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Regarding Saito Sensei's students and the future

Traditionally, a martial arts student has one master throughout the course of his or her budo training. The case may be, however, that one wishes to change one's apprenticeship during the course of one's studies, depending upon the circumstances.

Please excuse the length of this text. Since this is the first statement of this kind, some background info is necessary.

My name is Ethan Monnot Weisgard. I started my aikido training under Tomita Sensei in 1976, and have been a direct student of Saito Sensei since 1984. After 27 years as one of the chief instructors at the Copenhagen Aikido Club, I now have my own dojo: Copenhagen Aiki Shuren Dojo. I translated for Saito Sensei at the many camps we held in Denmark, as well as at many other camps and seminars throughout Europe. I was appointed daihyo (representative) of Denmark by Saito Sensei directly, and I was privileged to have had a close relationship with my master throughout the years.

I feel it is necessary to clarify certain things regarding the situation after the passing of Morihiro Saito Sensei.

Allow me to elaborate:

Traditionally, a martial arts student has one master throughout the course of his or her budo training. The case may be, however, that one wishes to change one's apprenticeship during the course of one's studies, depending upon the circumstances. Such was the case for many of us in Scandinavia. We are many who started our aikido training under Takeji Tomita Sensei. Tomita Sensei was a student of Nishio Sensei's and later Saito Sensei. He has been based in Stockholm, Sweden since 1969. He has been the cornerstone of Iwama aikido in Scandinavia, together with Ulf Evenås and Lars Goran Andersson.

Ulf Evenås and Lars Goran Andersson had been in Iwama for the first time in 1972 and 73, and relations with Saito Sensei had been strengthened throughout the 70s and 80s. More and more Swedes and Danes had been to Iwama, creating close ties with Saito Sensei. The same can be said about other European countries as well, especially Italy ( represented by Paolo Corallini) and Germany ( represented by Mark and Ute von Meerendonk).

The emphasis on our situation in Scandinavia is not meant to underestimate the closeness of the relationship with Saito Sensei that these other countries enjoyed in any way. It is merely my attempt to explain our situation in general from the historical viewpoint of Iwama aikido in Scandinavia. In 1992, Tomita Sensei chose to establish his own organization, and at this time many of us chose to follow the path that Tomita Sensei had started us on, the path to his own teacher: Saito Sensei. At this crossroads, at our summer camp in Denmark in 1992, Tomita Sensei informed Sensei and us of his decision. When we explained that we wished to become directly connected to Sensei, but were not sure if this would be proper etiquette, Saito Sensei told us that in Japan, it is not uncommon for students to change from one master to another, if the first master decides to go in one direction and the students wish to go in another.

Such was the case between our group, Tomita Sensei and Saito Sensei. Tomita Sensei made it clear that, although keeping the deepest respect and admiration for his teacher, Saito Sensei, he would be following his own path from then on. Some people chose to follow Tomita Sensei. We who chose to follow Saito Sensei wished Tomita Sensei the best of luck and thanked him for everything he had imparted to us. We are forever grateful to him for being such an inspiration to us. And from then on, we have been direct students of Saito Sensei.

Saito Sensei passed on last year. He has taught literally thousands of people throughout his life at camps around the world as well as those who have trained directly under him in Iwama. There are people around the world who have been direct students of his from the 1960s, 70s and on. I speak for myself, but I believe my feelings may be shared by others, when I express my ideas regarding the relationship of us as students of Saito Sensei.

Saito Sensei was my teacher, my master, my Sensei. What he gave me to work on in terms of aikido training will last me a lifetime. He also changed and enriched my life in many other ways as well. He was truly the inspiration of a lifetime for me. I can gain insight and get inspiration, ideas and viewpoints, both on a technical level as well in regards to many other aspects of aikido, from those who also have studied as students under Saito Sensei. And here I refer to his highest ranking students as well as those who have had less experience than myself.

Each person who has been in touch with Sensei has received something special that we all can benefit from. There are many possibilities for further study together with Sensei's students in Japan as well as in many other parts of the world. My sensei is sadly no longer in this world, and nothing can change this. But his influence and inspiration is to be found all over, so the future is bright. What was called Iwama Ryu was a network of dojos and people who

Saito Sensei was asked at a summer camp in Europe a few years before his passing about what will happen in the future regarding us, his students. His reply was: "You are the future!" I believe that those of us who have been his direct students should regard this reply as one of great trust shown to us by our master. We should strive to live up to this gift of Sensei's trust.

Iwama Ryu (a name chosen by Saito Sensei himself) was created as a network of dojos mostly in Europe, Russia and Australia, in which aikidoka received Iwama Ryu grades directly from Saito Sensei. He gave two people Iwama Ryu 7th dan , Ulf Evenås and Paolo Corallini. He also gave them the title "Shihan." These are the highest ranks he gave in Iwama Ryu. The name Iwama Ryu was also used to indicate the Iwama style of aikido, also regarding the dojos that did not use the Iwama Ryu grades themselves. Sensei had many high-ranking students, both Japanese as well as foreign. No Japanese students, or foreign students living in Japan, received Iwama Ryu ranks. (A decision was made by the high-ranked students in the Iwama dojo that issuing Iwama Ryu grades in Japan would be detrimental to the relationship between Iwama and Hombu. ) .

Amongst all of his closest high-ranked students, none were given the title of successor. Iwama Ryu was based on the relationship we as students had with Saito Sensei. A successor would have to deal with the situation of teaching Saito Sensei's students. I believe his wish for the future was for people to have the freedom to train as they wished, and with whomever they wished. He could have, at any time, chosen to name an official successor. He never did this. I believe he knew that this would merely cause conflict in his students, even more than he must have known his passing would create in any case. We are, in a sense, all his successors.

Sensei had a special relationship with his students, much like a father with his children. He often made the analogy of his group of students as being a family. In a family, there is only one father. The children grow up, reach maturity and start out on their own. The children then have the responsibility of carrying on their lives, hopefully bringing with them what they have learned from their parents. There is no replacing the relationship we had with Saito Sensei. But there can be new relationships. Sensei told us "You are the future." The next step for each of us is to choose our future. This choice is, however, just this: a choice. Sensei left us in this situation on purpose. If he had wanted things any other way, he would have told us what he wanted.

In regards to the future as seen in from an organizational, as well as a cultural viewpoint, Sensei did make things very clear. On his deathbed, he told his two appointed Shihan, Ulf Evenås and Paolo Corallini, that he wished for those of us practicing aikido in the dojos represented by these two people, to become close to the Aikikai again. It should be mentioned that we, as a group, have never separated from the Aikikai. Many of us have Aikikai grades, as well as Iwama Ryu. But Sensei's final wish was for us to get closer to the Aikikai than we had been before. The Aikikai and the Hombu dojo represent not only the official headquarters of aikido, but also the bloodline of the Ueshiba family, and thereby the cultural heritage of aikido as well.

In the past, when Sensei asked us, his students in Europe, whether we would like to have grades issued directly by him, there was only one conceivable answer to this question. In the end, when Sensei asked his two Shihan to become close to the Aikikai again, there can only be one possible answer to this request as well. The group of Swedish dojos, as represented by Ulf Evenås, has decided to establish themselves under the auspices of the Swedish Aikikai, with all gradings being issued by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Paolo Corallini has been granted Hombu recognition and all his students will be issued grades by Hombu. In Germany, there has just been an official meeting with all the clubs that were connected to Saito Sensei. I do not know of the results of this meeting as of yet. In Denmark, we have unanimously agreed to apply for Hombu recognition of our organization. An official letter has been sent to Aikikai Hombu, and we hope for a positive response to our request for recognition.

I believe that I speak for all of us when I say that I wish those who also were students of Saito Sensei's who have chosen other paths all the best of luck. I hope that we can train together in the future, in the spirit of our great teacher, Morihiro Saito Sensei.

Yours in Aiki,

Ethan Weisgard
Copenhagen Aiki Shuren Dojo
Copenhagen Denmark

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