- Iwama Ryu Aikido

Interview with

Arts et Combats, issue 28 - Avril 1996.
This interview has been reproduced with the kind permission of Mr.Jean Paoli - Arts et Combats.
© Jean Paoli - Arts et Combats.
Article Daniel Toutain During two stays that he undertook in Iwama with Saito Sensei, in the dojo where the founder developed his art, Daniel Toutain (5th Dan Iwama Ryu ) talks about the ideas and impressions he received from Saito Sensei and which today's he brings to a martial art in which he chose very early to live and practice as closely as possible to way laid out by Morehei Ueshiba.
1. In what circumstances did you start studying Aikido?
2. Who were your first teachers and what relationship did you have with them?
3. At what moment in your studies did you decide to go to Japan?
4. You decided to study with Saito Sensei, what were your motivations?
5. Have you been impressed by any other teachers?
6. What memories do you have of your arrival in Iwama?
7. How does the days work start with Saito Sensei?
8. Does it seem to you that Saito Sensei has started a new form?
9. Is the weapons training indispensable in Aikido?
10. Do you feel that the Aikido studied today is in a stage of evolution?
11. As a student of Saito Sensei, what message would you like to send out to those who study with you in France?
Daniel Toutain - Uke: Serge Maniey

1.Arts et Combats: In what circumstances did you start studying Aikido?
Daniel Toutain
: I was still an adolescent when I started Aikido in 1968. I was persuaded by the explanations about it from a friend at college, one who strangely enough didn't practice the art himself. It was still sufficient for me to throw myself into the study of this seemingly magical Art. The Martial Arts attracted me because I had a fragile constitution and lacked self-confidence. I wanted to become......strong, to fear no-one! On top of that Aikido seemed to carry with it a sort of moral philosophy that pleased me. Nevertheless my first contact with the tatami was through Judo. A Judoka friend of my fathers advised my to prepare myself with Judo. This was a common idea at the time. I didn't stay with this discipline very long as I wasn't very taken with it, Aikido felt right straight away when I started my first course not long after.

2.A&C: Who were your first teachers and what relationship did you have with them?
Daniel Toutain
: I started off joining a small club in the 6e arrondissement in Paris, mainly because it was near where I lived. At that time the teacher was Gerard Pocher, someone filled with passion who quickly passed the virus on to me. He was a student of Master Masamichi Norro, representative in France, at that time, of the Aikikai. Confronted with my eagerness, he suddenly directed me to Noro Sensei where I really started my studies in June 1968, in the Dojo in rue Constance. The senior group contained Virginet, Emeriau, Balta, Drapeau, Mechard, Becart......I remember that the following year, Master Nakazono gave classes every Wednesday evening. The study with him was very particular and I had problems understanding it, no doubt because of my young age as it was a very esoteric study. Master Noro often organised courses where he invited other experts such as Tada Sensei or Asai Sensei who for many years has continued to come over He had an extraordinary dynamism! Today there are few students who know who Master Noro was and what he represented in Europe. His Aikido was both very physical and very aesthetic. Everyone who has received one of his Nikkyo or Shiho Nage remembers them! He had a great capacity to adapt and was very creative. The time I spent in the rue Constance Dojo was short as I had to leave to do my military service. When I came back the Dojo had moved and most of the seniors had left. It was during this period that I studied the most intensively and later on Noro Sensei took me as his principal assistant, I left him in 1978 just before he started to turn away from Budo on a new path. My relationship with Master Noro was one of Master and disciple with all that means. I served as partner, organised the courses and looked after many things to do with the Dojo. The teachings that he gave me have always been useful. Another important stage was meeting master Nobuyoshi Tamura who is a great Sensei. At the time master Tamura didn't have a dojo, went around France and Europe teaching. In order to study with him I didn't hesitate to follow him around for several years. Over four years I was able to be present at the courses he gave to teachers from the different regions of France. Each of these courses lasted a week and this gave me the opportunity to get close to him. I was fascinated by Tamura Sensei 's superb technique, by his warm personality and by his big-heartedness. I much appreciated all he taught me.

3.A&C: At what moment in your studies did you decide to go to Japan?
Daniel Toutain
After over 20 years of study, I found I had some doubts about my Aikido. Many unanswered question remained and I had arrived at a sort of impasse. It was as if all the things I believed in didn't really work. Some years before, just before meeting Tamura Sensei, I had discovered Master Saito through the books and films that make up a part of his work. I wanted to study with him, in Japan, but for a variety of personal reasons it wasn't possible at that time. Anyway, during the period of doubt i mentioned I dived back into Master Saito's books. I had a different perspective and found things which until then I had missed. Books and video's have their limits however, I had absolutely to meet this historic Master. Hearing that he was to visit Italy I went there and got a shock! I had thought to see a 'living legend' during the course however I completely rediscovered Aikido! That was in 1992 and I decided straight away to go and study in Iwama. Of course I need the a greement of the Master and so I was presented by Paoli Corallini, one of his faithful disciples and one of the rare westerners to have received his 6th dan from Saito Sensei. Several months later I was at last in Japan, Ushi Deshi in the famous Iwama Dojo.

4.A&C: You decided to study with Saito Sensei, what were your motivations?
Daniel Toutain
After that first contact in Italy, I wanted to become his student. I had immediately appreciated the richness of his teaching. The imprint that O'Sensei had left on him was evident and I really had no other choice. All of that was amply justified by what followed in Japan. Saito Sensei showed me a reality that I had always looked for in Aikido. He teaches an Aikido that is clear, concrete and logical. The Aikido that he practices is pure, efficient and amounts to a real martial art. Everywhere he goes he reminds people that Master Ueshiba, the founder, was very respected in the world of martial arts, that his art was a Budo and not a dance........ At Iwama he told us many stories on that subject. For instance, O'Sensei, when giving a demonstration in front of an audience of experts, executed a simple pivot in response to a powerful tsuki attack. Only the more advanced of the spectators were able to notice what the founder had done and what level he had achieved. T hanks to his position he could control the attacker, no matter what the latter's' reaction was: he had the possibility of projecting him forwards if the attacker tried to advance to strike again and equally he could project the attacker backwards if he retreated. In reality this level was the result of more than 60 years of solid practice at the basic techniques, endlessly repeated. The Master continually reminded his students that they must inevitably pass through this study as well. In the study of the basics, the partner must seize solidly without co-operation. It is only on being placed in this position that one realises the importance of each part of the technique in harmonising with the partner It also means that the techniques must be done with great precision. Master Saito is adamant on this, true to the heritage that he received. This is what he repeated to us the most often "If you practice correctly the techniques of the founder, you will never have any problems in y our practice and you will be able to bring the true principles of Aikido into your everyday life". The Way is therefore mapped out, all we have to do is follow it. Stanley Pranin condensed in his book, the Masters of Aikido, many interviews with the pre-war students of Ueshiba Sensei. Shirata Sensei mentions that the founder achieved his highest level and full maturity at Iwama. It is there that Master Saito studied during more that 20 years with O'Sensei, his only teacher. He was the privileged witness to this key period of elaboration of Aikido. Shirata Sensei also mentions that Saito Sensei studied like no-one else and was a part of the achievement of Aikido as defined by Master Ueshiba. He states that his techniques are precise and leave no openings. I can confirm that one sees the truth of this very quickly when one is his partner. When Master Saito explains a technique he often gives its history. It is incredible! He can show how and why O'Sensei chose to adopt this or that way of executing "Tai no henko" or "Shiho nage" for example. His knowledge is infinite and from the source. He is an incomparable teacher. During weapons training, I have seen him on several occasions take a beginner aside and teach him the suburi. Saito Sensei has a great kindness but he is also known for his strictness he doesn't let anything go passed. He isn't in the habit of demonstrating a technique and then leaving the students practice until they find the right movement by I don't know what miracle. As soon as a student commits an error, he stops them to correct it. His famous "Dame!" (bad! zero!) calls everything back to order if a movement is being badly done. Believe me, nobody risks forgetting the corrections. Master Saito speaks constantly of O'Sensei during the courses. Sometimes during a meal he will evoke moments of his life with Master Ueshiba. He speaks with much emotion and this emotion wins us over. I believe that Ueshiba Sensei was everything to him. More than a quarter of a century after his death he still proves his devotion and his exemplary fidelity to his Master I greatly admire him and am very attached to him, not just for who he is but also for what he does.

5.A&C: Have you been impressed by any other teachers?
Daniel Toutain
: All the experts I have known had great qualities and were excellent teachers. But Saito Sensei is the one who has inspired and impressed me the most. I am also much taken with Hitohiro Saito Sensei, his son and future successor. An extraordinary power and precision, he knows much and has a strong personality full of enthusiasm. His courses are very appreciated. I was fortunate that he accepted to come to Rennes last year to direct an international course and he is due to return in 1997.

6.A&C: What memories do you have of your arrival in Iwama?
Daniel Toutain
During my first stay in Iwama, I was able to assist with the "Taisai" ceremony which is celebrated on the anniversary of the death of the O'Sensei, in April. I was very impressed to arrive in this mythical place , that I had seen so often in old films and photographs. I was very moved when I went into the Dojo of the founder, the very one in which he decided to call his art "Aikido". It was like a dream. This Dojo seems truly to have a soul and emanates something very strong, something inexplicable. Everyone who visits there has the same sensation. It was in this place that O'Sensei spent the last 30 years of his life His books are laid out in one of the adjoining rooms, his bedroom is still there, absolutely everything recalls his presence. This place has become familiar and is important to me. I am always filled with joy when I return and have the tightness in my chest when I leave. I have also now got many friends there. I always remember wh at Master Saito said to me one day: " This Dojo is not my Dojo, it is the founders. I must, therefore, teach exactly what the founder taught". What a lesson!

Jo Mochi Nage
Daniel Toutain - Uke: Philippe Caron

7.A&C: You regularly go back to Iwama. How does a days work with Saito Sensei unfold?
Daniel Toutain
Since starting with Saito Sensei, I have regularly made two visits a year to Iwama as Ushi Deshi. Generally speaking the days follow the rhythm of the seasons. When the weather is fine, for example, the day starts at 5h30 in order to get a few tasks done, such as cleaning the Dojo or tidying the space in front of the Aiki Jinja and the little wood which surrounds it. The Aiki Jinja is the sanctuary that Master Ueshiba dedicated to Aikido. The first course is set for 6h30, but one needs to be ready well in advance. The morning course is set aside for weapons practice which is always done outside, just as in the time of O'Sensei. If he can, Saito Sensei teaches Taijutsu with techniques against Ken, Jo or Tanto in the Dojo. Once the lesson is finished and after Saito Sensei has left the room, there is a time set aside for free-training. Master Saito's teaching is very full and this complement is necessary to assimilate and integrate the techniques. After that it is t he time for breakfast, a very convivial time. In Iwama, very strong ties develop between the participants. During the day it is possible to practice in the Dojo for Taijutsu or outside for weapons It is the chosen moment to do "Tanren Uchi", this is striking a specially arranged tyre with a ken, (an exercise which allows one to develop a strong grip and to understand the reality of the Ken). Another exercise, the "Tanren Tsuki" consists of thrusting with a Jo into the trunk of a dead tree already well battered by repeated thrusts. The tasks of everyday life, such as cleaning the kitchen, are shared by everyone as the students live in a community. Sometimes Saito Sensei improvises a supplementary course which for us is a great gift as he gives very special training. Everyone , therefore, has to keep themselves available and vigilant at all times, this is part of the study of Budo. Contrary to what one thinks there are few traditional Dojo's in Japan who welcome Ushi Deshi. The Dojo in Iwama is unusual and one is privileged to be able to have such an experience. Master Ueshiba was very strict, Master Saito equally so and, thanks to this rigorousness, we are transmitted a priceless knowledge. I try to preserve this spirit in my Dojo in Rennes. Carrying on with the story of a day in Iwama, The day ends with a course of Taijutsu, which is always at 19h00. In general, we are in the Dojo between half an hour to an hour early. This course is follows, as in the morning, by free-style training and also the Dojo is systematically cleaned before and after each session. After that it is diner and then around 22h00 everyone is only too happy to find their futon for a well deserved rest. Saito Sensei shares each meal. These moments are greatly looked forward to as this is an opportunity to ask him questions in order to deepen ones understanding of Aikido. At various times during the year the Dojo welcomes other students and there are more sessions. I have pro fited form these on many occasions, the sessions continue over four or five hours each day. The training is very intense and gives one the occasion to improve as one can pair up with very high level Japanese Sempai, the permanent residents and teachers from all over the world. Anyway, the days are always well filled up in Iwama.

8.A&C: Does it seem to you that Saito Sensei has started a new form?
Daniel Toutain
Not only does Saito Sensei not say this, he also confirms the opposite. The Aikido that he teaches is not a form or style that is personal to him. His work is to faithfully reproduce the art of the founder. In the Iwama Dojo there are photographs on the wall at the end. These show O'Sensei executing the techniques Ikkyo, Irimi nage, Shiro nage, Kote Gaeshi..... Next to each one is a photograph showing Saito Sensei demonstrating the same techniques Nothing has changed: same fundamental points, same placements, same attitudes! This is why Saito Sensei speaks of Iwama Ryu and not Saito Ryu when he presents the Aikido practised in Iwama. He strives to preserve the authentic Aikido of the founder and not to create his own style. Saito Sensei was formed by Master Ueshiba through traditional teaching, person to person, especially with weapons. He often explains that in order to succeed in teaching a group of several students at the same time, he had de-constructed and c odified this teaching. In effect, Master Saito has made an apprenticeship in Aikido very accessible and it is here that one sees his hand.

9.A&C: Does it seem to you that weapons training is indispensable in Aikido?
Daniel Toutain
I often hear it said and I read in magazines that in the end the study of arms is not indispensable. It still suprises me that serious students can speak in such a way as in all the films, O'Sensei appears with a Ken or a Jo. In reality it is not Aikido on one side and arms on the other. The Ken and the Jo are Aikido just as Taijutsu is Aikido. Each of these elements make up Aikido and Master Saito never stop repeating that when one practices Taijutsu one must think of Buki waza and vice versa. He said to me one day, "practice the Suburi each day and your Taijutsu will progress". One can't be any clearer! I applied that advice and understand it better each day. Think "sword" in bare hand techniques means not just imagining that the hands replace the sword. It is a sensation and a positioning of each part of the body. How can we know this if we don't train with the Ken! It must be said that to study the sword with another, whichever, school is i n itself a good thing for you, but it has no relationship with the study of the Ken in Aikido. It is the same with the Jo. In Aikido, the study of arms is a means of understanding placement with regard to your partner. All the arms techniques can, at the moment of action, transform themselves into immobilisation or projection techniques, that is to say Taijutsu. The study of arms also teaches the correct attitude when against several opponents, this is a speciality of Aikido. On top of that weapons training teaches one how to hold correctly and to develop Kokyu. Without Kokyu Aikido represents nothing but ineffective gestures. From an historical point of view is it not worth recalling that O'Sensei brought to fullness his ideas about the study of arms at Iwama? Those who were able to study arms with him at that time are rare. Only Master Saito accompanied him just to the end of his research. It is perhaps because of this that this question about arms keeps recurring.

10.A&C: Do you think that the Aikido practised today is in a state of evolution?
Daniel Toutain
It is undeniable that Aikido is in a phase of change. This is not a new phenomenon but I wonder if a lack of reference and feedback won't accelerate this tendency in the years to come. One sees the appearance of interpretations of Aikido that are more or less good and, I fear, more and more bizarre. Despite the founder leaving us the spirit of his art in the techniques that he spent all of his life fine-tuning. This is the reason we must keep the techniques intact. If we lose the form we lose the depth. It is often said that Aikido is beyond form and this is no doubt true. But only those who have perfectly mastered the true form can confirm this. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, on can say that this way of thinking masks a certain incompetence of technique and serves as a pretext for them to claim they are evolving the form. If the form is not so important I imagine that Master Ueshiba would have been content just to give conferences! Who can pretend today to be they are that good that they can modify what the founder created? If this is the case then it would be better to change the name of this new practice. Considering that it is necessary to adapt Aikido to the modern world is a discussion that interests some students. A long time before meeting Saito Sensei II was myself tempted in this direction. My thinking now is completely the opposite. I am convinced that the Aikido of Ueshiba Sensei is, and will remain profoundly modern because it contains the very essence of the fundamental principles which will cross the centuries intact. And these principles are contained in the very techniques which he developed. Saito Sensei often reminds us that nobody has yet reached the level attained by O'Sensei! Rather than turn the problem upside down and try and develop Aikido I prefer to seek that development in myself. Is that not the goal in Aikido? It is for this reason that I chose to go to the source through the intermediary of Master Saito.

11.A&C: As the student of Master Saito, what message would you like to send out to those who study with you in France?
Daniel Toutain
: I try above all to scrupulously transmit that which I have been taught by Master Saito and to strictly conform to his way of teaching. The message is contained in the practice. For me Aikido is a mirror. Not one in which to admire oneself but a mirror of oneself that keeps posing questions and allows one to unceasingly to better oneself. Only a well oriented and intense practice can reveal the true image held in the mirror. I encourage all participants to meet Master Saito as there they will be able to fully appreciate that which he brings and what he represents. This historic Master will be in Rennes next November and that will be a chance to discover Aikido through someone who this year celebrates his fiftieth year of practice, half of which was with the founder.

Interview by Jean Paoli - Arts et Combats - April 1996.