Iwama Style Aikido

Morihei Ueshiba : O-Sensei – Founder of Aikido

O-Sensei Formal PhotographThe founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (known as O-Sensei) developed his martial art from a number of ancient martial systems, including Jujutsu (Art of Suppleness), Kenjutsu (Art of the Sword) and Jojutsu (Art of the Staff). As this was first practiced in the village of Iwama is referred to as Iwama Style Aikido.

Aikido was revealed to the public in 1946 and become one of the fastest-growing martial arts to date. O-Sensei’s Aikido is based not only upon Taijutsu (body arts) but also on the use of weapons, namely the Aiki Ken (wooden sword) and Aiki Jo (wooden quarter staff).

O-Sensei regarded an understanding of the use of these weapons as fundamental to the proper execution of open-handed techniques, but would seldom teach them at the Hombu dojo in Tokyo. He wished for those looking for his Aikido to learn the Aiki weapons at the birthplace of Aikido in Iwama.

Morihiro Saito Sensei: The Guardian of Iwama Aikido

Morihiro Saito Sensei, 9th Dan began studying under O-Sensei in 1946. His shift work on the Japanese railways enabled Saito Sensei, who also lived in Iwama, to learn O-Sensei’s Aikido first hand and allowed him the privilege of having only one teacher, the founder of Aikido.

Saito Sensei - Iwama Style Aikido - Formal Photograph

Saito Sensei’s loyalty and devotion (he also cared for the Founder and his wife) was repaid by O-Sensei with the gift of a plot of land next to the Iwama dojo and by O-Sensei bequeathing him the Aiki weapons’ legacy. Under the supervision of O-Sensei, Saito Sensei organised the teachings of Aikido into a more structured format.

Before his death O-Sensei passed on the responsibility of the Aiki Jinja (Shrine), the Iwama Dojo and the teaching of O-Sensei’s Aikido to Saito Sensei. Saito Sensei calls this Iwama Aikido (Aikido according to the tradition of Iwama), and can be recognised by its strong basics, the accuracy of technique and posture and its use of the Aiki Ken and Aiki Jo.

Saito Sensei studied directly under the Founder for an unbroken 23 years, longer than any other student. Saito Sensei’s representative in the United Kingdom is  Tony Sargeant – 7th dan Shihan.

The International Aikido Federation catagorises ‘Iwama-Ryu’ Aikido as the following: “While still a part of the Aikikai, the style taught by Morihiro Saito, based in the Iwama dojo, is generally considered sufficiently stylisticly different from mainstream Aikikai that it is named individually. Saito-sensei was a long time uchi-deshi of O-sensei, beginning in 1946 and staying with him through his death. Many consider that Saito-sensei was the student who spent most time directly studying with O-sensei. Saito-sensei says he is trying to preserve and teach the art exactly as it was taught to him by the Founder. Technically, Iwama-Ryu seems to resemble the Aikido O-sensei was teaching in the early 50s mainly in the Iwama dojo. The technical repertoire is larger than in most other styles and a great deal of emphasis is placed on weapons training.”

Iwama Aikido not only ‘resembles’ the Aikido as taught by O-Sensei, but adheres to maintaining the purity of form and clarity of the art that the founder intended. This is achieved by studying the basics before moving on to the more advanced forms and also training regularly in Aiki Ken and Jo. Iwama Aikido has not attempted to modify or change O-Sensei’s original teachings.