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Aikido's Technical Heir

Aikido's Technical Heir - Morihiro Saito 9th DanLast Easter, (Easter 1995) the technical heir of Aikido Morihiro Saito, 9th Dan Aikikai, gave a seminar to one hundred and fifty six Aikido students at the Willoughby Leisure Centre in Sydney; when he first came to Australia in 1983, eighteen students attended. Saito Sensei is one of the few direct students of the Founder of Aikido Morihei Ueshiba, better known as O-Sensei, still active today. He considers it his duty to precisely transmit the traditional teachings as he was taught them by the Founder in Iwama. His Aikido therefore has a strong martial edge and has become known in the Aikido world as Iwama Ryu (Style) Aikido.

Stanley Pranin the well-regarded Aikido and Daito Ryu Jujitsu historian writes in Takemusu Aikido Volume 1 that Aikido " it is practiced today derives more from the interpretations of leading teachers such as Gozo Shioda, Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Kenji Tomiki, and Minoru Mochizuki -all senior disciples of Ueshiba- than the art of the Founder himself". To paraphrase, Pranin believes that Saito Sensei's Iwama Ryu Aikido is closest to what the Founder did in his Aikido prime.

Saito Sensei Seminar group photo - Sydney 1998

In 1942 Morihei Ueshiba had 'officially' retired to the village of Iwama, he was in his sixties, and a physically powerful man as a result of many years training. After the allied occupation he was left with few students due to the economic state of defeated Japan, and the prohibition of the martial arts by the Allied Command. So he was free to pursue his personal training. In 1946, Morihiro Saito, an eighteen year old who lived locally and had a day-on day-off job, was accepted into the Ueshiba Dojo; his work roster made it possible for him to train intensely, and over the years he made such good use of this opportunity that he spent more time on the mat with the Founder than anyone else. A record that cannot be broken. At that time the Founder was systematising and organising his techniques, teaching them more carefully than he had before the war, and differently from what you would expect if you had only been exposed to his latter years through his public demonstrations, and the later availability of films. The Aikido that Saito Sensei teaches today is the Aikido that he learnt from the Founder and he has dedicated his life to preserving and disseminating the precision of the Founder's original Aikido technique. And that is the Aikido from which he taught the fortunate participants at the Sydney Easter Seminar.

As the Founder's health gradually declined he was unable to move as well as he could when younger. Pranin writes, "...the Founder's Aikido underwent a transformation. Many of his techniques became abbreviated and he would throw his young and powerful students with a rapid gesture, or the flick of a hand, sometimes without even touching his partner. Because this phase of Ueshiba's life corresponded with the first stage of Aikido's growth internationally, the image of a little old man with a white beard waving his hand in front of a charging attacker dominates in the minds of many students and teachers of the art. The Founder's Aikido in the last year's of his life can be understood as a natural development of his previous experience, but as Ueshiba himself was fond of pointing out, his abilities at this stage were the product of more than sixty years of training."

Saito Sensei with swordSaito Sensei emphasised in his seminar that Aikido open handed technique (taijutsu) and sword technique (ken) are not separate in the Founder's Aikido. He said "...think ken when practicing taijutsu and taijutsu when practicing ken" this way he claims the persevering student will come to understand the way that the Founder used his hips. At the Easter Seminar Saito Sensei taught a Special Session just for Yudansha (Black Belts) on Ken Tai Jo -Sword to Staff- practices.