Back to the roots

Notes and thoughts from my 2017 uchi deshi stay in Iwama.

This year marks the ten year anniversary of my first coming to Hitohira Saito Sensei’s Tanrenkan dojo as uchi deshi. In some of my previous posts I have written about the everyday life of an Iwama uchi deshi ( and This post, and some to follow, will more generally connect to budo training and my thoughts on uchi deshi life as an important factor in boosting your Aikido.

For me Iwama is the ultimate symbol of Budo, both physically and in a metaphorical way. This is where the Aikido I confess to was born and molded into shape. This is where the Saito family has worked for decades and generations to make sure that Iwama Aikido survives, stays strong and keeps evolving. First through Morihiro Sensei, now through Hitohira Sensei and also through a next generation of teachers in the making: Yasuhiro waka Sensei and Mitsuyoshi Sensei. These are classic grounds, but also progressive grounds that are very much alive and keep carrying Iwama Aikido into the future.

This is where my teacher found his inspiration and built a strong bond with his teacher Morihiro Saito Sensei. This is where he worked many long hard hours to keep himself up-to-date, in shape and sharp in mind. Stacking knowledge and information that he took back home to me, where he fed it to me long before Iwama was a vision on my horizon. This is where I eventually did the same thing with Hitohira Saito Sensei. And so the circle of life had gone its full way and a second generation student found and connected to a second generation teacher.

Physically it is easy to say that Iwama is the place to be if you want to experience true Budo. Training is severe: it is hard, it is strong, it is intense. There is no stopping, no talking, no relaxing, slowing down to study details. It is non-stop hard work from start to finish. You learn by repeating, doing the technique again and again and again. This particular and easy-to-apply principle would do well to be implemented in training in many dojos, where discussing the technique seems to be the general idea of how to learn.

Also physically, life off the mat serves to help you evolve. If it is summer, you are warm, if it is winter you are cold. You cook, you clean, you do all kinds of work that needs being done at the time. And you do all of this while living close to and together with total strangers that find themselves on the same path as you. This, for many, is as big a challenge as the hard life on the mat.

To me, Iwama also serves as a great metaphor for Budo training. Coming back to Iwama as uchi deshi is like coming back to basics in your training. Coming back to Iwama is coming back to something known and familiar. Most of the stuff is in the same place, most routines are the same, most of the village looks the same and a lot of the people are the same. Yet, off course, everything has changed, because time has not been standing still since last you were here. So, gradually you see the changes in environment and nature, people have gotten a bit older and things have happened in their lives. Things have been added or taken away in the dojo or the living quarters. Routines are slightly adjusted. Everything is the same and still not.

This is also true for anyone staying in Budo training for a long time. With regularity you also come back to your basic training. You go back to practicing the familiar stuff, the stuff you know and know so well. But every time you come back you find that something has changed. The small details are not where you used to find them, because time does not stand still and as time moves forward so do you. So you come back to the source, your basics, with new realizations and new knowledge and you find you look at things in another way. And this is where progress is shaped, in returning to the source. In going back to the roots.


In Aiki – M

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