(Larson Sensei demonstrates Kokyu-Nage with uke Melissa Holm)
“I have never met a teacher so devoted and determined in what he did, so practical in what he taught, and so easy to understand.”
Mark L. Larson
I was introduced to Master Morihiro Saito in the spring of 1993 and was fortunate to spend nine years under his direction. His teaching methods, style, and body movements made it easy for me to learn aikido, even when I was a beginner and did not know any Japanese language. Saito Sensei systemized the Founder of Aikido’s teachings and made them accessible to all who sought to learn this art from him. He stressed, “True aikido is the aikido that anybody can do and teachers must make students content with what they are taught.” As a technical genius, Master Saito taught “how” to teach aikido, producing many instructors around the world. His mission was to preserve and pass on what he learned directly from the Founder of Aikido, Professor Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969). Although there are many great masters of aikido, there may never be another as knowledgeable and technically sound as Master Morihiro Saito.
Morihiro Saito was an extremely hard-working human being. A day in his life consisted of rising at the crack of dawn, then eating a light breakfast. While boiling a pot of tea over a natural fire, he would take in the morning air. He often spent a little time alone, working and reflecting in his garden before morning keiko. During keiko, loud kiai’s and sounds of bokkens and jos crashing together would fill the air outside the dojo. Stern dames would be heard echoing through the sacred grounds, as Saito Sensei would correct his students. After keiko, he would immediately change into work clothes and begin daily chores around the dojo and Aiki Shrine with the uchideshi. His greatest love other than aikido was his garden. Only a select few uchideshi were allowed to work with him there and I was one of the fortunate. Saito Sensei always worked harder than any of his students. After lunch and more chores, he would take a brief rest before evening training inside the dojo. Instructional practices could consist of two to four per day, with additional private trainings for uchideshi. In practice, Master Saito always emphasized the importance of the relationship or riai between bukiwaza and taijutsu.
During our many travels together, both within Japan and abroad, Saito Sensei often referred to the poem of the Founder, “The beauty of this form of heaven and earth is that we are all one family created by a Supreme Being.” Master Saito would add, “Wherever I go I feel at home, wherever I go there is family, thanks to O’Sensei.”
Master Morihiro Saito was a man who had something for everyone; he was like a father and grandfather to many of us. He remembered names, gave welcome and sayonara parties, and gifts to all who visited him in Iwama. He guided and directed me. He trusted that I would follow his teachings as best I could. He gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the globe.
In May of 2002, the aikido world said goodbye to one of its truly greatest. Master Morihiro Saito will never be forgotten, as he will continue to live on in the hearts and aikido of others throughout the world.
Mark L. Larson