IN THE HEART OF THE TEMPLE
The Founder of Aikido preferred to withdraw to Iwama to develop his martial art. And there Morihei Ueshiba, entrusted Iwama-ryu to his closest uchi deshi Morihiro Saito Sensei.
Daniel Toutain Sensei in front of Aiki Jinja
I started Aikido in 1968 with Masamichi Noro, when this discipline was not so widely known. I was eighteen then. Noro Sensei was the representative of Aikikai Tokyo in France and Africa. His dojo was in Pigalle on the Constance street, and the Japanese style decoration of this dojo was in no way compatible with this district. It was a unique place where an intensive training was practiced. In front of the Kamiza, sat Noro Sensei whose careful and firm stares led us to keep our concentration at its peak and to improve ourselves. I must admit that these practices really influenced my training style. Later on, I found this same atmosphere at Saito Sensei's dojo in Iwama. After the ten years I spent with Noro Sensei, last two of which was as both assistant and student, I was making a deep study of Aikido. Just at that time, I somehow found an 8 mm. film and first books of 9th Dan Saito Sensei. Quite bizarre, but I had not heard of him much. In these movies and books, I noticed very clear definitions and explanations of empty hand techniques, and like many Aikido teachers of the same period, I benefited from these a lot. I had never seen such clear and understandable definitions and explanations as in these documents, which I tried hard to put into exercise. I also felt the need to get in touch with Saito Sensei. With all my heart, I wanted to study with Saito Sensei, but at that stage I neither had the financial funds, nor my family situation permitted this. In addition, in the late seventies it was not easy to make a trip to the country where sun rose.
My sustained concerns
At this stage of my training, in October 1978 I met Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei. I felt like training with him, with his warn attitude and mastership in the techniques. I followed him to everywhere in France and Europe, and we were really very close to each other. Between now and then, as a great admirer of him, I always thought that Tamura Sensei is one of the greatest senseis of Aikido.
Despite my strict training during this nineteen years, I still had some concerns and confusions about the techniques. Therefore, I started to try new ways of "reality" in discipline, which I thought was missing in Aikido. I trained Wing Chun in London, with a Chinese master for four years. And I believed then I found real techniques. Wing Chun is a wonderful and advanced discipline. I tried to combine the two disciplines, but got to some wrong paths, which I realized soon. This was a very serious experience for me. When I was having this confusion, in 1992 I met Saito Sensei at a seminar in Italy. At the first moment, I knew I had found what I had been looking for. I had the opportunity to be his "uke" and see that although he used no body force, his techniques were so powerful. He never left a gap, which I had realized when I was training Wing Chun. Up till then I had watched so many films and movies of O'Sensei, therefore I felt as if I was training with him instead, when I was training with Saito Sensei. This was a weird feeling and eventually I found the reason for this: Saito Sensei had lived with O'Sensei from eighteen to forty one, for twenty three years, in this case, this feeling I got was understandable.
In the book of "Aikido Senseis" consisting of interviews of O'Sensei's pre-war students, one of his most well-known students who is unfortunately not alive today, Rinjiro Shirata was asked this question:
"Who do you think was O'Sensei's closest student?" Shirata answers: " Undoubtedly, it Morihiro Saito Sensei who had spent the longest time with him. I really respect and admire him. He started to serve O'Sensei before he got married, he also helped O'Sensei out with field work. And after he got married his wife started to serve O'Sensei's wife. Therefore, O'Sensei taught everything to him sincerely, and he received all this education so well. Even, O'Sensei gave Saito Sensei a land to build his home and appointed him as Dojo guard. Saito Sensei received a training from O'Sensei, which no one else had the opportunity of, and he contributed a lot to the development Aikido of O'Sensei. His techniques are clear, he performs the techniques with no gap."
Paolo Corallini, who was Saito Sensei's closest Italian student, introduced me to him. In 1993, I was accepted to Saito Sensei's Dojo in Iwama as uchi deshi. I must say that I questioned myself on whatever I had learned up till then. I traveled to this dojo fifteen times in nine years, because I felt it had the best conditions for one to improve in Aikido. Throughout these years, I watched Saito Sensei in numerous seminars in Europe, and I invited him to France three times. I witnessed how his training and personality influenced and gave enthusiasm to the students. And now I have a close relationship with Hitohiro Saito Sensei, Saito Sensei's son and successor, who as a child had been close to O'Sensei and even at the age of six was able to perform 31 jo kata. Hitohiro Sensei also has an attractive personality and good technique, suitable to his father. Hitohiro Sensei comes to my dojo in Rennes and we will also organize some seminars in France together with him in the future.
I had the opportunity to make a comparison between different styles, as I had practices several number of them. I do not intend to criticize other Aikido styles here, instead I would like to explain how I concluded at Iwama style after practicing Aikikai Hombu style for so many years. As you probably might know, Hombu style dojo is founded by O'Sensei's son Kisshomaru Ueshiba. O'Sensei perfomed his style in Iwama from the forties till 1968, a year before he died. Iwama-Ryu Aikido taught by Saito Sensei, is exactly this traditional style which O'Sensei formed and developed in these thirty years. Morihei Sensei's education was as simple this sentence " Watch carefully, and you will understand." On the other hand, Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei and Saito Sensei grouped and classified O'Sensei's techniques in order for them to be more clear. I always was inspired by and searched for a powerful but undamaging way in martial arts. No matter what style one is working in, the objective is always the same; blending with your opponent, being in harmony with him. Therefore, Aikido is defined as way of peace, upon the request of O'Sensei. Obviously, there are clear distinctions between Iwama style and other styles. The tools to get to the objective differ from each other.
In Iwama style Aikido, different that Hombu style, you do not expect your opponent to harmonize with you or watch you when you are performing your technique. The key here is not to be over tolerant with the opponent, but instead blend with him. Therefore practice commences with firm grips and attacks. Intensity of the performance is adjusted to the level of the opponent. A couple may not find a way of blending at the very beginning but in order to form such a harmonization, a solid control should be established over the opponent. Basic techniques are very clear and should be performed as clearly. Thus, these techniques are performed meticulously. Only when the basic techniques are established well, practice can be elevated. On the contrary if these basic techniques are not well performed, even in a couple of years' time, once can face real difficulties.
"Ki no nagare", flowing techniques, require some time. These techniques consist of these phases: slow form ( jutai kiho), fast forms (ryutai kiho and kitai kiho). I remember once when Saito Sensei told me that years ago when he was trying to perform "ki no nagare" techniques one day, O'Sensei noticed him and rebuked him saying "You should not perform such techniques unless you accomplish basic techniques well and become 3rd Dan Level". At present, in Iwama the student perform ki no nagare techniques before reaching this level, but still eighty percent of the training consists of basic techniques.
"This works!" Imagination
This method, also helps to strengthen the body. However, if flowing techniques are commenced prematurely, flowing movements cannot be performed in correct forms, or may be performed but only with a forbearing and smooth training partner. This, obviously, may give the person the impression that the techniques are workingï¿½
In traditional Aikido Iwama-ryu, when "ki no nagare" techniques are being worked out, the partner should make a real attack and this attack should be drawn against with the same principles as with the basic or "kihon" techniques. The opposing partner should never be asked to harmonize with the actions. In Iwama, the priority is always the nage's carrying out the techniques and throwing the uke, not how the uke will make a fall over. With the training of basic techniques, it is also emphasized to be aware and keep changing spots to the fact that there is always a probability of your being surrounded with more than one attackers. This concept may be observed in all techniques. For example, when performing a technique, such as "kote gaeshi" it is not possible to keep staying in front of your partner.
Aiki weapon techniques being an important part of the training from the very beginning, is also another factor that Traditional Iwama style training exclusive. This training begins with suburi's (individual practices) and awase's (harmonized exercises with the partner) and goes on with kumitachi, kumijo, jo kata's and ken tai jo (ken versus jo techniques). All principles in Aiki weapon techniques can also be found in empty hand techniques. Aiki weapon techniques add reality and more concentration to the whole practice, and strengthens the wrists and grips. In addition, Aiki ken (sword techniques) ensures the precision of the positioning of hands, body and energy direction and the strength in empty hand techniques. The term "Strength" does not just indicate physical strength; it is "kokyu" what we are expressing here. In Iwama, there are some little Japanese people who have been practicing, despite their size, have incredible kokyu. Saito Sensei also dislikes and criticizes if he sees anybody practicing using brutal force. All empty hand techniques should set forth the flexibility as with the weapon techniques. In order to improve the kokyu, one should use his/her hip force. The body movements in Aiki weapon techniques of Iwama style are similar to the ones in empty hand techniques, therefore both practices help to improve kokyu. O'Sensei generated and established Aiki ken and Aiki jo techniques first in Iwama and certainly, this explains why Aiki weapons techniques are not practiced in the Aikikai Hombu dojo. Some followers practicing Modern Aikido, practice Iaido and Jodo in order to adapt what they learn to Aikido principles and try to be competent in Aiki weapon practices. However, there are significant differences between these practices and original weapon techniques which O'Sensei developed. Only Saito Sensei has had full education from O'Sensei on this. Other followers practicing Modern Aikido, no matter how proficient and reputable they are, their techniques and practices can in no way take the place of the Iwama traditional education taught by Saito Sensei on Aiki ken and Aiki jo.
Kiais and Atemis
In Iwama, with both empty hand and Aiki weapon practices, kiai is often used, and this is another significant difference between Modern Aikido and Traditional Aikido. Although in his old silent video clippings, O'Sensei's approach to kiai can clearly be observed. Kiai, not only extracts the optimum energy, but also helps to put the breath and movement into a rhythm. This at first is not easy for a beginner, but in time with the gained confidence, the improvement in the moves of the person can be observed. "Atemi" is also taught from the very beginning of a training. Techniques cannot be learned without "Atemi"s which aim to disperse the concentration of the uke, but not to hurt him/her.
Another practice that is very important in Iwama, is Bukidori; empty hand techniques against Aiki weapons. This program is considerably wide, complete and consists of numerous techniques. These practices also clearly show the relation between empty hand and weapon techniques.
The traditional education in Iwama consists of all different aspects of Aikido. In addition, the variations and exercises of these movements, add up to a considerable amount of techniques. (Transl. note: Therefore, practices in Traditional Aikido is more than the ones in Modern Aikido.)
Training on Kaeshi Waza, in other words counter attacks, can only be taught to those who will not disclose, as per Saito Sensei's demand, as these may confuse the students and have a negative influence on the dojo in long term. I must say that up till now I have only seen such perfect and efficient techniques only in Iwama. In spite of this, in Iwama there was never a meaningless tendency to violence but a very harmonized and respectful practices between partners. As a person who has been teaching before I met Iwamaryu and being a member of Regional Technical Delegation (UNA) and National Technics (FFLAB, exFFAB), I must also express that the improvement in new beginners is different in some ways. I observe the fast improvement and strengthening in my students. They can build sound foundations and practice advanced techniques with correct stances and movements, with the hundred percent Iwama style training in my dojo. The logic and clarity of techniques help them to learn the Aikido concept faster. Aiki weapon techniques which my students have been practicing since the beginning, also add them strength, power and make their movements likeable. The purpose of the Iwama style training in my dojo, is to share my experiences and to justify my decision. When justifying these changes since my first visit to Iwama nine years ago, I do not mean to criticize any other style or way of training. Everybody makes a personal decision and chooses his/her own way and all should be respected. Saito Sensei always suggests that his students should see and study other alternatives and gain their own experiences, and then choose their own ways. In Iwama, there are numerous followers who had practiced other styles and ended up in Iwama. On the other hand, there are some others who attend my seminars but do not practice Traditional Iwama style Aikido in general. Everybody should be free to choose and to develop in a most self-appropriate way. All in all, Aikido is a matter of heart. All follow the same ideal, and the starting point is the same: Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. In today's world of chaos and war, this ideal is of importance more than ever. Therefore we can put our efforts to the same ideal, O'Sensei's wish written in various languages on a panel in Aiki Jinja:
"Let peace govern the world"
Daniel Toutain, Iwama-Ryu, 6th Dan
Uchi Deshi System or Live-in Students
Uchi Deshi system is a traditional apprenticeship. The student lives by his master's side and receives a complete training and in return, he /she takes care of countless dojo work. Apart from the practical training, this apprenticeship builds a mutual trust and close relationship between the sensei and the student, where the sensei teaches what he knows to his student. The student needs to prove that he is aware and careful in every aspect, and needs to show that he practices everything he learns. Uchi deshi life is not easy. This apprenticeship has been popular for years in China for the education of orphans or sometimes for wealthy families who wanted their children to get good education. Undoubtedly, similar systems can be seen in other cultures. Aikido-wise, although the present conditions are much comfortable compared to old times, Uchi deshi system in the dojo of O'Sensei in Iwama is still a continuation of a tradition.
The intensive daily schedule of an uchi deshi starts very early in the morning as there are a lot of dojo matters to handle. Before going into details of these matters, I must express that the open mindness of the uchi deshi is of primary importance in this system, the uchi deshi has to be productive, and should always be aware to take care of the daily tasks. Some signs with basic principles such as "Always assist others in daily tasks" and "Do what you need to do quickly and right away" can be seen on the walls in the kitchen of the dojo in Iwama.
Morihiro Saito Sensei lived in with O'Sensei for 23 years and , during this period he helped out O'Sensei every day in the daily garden and in-house tasks. This period gave Saito Sensei the occasion to witness the development of Aikido, and to have exclusive trainings with O'Sensei. At present, Saito Sensei accepts uchi deshi students in Iwama with recommendation letter requirement. Another requirement by Saito Sensei, is this candidate should have an at least 6 month Iwama-ryu practice. Although the present conditions are totally different than the conditions when Saito Sensei lived in as uchi deshi, it is still a fact that this system is the best and most efficient training system, as it provides a life-size chance to the student to receive a complete and full education. Living in as an uchi deshi with others also socially trains the student and boosts him/her up spiritually. I, myself, also put into practice the same system in my traditional dojo in Rennes and receive uchi deshi every month. These students most of whom are instructors, come to Rennes from several places of France and also from abroad to discover and perfect Iwama style practice. In this way, they find the opportunity to experience and get prepared to the traditional way before they go to Japan. This also is a very big opportunity to meet and have strong relationships with other Iwama style followers, whom one have never had the chance to meet before.