Morihiro Saito’s Elegant Classification System!

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“There are about 600 techniques in aikido. There are
basics, ki no nagare, oyowaza and henkawaza.”

Over the past several years Aikido Journal has released a series of videos titled “The Lost Seminars” featuring Morihiro Saito Sensei based on seminars he conducted abroad during the 1980s and 90s. In preparing the videotapes for publication, we have added over 10,000 subtitles that record Saito Sensei’s comments during these events. In the many hours of seminar footage, Saito Sensei explains and demonstrates hundreds of techniques that he learned from the Founder in the postwar period through O-Sensei’s death in 1969.

It is interesting to note that Saito Sensei would often provide more detailed technical sequences and unusual techniques during these foreign seminars that he would seldom have time to demonstrate in Iwama. Thus these videos taken as a whole constitute an invaluable catalog of aikido techniques from O-Sensei’s Iwama years. In addition, Saito Sensei periodically makes comments that contain pearls of wisdom that unlock a deeper understanding of the art. Here is a gem from one of the videos where Saito Sensei describe aikido’s vast repertoire of techniques:

There are about 600 techniques in aikido. There are basics, ki no nagare, oyowaza and henkawaza. Oyowaza are basic techniques applied to different circumstances. Henkawaza are techniques that are modified midstream to suit changed circumstances. If the technique is going smoothly, and you then change to something else, it is not a henkawaza.

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I find this an elegant way of classifying the huge body of aikido techniques. While the differences between basic and ki no nagare techniques are normally easy to comprehend, many people have found it difficult to grasp the distinction between oyowaza and henkawaza. According to Saito Sensei’s explanation, oyowaza are aikido basics applied to circumstances outside the scope of the basic curriculum. They can therefore be understood as “applied” or “advanced” techniques. Henkawaza, literally, “changed techniques,” are modified methods used when it becomes necessary to adapt the execution of a technique to changed circumstances. Stated in more plain terms, henkawaza are what you do when you flub a technique!

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There are many more of Saito Sensei’s comments worthy of close scrutiny on the “Lost Seminars” videos. If I had access to such materials early in my aikido career, it would have been a tremendous boon!

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Aikido Journal is now offering the Morihiro Saito “Lost Seminars” Video Collection which includes over 14 hours of expert instruction by Morihiro Saito, 9th. This visual compendium archives literally hundreds of the techniques of Iwama Aikido explained and demonstrated in detail by Saito Sensei with complete English subtitles.

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