Enterview of Morihiro SAITO Sensei

This exclusive interview has been carried out in Iwama during a stay of Daniel Toutain Sensei in Iwama.

Arts et Combats, n. 30 - Jun 1996.
This article has been reproduced here with the autorization of Mr Jean Paoli - Arts et Combats.
© Jean Paoli - Arts et Combats.


Morihiro SAITO Sensei It was in Iwama that Master Morehei Ueshiba matured his art. Those years passed in this little village in the prefecture of Ibaraki were decisive in the achievement of the Aikido defined by O'Sensei. A privileged witness during this period, when he was the closest disciple of the founder over a period of 20 years, Morihiro Saito Sensei was happy to answer our questions. Daniel Toutain, student of Master Saito, conducted this interview on behalf of the magazine "Arts et Combats" during one of his stays in Iwama.

1. Over a period of how many years did Master Ueshiba teach in Iwama?
2. Did O'Sensei have many students in Iwama?
3. What were the modifications that O'Sensei brought to his Aikido in Iwama?
4. What was the most profound thing that O'Sensei taught in Iwama?
5. What importance did O'Sensei place on the study of weapons techniques?
6. What is the reasoning behind the Kata taught by O'Sensei?
7. What is the significance of the practice of "Kihon" and "Ki No Nagare"?
8. Did O'Sensei travel to teach in other Dojo's?
9. Was the teaching given during these trips away different from that given in Iwama?
10. What did the Dojo in Iwama mean to Master Ueshiba?

1.Arts et Combats : Saito Sensei, you spent many years with O'Sensei in Iwama. These years constitute a key period in the development of Aikido, could you tell us how many years Master Ueshiba taught in Iwama?
Saito Sensei
: O'Sensei started teaching in Iwama at the end of the 2nd World War and continued giving classes there up to his death in 1969. In actual fact he gave his last course at the University of Ibaraki on the 1st of February 1969.

2.A&C : Did O'Sensei have many students in Iwama?
Saito Sensei
: No, at that time he didn't have many students in Iwama. Actually, O'Sensei's students came from all over Japan, even from places as far away as Kyushu, Akita and Osaka. They went on to become well renowned teachers such as Koichi Tohei Sensei and Tadashi Abe Sensei.

3.A&C : What make up the essential modifications that O'Sensei brought to his Aikido in Iwama?
Saito Sensei
: O'Sensei changed many things. He adapted the old techniques to make them more rational. He gave equal priority to the relationships between the Ken, the Jo and unarmed techniques. It was at this time that O'Sensei finally created the Aikido that he had always hoped to realise.

4.A&C : What was the most profound thing about O'Sensei's teaching in Iwama?
Saito Sensei
: O'Sensei mastered many different techniques that he had learnt from the ancient schools of Jujitsu and the traditional Japanese martial arts. He took the principal elements of these arts, classified the techniques and accomplished the martial art of which he had always dreamed.

5.A&C : What importance did O'Sensei place on the study of weapons techniques in Iwama?
Saito Sensei
: O'Sensei said that weapons techniques are identical to those of Taijutsu (unarmed). The form and the movements are the same. In Aikido the movements don't change whether one is holding a weapon or not.

6.A&C : Sensei, could you indicate to the readers of "Arts et Combats" the reasoning behind the Kata taught by O'Sensei?
Saito Sensei
: Everything that is used in the Kata is based on the logic of Aikido. Aikido was completed after the union of the Ken, the Jo and the Taijutsu. If one removes one of these elements the Aikido one achieves is incomplete. All the time that one follows the basic teachings of O'Sensei there is no problem.

7.A&C : Saito Sensei, in faithfully preserving the teachings of O'Sensei, you insist much on the practice of "Kihon" and "Ki No Nagare". Could you speak to us about these two aspects of the practice of Aikido?
Saito Sensei
: With "Kihon" one starts on being held, one must not start to execute the technique before having let the grip of the partner close. All the basic techniques must be practised slowly, sincerely and with precision. "Ki No Nagare" is the logical progression on "Kihon". Thus, continuing with holds, the technique must be started before the partner can grip solidly. In executing the technique it is fundamental that ones movements be fluid.

8.A&C : Did O'Sensei travel to teach in other Dojo's?
Saito Sensei
: Yes, O'Sensei went to other Dojo's, these were The Hombu Dojo in Tokyo and a Dojo in the district of Kansai.

9.A&C : Was the teaching that O'Sensei gave during these trips away different from that which he gave in Iwama?
Saito Sensei
: His teaching was no different at these other Dojo's. Except that, in Iwama, he took the time to correct the errors made by his disciples. When O'Sensei travelled to teach he only went for short periods, in the order of three days. This is why he could only show most techniques once and didn't have the possibility of correcting the students.. They could not learn the techniques completely. It was impossible for them to learn the techniques in so short a time! In response to your question however O'Sensei's teaching was exactly the same.

10.A&C : Sensei, what did the Dojo in Iwama mean to Master Ueshiba?
Saito Sensei
: The Dojo in Iwama was the place where O'Sensei continued his own training in Aikido. O'Sensei built the Aiki Jinja (temple dedicated to Aikido) in front of the Dojo. It is there that he dedicated his life to the study of the Way of Aikido.
Master SAITO with O-Sensei
O'Sensei and the young Morihiro Saito, during a
morning Ken training session in Iwama.