“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.
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.