Morihiro Saito - Sensei
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 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-defence 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."
At the age of 18 Saito joined O'Sensei 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 O'Senesei'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 O'Sensei, and had the unique opportunity to train with O'Sensei in the practice of the sword and short staff, which occurred early each morning before the other students arrived.
Kazuo Chiba, a live-in student (uchideshi) of O'Sensei at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, recalled in particular the intensity of the training that occurred at the Iwama dojo,
“A large portion of the membership at Iwama Dojo consisted of local farmers, hard workers who spent all day in the fields. They had thick bones and great physical strength, combined with a peculiar local character known as “Mito kishitsu,” a type of manliness close to gallantry. Altogether, it was quite an opposite culture from Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. Because it is in the capital of Japan, Hombu’s membership consists of white-collar workers, intellectuals, businessmen, politicians and university students.
Any members who came to visit Iwama Dojo from Hombu must have looked pale and weak from city living to Iwama members. Indeed, the Iwama students treated us from Hombu as such and challenged us vigorously. It was a matter of survival for members from Hombu Dojo, including Hombu uchideshi like myself. And Saito Sensei was on top of that mountain, which we had to climb with all our might.
Saito Sensei's instruction emphasis was upon the basics of aikido, and especially upon the relationship between the armed and unarmed aspects of the art, which was focused on by O'Sensei in his latter years.