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Comparing Saito Sensei with Sugano Sensei – Flowing Slowly

Again, here Sugano Sensei did not break out and specify this speed of training. The closest he may have come is when working with a beginner – right after they got the footwork, he might tell them to execute the technique without stopping. He did not go into how to lead the mind of the attacker, but just wanted to get them moving. He didn’t specify blending as the underlying principle, or getting them to match the timing.

The Iwama system is much more precise here. The point is to develop certain skills in basic practice, and then introduce those skills into a flowing practice. Saito Sensei’s key point was that if someone grabs you powerfully in an attack, you should be able to handle it. By bringing the skills from the basics practice into the flowing technique, you retain the ability to respond to strong grabs.

This approach highlights how the Iwama system begins as a very physical practice and then migrates the a more mental emphasis in ki-no-nagare flowing technique. Sugano Sensei’s approach jumped to emphasize the mental side almost immediately. His training methods came from studying the mind and culture of westerners to try to identify the most effective way to communicate what he learned from the founder.

Comparing Saito Sensei with Sugano Sensei – Basics

I will be going over our YouTube video series that provides a snapshot of the Iwama Aikido system’s curriculum. (Feel free to check our YouTube Channel for more information).   As I do so, I will comment here comparing the instructional methods from Sugano Sensei and Morihiro Saito Sensei. As I studied with Sugano Sensei for 20 years in New York, I am quite familiar with his approach.

I would say first that Sugano Sensei did have personal differences with Saito Sensei. However, he did let me know that he had great respect for his knowledge of Aikido. Saito Sensei did look at Sugano’s approach to Aikido as a senior would to a junior.

So here is the first video going over basics:

Sugano Sensei taught that there were two forms of practice in Aikido: static and flowing. That said, in 20 years the only time I ever saw him teach static technique was when I asked him to. For beginners, he would help them just get the basic footwork, and then go right into flowing technique. Saito Sensei, on the other hand, explained that in the founder’s dojo, you would have to train in static technique for 10 years – or 3rd degree blackbelt – before moving on to flowing technique. Saito Sensei did relax those rules, but there was tremendous emphasis on the basics in his classes.

Saito Sensei said that there are many good teachers in Aikido and you can learn a lot from them. I certainly took advantage of that with Sugano Sensei. I learned a lot and appreciate what he taught me. Saito Sensei explained that since he inherited the founder’s dojo, he restricted himself to teach exactly as the founder taught. He did not have the freedom to change things as did Sugano Sensei. Keeping the founder’s tradition alive and well was certainly a wonderful gift.

In this video, I talk about strong hips. In 20 years I never heard Sugano Sensei talk about this. But strong hips he definitely possessed – not only on two legs, but even after one leg was amputated.

In another interesting difference, Sugano Sensei was very specific. He said in Aikido you do not learn to take the attacker’s balance. He demonstrated stopping the motion of the attack, only so you can start it again to take the person’s balance. He explained this was not done in Aikido. In the Iwama system, as you see we started from a static position. At the completion of the last technique, shomenuchi iriminage, you see I did take the attacker’s balance. Taking balance is studied in Iwama Style Aikido.

Sugano Sensei had a different avenue to access the basics of Aikido which I will discuss more when we get to the videos on ki-no-nagare flowing practice. That was the focus of his instruction, and I will try to explain there how he backed into the development of strong hips at that point.

Application of Aikido Principles in Daily Life by Masato Tani

I had started Aikido by chance, after my children had started taking class several years ago. My prior experience with martial arts was limited, few years of Shorinji Kempo when I had lived in Osaka.

Aikido had started as exercise and stress reliever when I had recently changed career, it had been a very stressful period.  The class consisted of various levels of students, background.  I found the group to be welcoming and a good group.  I can’t recall any class not getting at least a  good light hearted laugh and good activity.


– joining , combining


-way, path, road

As I studied more, the art was organized in very methodical ways, almost like an organization chart, at least it was the way it was presented and taught.  Then you learn to give yourself so that your partner may learn and in turn you learn from them.  Slight adjustment resulted in big change and effectiveness; more you studied, more you were able to perceive the movement and intent of your practice partner.  You learn to “read” them.   This is also applied in business in some sense dealing with clients, business partners. You are reading their tone, body language, what is said, what is not said. You learn to deal with different personalities, engage them differently.  Some you learn to walk away from.

When too much energy is needed, something is off balance. Aikido teaches you to feel, to blend, execute with strong foundation.  Once the pieces are in place correctly, the technique becomes effortless and very effective. It is delightful to get those “Aha” moments for yourself and for your practicing partner.   Different partners and engagement teaches you different aspect, which forces to self-evaluate, apply technique differently, or to change your technique.  In everyday life, I approach the same way, some success, some not, but you learn to look at it calmly, objectively.

In a public setting, you do become more aware,  better situational awareness. Feeling out the others’ energy, intent.  Some problems may need to be addressed, some just find alternative without getting into confrontation.  Better to let small things go, get what you need to get done.

The process is of course time consuming and as said by others before, more you learn , more you realize how much you don’t know. 

I am grateful to have this opportunity of discovery, practice with others and to apply this in my life journey.


I had this thing… still have this thing where I feel like I’ve come to have experiences so much later in life than many others who found those things much earlier than I. And this causes me to want to reap all of the fruits of those experiences all at once or as fast as possible, in an effort to make up for lost time, or at least what I perceive as lost time.

Aikido is one of those experiences for me. And it is difficult to simultaneously try to soak in and soak up all of the knowledge you can find on something – and at the same time realize that you don’t know that much, or perhaps even what you’re doing….

So probably about two years ago I went to Sensei and asked that since I already know all of the techniques necessary to pass my next kyu test, if I could test in the next round. He said no. Well he didn’t exactly say no. With Sensei it is never a yes or a no, or even a simple straight answer really. I think I’ve come to learn that Sensei wants to give you just enough information to set you on a path that ultimately allows you to arrive at the “correct” answer. And I suppose in large part, albeit two years later, this is exactly what this essay is about. This is me saying “I get it now”.

Why do we practice? Why do we study? What is the goal, the point of it all? Those questions are much too deep and pensive in themselves for our time here, but to just fast forward a bit – we do practice, we do study, and eventually a rank test comes up to test our knowledge. With any test there is preparation. Someone who has come before us has said – at this particular time in your training you should know these particular things. So based on those lists of things that we should know at this level, we set out to prepare for our test and train on those particular aspects or areas of the test on which we need the most work – drilling it, memorizing it, making it part of our body.

I hate to use the colloquial phrase – teaching to the test – but none of us want to happen up a rank test and not be prepared for it, and as such I’m sure we’ve all ignored our usual course of study at one time or another, pulled out our little sheets with the list of what is on our next rank test and then drilled those techniques. For those in the lower kyu ranks this may happen a couple of times a year, and so thus this process can take up much of your training.

Thereafter, we take the test, pass, and move on. But what are we moving on to? What is the training that comes after our rank test, that is… if it is not to prepare for your next rank test?

It’s the space between.

I don’t mean to be trite when I say that Aikido, much like life, is not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

Are we walking billboards of our accomplishments? Do we open a conversation saying, “Hey, I’m a college grad,” “I’m on Broadway,” “I’m a Dad,” “Hey, I just made manager.” Probably not. We’re not products of our accomplishments. We are all the byproducts of the time, passion and effort it took to reach and attain those accomplishments. The viscera of life, the part that makes us who we are, it’s the space between…. the itty bitty pieces of existence, those moments, those minutiae we sometimes tend to forget…those moments as a whole are what amounts to us becoming a Mom, or a Doctor, or a Football Player, or a….

So I have this sense that I’m ready for my next kyu test ahead of schedule. Sensei explains to me that despite my having the knowledge to perform the technique to pass the test, doesn’t necessarily mean that I pass the test – in essence stating that Aikido is not simply a set of techniques listed on a sheet of paper, where once able to perform those techniques entitles you to a rank. He says, “the point of the structure is not for the sake of structure, because the structure by itself does not mean anything. The point of the entire system is to teach principle.”  When you think about this it makes total sense – even the technique that you’ve learned, perfected, know cold, doesn’t mean anything if you can’t or don’t know how or when to apply it.

Sensei goes on to explain that something else to consider is that practice is not just going to class. Our practice is also reflected in how it affects us off the mats, and that in particular sometimes simply needs time to settle into our character.

I imagined Sensei was telling me to slow down and smell the roses, slow down and enjoy the journey, slow down and explore the space between. This is not a canned process or one that exists in a vacuum, or as Sensei put it – this is not a process that can be arbitraged Wall Street style.

And so, having taken the advice that I didn’t quite fully understand at the time, allowing the journey to go on and the process to macerate, I have come to the suggestion I offer you here. Oft times we are immune to our own progressions and advancements, but I can tell you that even I realize a marked difference and improvement in my practice from two years ago. Stepping away from drilling the basics is important and necessary for a good and well rounded practice.

So much goes on in the space between in Aikido. Timing, blending and connecting with uke, posture, stance, kokyu, breathing, making sure you are perfecting each of those, and then you have all of that knowledge that you have attained that you use to help your kohais in class, help them to get better and become more fulfilled.

There are so many things in Aikido that you can miss if you’re not ready to accept them. This is surely one of them. It eluded me for two years, but through time, practice, remaining open and naturally through Sensei’s guidance, I have finally come to understand. I’ve always known that Aikido is an internal martial art, that is… it is not “simply learn these moves and you too will be able to defend yourself when attacked.” It is and offers so much more. And realizing this will help you grow and deepen the level and understanding along your journey. So, always be open to fully exploring the space between.

Seminars – by Ric Rivera

This past weekend, March 6, 7, 8, 2015, I had a great trip. It was not to any far location overseas, or my usual scuba trips– but yes my scuba diving trips are all great. The trip was far enough that it required being on some of America’s most travelled roads, yet close enough that it was travelled by auto in a 5-6 hour drive.

The trip was to see a direct student of Morihiro SaitoShihan. Saito Shihan was the most loyal, direct student of Morihei Ueshiba (O’Sensei), the founder of Aikido, the martial art that I have been studying for the past 10 years.

In the years of my studying, I have been truly blessed with opportunities to attend many seminars and receive instruction from direct students of O’Sensei, or their students. I have also been blessed to have a Sensei who encourages his students to go to seminars and other dojos, which was not allowed in some of the other styles of martial arts that I have studied.

This past weekend I had the distinct honor to participate in a Seminar hosted by Brian Hill Sensei, the Dojo-Cho of River City Aikido in Richmond, Virginia USA. The visiting Sensei was Mark Larson Sensei, direct student of Morihiro Saito Shihan. I attended the seminar with my Aikido Sensei Steve Kanney, Dojo-Cho of Aikido Westchester NY (formerly Scarsdale Aikido), my Sempai Gregory T., and my Kohais Joseph D., Jason C., Ozzie P., Marco S,, Milton F, and Cristian C.

There were two things that made this seminar very memorable. The first was that it was the first time a large group from our dojo attended a seminar– a total of 9 of us. The second was the fact that a direct student of Morihiro Saito Shihan was teaching.

I have had the opportunity to attend many seminars in my 10 years of studying Aikido. This seminar, I was amazed at a few things. Some members of our dojo that were present for this seminar have only been studying Aikido for as little as 3 months , 6 months, and one about 1 year. The others ranged from 1 year and over. When I first started Aikido, I wish I had the courage to go to a seminar when I had only 3 months of training, let alone a seminar of this quality.

I waited about 1 year and 4 months before I had the honor of going to my first seminar in Woodstock Aikido to receive teaching by the late Seiichi Sugano Shihan, who was a direct student of O’Sensei. I remember that I felt so intimidated, because the seminar was filled with so many participants wearing Hakamas, which meant they were black belts, but there I was. I handed my book in before the start of the first session, changed alongside of those black belts, feeling many things. Once on the mat after the stretching, the first technique was demonstrated by Sugano Shihan. It was about 1 turn to the left and 8 seconds when one of those black belts bowed towards me (indicating he wanted to practice with me) when I realized that I should have gone to seminars long before. So thank you to my Kohais who came to this seminar, I wish I had the courage to do that in my early practice of Aikido–you picked a great one to start with.

As for the seminar with Mark Larson Sensei, before the seminar started I had some feelings similar to my first seminar. Now, 10 years later, I was going to a seminar as a Shodan to receive instruction from a direct student of the late Saito Shihan. Yes, I was nervous up until Larson Sensei started to talk. The very first thing he said that he wanted to preserve what he was entrusted with from Saito Shihan: the sharing of Iwama Aikido. Once I heard that, all my feelings subsided. I had a great time meeting Larson Sensei and other Aikidokas from around the United States. But the most interesting thing for me was how Larson Sensei is so humble as a person and so generous as Sensei.

This is Aikido, as O’Sensei wished it to be. I have been humbled by this experience, and look forward to my continued study of Aikido. I am slowly understanding more, the many thanks to my Sensei Steve Kanney for his encouragement to always go to quality seminars. Because of him, I have been exposed to many quality Senseis, and now Larson Sensei. Thank You.

Just Some Ways That Studying Aikido Informs My Living by Dmitry Dinces

In thinking about applying principle of Aikido away from the mat, I am reminded of how some of the basic tenants of my daily practice have become a part of my world view. It is perhaps not so surprising after all, considering that Aikido is in a sense a very organic, natural application of simple physical and logical principles – blending with opponent, extending the opponent past his center, keeping yourself grounded and balanced, remaining calm and introspective, being respectful and honoring your teachers and their teachers. The list can go on and on. I will mention here connecting two basic principles that transcend their physical application but nevertheless are an integral part of Aikido worldview – centering oneself and self examination.

The concept of centering yourself physically and mentally in order to enhance one’s perception or to generate strength in movement or in mental fortitude is not unique to Aikido. Many philosophers and artist independently came to understand the value of this viewpoint — Henry Miller for example wrote a series of essays titled “Stand Still Like The Hummingbird”. The application of this tenet is reinforced day in and day out in our practice – do not focus on controlling the hand but focus on controlling the whole body; look toward other possible attackers; think of yourself as a center of calm in the whirlwind. I often think of this concept when faced with challenges that have a potential to overwhelm or to unbalance one’s life – personal relationships, challenges of parenting, work. Finding a foundation — an idea or a concept — that allows you to remain grounded in facing potentially unsettling circumstances is often absolutely necessary for a balanced life. Being presented with a daunting task of caring for aging parents, for example, can be unsettling. The difficult aspect is not providing the actual physical assistance – that is the easy part of the task. It is the demoralizing anguish of seeing once strong and independent loved ones slowly becoming physically and mentally infirm that can make one feel helpless and self-centered. There is a strong desire to avoid seeing the inevitable, to escape reality by preserving the memory of how things were. How do you find that inner anchor –what center do you hold on to remain strong for yourself and for them? See the forest for the trees then, the important and sacred instead of daily disappointments. So instead of feeling threatened or overwhelmed by the unsettling circumstances, find your strength in thinking of your obligation as a privilege, an honor to be there for your parents in the time of need, being their center as well as yours. Find your grounding in focusing outward, in being selfless and compassionate in facing the challenges with a clear mind, in understanding that your position is a blessing – both of your lives will be enriched in the process.

Studying of Aikido teaches one to continuously examine the strength of one’s practice – what makes a particular technique effective, where lies the strength or weakness of a particular defense or counter? One quickly learns that success is rooted not simply in doing something harder, or faster, but in breaking down the movement and understanding the dynamics, understanding the balance, the source of strength and also of weakness of a particular technique. This daily introspection becomes a part of one’s outlook on life and leads to finding opportunities to examine merits and weaknesses in other undertakings. I find no better place to apply these lessons that in the everyday challenges of parenting. How do you get through to your kids in the most effective way, how do you teach them life’s lessons, how do you teach them to teach themselves – to impart to them the practice of recognizing valuable lessons embedded in their own daily experiences? And so begins the application of practices the value of which I’ve recognized because of the daily lesson taught to me by my Aikido teachers. Daily life lessons after all are never seizing. Your kid and a friend get in trouble in school—you can punish them or it might be a time for a conversation about learning how to recognize when a friend’s influence can be damaging or a conversation about teaching a child to assert their sense of moral comfort in their relationships or a talk on how to recognize the signs of losing their independence in a relationship that they value. Your kid makes silly mistakes on a test – you can tell them to be more careful next time, or it might be a good learning moment to teach them the value of examining their work, of looking back and checking their own conclusions with a critical eye of an independent observer. A kid feels put upon in school or feels having their trust betrayed by a classmate – it might be an opportunity for a discussion about learning how to deal with adversity, about holding their ground or walking away. Rightly or wrongly, I found in Aikido not just a series of self defense techniques, but a rich and life affirming outlook on dealing with many complex issues. Many more lessons are waiting to be discovered by a diligent student. The learning never stops.

Aikido and Entrepreneurship by Gregory Temkin

I am an entrepreneur. As scholars define it, an entrepreneur is a person who is constantly on the look for opportunities, identifies them promptly, becomes the drive for the business idea and the team, and uses these opportunities to create a positive result. If an opportunity does not present itself, he is to lay ground for it, help the opportunity to shape up and then exploit it to the benefit of the participants.


It is amazingly similar to what I have been learning in Aikido: be aware at all times, recognize the intent at a very early stage, establish a connection with the opponent and then use the momentum to perform a technique resolving the situation with maximum positivity. If the opponent is not making his move, initiate the attack, gain the center and still achieve the desired result.


A very essential similarity in both Aikido and entrepreneurship is lack of ill intent. A business idea is best implemented when all participants win: the product meets the needs of the consumers, the investors get their return on the investment, and the work team makes profit enjoying the process and the positive energy along the way. In Aikido, you do not cultivate hate to your opponent, or fight him with an intent to kill or maim. On the contrary, you blend with the opponent, connect with him so closely that you almost become one, and then guide him with care to the best available solution.


While my business experience has considerably facilitated my learning and assimilating the Aikido principles, my Aikido training has greatly enhanced my entrepreneurial skills. At most times I am calm, aware of what is going on around me; I try to navigate situations to the best outcome for all those concerned and stay connected to the market’s needs and challenges.


As an example, I closely follow any regulatory changes that may affect exportation to Russia. Recently I became aware of new regulations that would have a very serious impact on international trade (Awareness). I tried convening an international seminar on the subject, but despite the interest, few companies turned out to be prepared to attend. The main reason for the low turnout was the travel cost of going to another city or country for a few days. I changed the strategy and proposed the format of a free webinar, which immediately got me about a hundred participating corporations (Attack initiation). I knew that the companies would expect not only a general overview of the changes, but the details and practical solutions specific to their particular business. As it is impossible to cover that many industries in a 90-minute presentation, I adapted the scenario and suggested that half of the time would be dedicated to questions that may be of interest to most participants, while more specific questions would be answered later in writing or over the phone (Blending). During the webinar I explained the intricacies of new regulations and demonstrated that my company has the knowledge and experience to handle those problems efficiently (Technique execution). Eventually, the participants learned about the pitfalls and best approach solutions, and I gained several valued customers who contracted our services (Best positive resolution). Would my strategy be that clear-cut and effective if I had not been a student of Aikido for the past 10 years? Probably not. Anyway, as I said above, my business experience and Aikido skills definitely work in synergy and enhance each other – a good example of the Heaven and Earth technique.

Earth-planted heaven

Resolving all conflicts:



Self Defense Training as a Meaningful Practice

As human beings, generally we are pleasure seekers and pain avoiders. As such, it should come as no surprise that most of us do not enjoy being physically beaten, abused or even killed. In fact, avoiding these outcomes are the top priorities in our lives. If you look at various codes of ethical conduct, not killing generally ranks first. Not harming someone physically is a lesser form of killing. Not stealing is often chosen second to killing, primarily for its proximity to supporting life. In particular, one should not steal the resources most essential to supporting the life of its owner.

However, to be happy, simply not being beaten up or killed at the moment is a start…but it is not sufficient. On a more subtle level, we must contend with the possibility that violence could erupt at any moment. To be realistic, there is no way we can have certainty of our safety in the next moment. How can we relax and enjoy our lives when we know the good times are not guaranteed?

Then we need to look at an even more subtle level. If we inspect our minds, we can often see a dualism that separates ourselves from others, particularly when we define ourselves as our own physical bodies. As long as there is an “us and a them,” there is a tendency to think of “mine and theirs.” This line of reasoning leads to separation, with an inherent potential for conflict. For example, “I want what they have” and vice versa, or “they had no right to do that to me.” Conflict is what ultimately leads to violence. The seeds for violence exist in our minds through this dualistic perspective on a moment to moment basis. It is this violence we know that can erupt at any moment and destroy the little peace we have managed to find. So we should know that it is the very lens through which we view the world on a daily basis has built within it the same violence we desperately wish to avoid.

Autism, Friendship and Aikido

We commonly hear people talk about how Autistic children have difficulty making friends. A primary area of concern may be that they cannot look other people in the eye. The child may also somehow seem off, which is easily recognized by other children and forces them into the role of social outcast. A first reaction to intervention may be to condition them to look others in the eye or develop age appropriate humor and other social skills. But from the standpoint of Aikido, the root of friendship is not looking someone in the eye or telling jokes.

To be a good friend as an adult, one must think about the deepest concerns another person faces and help them address these issues in a manner that can lead to genuine peace and happiness. To perform this task, one must learn to be compassionate towards others. Then one must study in depth how a person can become peaceful and happy, so they can help others achieve that goal. One then goes out into the world and takes responsibility to help others achieve these benefits in all of their relationships. When one is a good friend as suggested here, they will be respected and appreciated irrespective of how socially inept they may be. Compassionate action is thus the foundation of genuine friendship.

While all this would obviously be overwhelming to an Autistic child, the key point to help them develop friendships is to lay the groundwork for this process to unfold throughout their life. The process begins with empathy and compassion. It also ends with empathy and compassion. The primary obstacle to development of these skills is the child’s own condition and concern for themselves. The most direct way to work with the condition is to teach the child to relax and become peaceful themselves first. Then they can face more challenging situations with the hope of a better outcome when the foundation of their response emerges out of this more relaxed feeling. With better results, they build more confidence, which leads to the ability to be more relaxed. In this manner a virtuous cycle is begun.

During the practice, children are encouraged to examine how they feel themselves and then look outside themselves to see how others feel. They are taught intellectually to have a concern for others because everyone wants to be happy, just like them. Over time as this idea is addressed in many circumstances, the child begins to internalize the intellectual ideas that lead to empathy and compassion. With a focus on compassion, the child will be better prepared to build out their “social” skills, which are in this case a fuller definition of a good friend as described above.

Parents always want the best for their children. So when looking to help them in certain areas such as social interaction, the critical point is to target the most important benefits over the entire lifetime of the child. With this more complete picture, a parent can align the growth process for their child to one that can lead effectively to a greater sense of peace and happiness over the long run.