Morihiro Saito: Expunged from the History of the Iwama Dojo! by Stanley Pranin

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“Only in one instance is there any substantial mention of this important teacher whose name was synonymous with the Iwama Dojo for 33 years”

Since 2003, the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo has been in direct control of what was once Morihei Ueshiba’s private dojo in Iwama. Following the passing of Founder Morihei Ueshiba in 1969 through 2002, the dojo was overseen by Morihiro Saito Sensei, 9th dan, one of the best-known aikido instructors of the postwar era. Having been gifted a plot of land next to the Ueshiba home and dojo, Saito Sensei looked after O-Sensei’s home, dojo, and the nearby Aiki Shrine. He continued in this capacity until his death in 2002, a period of 33 years.

During Saito Sensei tenure as head of the Iwama Dojo, O-Sensei’s private school became a Mecca for aikido students from all over the world. Literally thousands of students spent time living in the dojo and learning a diverse curriculum consisting of taijutsu, and the Aiki Ken and Jo. Saito Sensei also traveled abroad more than 100 times to conduct seminars in the USA, Europe, Scandanavia, and Australia. He authored more than ten technical volumes on aikido that have had a major impact on the practice of the art, particularly given the importance attached to weapons training. Saito Sensei had vast influence and his legacy is secured through his thousands of students and many publications.

Fast forward 11 years to 2013 and a visit to the Aikikai Foundation Ibaraki Branch Dojo website operated by Hombu Dojo in Tokyo reveals only three mentions of Morihiro Saito. Only in one instance is there any substantial mention of this important teacher whose name was synonymous with the Iwama Dojo for 33 years. We quote the relevant part of that blog post:

This dojo has a distinguished history. It was built by the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei, in 1945, the last year of the Second World War. It has absorbed the sweat and effort of O-Sensei like no other dojo in the world. For more than thirty years after the passing of O-Sensei the dojo and shrine were managed and cared for by Morihiro Saito Shihan who was Dojo Head during that time.

Saito Shihan passed away in May 2002 and his son, Hitohiro Saito, assumed the role of Acting Dojo Head under Dojo Head Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu. However, in November 2003 Hitohiro announced; “I am relinquishing the responsibility for managing and caring for the shrine and dojo. I am withdrawing from the Aikikai Foundation and will have no further relationship with it.”

Therefore, in December 2003 a new structure came into being. Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu is the Dojo Head and Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan is Acting Dojo Head. They are supported by a core of direct students of the Founder…

The above text is dated June 24, 2004 and appears eight clicks deep in the “What’s New” section of the website which means that few people would ever find this mention of Morihiro Saito.

The other two appearances of “Morihiro Saito” are in an instructor’s chart where he is listed as the teacher of two of the present Iwama instructors.

This is how the Aikikai Hombu Dojo has chosen to deal with the subject of Saito Sensei on its Iwama Dojo website.

Saito Sensei’s relationship with the Ueshiba family and the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo after the passing of O-Sensei gradually became strained due to personality conflicts and differences in training philosophies. Shortly after the death of Saito Sensei in 2002, the Aikikai acted quickly to take over direct control of the Iwama Dojo and presented Saito’s son, Hitohiro, with a list of conditions to be followed if he were to remain as instructor of the dojo.

According to to Hitohiro Saito, these were the conditions:

1. To return the name of “Ibaraki Dojocho” to the Aikikai.
2. That the Saito family will cease to use the title of “the Aiki Shrine Caretaker”
3. That we will stop conferring the Iwama-ryu certificates, if we remain inside the Aikikai Federation.

You can read Hitohiro Saito’s dramatically different version of his departure from the Aikikai here.

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It is hard to view this sort of dismissal of an important historical figure as anything more than a clumsily executed effort at censorship. That anyone would attempt such a thing in the age of the Internet is beyond my comprehension. This can only reflect negatively on the censor as practitioners all around the world educate themselves by reading more objective accounts of the art’s distinguished history with all of the key figures given their due.

I deal with this subject of the expunging of important historical figures further here which I strongly recommend that you read for additional insight into how this affects your aikido practice today.

Categories: Contributed,Featured,Stanley Pranin

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12s Comments

  1. Again BALLSY Stan! Much respect to you! It is horrible what Aikikai is doing. Utterly shameful! You cannot truly know yourself without your history. Morihiro Saito Sensei’s contribution along with the others is invaluable! Aikido would not where it is today without any of them! They should be proud and recognize their heritage and interpretations of O’Sensei’s teachings. We all see and learn things differently and gain different perspectives, and that should be honored and respected, especially from those who served and trained under O’Sensei.

  2. Paul R. Landrum, Ph.D.

    I appreciate your comments and insight to Saito Sensei and how the Aikido Headquarters has eliminated him from mention for the most part after his years of training with O’Sensei and taking care of the Aiki Shrine. I never made it to Japan to train with Saito Sensei but went to a number of seminars he gave in Northern California. I feel honored that I did have the opportunity to meet Saito Sensei and train in his seminars.

    I have personally seen and experienced the dysfunctional behavior of several Aikido Organizations in California breaking apart because of egos and personality conflicts. As an Aikido instructor and a psychologist I personally do not have time for the pettiness of those who have lost touch with the true spirit of Aikido. There are myself and several other Aikido Instructors who have removed ourselves from these “Aikido Organizations” that are more about power and control than sharing the spirit of Aikido without their petty disagreements and who is better, more connected or esteemed as teacher. We and several other instructors will use an American Business Model of running our perspective dojos and Aikido Training Centers.

    I believe it is highly disrespectful to Saito Sensei given what you have stated has happened but I also believe that those of us who have trained with Saito Sensei and adhere to that style of Aikido will enhance his style and teachings. Saito Sensei will not be forgotten! I want to thank you for your article and the work that you have done to spread the true spirit and training of Aikido to America and the world.

  3. This is awful, and I am a kung fu person and I have seen this with Bjj as well and I hate it when one style tries to do this, this is sad just sad thank you for putting this up

  4. What does the Aikikai have to say for itself, I wonder? Iemoto systems seem to have some rather arbitrary properties by contemporary standards. I can see how, to some extent “organization” equals “legacy.” However, 1) is it really necessary to carry things this far to maintain organizational control, and 2) how can there be a legacy of any historical truth and relevancy if this is how the system is carried out?

    Maybe we’re wrong to criticize….maybe we rush to judgement…. But does anyone think that we are ever going to get real answers to these questions? I can only imagine what so many of Saito shihan’s excellent, senior students who’ve remained loyal to Hombu and Doshu might be thinking. Are they asking themselves: ‘Is it really worth it to get paperwork direct from Tokyo if this is how my teacher is regarded?!’

    It’s a good thing Saito shihan’s true legacy is in our hearts and in the safe hands of the Pranins, Hendricks, Witts, Voarinos, and Toms that he left behind. And let me add, to those of you who’ve targeted the frankness about proper technique that has been voiced by these and other Saito-ha Ueshiba-ryu teachers in the past, maybe you need to hold your criticism until we DO get some answers to these questions!

  5. DISGUSTING!
    But it looks like even Morihei Ueshiba himself was in this kind of “politics” or envy.
    In John Stevens book is written that Ueshiba denyed to show Aikido to the Judo genius Kyuzo Mifune because he was afraid that he could steal his techniques.
    Its a small story but for me it says all lot about Ueshiba!
    Maybe this is also the reason why he left so much confusion about what Aikido really is, because he maybe never showed or taught 100%, affraid of the point that some one could become better or equall. (What is not uncommon in Martial Arts I think)

    There is no doubt that Mifune was outstanding. He had contact with Kano and other Judo Dan grades were even his disciples. So what was he afraid about showing Aikido to Mifune.
    Very strange!

  6. I think you would benefit from more in-depth study of aikido history. Thousands of pages of well-researched research is available on this site.

  7. @Stan
    Thanks for you wounder full informative hp! But I can’t see any concrete critique. I am not even sure if you mean me. I just assume it because I was the last commenter.
    The first book I have read about Aikido is 20 years ago and I have read quite a lot about Aikido/Daito ryu since then. Also from your hp. ; )

  8. First of all, Minnesota Aiki Shuren Dojo’s sincere condolences to the family, friends, and students of Mr. Stan Pranin. Our gratitude for your lifeworks and contributions to the Aikido World.

    I just read this and as a student of Mark Larson Sensei who was a loyal and dedicated direct student of Morihiro Saito Shihan from 1993-2002, he often speaks of his teacher’s contributions to the Iwama Dojo for “56 years”, beginning in 1946 learning directly from the Founder until 1969, then from 1969-2002 (33 more years as Mr. Pranin wrote above) as the chief instructor (Dojo-cho) of the Founder’s personal dojo and Aiki-Shrine caretaker. Larson Sensei makes annual trips back to Japan and bi-annually brings students- always visiting Iwama to pay his respects to his teacher and the Saito family and stopping in Tokyo by Hombu Dojo to see Moriteru Doshu Sensei. It is quite sad for him (probably frustrating as well) to neither see any picture at the Iwama Dojo of Morihiro Saito Shihan nor his name mentioned.
    You all raise good points in your comments and it is important that Mr. Pranin’s article be read and shared.

    The simple fact is Morihiro Saito Shihan spent more time in charge of the Founder’s Dojo than his teacher (the Founder himself) as the Founder was in Iwama for 26 years and Morihiro Saito Shihan taught in the Iwama Dojo for 33 years. To try and erase this history or keep it hidden from others is a travesty.

    Ahimsa,
    Will

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