Morihiro Saito Sensei
Morihiro Saito (斉藤 守弘 Saitō Morihiro, March 31, 1928–May 13, 2002) was a teacher of the Japanese martial art of aikido, with many students around the world. Saito’s practice of aikido spanned 56 years, from the age of 18, when he first met aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba, until his death in 2002.
Morihiro Saito was born in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, on 31 March 1928. Growing up in a poor farming village in the 1930s and early 40s, he recounted having the same interest in historical heroes such as Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi and Goto Matabe as most other Japanese boys. In the Japanese schools at that time, the martial arts of kendo and judo were taught to students, and Saito chose to study kendo.
In the years immediately following the end of World War II, the carrying of weapons of any kind, as well the practice of martial arts, was prohibited by the GHQ. As a result, Saito felt he should study some kind of unarmed self-defense technique, and began training in Shinto-ryū karate at the Shudokan in Meguro. After a short time, his work with the Japanese National Railways transferred him to Iwama, and he was forced to find other martial arts training. Thinking judo would be a useful complement to his kendo and karate skills, he began training at a judo dojo in Ishioka. In the summer of 1946, however, Saito heard stories about an “old man doing strange techniques up on the mountain near Iwama.” It seemed that people were confused about what martial art, exactly, this old man was practicing, but one judo instructor said the man was teaching “Ueshiba-ryū Judo.”
Meeting aikido’s founder
By July 1946, the GHQ-imposed ban upon the practice of martial arts had forced Morihei Ueshiba into an official “retirement” from practice for several years. Ueshiba took this opportunity to seclude himself in the small town of Iwama, and was engaged in the practice of ascetic training (shugyō), and some believe that it was during this period that Ueshiba was perfecting the practice of aikido.
It was at this time, at the age of 18, that Saito joined Ueshiba for training, which already included then live-in students Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Koichi Tohei, and Tadashi Abe. This early training was quite brutal, but after persevering for several years, Saito became one of Ueshiba’s closest students. Much credit is given to the fortuitous work schedule Saito had with the Japanese National Railways, where Saito worked 24 hours on, 24 hours off. As a result, Saito was often the sole training partner of Ueshiba, and had the unique opportunity to train with Ueshiba in the practice of the sword and short staff, which occurred early each morning before the other students arrived.
Training at the Iwama dojo consisted of a great deal of farmwork. The life of the full-time live in students consisted of prayer each morning before sunrise, two meals of rice porridge each day, and training interspersed with copious amounts of work on the farm. As a result of Saito’s 24 hours on, 24 hours off, position with the National Railway meant that he would train and live as a live-in student only every other 24 hours. Eventually, the other live-in students moved away, and when Saito returned from work, he would train alone with Ueshiba.
Although other students such as Koichi Tohei trained with Ueshiba for more years than Saito did, Saito’s work allowed him to train almost as an uchideshi, for long periods as the only student.
From 1946 until Ueshiba’s passing in 1969, Saito served as Ueshiba’s assistant in a variety of ways at Iwama while his wife served Mrs. Ueshiba. During Saito’s period as a deshi he taught classes in the Iwama dojo.
Before his death Ueshiba gave Morihiro Saito the responsibility of carrying on the teaching at the Iwama dojo and also the position of caretaker of the Aiki Jinja located in Iwama.
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Morihiro Saito: Lost Seminars, Part 1
Morihiro Saito: Lost Seminars, Part 2
Morihiro Saito: Lost Seminars, Part 3
Morihiro Saito: Lost Seminars, Part 4
Morihiro Saito: The Lost Seminars, Part 5
Morihiro Saito: The Lost Seminars, Part 6
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