SAITO Hitohira sensei interview – Rennes November 2016.

Last November 2016 in Rennes, the Association DOKAN of the DENTO IWAMA RYU AIKIDO France group has organized a 4th international Aikido seminar under the direction of Hitohira SAITO sensei, representative of the Iwama Shin Shin Aikishuren Kaï. On this occasion, SAITO Hitohira sensei delivered us the purposes and the spiritual direction of his research in Aikido.

Sensei, what are your feelings upon this fourth edition of the international seminar in Rennes?

I do not base myself on feelings, that I also do not try to analyze. On the other hand, I see how our group grows and how our practitioners who train regularly are progressing. The more complicated is when we have on the tatamis practitioners of our group and newcomers. There are very important level differences between them so that I have to spend a lot of time repeating the same explanations on the basics of our techniques. The basics are very important and it is always good to remember them. But it limits, the possibilities to go further for the practitioners of our group, especially because we have a limited training time during seminars. I have however seen the growing progress made by the practitioners present since the first edition. In the end, the essential is that all can gradually get closer to the techniques and the spirituality of the founder.

Sensei, you explained during this seminar that the Aikido of Morihiro SAITO sensei, your father, is not your goal. Could you tell us more upon this point?

Yes, indeed, the Aikido of Morihiro SAITO Sensei is not a goal. This is obvious. Our goal is the Aikido of the founder. Of course, my father worked directly with the founder for many years and it is precisely what has made his Aikido authentic. However, the only example that remains is still the founder’s one. That is our fundamental aim: find physically, emotionally, the original practice which took place under the direct instruction of the founder. A real workout mobilizing all of the individual to the depths of itself. The training was physically, mentally, psychologically and spiritually realized in conditions close to reality. The feeling of stress during the Keiko was so normal. That being said, the teaching of my father, Morihiro SAITO Sensei, is extremely useful to be closer to the original aikido of the founder, because his practice is steeped in the marks of the founder.

It is not a goal in itself but the teaching of my father remains indispensable because forged in a direct contact with the founder for many years. The Aikido of my father has been shaped in the crucible of a daily life with the founder.

My parents have shared their life with the founder. For example, in the evening, we took a turn to bath ourselves in the water that O-Sensei had used. We went after him and his wife. Our family life was intrinsically involved with the life of O-Sensei. It is all this which leads the aikido bequeathed by my father and which makes its authenticity. I could hear the voice of O-Sensei while I was still inside my mother’s womb. This daily intimacy between my family and the founder has allowed my father to seize things impossible to collect for other disciples. For this reason, the teaching of my father is essential to get closer to the founder’s practice. Although it is not a goal in itself.

During the seminar, you wrote the word “misogi” by replacing the Chinese character normally used for this word by the two Chinese characters that form the word “aiki”. Can you enlighten us?

Ô Sensei said that Aikido is a Budo that was born in the spiritual world. Deguchi Onisaburo has also mentioned speaking upon aikido:——“finally here below a Budo forged in the divine world-“. For the founder, the essence of aikido is located in the relationship between the soul and the body (receptacle). The activity of the couple thus formed reproduces in a symbolic and spiritual way the link with the universe. For example, the rise and fall of the sea is governed by the moon. These tides are a shape of breath of the planet due to a strength of attraction/aversion.

Aikido expresses this mechanism, this breath. Between the body of practitioners, we find thanks to the aikido techniques this phenomenon of attraction and aversion. Of course, on the physical plan, but also on a spiritual level.


Keiko tries exactly to create and to understand this phenomenon, physically and spiritually. The founder said that aikido is misogi (1). To cleanse the body, to wash it every day, to pull it every day, it is essential to develop the relationship that he has with the soul that it hosts. In the thought of the founder, the link between the body and the spirit is fundamental. So, the trainings allow to cleanse and to strengthen physically, but it does not stop there otherwise aikido would only be a physical and technical discipline. It is crucial to engage fully, to invest all his soul in practice. The purpose is to be nourishing and to make so increase the link between our body and our soul. During the Keiko, it is not only the bodies of practitioners that meet. They are also their souls. This meeting on the physical and spiritual plans are part of the misogi. The techniques worked physically during training are the support, ” the tool”, allowing the souls of practitioners to confide and to meet.

Thus, a Budo that stays at the level of “gain/to loose” can’t go up to this spiritual dimension. ” That’s why the founder said that aikido is misogi.

As you know, I lost my mother recently. Normally, I should not go out and conduct courses so while 49 days following her death are not finished (2). But it’s precisely because aikido is misogi that it is possible for me. This is because aikido is a work of purification. All this does not be perceived with eyes. Eyes only allow to discern the form of the techniques. To perceive the depth of aikido and its techniques, it is necessary to practice with its soul. It is not a question of miming and of falling alone. It’s is necessary to feel it with your skin at every moment of the practice.

Interview and translation by Olivier Eberhardt and Charles Durand – Rennes, November 2016.
Pictures by Guillaume Prié.

(1) the misogi makes reference to a work of purification. The Shintoist religion considers that the world down here is filled with impurity and the misogi consists in cleansing the world of its impurities (kegare).
(2) In the Shintoist religion, the blood and the death are the main impurities (kegare). Further to a death, it is the house of the deceased and his close friends who are in situation of impurity.