An annoying ghost

My friend Alain Grason was recently in Japan to study Aikido with Hideo Hirosawa, one of O sensei’s last direct living students. He lives in Iwama and teaches in the nearby small town of Hatori.

Alain didn’t want to leave Iwama without paying a sentimental visit to O sensei’s old dojo where he was uchi deshi in the late eighties. He was welcomed by three uchi deshi and naturally introduced himself: “Hello, I am Alain Grason, former uchi deshi of Morihiro Saito”. These few words seemed to strike these three unfortunate fellows like thunder. “Sshhh ! Don’t say that name here… it is frowned upon” answered one with a strong Canadian accent.

Frowned upon…! Alain, baffled, went to the dojo to kneel and meditate for a while. The Kamiza had not changed. On the shelves polished by time, the little boxes which shelter a bit of O sensei’s hair and beard were still there. On the right the portraits of O sensei and his son, Kisshomaru hadn’t moved. On the right wall, the old mirror which has seen so many students for so many years was still there, crowned by O sensei’s hand calligraphy “Aiki Ueshiba”. On the left wall, above the little corridor that leads to O sensei’s house, four or five oversized portraits of the Founder have been added.

Everything is clean, clean like a place that is not used, that is cleaned endlessly, some empty museum, a bit sad. There isn’t, of course, any portrait of Saito sensei.

“… do not say that name here… it is frowned upon”. That little sentence revolves in Alain’s mind, like a slow negationnist poison, while memories come back to the surface.

It is of course possible to dislike Morihiro Saito’s personality, one can disapprove his critical attitude towards Aikikai, one can reject his technical authority in the Aikido world, one can reject his teaching method and its relevance. One can disagree on all aspects of the man’s journey, which triggered a massive controversy in the Aikido world by uncovering many common beliefs and stereotypes. 
But there is one thing one may not do: deny what existed and try to erase history

For decades after O sensei’s passing, Saito sensei made Iwama’s a vibrant place with the energy boiling in his very being. He transformed the Founder’s tiny wooden dojo in a magic cauldron where, for thirty years, thousands of students met to practice Aikido under his direction. He made this dojo live and become famous world wide because it was O sensei’s will, because that was the mission he had been given by the Founder. He accomplished that mission until his last breath, forced at the end to sit between each technique because his condition prevented him from standing for too long at a time. This man gave his whole life, with an unparalleled generosity, so that the dojo that had seen the birth of Aikido could survive O sensei’s death. He gave his time and his energy so that these few acres of Iwama land, fertile with the origins of Aikido, could survive in people’s memories.

Is it that man one mustn't pronounce the very name anymore? Just like the Greeks forbid to say the name of the criminal who burnt the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the antique world, so that he would be erased from history?

I could find words but they couldn’t tell the nausea that such a blatant and dishonest negation of historical truth rises in me. The puppets like those who greeted Alain are not responsible of course, they obey the rule without knowing and can’t see they’re are only used to create the illusion that there is life still in the Ibaraki dojo.

But there are men in the Aikikai hierarchy who decided in full awareness that Morihiro Saito had to be erased from Iwama memory. To those, I tell that using hypocrisy, contempt, ungratefulness and imposture, they have committed more that a fault: they have dishonoured themselves and have lit up the fire that will end up burning down their own house.

Here are a few pictures which will tell more than a long speech how joy and fraternity used to reign in Iwama for three decades under Saito sensei’s benevolent authority. The thousands of students who lived there could easily so testify.

In Iwama, Saito sensei used to thank the uchi deshi his own way, tapping sake from the barrel for someone’s departure or arrival.

He would use these party moments to explain the Japanese culture to uchi deshi with his usual good mood (on good days).

Around the table many learnt anecdotes and this is how the uchi deshi learnt the history of Aikido.

… and meals would rarely end up without a sayonara nikyo for those who would take a flight the next day.

The uchi deshi were not conformists… in fact they were quite bohemians…

… and party animals…

… They were not afraid to be ten to do the job of one…

… And they couldn’t stay serious when sweeping the moss around the Aiki jinja.

Their funny « gaijin » ways and their lack of discipline would sometimes make Saito sensei despair… but they loved Aikido from the bottom of their hearts and, thirty years later, those who are still alive keep transmitting faithfully what they learnt at that stage of their lives.

The old Iwama dojo welcomed families and kids played freely.

In the last moments of his life, Saito sensei would use a stool for the illness prevented him from standing for too long…

… he taught this way until the end, without paying attention to his suffering, with the sincerity, the generosity and that sense of responsibility which guided him all along his life.

That’s how the Iwama dojo was, for three decades, under the direction of Morihiro Saito, a haven of study and work, of peace and respect, a place where men of all cultures and religions learnt to live together and discover each other, a place of fraternity, a place faithful to O sensei’s dream that the practice of Aikido would create social harmony, a large family indeed in a large Japanese countryside house. Saito sensei was its “pater familias”, its “papy” [“granda”] as the French nicknamed him.

But “Sshhhh !… do not say that name… It’s frowned upon now”, And Saito sensei’s ghost is really troublesome.

Philippe Voarino - Morihiro Saitoi’s uchi deshi in Iwama between 1986 and 2001.

What is Traditional Aikido?

Aikido is not a sport, it is a martial art which laws (takemusu) are in harmony with the laws of the universe. Studying them allows the practitioner to understand his place in the universe. Aikido was born in Iwama, O sensei achieved in that village the synthesis of tai jutsu, aiki ken and aiki jo.

Where to practice Traditional Aikido?

The International Takemusu Aikido Federation (ITAF) brings to the practitioner the structure he needs in order to work as close as possible to the reality O sensei MU defined. The official national representations are the guarantee of a teaching faithful to the Founder's.

The weapons of Aikido, aiki ken and aiki jo

In modern Aikido, weapons are hardly taught, if taught at all. In O sensei's Aikido, on the contrary, aiki ken, aiki jo and tai jutsu are unified and form together a riai, a family of harmonious techniques stemming from one unique principle. Each techniques helps understand all the others.

Aikido, a martial art or an art of peace?

Peace is a balance between a human being and the world around him. The true martial art's goal is not to become stronger than one's opponent but to find in that opponent a way to realize harmony. There is no enemy anymore as such, but an opportunity offered to reach unified ki.
Copyright TAI (Takemusu Aikido Intercontinental)