more than 30 years. He traveled extensively throughout the world for over three decades teaching his comprehensive aikido training methods.

Stanley Pranin is a 5th degree black belt and editor-in-chief of Aikido Journal. Pranin began Aikido practice in 1962 and started training under Morihiro Saito in Iwama in 1977. He served as Saito Sensei’s interpreter at numerous international seminars during the 1980s. Pranin is the author of The Aiki News Encyclopedia of Aikido and Aikido Masters, a collection of interviews with prewar disciples of the Founder. He contributes an in-depth historical essay on Aikido and the Founder as an introduction to this book.

Morihiro Saito training outdoors in Iwama with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba

Right click here to download the sample PDF file of Takemusu Aikido, Volume 1

66 techniques: Exercises (3 techniques), Ikkyo (16 techniques), Nikyo (23 techniques), Sankyo (17 techniques), Yonkyo (7 techniques)


Introduction • Preface

Part One: Background

What is aikido? • An overview of aikido history • Training under O-Sensei • Spreading Iwama Aikido worldwide

Part Two: Basics

Basic techniques • Exercises • Tai no henko • Morotedori kokyuho • Suwariwaza kokyuho


Shomenuchi ikkyo omote • Shomenuchi ikkyo ura • Yokomenuchi ikkyo omote • Yokomenuchi ikkyo ura • Katatedori ikkyo omote • Katatedori ikkyo ura • Ryotedori ikkyo omote • Morotedori ikkyo omote • Sodeguchidori ikkyo omote • Sodedori ikkyo omote • Munadori (katate) ikkyo omote •
Katadori ikkyo omote • Kosadori ikkyo omote • Ushiro ryotedori ikkyo omote •
Ushiro eridori ikkyo omote • Ushiro eridori ikkyo ura


Shomenuchi nikyo omote • Shomenuchi nikyo ura • Yokomenuchi nikyo omote • Yokomenuchi nikyo ura • Ryotedori nikyo omote (1) • Ryotedori nikyo omote (2) • Ryotedori nikyo ura • Morotedori nikyo omote • Munadori (katate) nikyo omote • Katadori nikyo omote • Kosadori nikyo omote • Munadori nikyo henka (1) • Munadori nikyo henka (2) • Munadori nikyo henka (3) • Munadori nikyo henka (4) • Munadori nikyo henka (5) • Munadori nikyo henka (6) • Munadori nikyo henka (7) • Munadori nikyo henka (8) • Katatedori nikyo henka (1) • Katatedori nikyo henka (2) • Katatedori nikyo henka (3) • Sodedori nikyo henka


Shomenuchi sankyo omote (1) • Shomenuchi sankyo omote (2) • Shomenuchi sankyo ura (1) • Shomenuchi sankyo ura (2) • Yokomenuchi sankyo omote • Yokomenuchi sankyo ura • Katatedori sankyo omote • Katatedori sankyo ura • Morotedori sankyo ura • Katadori sankyo omote • Ushiro ryotedori sankyo henka • Ushiro ryotedori sankyo ura • Shomenuchi sankyo henka (1) • Shomenuchi sankyo henka (2) • Shomenuchi sankyo henka (3) • Shomenuchi sankyo henka (4) • Shomenuchi sankyo henka (5)


Shomenuchi yonkyo omote • Shomenuchi yonkyo ura • Yokomenuchi yonkyo omote • Yokomenuchi yonkyo ura • Ryotedori yonkyo ura • Morotedori yonkyo ura • Katadori yonkyo omote


Words of the Founder


I ordered this book and have found it to be a great reinforcement to the training received at class. I recommend this book to anyone who is considering purchasing it. The photos are clear and from excellent angles that show the techniques very well. The explanations that go with the photos are also very helpful. The book is a great companion to Saito Sensei’s Lost Seminars DVD set.


“Takemusu Aikido, Volume 1: Background & Basics” is an essential volume covering the core aikido basic techniques of ikkyo through yonkyo. Morihiro Saito is a master teacher who explains and demonstrates with great clarity each technique in succession. You will have your personal copy safely downloaded to your computer and be reading this volume within minutes of your purchase. This 270-page ebook in PDF form costs only $8.99, less than 1/3 the retail price of the print version. It is no longer necessary to pay for shipping, customs charges, or lost packages. Nor is there any need to wait!