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Interview with Morihiro Saito (1975)

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #13 (June 1975)

In an interview appearing in Aikido Journal, O-Sensei explains that he was involved in training for the war effort in Japan. Would you please elaborate on his activities?

Morihiro Saito (1928-2002)

After the war, O-Sensei had a great deal of leisure time compared with before the war. In the pre-war years he kept busy traveling all around Japan teaching at military schools. This work ended with the conclusion of the war. No longer able to do these things, O-Sensei began to farm, growing rice and vegetables. It was at that time that I became a pupil. O-Sensei began to concentrate on the study of techniques. He was able to study Aikido in a slow, deliberate manner. That’s why O-Sensei used to say that his post-war budo is the true Aikido.

O-Sensei was deeply effected by the terrible consequences of the war. This appears to have caused him to reevaluate his idea of the purpose of budo during his years at Iwama immediately after the war. Would you comment on these changes?

O-Sensei taught at the Army and Naval Academies, the Toyama School (a police academy), the Spy School, and so forth. He also trained people associated with the military. He taught instructors and martial art teachers at the Army and Naval Academies. There were quite a number of requests for instruction; a large number of high-ranking officers came to Hombu Dojo. Such stories as those are true. I heard many after the war ended. Many from among O-Sensei’s followers who were my seniors were involved in the war. Finally, after the war ended, the American military trials took place. Many of O-Sensei’s followers were involved in these trials.

However, since O-Sensei would always talk about the “Kamisama” (deities) and taught love and harmony, the American authorities said nothing. Many of O-Sensei’s followers were found guilty at the trials. Since only O-Sensei’s teachings were proper, nothing happened to him. And, when I became a student immediately after the war, O-Sensei traveled to the largest American military base in Yokohama to demonstrate his art. Again, nothing was said. It was OK.

In 1948, the Japanese government took the “bu” (martial) out of “budo” and the “bu” out of “Aiki Budo.” Thus, the Aikikai Foundation came into being and there was no longer an “Aiki Budo.” The Aikikai Foundation received permission from the government form the beginning and many good budo (martial arts) were saved. After that O-Sensei began to study techniques in earnest. O-Sensei used to say that the true Aikido came after the war. There were many of O-Sensei’s former students who returned and began teaching Aikido. However, there training was a little different from outs. Whatever they did, swinging the sword, etc, was rather severe.

When O-Sensei would do suwari waza (seated techniques), it would be suwari waza day in and day out. When he would begin ryote dori training, we would practice ryote dori every day. And O-Sensei also studied by himself. It was at that time that I became a student. I was taught everything. I was very lucky.

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