Re: Saotome Sensei's Training History
Like Janet, I have no horse in this race. I have met Saotome Shihan only once, at the funeral of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and we spoke for a few minutes.
However, I do not believe that to discuss the training history of an eminent shihan is ipso facto a personal attack. It is the way it is done that matters. After all, it is very important for aikido in general that the training history of Morihei Ueshiba, and also of his son Kisshomaru, is as clear as possible.
Like George, I spent some years training at the hands of teachers who stated that they were uchi-deshi of the Founder. However, I moved to Japan and have spent many more years training at the hands of other teachers, who also claimed to be uchi-deshi of the Founder--and yet others who made no such claims, but what they stated was quite different. Such that when I had a chance to ask Kisshomaru Ueshiba about the matter, I did so. I was sufficiently surprised by his answer to discuss the matter later with yet another teacher, S Arikawa, who confirmed what Kisshomaru had stated, but also added that Kisshomaru understood the term uchi-deshi in a rather more exclusive sense than it has been given nowadays, especially in aikido.
To my mind, Kisshomaru's insistance that the Founder had no postwar uchi-deshi and that he himself had no uchi-deshi, was never intended as a slight to postwar students like Saotome Shihan. It was a mark of respect to his own father, in whose footsteps he had to follow as Doshu. Kisshomaru did his utmost not to create a parallel training organization that would have the effect of competing with Morihei Ueshiba's. So it is quite true that the postwar students did indeed believe--and correctly so--that they were students primarily of Morihei Ueshiba. This is true even though M Ueshiba spent much of his time traveling round Japan. It is very clear from his biography that Kisshomaru believed that the training regime in Tokyo had the full support of Morihei Ueshiba. He looked after students like Messrs Saotome, Chiba and Kanai, who trained in Tokyo, at the hands of K Osawa, S Yamaguchi and H Tada--and Kisshomaru himself, when they were not accompanying Morihei U on his travels, or who took ukemi for Morihei U when he taught in Tokyo.
Now some people might regard hands-on training with M Ueshiba in the prewar Kobukan and hands-on training with M Ueshiba in Iwama and Tokyo as essentially the same: what differences there were, were primarily differences of degree. Even in the Kobukan years, Ueshiba was traveling and so training in his absence would be led by the uchi-deshi. For Kisshomaru, on the other hand, the prewar uchi-deshi relationship was different in quality, with the main focus squarely on Morihei Ueshiba himself.