- Iwama Ryu Aikido

Enterview of
Hitohiro SAITO Sensei

Arts et Combats, number 36 - October 1997.
This article has been reproduced here with the autorization of Mr Jean Paoli - Arts et Combats.
© Jean Paoli - Arts et Combats.

Article Hitohiro SAITO SenseiIt was in the Iwama Ryu dojo in Rennes that Hitohiro Saito, 6th Dan, received us on the occasion of a very well attended course of students who follow the teaching of Saito Sensei. Traditional dojo, traditional atmosphere, traditional Aikido. Here are some themes which we pursued with a master of remarkable courtesy who left us with several impressions about the actual practice.

1. Sensei, How did you come to study a martial art?
2. What was the atmosphere like in the dojo in the presence of O'Sensei?
3. Sensei, how should an Aikidoka behave in the dojo?
4. Can you speak about the deep message in Aikido?
5. Is Aikido evolving and what are the specialities of your teaching?
6. Are the notions of Misogi and Kanagara no michi fundamental today?
7. What is the importance of the study of weapons?
Est-il nécessaire de pratiquer d'autres arts martiaux pour mieux progresser ?
8. Is Ikkyo the first principle of Aikido?
9. Which are your preferred techniques?
10. Sensei, in what way is Aikido also an art of health?
11. Through your teaching, what is the message that you wish to transmit?

Hitohiro SAITO Sensei and Daniel TOUTAIN in the Aiki Dojo, Rennes.

1.Arts et Combats : Sensei, how did you come to study a martial art?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: I started practising Aikido because I was born into a family where my father served Morehei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido and who had studied with him for many years. It is for this reason that I became a student of O'Sensei when I was a child. I really didn't have the choice of another art, anyway I continue a very Japanese tradition..

2.A&C : What was the atmosphere like in the dojo in the presence of O'Sensei?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: I have many memories, amongst other things I remember that the founder, someone who was very generous, gave my family the land on which to make ourselves a home and so it was that our house was built next to his. We lived together. I must say that I always carry in my heart the memory of O'Sensei, he was someone who shined brightly, he had an immense presence.

3.A&C : Sensei, how should an Aikidoka behave in the dojo?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: The dojo is considered by all as a sacred space. On entering one bows straight away to all the participants who are in the dojo with the sentiment of gratitude to those with whom one will practice. Then one salutes the Kamisama and before starting the training one says "Oneai Shimasu". This is a request to study together with gratitude and with a heart as pure as when it first started beating. At the end of the course one bows to the Kamisama to give thanks because it let us train together in the dojo. Then there is a last bow which has three profound implications : the first concerns the exchange to which we have been a party. The second marks the recognition and appreciation which one has for the teaching given by the teacher and for the partner with whom we have worked. The third sense of the salute concerns the wish that one will be able to repeat this experience.

4.A&C : You are a master of great experience, can you speak to us of the deep meaning of Aikido?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: With Saito Sensei we are Father and Son. The founder was the master of Saito Sensei. As a consequence, since I was born, I have naturally become the student of the founder. I have therefore received the teaching and the philosophy of Morehei Ueshiba, principally towards the end of his life, during which time he achieved an immense serenity. The meaning of Aikido is told in its entirety in the message which the founder passed on in his words and actions. Aikido is "The way to peace between human beings".

5.A&C : Sensei, is Aikido evolving with regard to the martial art developed by Morehei Ueshiba and what are the specialities of your teaching?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: The Aikido which is presented today does not, in my view, constitute an evolution, in fact it is a regression with regard to the Aikido that was presented by the founder. I can say that in form and in depth, my teaching corresponds to that of O'Sensei, just as he was doing it before his death.

6.A&C : Morehei Ueshiba regularly spoke of the notions of Misogi and Kanagara no michi as being fundamentals of Aikido. Are they still essential today?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: Aikido is a union between the material and the spiritual worlds, this idea and those which come from the Omotokyo religion have the same resonance. Study this teaching and follow this path, it is like trying to climb a mountain when one knows that one will never reach the summit!

7.A&C : What is the importance of the study of arms in Aikido, is it necessary to practice other martial arts in order to better understand Budo?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: In the study of Aikido the most important part is the study of basics (Kihon) and the Suburi as taught by the founder, it is important to study these in depth. Despite all that observing other styles of martial study may be positive in the study of Budo. It is not necessary however to practice them. The Aikido of the founder as it is practised in Iwama is a union of the principles of Taijutsu, of the Ken and the Jo. His Aikido is therefore complete and sufficient as it is.

8.A&C : Sensei, do you consider Ikkyo to be the first technique of Aikido and if so, why?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: Ikkyo means the first teaching. It was the first thing taught by the founder. All the elements of Aikido are contained in this technique. As a preparation for Ikkyo one intensively practices Tai no henko and Morote dori kikyu ho with an attitude of non-resistance and non-combat. By harmonising with ones partner one neutralises his force. This is the foundation of our art.

9.A&C : Which techniques do you prefer?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: No particular one. They are all difficult to fully acquire and I have no preference. It seems to me that they are all essential and inseparable.

10.A&C : Sensei, in what way is Aikido also an art of health?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: Aikido is executed without physical effort. The essential aim in Aikido is to obtain and preserve harmony and balance both internally and around one, to not enter into combat. The techniques of Aikido are not a superficial thing they also contain a spiritual element. This is the symbiosis of the material and spiritual worlds, in this sense it is a balancing element of benefit to the health of all.

11.A&C : Sensei, through your teaching what message about Aikido do you want to transmit to the world?
Hitohiro Saito Sensei
: Through my teaching I would like the whole world to see what a marvellous being O'Sensei was. That which I teach is not my Aikido but the exact teaching of the founder as passed to me by my father Morihiro Saito Sensei. This is exactly what I wish to communicate. If we all practice together in harmony, the little circle that we form will grow and change the face of the world. The Aikido of Iwama is the path which will bring us peace in the world. We must not be mere spectators but must practice together. The technique of O'Sensei is the technique which God taught him. But it is for each of us to do their utmost. We must not fight amongst ourselves. Together we can be guides towards peace.

Interview by Jean Paoli and translated by Sonoko Tanaka and Daniel Toutain.
Arts et Combats - October 1997.

Hitohiro SAITO Sensei
Hitohiro SAITO Sensei in the Aiki Dojo, Rennes