“Dan Inflation in the Early Years of Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin


“My own teacher, Morihiro Saito told me on more than one occasion that he skipped two ranks in his advancement to 9th dan”

stan-pranin-closeupThe other day I found an interesting article in the 33rd issue of the “Aikido Shimbun” published in March 1962. You may recall that the Aikikai Hombu Dojo began publishing this four-page newsletter in 1959. The newsletter has appeared continuously through today, an enviable publishing run of over 52 years!

What caught my eye was an announcement listing the dan promotions awarded on January 15 of the same year at the annual Kagami Biraki celebration. A number of famous names are mentioned in that list, some of them prewar students of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba, while others began training following World War II.

I have selected certain names of people that have become prominent and added the year of their enrollment by way of reference.

8th dan
Rinjiro Shirata (1933)
Hajime Iwata (1930)
Takaaki (Shigemi) Yonekawa (1932)

7th dan
Morihiro Saito (1946: 16 years to 7th dan)
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Historical article: “Morihei meets Sokaku — “The Untold Story”

Morihei Ueshiba in Hokkaido c. 1918

“What is not explicitly stated here, but implied, is that Morihei had strong financial support in addition to being a talented student.”

About the age of 30 I went to Engaru in Hokkaido. There I met Professor Sokaku Takeda of Aizu, teacher of Daito Ryu who taught me for 30 dyas. While I studied I felt something like inspiration. After inviting the professor to my house, I very earnestly pursued the real truth of the martial arts with 15 or 16 of my servants and disciples. Professor Takeda had opened my eyes to the real martial arts.

We recently published a long-forgotten interview of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba that contains the above passage. Morihei’s comment contains a very important bit of information: “After inviting the professor to my house, I very earnestly pursued the real truth of the martial arts with 15 or 16 of my servants and disciples.” What exactly is going on here?

At this point in time, 1915, Morihei was one of the leaders of a group from Tanabe in southern Japan, who was working to establish a settlement in the remote village of Shirataki in northern Hokkaido. He and the group from Tanabe had relocated to Hokkaido three years earlier and had struggled to build a community in this inhospitable climate.

Also, Morihei was a martial arts enthusiast and had heard of the reputation of jujutsu expert Sokaku Takeda who was conducting jujutsu seminars in Hokkaido and elsewhere. Benefiting from an introduction from a mutual acquaintance Kotaro Yoshida, Morihei seized the opportunity to meet Sokaku in person in Engaru, a nearby town, in the winter of 1915. On this occasion, Morihei remained to study for about 30 days, impulsively leaving behind his family and leadership responsibilities in Shirataki.

Sokaku Takeda (1859-1943)

Soon thereafter, Morihei invites Sokaku to live in his house in Shirataki, and learns from him along with 15 or 16 of his “servants and disciples.” We don’t have precise information about how long Sokaku stayed in Morihei’s house, but we do know that a short time later Takeda would uproot his family and settle in Shirataki which became his residence for the rest of his life.

This rather surprising action on the part of Sokaku reveals the importance he attached to Morihei as his student of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. In fact, an unpublished interview with the Founder states clearly that Sokaku had asked him to become his successor around this time. Sokaku certainly had high regard for Morihei’s abilities as a martial artist and considered him suitable character-wise to succeed him. Surely, Morihei’s study of Daito-ryu jujutsu during this period was intense and protracted and built the martial foundation upon which his later career rested.

An interesting side note: these 15 or 16 students also included Yoichiro Inoue, Morihei’s nephew, and other young men from Tanabe. It is quite likely that some of these same members trained in the judo dojo set up five years earlier in Tanabe for the benefit of Morihei and other young men to practice. Morihei’s father, Yoroku, and Inoue’s father, Zenzo, were the instigators of this initiative to channel the excessive energy of these young people in a constructive direction. Both Yoroku and Zenzo were in Shirataki at this time, a fact that histories published thus far have glossed over.

What is not explicitly stated here, but implied, is that Morihei had strong financial support in addition to being a talented student. His support base was primarily his father who was a well-to-do man, and Zenzo Inoue who was extremely wealthy. Morihei’s invitation to Sokaku to come live with him in Shirataki also meant that Takeda would stop his normal teaching activities to concentrate on teaching Morihei and his comrades. It would have taken a strong financial incentive for Sokaku to do this as his seminars were expensive and attracted mainly well-off students.

Even after Sokaku moved out of Morihei’s house, he established residence in Shirataki and built his own home which was located physically within short walking distance of Morihei as a map from that period confirms.

I have written a great deal about the later interaction between Morihei and Sokaku in Ayabe, Tokyo and Osaka in subsequent years, but I wanted to fill in some of the lesser known details of their early interaction in this article.


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Historical photo: “Takako Kunigoshi, Aiki Budo’s First Female Instructor!,” by Stanley Pranin

This photo is a rare one indeed culled from a Shukan Asahi magazine article published in Japan about 1935. In aikido history, the two persons appearing in this photo are of great importance. Here is the story.

Illustrations of Takako Kunigoshi from "Budo Renshu"

First, the petite lady executing the “Aiki Budo” throw is a young woman named Takako Kunigoshi. A bit of history… Takako Kunigoshi entered the Kobukan Dojo in 1933, just prior to her graduation from Japan Women’s Fine Arts University. One of the few female students at the Kobukan Dojo, she trained seriously, and gained the full respect of both Ueshiba Sensei and the uchideshi. A skilled artist, Kunigoshi did the technical illustrations for the 1934 book Budo Renshu, which was given to certain students in lieu of a teaching license. Kunigoshi later trained at the private dojo of Admiral Isamu Takeshita for several years, and taught self-defense courses to various women’s groups. Following the war, Kunigoshi did not resume her aikido training. After her retirement, she taught the Japanese tea ceremony out of her home in Ikebukuro, Tokyo for many years.

I met and interviewed her on two occasions in 1981 and 1992. She was a charming elderly lady, most animated in her demeanor, and very enthusiastic in recalling the days of Morihei Ueshiba’s Kobukan Dojo. She is the only major female figure in prewar aikido to have a prominent role in the art’s history. Kunigoshi Sensei was highly respected by her male counterparts in the Kobukan Dojo. She will forever be remembered for the illustrations she drew for the 1934 Budo Renshu book which depicts the techniques taught in the dojo at that time, and which reveal a strong influence of the Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu of Sokaku Takeda.

The person being thrown is Shigemi Yonekawa. Yonekawa Sensei entered the Kobukan Dojo as an uchideshi in 1932. He taught at various locations as an assistant to Morihei Ueshiba, both in Tokyo and Osaka. In 1936, Yonekawa was the Founder’s partner for the series of technical photographs taken at Noma Dojo, which constitute the most complete record of Ueshiba’s techniques from the prewar era. He moved to Manchuria in December of 1936, where he assisted Kenji Tomiki in the instruction of Aiki Budo. Yonekawa was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army in 1944, and saw action in Okinawa before being repatriated in 1946. No longer active in aikido after the war, he settled in Tsuchiura, Ibaragi Prefecture, where he was engaged in agriculture.

Shigemi Yonekawa as uke in Noma Dojo photo

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Yonekawa Sensei in 1979 and 1992. He was one of the nicest and most gentlemanly-like persons I have ever met. He was a bit reticent at first to talk about the old days, particularly when the conversation touched upon the private affairs of the Ueshiba family. Over time, I succeeded in gaining his confidence, and he became quite frank during our conversations. He was a storehouse of information about the period.

Yonekawa Sensei also knew a great deal about Morihei’s connection with Manchuria since he lived there for several years assisting Kenji Tomiki. In the near future, I will post my audio interviews with both Takako Kunigoshi and Shigemi Yonekawa on the Aikido Journal Members Site.


“Historical photo: Morihei Ueshiba, Aspiring Calligrapher!,” by Stanley Pranin

“During the last 15 years of his life, Morihei brushed hundreds of
calligraphies, many for his students to display in their aikido schools.”

Relatively late in his life, Morihei Ueshiba enthusiastically took up the art of calligraphy. The impetus for this was his long association with Seiseki Abe of Osaka, one of his devoted students. In addition to his passion for aikido, Abe Sensei also happened to be a renowned calligrapher. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Abe Sensei would give private lessons to Morihei when the Aikido Founder stay at his home in Osaka to teach aikido.

During the last 15 years of his life, Morihei brushed hundreds of calligraphies, many for his students to display in their aikido schools. Abe Sensei wrote this about Morihei’s calligraphy:

Ueshiba Sensei’s spirit resides in his calligraphy not in the forms or shapes of the characters, but in their resonance and light. Similarly, that spirit resides in aikido not in the techniques you can see with your eyes, but in those you cannot.

This photo shows O-Sensei preparing to brush some Japanese characters into a book as Fukiko Sunadomari assists with his brush. Fukiko Sensei was the elder sister of the late Kanshu Sunadomari, a famous aikido teacher of Kumamoto, Kyushu. Her elder half-brother was Kanemoto Sunadomari, the man who wrote the first biography of Morihei, published in 1969.
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Historical photo: “Noriaki Inoue, Aikido’s Forgotten Pioneer,” by Stanley Pranin

“I rang the doorbell, and a diminutive woman, perhaps in her 70s, opened the door. She look up and saw this six-foot gaijin staring her in the face, and I thought she would faint on the spot!”

Of the the areas I have explored in my long study of the life of Morihei Ueshiba and the creation of aikido, I think two in particular stand out for having caused a fundamental rethinking among the aikido community of how our art evolved. The first involves the role of Sokaku Takeda and his art, Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu, in providing the technical basis for what would later emerge as aikido. The second is the part played by the Inoue family of Tanabe, especially Morihei’s nephew Yoichiro, in the progression of early events that allowed the Founder to pursue his martial arts career, and eventually develop the art we practice today.

Interestingly enough, my exploration of both of these aspects of aikido’s early history resulted in many problems for me personally and professionally due to the controversies they provoked. Sokaku’s role had been greatly minimized and distorted, while Yoichiro–later known as Noriaki–had been relegated to a “bit player” in accounts of aikido history. When I wrote an article titled “Yoichiro Inoue, Aikido’s Forgotten Pioneer,” about ten years ago that was also published in Japanese, it caused an uproar behind the scenes, and an incident highly embarrassing to the Aiki News staff in Japan and myself.

Noriaki Inoue was the son of Morihei Ueshiba’s eldest sister Tame, and her husband Zenzo Inoue (Yoichiro’s father), one of Tanabe’s richest citizens. Inoue and his family were involved in virtually every important step taken by Morihei, at least through 1931 when he 47 years old. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Ueshibas and Inoues acted as a joint-family unit in many areas that set the stage for Morihei having the opportunity to launch his martial arts career. I would refer readers to the above article for a detailed study of this relationship.

By the early 1980s, fairly early into my research, I began to notice that each of the prewar students of Morihei I met would frequently mention “Yoichiro” in their recounting of the events of aikido’s early days. Their portrayals of his character and deeds were not always flattering, but it became apparent that Yoichio–at least as a senior instructor–served as Morihei’s “right arm” over a 15-year period. The fact that this “Yoichiro,” then going by the name of “Noriaki” was still active teaching in Tokyo began to really pique my curiosity. I set out to meet, and hopefully interview him, to hear his side of the story.

To say that this would prove a challenge would be somewhat of an understatement. My efforts to meet Inoue Sensei were either ignored or rebuffed over and over. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but probably due to my persistence, he finally agreed to meet me with the proviso that I bring along a couple of “old-timers” with me. This was not exactly what I had hoped for, but at least it gave me a chance to get “a foot in the door,” so to speak. Fortunately, I was able to arrange for Shigemi Yonekawa and Zenzaburo Akazawa, both of whom I had already interviewed, to accompany me. The three of us finally met Inoue Sensei in Tokyo on December 9, 1981. I was almost totally excluded from the discussion, but did manage to tape-record everything. The transcription of that meeting exists, but still remains unpublished.

Getting my “foot in the door” turned out to be getting “the door slammed on my foot.” My efforts to meet with Inoue Sensei and do a proper interview were blocked by his front office, and I finally gave up… at least for the time being.

Finally, by 1986 I could no longer stand knowing that perhaps the most important person after the Founder himself was still alive and living only a few miles away from me. I decided to act. My solution would be a diabolical scheme that only a “henna gaijin” could concoct. I took the transcription of the conversation recorded five years earlier supplemented by a polite letter and headed out to Kunitachi, a few miles west, where he lived. I rang the doorbell, and a diminutive woman, perhaps in her 70s, opened the door. She look up and saw this six-foot gaijin staring her in the face, and I thought she would faint on the spot. I gave her the envelope with my letter and the transcript, excused myself and left. The letter said that Aiki News would publish the interview in the next issue of the magazine as is, since we had been unsuccessful in getting assistance in doing a proper editing job. We regarded the role of Inoue Sensei to be too important to be ignored, and would do the best we could, etc….

Photo taken at Inoue Sensei's birthday party in 1988

Photo taken at Inoue Sensei’s birthday party in 1988

I undoubtedly caused a furor with my unorthodox action, and I’m sure someone got scolded. Still the front office refused to allow me to meet him. At my wit’s end, one day I called the office head in my serviceable Japanese such as it is, and proceeded to get mad, really mad! I told him that I was sure he was doing his job as best he saw it, but that he was preventing me from doing my job, which was to tell the truthful story of aikido’s creation. Wasn’t he aware that his teacher Inoue Sensei was being maligned and excised from aikido history? How could this unfair state of affairs be corrected without cooperation from the Inoue side? Did he think that I was being insincere in my desire to accord Inoue Sensei his rightful and prominent place in aikido history?

He fell silent, and my Japanese editor who had overheard the conversation, looked at me in disbelief! But it worked. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to Inoue Sensei’s home. Laden with old photos and historical documents, my Japanese editor and I made our way out to his home. We were greeted by Inoue Sensei, the office head, and a room full of his students. I suppose they thought that I was a “loose cannon,” and wanted to make sure that I properly behaved! Fortunately, once I got him talking about the old days and “what really happened,” he started to take a genuine liking to me, and I to him. This occurred in 1986.

Thereafter for a period of two years, I was given almost unfettered access to Inoue Sensei, and would always take a tape-recorder with me since I never knew when he would begin to talk about the old days. I never could do a proper interview with him, so I must give great credit to my staff who were able to cobble together edited manuscripts from the miscellaneous tape-recordings I presented them. I think we published four or five interviews of Inoue Sensei during this period.

Stanley Pranin with Noriaki Inoue, Kameoka, 1987

Stanley Pranin with Noriaki Inoue, Kameoka, 1987

There were several highlights of the precious times I was able to spend with Inoue Sensei. The first took place in the summer of 1987 when I was invited to attend the annual gasshuku he gave in Kameoka at the Omoto administrative headquarters. I was allowed to freely videotape his classes and take photos of the various activities surrounding the event. I have probably 5-6 hours of videotape that have never been shown stored away. Their place is in our archives on the Aikido Journal Members Site. I will eventually get to it with your support and encouragement.

The second was a large public demonstration we arranged in Yotsuya in April 1988. It was attended by a sold-out crowd of about 550 people who grabbed at the chance to see this living legend in action, perhaps for the first and only time. Everything was filmed and photographed. Inoue Sensei was 85 years old at the time and not very mobile, but he still had a strong presence and was very well received. Those who attended were quite aware of the historical significance of the event. Many martial artists showed up too, and some were able to meet and chat with Inoue Sensei at the party following the event.

I had very little interaction with Inoue Sensei and his group after the big demonstration. I had met him perhaps 15-20 times and was fortunate enough to get a lot of information, but it was difficult to get opportunities to talk with him as I always met him in a group setting. Also, I was very busy with Aiki News-related work and traveling with Morihiro Saito Sensei as his interpreter at this point in time.

Much later, in April 1994, I received news that Inoue Sensei had passed away at the ripe old age of 92, having continued teaching until very near the end of his life. I attended his funeral ceremony along with a hundred or so other mourners including his first cousin, Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. There I met one of Inoues’ nephews. This happening was to lead to a whole new phase in my research of Ueshiba-Inoue family history and provided me much needed information and perspective to better establish the importance of this family relationship in Morihei’s early life.


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Historical photo: “Takuma Hisa, the bridge between Daito-ryu and Aiki Budo,” by Stanley Pranin

“I saw a small, yet sturdily built middle-aged man walk on to the screen. He had a big mustache and a strong physical presence about him. It was Morihei Ueshiba at age 51!”

Back in April 1979, I met a slight old man who had suffered a stroke and spoke in a halting, somewhat slurred voice. I am embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the circumstances of my introduction to old gentleman. I think I was told that he was an important person in the early history of aikido. I didn’t know anything about him really when I went to visit him at his home in Nakano Ward in Tokyo. The man’s name was Hisa Takuma.

I must say he was a charming person, and he kept attempting to speak to me in English. I appreciated this because my Japanese was not very strong at that time, but it made the conversation tediously slow. Little by little, I was able to piece together that he had been a student of Morihei Ueshiba first, and then Sokaku Takeda, at the Asahi News dojo in Osaka. Having learned this, I began to sense that perhaps this man might have played some important role in the early evolution of aikido. Toward the end of our conversation, he began to sing me a song. I remember the introductory words very well: “You came, you came, you really came…” He really like me, but I don’t exactly know why because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to ask very many intelligent questions at this early stage of my research. Perhaps it was simply the fact that I was a foreigner, a journalist of sorts, and had shown interest in an aspect of his younger years that was very important to him at this last stage of his life.

After our first meaning, he began to write me regularly in broken English. He sent me the newsletters that he was publishing, and one of them mentioned my name and the fact that I had visited him at his home. Soon after this, something dramatic happened.

In our conversation, Hisa Sensei mentioned an old film of Morihei Ueshiba that was shot before the war. I knew of the existence of this film and desperately wanted to see it. A friend of mine did some research and located a film from the prewar period that might possibly be the footage I was looking for. I went to a film archive facility in Tokyo where a special viewing had been arranged for me. As the projectionist prepared the film, I became very nervous in anticipation. Then the first image flashed on the screen with the title “Budo.” I felt my heart sink because there was no mention of anything related to “Aiki.” Resigned, I thought that, still it would be interesting to see this prewar “talkie” film because it might contain footage of some important martial artist. Then it happened.

I saw a small, yet sturdily built middle-aged man walk on to the screen. He had a big mustache and a strong physical presence about him. It was Morihei Ueshiba at age 51! I immediately felt tears well up in my eyes, which was very embarrassing. Fortunately, the room was dark and the fellow showing the film did not notice anything.

Takuma Hisa at age 44

Then another man, much larger and very powerful looking appeared on the screen. He was obviously the leader of the group. He sat down in seiza and opened a scroll and began reading in a loud voice. This was Takuma Hisa, the little old disabled man I had met only a few weeks before!

I was an emotional wreck but so very happy at that moment. And then the action started! My God, Morihei put on a fantastic display. Strong, but elegant technique, applied with a palpable, dynamic energy. And the finale was breath-taking! You can see the film here.

In any event, I called Hisa Sensei and told him about my discovery. He was overjoyed because he had never seen this film made way back in 1935. 44 years had elapsed. I really felt that I had to arrange a showing for him. So I contacted Shigemi Yonekawa–the man who is Morihei Ueshiba’s uke in the Noma Dojo photos–whom I had recently interviewed and who appears prominently in the 1935 film. We set up a date to travel to Hisa Sensei’s home for the private showing. Yonekawa Sensei, a very reserved man by nature, was obviously most pleased.

Fortunately, I had lugged over to Japan a heavy old 16mm movie projector when I moved there in 1977. Armed with my projector, I met Yonekawa Sensei at Tsuchiura Station on the Joban Line and we rode the train down to Tokyo, and then out to Nakano to Hisa Sensei’s house. Neither Hisa nor Yonekawa had seen each other since before the war. I was so happy to see the two of them united after so many years. I could kick myself now for not taking photos and recording the conversation, but I was young and green as a researcher, and had my hands full as the projectionist.

I finally got everything to work including the sound, and the film started. Hisa Sensei immediately started to cry tears of joy! I became emotional too, but once again, the darkened room came to my rescue. Sensei started giving a commentary on the film in a slow, but animated voice. It was altogether an unforgettable moment, and one of the highlights of my research career in Japan.

After the film showing, the steady stream of letters and documents from Hisa Sensei continued. Then one day a package showed up at my door. It contained four boxes of microfilm. I opened the boxes and–not having access to a microfilm viewer–pulled out a strip and held it up to the light. The package was from Hisa Sensei and the microfilm contained image after image of jujutsu techniques. I could tell that neither Morihei nor Hisa were in the photos, and I really had no basis to evaluate what these photos were or their importance. Much later, I Iearned that Hisa Sensei had sent me the entire Soden collection of the Takumakai, the Daito-ryu organization set up around him after the war. There are over a thousand images documenting the techniques taught by both Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda at the Asahi News dojo over a period of six years from 1933-1939. A true treasure whose significance I was only able to appreciate many years later.

Those images are still in microfilm form and need to be scanned and uploaded. They belong on the Aikido Journal Members Site and to be made available for universal access.

I saw Hisa Sensei only one time after that at the 1980 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration. He passed away in October of the same year. Only later, after researching Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu and Sokaku Takeda was I able to appreciate Takuma Hisa Sensei’s important place in aikido history. There is much more to say about the subject, but you can start here for further reading.

Forgive the rather lengthy introduction to today’s historical photo. Here you see the dynamic Takuma Hisa executing a Daito-ryu projection technique sometime in the late 1930s in Osaka. The imprint of Morihei’s instruction is readily apparent in this beautiful photo.

Scans of postcards received from Takuma Hisa Sensei



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“Historical photo: Hiroshi Tada, 9th dan, Aikido’s Mr. Dynamic!,” by Stanley Pranin

Observers of the annual All-Japan Aikido Demonstration have for decades been impressed with the performances of a tall, slim man with amazing technique. It is as though his body is filled with a pulsating electric current. His movements flow in a rippling cascade and the man seems deep in a trance. This would be Hiroshi Tada, 9th dan.

Today, Tada Sensei is a noble looking Japanese gentleman 82 years of age. The execution of his techniques appears to be that of an athlete in his prime. I have always admired his healthful lifestyle and regal bearing. He has outlived all of the senior level instructors of his generation. He is a sterling example of what is possible through a lifetime of training.

Take a look at this photo taken early in his stay in Italy about 1966. Even in this still shot, the strong connection and projection of energy in Tada Sensei’s execution of the technique is obvious.

Tada Sensei is the Aikikai’s senior representative for Italy and makes regular visits there to conduct seminars. From this base, he has taught all over Europe for many years.

In addition, Tada Sensei developed a system of breathing and meditative exercises to supplement aikido training called “Ki no Renma” (Cultivation of Ki). No doubt this regime has also contributed to his dynamic health and youthfulness.

Although this is a wonderful photo, Tada Sensei’s aikido must be seen to be appreciated. It goes without saying that we have an excellent example of this. We have archived the demonstration of Tada Sensei from the 2004 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration on the Aikido Journal Members Site. Paid subscribers may click on the link below to log in and view this mesmerizing video clip:

Video: Hiroshi Tada, 9th dan, at the 2004 All-Japan Aikido Demonstration (member video)


Historical photo from 1974: Morihiro Saito brings Iwama Aikido to America!

“Sensei had the presence of mind, lightning-fast reflexes and physical strength necessary to pull off such a feat. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since!”

This is an important photo that was taken in early October 1974 by Charlie Watkins at Aikido of San Francisco. Saito Sensei was visiting the USA for the first time and this trip was the first time he had traveled outside of Japan.

He was accompanied by Shigemi Inagaki, then a 5th dan, and gave seminars at the San Francisco Dojo and at Stanford University on back-to-back weekends. Here is an excerpt of my impressions of Saito Sensei from that trip from the October 1974 issue of Aiki News:

Saito Sensei’s effectiveness as a teacher was indeed remarkable. And this was achieved without knowledge of the language of his students. His method of presentation consisted primarily of slow-motion pantomimes of the individual techniques with a minimum of verbalization. This coupled with careful groupings of related movements provided a well-focused perspective of many aspects of the Aikido system.

Those present could not help but remark the excellent poise displayed by Saito Sensei during the course of the two gasshuku both on and off the mat. He remained centered and calm despite the fact he found himself immersed in a foreign culture for the first time. Noteworthy also was Saito Sensei’s outstanding stamina. He participated fully in all sessions instructing students individually and taking falls…. The impact of his presence and teaching manner was very powerful and will continue to resonate in this region for a long time to come.

I also recall a remarkable feat by Saito Sensei at this time in a commemorative article I authored following his passing in 2002 titled Remembering Morihiro Saito Sensei

There was a particular episode from this trip that I will never forget. Sensei was teaching a class at Aikido of San Francisco and was demonstrating a kokyunage technique, if I remember correctly. His uke was David Alexander. Sensei threw David horizontally but misjudged the amount of space he had free. Right in the middle of the throw when it had become apparent that David would crash into the people who had crowded in close to better observe, Sensei stuck out his left arm and caught David in mid-air thus preventing a collision. No one could believe what they had seen. Sensei had the presence of mind, lightning-fast reflexes and physical strength necessary to pull off such a feat. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

This visit by Saito Sensei to America was historic in many ways. It marked the first time that most people had ever experienced Iwama Aikido with its vast technical repertoire that included a myriad of empty-handed techniques combined with the Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo. Soon, many schools in the Northern California began to incorporate weapons training in their curriculum, using the Traditional Aikido books that Saito Sensei had begun publishing as their reference.

Saito Sensei visited the USA again several times in the 1970s, and also expanded his student base in Europe, especially Sweden, where he had many followers. These instructional tours and the publication of more books stimulated an uninterrupted stream of visits to Iwama by foreign students desiring to learn directly from Saito Sensei. Many of these hardy aikidoka would return to their respective countries and teach the Iwama style of aikido. Over time, this produced an international network of hundreds of schools practicing the Iwama methods. Today, many of the Iwama schools follow Saito Sensei’s talented son, Hitohiro Saito, while others practice Iwama Aikido under the umbrella of the Aikikai Hombu Dojo system.

Take a close look at today’s photo which captures the instant of the completion of a sword kata. Notice Saito Sensei’s stable base, powerful extension, and total focus. Saito Sensei’s weapons system gained traction in America from this moment forward.

Morihiro Saito was certainly a giant in postwar aikido, and one of the art’s most notable teachers whose influence continues today unabated.


Through a simple interface, you’ll have the ability to quickly access over 500 empty-handed and weapons techniques via 1,100 links to videos and technical explanations in book format. This is the most extensive technical reference on aikido ever compiled!

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“Historical photo: Sadateru Arikawa, 8th dan, in action… mind blowing!”, by Stanley Pranin

“I really don’t know what to do about all of these tapes. Historically, they are very important and contain a lot of ‘bombshells!’”

Let me start out by saying that technical photographs of Sadateru Arikawa Sensei are very rare. It’s ironic because he filmed and videotaped virtually every important aikido figure repeatedly during his long career. His collection of aikido and martial arts documents is legendary.

I had the “fearful” pleasure of meeting him in 1969 when I first went to Japan to train at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. But our real interaction began in the late 1970s when I moved to Japan, and lasted until shortly before his death in October 2003.

Arikawa Sensei was very interested in what I was doing research-wise. Who did I meet? What did they say about this or that? Did I get any interesting documents? He visited me many times in Iwama and Tokyo, always privately for lengthy talks. He loved doing this, and so did I. He would walk into my apartment where I had many books and videotapes on shelves. He would scan my collection, and say, “That’s new. Show it to me. Koopi chodai! (make me a copy).” He was a real character!

Arikawa Sensei was also THE world authority on all things aikido-related. He knew a great deal about Daito-ryu as well, and would chum around with Katsuyuki Kondo Sensei just like he did with me. He was a walking encyclopedia about every aspect of budo and its history.

He was difficult to understand when he spoke because he had a whispery, hoarse voice due to an injury he suffered as a boy. Many people avoided him because of this since it was so hard to understand what he was saying, and he loved to talk and talk!

Almost every time I met him, I would tape-record the conversation. Sometimes he would make me turn off the recorder when the conversation jumped to a sensitive topic. I was always trying to turn it back on! Eventually, he would get so involved in what he was saying that he would forget about it. I really don’t know what to do about all of these tapes. Historically, they are very important and contain a lot of “bombshells!” Yet another project awaiting.

I could go on and on about him because he was such a man of contradictions. He once injured me quite severely so that I couldn’t train for several months. Still he came to see me, but I never let him touch me on the mat after that.

Arikawa Sensei was a very suspicious person. He once told me that he was a “spy” for the Hombu Dojo to keep tabs on what I was doing. He attended all of the Aiki News-sponsored Friendship Demonstrations of the 1980s, but would sit in the back of the auditorium. But I really didn’t care. In his own way, he showed a lot of affection toward me, and I genuinely loved the man.

I believe that Peter Goldsbury and I were the last ones to visit him in the hospital when he lay near death. He was by himself when he expired. Someday, I will write what I know about him after I have had an opportunity to review the tape-recordings.

In any event, take a look at this photo. Have you ever seen anything like it in aikido? Look at how he is using his leg as part of a Daito-ryu pin! He was always secretly studying Sokaku Takeda’s art. We have a wonderful heritage to protect. Join me in bringing as many of these treasures as possible to light. Believe me, your role is very important!


Historical photo: “The amazing chameleon photo of O-Sensei from 1922,” by Stanley Pranin

As a researcher of aikido history, this photo is one of the most fascinating documents I have ever come across. First of all, a little background. This photo was shot about 1922 inside Morihei’s home situated near the Omoto precincts in Ayabe. Morihei is seated in seiza inside the “Ueshiba Juku,” his home dojo that marked the beginning of his career as a martial arts teacher.

Immediately obvious is Morihei’s powerful physique and stern expression that convey a strong impression even 90 years after the fact. You will notice to Morihei’s left a sword stand holding three blades, certainly an appropriate accessory for a martial arts dojo. Then behind the displayed swords are a placard with kanji characters. This is where the intrigue begins…

What is written? The characters read: “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu.” This, as you will recall is the precursor art to aikido that Morihei studied under Sokaku Takeda Sensei in Hokkaido beginning in 1915. If this is the dojo where Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido, taught, why is this “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu” placard on display there?

A fair question. You see Morihei was openly teaching Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu in his “Ueshiba Juku” because aikido had not yet come into being. In fact, he was a certified Daito-ryu instructor. Morihei was just beginning his transitional phase, technically speaking, that would culminate many years later with the creation of aikido. Also, Sokaku Takeda had recently visited Morihei in Ayabe, and they agreed that Ueshiba would use the name “Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu” to refer to his art.

Ok, but what is this bit about a “chameleon photo”? Ah, this is the interesting part! To my knowledge, this photo has been published in books and newsletters at least five times. Here’s the kicker. The photo appears in four different versions!

Four versions? Yes, the Daito-ryu placard first disappears altogether in the first publication of the photo. Then it reappears with the “Daito-ryu” characters missing, leaving only the “Aikijujutsu” characters. What’s a poor aikido historian to do? Then, the original photo you see here appears for the first time. Next, some of the characters are again omitted, but not in the same way as the first altered photo. Finally and miraculously, the unretouched photo again resurfaces, hopefully to remain intact. Strange workings of the kamisama?

Not exactly. From a historian’s standpoint, all of these “miraculous events” can be explained. Briefly, Morihei had a falling out with his teacher Sokaku Takeda that would lead to his distancing himself from his teacher. As a result of this, there has always existed a certain tension between the aikido and Daito-ryu camps despite a surface cordiality.

This reticence to give due credit to the significant influence of Daito-ryu on modern aikido has existed for many years, and was not surprisingly inherited by the Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba. These shenanigans with this famous photo took place in the period of the 1960s through the 1980s when Daito-ryu’s role in the evolution of aikido was little known. I believe this explains the psychology behind the photo tinkering. Now, I don’t believe it would be possible to do such a thing since the relationship between Morihei Ueshiba and Sokaku Takeda has been well documented.

Early in my career, I published one of these altered versions of the photo perfectly innocently, and it got me into quite a pickle!

Anyway, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story!”


Your Top Ten: “Here’s What You Like,” by Stanley Pranin

A few months back we began using some new email software that provides us with statistics about what readers’ preferences are. I went back through some of the data for the last few weeks, and it yielded a lot of great insights about where your interests lie.

It occurred to me that you might find this information interesting as well, so here you have it, your top-ten emails from the last several months with links to these popular items in case you missed them.

Here is the countdown:

10. Free PDF: 90-page sample of Stanley Pranin’s “Aikido Pioneers – Prewar Era….

9. Yamaguchi Sensei had never had a foreign student and it seemed he didn’t particularly want one…

8. By viewing such high-level aikido, today’s practitioners can pick up important hints to speed their own progress!

7. Kisaburo Osawa was known for his light touch and smooth technical execution, punctuated by sudden bursts of speed.

6. Doshu’s presentation is highly polished and his ukes’ falls are often times acrobatic in nature.

5. New Video: “Yoga Warmups for Aikido Training,” by Stanley Pranin

4. O-Sensei, what is aikido? He responded by saying, ‘Well, let me write it down for you…’

3. When Koichi Tohei resigned from the Aikikai, the impact was traumatic…

2. The weak attacks used in aikido dojos simply are not realistic…

And the top-rated link is…

1. Early in Steven Seagal’s movie career, there was somewhat of an “aikido boom” due to the popularity of his movies

It seems you like videos a lot! Good, because we have several hundred waiting to be uploaded. You like the top aikido teachers. No surprise there. You like yoga? That is a surprise! And a significant percentage of you respond to the mention of the name “Steven Seagal,” whose video was the number one drawing email.

Tomorrow I’ll be telling you what I like!


“Ironing out the kinks,” by Stanley Pranin

I have spent the better part of today troubleshooting and dealing with certain idiosyncracies of the software we are using for the new Aikido Journal Member Site. While I was at it, I made substantial changes to the look and feel of the home page.

I believe I have completely solved the problem of “confused logins” that some readers reported, and that I myself have experienced on occasion. I got things to work perfectly every time and in a predictible manner. This is a big relief!

Check out the new look and functionality of the Aikido Journal Members Site

Here is a list of the enhancements and bug fixes:

  • Recent posts have been moved to the center section of the page and display the most recent six posts in reverse chronological order, the newest entry appearing on top.
  • A search widget has been added to the left sidebar
  • Login and logout functions now work as expected
  • A “Free Signup” button has been added to the sidebar
  • A paid membership button has been added to the top of the center section
  • A list of “sticky” Favorite posts has been placed below the recent posts

Please try out the website now and give us feedback about your user experience. I’m not a programmer, but given time, I can usually find a solution to technical problems.

Go to Aikido Journal Members Site
Thanks to all who have assisted us during the rollout of the new website!