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Interview with Morihiro Saito Sensei - Part 2 (1979)

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #34 (May 1979)

The following is the third and final installment of an interview with Morihiro Saito Sensei, 8th dan, of the Ibaraki Dojo in Iwama, Japan.

It’s a full nine years since O-Sensei passed away and there is always the danger that what O-Sensei taught us will become changed over the course of time into what can no longer be regarded as Aikido. So I would like to ask you what you regard as fundamentally important points when you teach.

Well, it is to adhere to basics. People think light of basics and are attracted to fancy techniques. Also, nowadays one cannot be regarded as good unless he does fancy things. Otherwise a teacher won’t attract students. It’s wrong for a martial artist to try to make a living from students’ tuition by teaching budo. A martial artist shouldn’t be worried about his personal financial situation. Otherwise, he will end up giving ranks to weak students, or if someone brings him something he will give him special treatment and be biased in his favor. O-Sensei always used to say, “I am what I am because I trained hard style for sixty years. What do you think you can do?” He would frequently say this. But there are many people who don’t understand the meaning of “hard” and “soft.” “Hard” means to do the technique firmly with a soft movement. But people tend to train in a jerky way. And when people do soft training they do it in a lifeless way. Soft movements should be filled with the strongest “ki.” People can’t grasp the meaning of hard and soft because they didn’t have contact with O-Sensei. O-Sensei used to say that if he went to another place and demonstrated his techniques they would be stolen and he also said, “Aikido techniques are not to be demonstrated. To spread Aikido is to teach and spread it to those devotees who gather together. It doesn’t mean to show and propagate it among those who are in no way connected to the art. To increase the number of true Aikido devotees is to spread Aikido. So at demonstrations O-Sensei would intentionally do those techniques which nobody would understand. But they contained the essence of Aikido. Those who hadn’t practiced systematically starting from basics wouldn’t understand them and they would only imitate the techniques O-Sensei demonstrated. So Aikido has gradually become removed from its center. The situation is hopeless because the point of departure of Aikido has become unclear. Correct Aikido is difficult. There are many unhappy days. Nothing is enjoyable in the beginning.

But with this as a basis it eventually becomes enjoyable… Through very hard training you will come to enjoy Aikido. As some people enjoy themselves in the beginning they find it tougher later on. Such a person as Hidaka Shihan who has withdrawn to Iwate to train is a great man. So, withdraw and devote yourself to daily practice observing those things 0-Sensei said. Train as 0-Sensei trained himself in Iwama. In any event, to do perfect Aikido, study O-Sensei. Fortunately, I frequently dream of O-Sensei. As Mr. Abe said in his letter, we shouldn’t forget 0-Sensei. But in the case of all you students, there’s nothing to be done. But at least if those who were taught by O-Sensei respect him and keep his memory alive, they will always recall his scolding words. In that way mistakes can easily be corrected and his words will always come back. If one forgets O-Sensei, he will no longer appear and one goes along according to his own will. If a person has proceeded far in this manner there’s no way of return. And if he suddenly stops his own way of teaching after having taught in that way, then people will ask him, “Is what you taught us false?” Kokyuho is included in the basics which 0-Sensei taught and “ki” exists in kokyuho itself, but there is no kokyuho in “ki.” “Ki” is in kokyuho. Since I trained in Iwama, I can only teach according to the way we did it here. So that’s how I have taught. Therefore… the basics 0-Sensei drilled me in, even though they’re extremely tough to learn, must likewise be learned by everyone. Those who perservere will gain a true understanding in the end. There are various kinds of students. Some find it fashionable to walk to the dojo carrying a “gi” on their shoulder. And some don’t place any importance on training but find it very enjoyable and refreshing like “coca cola” when their teacher takes a splendid “ukemi” for them even though they don’t know how to throw. And some others simply want to become strong. They don’t want any rank, they just want to be strong. On the other hand, there are people who want to get their dan rank. There are these two extreme types. So there are a good many people who stop coming completely after they get their dan. There are many different types of students. The best of them are those who are not greedy… The ones who are not greedy are the best. Such people also have a spirit of service. They are also polite. And polite people are alert. When you become alert you will naturally become polite. So I think the old-style martial artists were polite.

Saito Sensei, you teach your students step by step the important techniques from basics to “ki no nagare” in a very kindly manner. Your instruction is so easy to follow that even foreign students who don’t know a single word of Japanese can understand it very well. How did you develop this teaching method?

I owe it to 0-Sensei. I was pestered and repeatedly scolded by 0-Sensei and so I studied…

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