Introduction to Iwama
I first went to Iwama and met Saito-sensei in the spring of 1972. I was training at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Tokyo at the time, and heard stories about this "outdoor dojo" in Iwama and a legendary sensei named Saito who was teaching the classes there.
Saito-sensei was scheduled to teach Sunday morning classes at Hombu, and I went every Sunday in hopes of meeting him. But he never came.
So, it seemed that I had to go to him. My wife and I went to Iwama and ended up in the six mat room at the entrance to the dojo. Saito-sensei and a few other people were training.
After a while Saito-sensei came over to us and asked if I wanted to train. I said yes. He asked if I had a uniform. I said no. He said "Wait a minute".
He went to his house and brought back an old uniform. I put it on and bowed into the class.
My first training partner turned out to be the resident monster whose name was Shigemi Inagaki. The first technique was shiho-nage. The first time he threw me, he did it so hard that I hit my head on the mat and was knocked out for several seconds.
When I woke up, I thought to myself, "This is what I've been looking for".
Saito-sensei later explained that Shigemi Inagaki had nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Aikido and hachi-dan (8th degree black belt) in fighting, and was the strongest young man in Japan in Aikido. After training with him several times I believed it completely.
We stayed for several days in Iwama, and slept in O-Sensei's old storeroom next to the dojo (which was subsequently demolished to build the current "red room"). It was a very interesting place, filled with old books and charts of Kotodama symbols that O-Sensei used in his lectures.
We wanted to move to Iwama as soon as possible, but there was no housing for us. I commuted to Iwama from Tokyo a number of times over the summer and participated in numerous gasshuku (seminars) with university students and other groups. Particularly challenging was one with Isoyama-sensei and his students from the Air Self-Defense Force base at Iruma.
Saito-sensei finally arranged to have a house built for us, and we moved to Iwama in the Fall. We ended up staying for about 10 years.