I have been Morihiro Saito sensei's student since 1986:
I trained thousands of hours in Iwama, in all seasons, winter or summer:
Sometimes I borrowed O sensei's weapons, thinking that objects may have a soul...
There were famous inspirations :
I worked in the fields to help Saito sensei and I accepted a life without modern comfort to receive his teaching:
I was thanked when Saito sensei's often invited me to his table in Iwama and some encounters then taught me a lot:
For a long time I lived in the very house of the Founder of Aikido:
I cleaned O sensei's library, folded his hakama and I did my best to express my respect:
In a nutshell, I did the journey from the West to the East in order to live in Morihei Ueshiba's dojo and, as far as I could, to melt with the spirit of the place and to understand the soul of Japan:
Then one day, Saito sensei did the journey from the East to the West and I welcomed him in Antibes, my home, in 1989:
To welcome him, I also invited my first teacher, Tamura sensei:
Along the years, Saito sensei awarded the five Aiki-ken and Aiki-jo Mokuroku and the sixth dan:
Fifteen months before his death, he sent me that letter in which he expresses his trust to me, and this has more value to me than any dan:
Stating all this may sound ridiculous. It's not about gloating about it, there is a reason to it. The reason is that I am undertaking with this first article a very delicate job: I will try to explain why Saito sensei created a teaching methodology while O sensei had none and the consequences it can have on Aikido practice.
I want to anticipate and address the first criticism that will be expressed, that I wouldn't be qualified to write this. I have learned the method, I learned directly from Saito sensei on a daily basis in Iwama, I have been teaching it for 27 years: I know it like a musician knows his tunes and scales. For those who haven't had the opportunity to check my teaching abilities on a tatami, these facts and documents should be enough to attest my legitimacy and I apologise to display them like vegetables on a market… Before even beginning, I want to underline a crucial point that needs to be kept in mind for the rest: the learning methodology created by Saito sensei reveals an extraordinary cleverness regarding the mechanisms of corporal techniques acquisition. It is remarkably efficient to learn quickly and precisely the fundamental elements which constitute Aikido movements. It is of the outmost importance that this method is used, transmitted and preserved.
The study that will follow may lead to think that I have a critical attitude on that method and that I take a distance from it: such a thought would be far from reality, I will never stop repeating that it is the best tool we have at our disposal to lead a beginner on the path of Aikido. This is said loud and clear, must be heard and never forgotten. If not, one should avoid reading the articles that will follow.
Morihei Ueshiba founded Aikido.
Morihiro Saito understood that without a precise learning methodology, the Founder's Aikido would quickly be lost after O sensei's passing so he created that method.
But Aikido is vast and deep and even if a teaching method can be inspired, it is nonetheless the unavoidable result of a series of pedagogical choices. It is a simplification, a frame, a limited mould which can't contain the infinite complexity of Aikido. Because I know the method well, I also know its limits, its blind spots. I do understand that the beginner must first repeat without doubts. But when I look around at my fellow teachers who use the Saito method, I can see that even among high grades, the difference is not clear between the method and Aikido itself. On the contrary, I have this feeling that a certain confusion has been created between the means Saito sensei gave us to achieve certain goals and the goals themselves. It seems that what is presented as Aikido by many Takemusu teachers only consists in practicing the method better and faster. That practice is a dead end and 9 times out of ten, it leads practitioners to stop practising. The method is nothing but a preparatory gymnastics towards Aikido, it is not Aikido itself. It is a tool, it is a trowel to build the cathedral, it is not the cathedral.
What I am about to do now has never been attempted. I am going to explain why and how the method is not Aikido. Of course this is a dangerous work. It is dangerous because some may think they can skip learning it. That would be a deep mistake but the danger is real. It would be a similar mistake as learning the counter techniques when the basics are not mastered. This work can wreck a dojo, wreck Saito sensei's admirable achievements, the task of his life and can even blur the path of O sensei's Aikido. So you may ask "why do you do it" ? Because it has to be done at some point, whatever the risks. The risk of the method is to take the means for the goal, that is the danger of Iwama ryu. The risk of the absence of method is to put the Aikido label on pure fantasy, it is Aikido's death, it is modern Aikido. Is there a way between Scylla and Charybdis? I don't know but still I'm going to walk on that narrow path. We'll see. One can't find the treasure island without getting his bum a little bit wet.
May 9th, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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.