Morihiro Saito Shihan 9th Dan

Early life

Morihiro Saito shihan was born in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, on 31 March 1928. Growing up in a poor farming village in the 1930s and early 40s, he recounted having the same interest in historical heroes such as Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi and Goto Matabe as most other Japanese boys. In the Japanese schools at that time, the martial arts of kendo and judo were taught to students, and Saito shihan chose to study kendo.

In the years immediately following the end of World War II, the carrying of weapons of any kind, as well the practice of martial arts, was prohibited by the GHQ. As a result, Saito felt he should study some kind of unarmed self-defence technique, and began training in Shinto-ryū karate at the Shudokan in Meguro. After a short time, his work with the Japanese National Railways transferred him to Iwama, and he was forced to find other martial arts training. Thinking judo would be a useful complement to his kendo and karate skills, he began training at a judo dojo in Ishioka. In the summer of 1946, however, Saito shihan heard stories about an "old man doing strange techniques up on the mountain near Iwama." It seemed that people were confused about what martial art, exactly, this old man was practising, but one judo instructor said the man was teaching "Ueshiba-ryū Judo."


Meeting aikido's founder

Morihei-Ueshiba-and-Morihiro-Saito.jpgBy July 1946, the GHQ-imposed ban upon the practice of martial arts had forced O sensei into an official "retirement" from practice for several years. O sensei took this opportunity to seclude himself in the small town of Iwama, and was engaged in the practice of ascetic training (shugyō), and some believe that it was during this period that O sensei was perfecting the practice of aikido.

It was at this time, at the age of 18, that Saito shihan joined O sensei for training, which already included then live-in students Kisshomaru Ueshiba ( Doshu), Koichi Tohei sensei, and Tadashi Abe sensei. This early training was quite brutal, but after persevering for several years, Saito shihan became one of O sensei's closest students. Much credit is given to the fortuitous work schedule Saito shihan had with the Japanese National Railways, where Saito shihan worked 24 hours on, 24 hours off. As a result, Saito shihan was often the sole training partner of O sensei, and had the unique opportunity to train with O sensei in the practice of the sword and short staff, which occurred early each morning before the other students arrived.



Training at the Iwama dojo consisted of a great deal of farmwork. The life of the full-time live in students consisted of prayer each morning before sunrise, two meals of rice porridge each day, and training interspersed with copious amounts of work on the farm. As a result of Saito shihan's 24 hours on, 24 hours off, position with the National Railway meant that he would train and live as a live-in student only every other 24 hours. Eventually, the other live-in students moved away, and when Saito shihan returned from work, he would train alone with Ueshiba.

Although other students such as Koichi Tohei sensei trained with O sensei for more years than Saito shihan did, Saito shihan's work allowed him to train almost as an uchideshi, for long periods as the only student.

From 1946 until O sensei’s passing in 1969, Saito shihan served as O sensei's assistant in a variety of ways at Iwama while his wife served O sensei's wife. During Saito shihan’s period as a deshi he taught classes in the Iwama dojo.


O sensei's death

Before his death O sensei gave Morihiro Saito shihan the responsibility of carrying on the teaching at the Iwama dojo and also the position of caretaker of the Aiki Jinja located in Iwama.


Training methodology and philosophy

saito_sensei_smiling.jpgSaito shihan's instruction of aikido is particularly remembered for its emphasis upon the basics of aikido, and especially upon the relationship between the armed and unarmed aspects of the art.

Kazuo Chiba shihan a live-in student (uchideshi) of O sensei at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, recalled in particular the intensity of the training that occurred at the Iwama dojo,

“A large portion of the membership at Iwama Dojo consisted of local farmers, hard workers who spent all day in the fields. They had thick bones and great physical strength, combined with a peculiar local character known as “Mito kishitsu,” a type of manliness close to gallantry. Altogether, it was quite an opposite culture from Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. Because it is in the capital of Japan, Hombu’s membership consists of white-collar workers, intellectuals, businessmen, politicians and university students.

Any members who came to visit Iwama Dojo from Hombu must have looked pale and weak from city living to Iwama members. Indeed, the Iwama students treated us from Hombu as such and challenged us vigorously. It was a matter of survival for members from Hombu Dojo, including Hombu uchideshi like myself. And Saito Sensei was on top of that mountain, which we had to climb with all our might.”

Chiba shihan also emphasized Saito shihan's focus upon katai-keiko (固い稽古?), or vigorous practice without holding back, which O sensei taught and Saito shihan demonstrated in his methods of teaching and practice. Apparently, this rigorous training with Saito shihan, which O sensei would often observe, also included intense conditioning exercises, as well as general framework that students at the Iwama dojo were expected to assist with.

Other students of Saito shihan attest to his commitment to carry on O sensei's legacy, and to follow and preserve O sensei's teachings as Saito shihan had learned them. Saito shihan believed that striking techniques (atemi) are a "vital element" of aikido, and also that the principles of swordsmanship formed the basis of aikido techniques. He also advocated training to cope with the attacks of other martial arts, such as the kicks practised in karate.

According to Saito shihan's son, Hitohiro Saito sensei, Saito shihan believed that the basis of all empty-handed, sword, and staff techniques was the mastery of aikido's basic posture (hanmi). Saito believed that once the correct posture was mastered, the next step was to develop a proper kiai (sometimes translated as "spirit shout").



In the beginning of the 1970s, aikido students from outside Japan began traveling to Iwama to train under Saito shihan. Later they would return to their native countries to teach what they had learned. There were also a small number of Japanese students of Saito shihan who travelled abroad to teach Aikido, such as Takayasu-shihan.

The kind of aikido that Saito shihan's students do is often referred to as Iwama aikido or Iwama style. In the West, Saito shihan, along with many of his students, formed a dan-ranking network of dojos called Iwama Ryu, with ranks received directly from Saito shihan rather than or in addition to those from the Aikikai although Saito shihan never left that organization.Saito shihan's family line

After Saito shihan's death, his son Hitohiro Saito sensei formed the independent Shinshin Aikishuren Kai (神信合気修練会?). Some of the Iwama Ryu network dojos joined Hitohiro Saito sensei while others including some of Saito shihan's longest students chose to remain affiliated with the Aikikai.

Hitohiro Saito sensei had already been the main instructor at Iwama dojo. Like the Aikikai Doshu, he does not claim a dan rank.


Saito shihan.......................

“I don’t know any aikido other than O-Sensei’s.”

“Many shihan create new techniques and I think this is a wonderful thing, but after analyzing these techniques I am still convinced no one can surpass O-Sensei. I think it is best to follow the forms he left us.These days people are inclined to go their own way, but as long as I am involved, I will continue to do the techniques and forms O-Sensei left us.”

“It is a big mistake to think that there is no ki no nagare practiced at Iwama. The ki no nagare techniques of Iwama are executed faithfully as O-Sensei taught them. 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.”

“The aikido world is gradually distancing itself from O-Sensei’s techniques. However, if the technique of aikido become weak it’s not a good thing, because aikido is a martial art. My practice of aikido is always traditional, the old-style way. Now I am looking after my Sensei’s dojo. Also, I am guardian of the Aiki Shrine, the only one in the world. Many teachers create their own techniques, but I can’t do that, I’ve got a hard head! I’m following exactly the teachings of my Sensei.
O-Sensei taught us two, three or four levels of techniques. He would begin with kata, then one level after another, and finally, it became just so… and now I teach in exactly the same way. Because O-Sensei taught us systematically I’ve got to teach in an organized way, too. Generally speaking, O-Sensei would make remarks like the following: “Everything is one. Everything is the same.” He taught us in that way. I’m just following his example.
When O-Sensei explained Aikido he always said that taijutsu (body techniques) and ken and jo techniques were all the same. He always started out his explanation of Aikido using the ken. Although he didn’t use a one-two-three method, he always taught us patiently and explained in detail what we should do.”

“O-Sensei also drilled us in a step-by-step manner. I am simply trying to make this method my own through hard study and to have others understand it. As I follow O-Sensei’s instructions my students are appreciative.”

“O-Sensei would say: “That’s not the way. Every little detail should be correct. Otherwise, it isn’t a technique. See, like this… like that!” I was very lucky O-Sensei taught me thoroughly in detail, and I’m following his example.
When I starting teaching myself I realized O-Sensei’s way of teaching would not be appropriate so I classified and arranged his jo techniques. I rearranged everything into 20 basic movements I called “suburi” which included tsuki (thrusting), uchikomi (striking), hassogaeshi (figure-eight movements), and so on so it would be easier for students to practice them.I was taught first how to swing a sword. I organized what I learned and devised these kumijo and suburi for the sword. O-Sensei’s method may have been good for private lessons, but not for teaching groups. In his method, there were no names for techniques, no words. This was why I organized the movements into tsuki (thrusts), uchikomi (strikes) and kaeshi (turning movements) and gave them names.

I saw nothing but the real thing for 23 years. I don’t really know anything other than the Iwama style taught by O-Sensei. My role is to preserve these teachings. That’s the main thing.”

Morihiro Saito shihan : “If you remove kokyu from Aikido, it is no longer Aikido!”

11212246_1443596579286140_820529029_n.jpgKazuo Chiba Shihan

Kazuo Chiba shihan, one of the most enigmatic and dynamic of modern Aikido Masters, was born in Japan in 1940. After some experience in Omori Ryu laido, he began to study Aikido in 1958 under the founder of the art, the venerable Morihei Uyeshiba. In 1966 he came to England to teach and develop Aikido in the British Isles. After ten years he returned to Japan where he became an instructor at the Aikido headquarters. He left Japan for the USA and settled in San Diego. California in 1981 where he opened a dojo. Well known for his dynamic approach to Aikido, Kazuo Chiba shihan has many devoted pupils in the West and is well qualified to represent the art of Aikido.

Chiba sensei passed away on June 5, 2015  he will be sadly missed by all his students.


Quotes and saying from Chiba shihan..........

chiba kamiza.jpgTrue budoka would always be in the minority.

 " Aikido cannot be explained with words let alone taught by them it must be learned " through the pores of the skin"


. " When training in Iwama under O Sensei I would have nightmares and think I was about to die.True martial artists shall always be in the minority "  


“Those in search of the Way do not realise the existence and, true nature of the self. This is because they recognise only the relative mind, which is the origin of our eternal transmigration. Foolish people take it for the true original self.”

 “ Most Aikido clubs are little more than social clubs “. He also said how saddened he was to see how modern Aikido has been watered down,



"I will take you to a place from which there is no return, and you will never be the same again"  This was said to Coyle sensei and myself when we became uke for Chiba shihan


At a seminar with Chiba Shihan,during the mudansha only class, Chiba Shihan asked, "OK, what would you like to work on?" Some overzealous beginner said, "Uhh.....Sensei, how about nikyo!" Those with a little more experience cringed and Chiba Shihan laughed and said, "You haven't been doing aikido long....have you? "

Chiba Sensei emphasized very strongly that the most crucial aspect of aikido was finding the right teacher and that if this did not happen, then one could not really claim to have started to practice the art.

" There is no way to teach the essence of the art to the student who holds an uncommitted sword "

Amusing story with Chiba Shihani, in Glasgow in the 70's.

Bill Coyle and I were in a hotel with Chiba Shihan when this "born again" aikidoka was telling Chiba shihan how aikido changed his life (about one month of training). One question after another. Chiba Shihan was just about coming to terms with our Scottish accents. I was about to tell the guy to shut up when he asked "When is the best time to hit someone?"
Chiba Shihan replied " WHILE HE IS TALKING "
Stony silence from born again and laughter from the rest.

“ I try to stick to the traditional ways as much as possible. The martial, warrior spirit is something I admire greatly and is something I try to preserve. The combatative arts have a profound body history in them and I don’t want to lose it. But it’s more than that. We follow the art, which is struggle. And through the struggle, we transcend into the path of Aikido. Eventually, it brings harmony between you and the external world.

True aikido cannot be achieved without challenge and a "sense of danger". Training with compliant partners is of no value at all.

The sempei kohei system is best. This demands that the sempei (senior student) mounts the attacks in such a manner that the kohei (junior student) is always out of his comfort zone and more and more is demanded of him.

This is THE ONLY way to progress.”