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.