Morihiro Saito Celebrates 50 Years in Aikido, by Stanley Pranin

“An intimate glimpse of the Ueshiba and Saito Families in Iwama when Aikido was born”

Prior to ceremony honoring 9th dan promotion

On May 4, 1996 a celebration was held in Iwama, Ibaragi Prefecture, to commemorate the 50 years Morihiro Saito of the Ibaragi Shuren Dojo has spent in aikido. Following opening remarks by Yoshimi Hanzawa Shihan, speeches were made by Aikikai Hombu Dojo-cho Moriteru Ueshiba, and the Mayor of Iwama who expressed thanks to Saito Shihan for his contributions to the town. After the presentation of gifts and flowers, Saito Shihan made an address (excerpts of which appear below) and donated funds for the welfare of the elderly in Iwama. A toast in which Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan of the International Aikido Federation called Saito “a modern-day Miyamoto Musashi” completed the ceremonies.

Some 400 people gathered to celebrate Saito Shihan’s half-century in aikido, including old-timers like Zenzaburo Akazawa and students from all over Japan. Numerous foreigners were also to be seen, offering a glimpse of the international character of Saito Shihan’s activities.

“One family created by the kami; one family created by aikido.”


Excerpts from Saito Sensei’s speech:

Thanks to my teacher, founder Morihei Ueshiba and his family, I have been able to come this far in aikido.

The past 50 years have included times of great enjoyment and of hardship. When I became a student of Ueshiba Sensei back in 1946 there were already several uchideshi in the dojo. Many went on to become world-class teachers. They made me work hard, to be sure, but they also took good care of me.

Uchideshi life back then consisted of rising before the sun to pray, training, and eating two meals a day of rice porridge with sweet potato or taro. The rest of the time was spent working on the farm. Many of the old-timers here today no doubt helped O-Sensei with the farm work. He was always asking people to help, so being an uchideshi was pretty hard work. I myself had a job with the National Railroad, so every other day I got to slip away.

The founder would act on things as soon as he thought of them without paying much attention to the convenience of other people or their households. He would just suddenly say, “Everybody come tomorrow, there’s threshing to be done!” Of course, everyone had other business to attend to, but somehow we all ended up putting in our time anyway. Eventually, though, the sempai stopped coming during the day and there was no one left. I went to the dojo whenever I got off my shift at the railroad, but no one would be there. The founder would be in the fields already. When I greeted him he would say, “Ah, you’ve come,” and then we would train together, just the two of us. He was very good to me in that way.

On wedding day, January 1952

One day Ueshiba Sensei said, “Saito, get yourself a wife.” Fortunately, I ended up marrying Sata. I say fortunately because I wasn’t exactly a good catch as a husband, and I can’t think why anyone would want to marry her, either. Once we had settled on one another, Sensei said, “You can have the wedding in my house,” which we did. Soon afterward, however, he said, “You’re in charge of the place now,” and promptly left on a trip to the Kansai region. Well, I didn’t know what to do, so the next day I chased after him, following him all around Kansai asking him to come back. Because of that we never did get to go on a honeymoon.

On January 26, 1968 the founder’s wife was suddenly taken ill and ended up bedridden for over a year. O-Sensei was worried and would peer into her face and ask how she was doing. When she tried to answer, though, she didn’t have the strength to form proper words and could only make sounds. My wife would “interpret” by asking her, “What you said was this, right?” and she would make a sound in agreement. Nobody else, including her husband of 60 years, could make out what she was saying; but my wife had come to know her so well during 18 years of service that she understood. O-Sensei said, “Sata, you’re amazing! I don’t hold a candle to you.”

The founder’s wife passed away not long after he did in June of 1969 and I became the guardian and caretaker of the Aiki Shrine and the Ibaragi Dojo.

At the time I was also teaching on Sunday at the Hombu Dojo. One day an American practicing there told me he wanted more than anything to stay in Iwama. There was nobody practicing at the Ibaragi Dojo at the time, and I was worried about leaving the place alone at night, so I figured it was a perfect opportunity. That person became the first foreign uchideshi there, turned out to be an excellent student and eventually opened his own dojo in San Francisco. He sent people to Iwama every year, and after a while they started coming from Europe as well.


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