Despite the reputation of Iwama Style Aikido as fiercely martial, Morihiro Saito Sensei, the developer of that style over the years following the Founder's death, was himself a very compassionate man.
Two teachers who spent a great deal of time with Saito Sensei, Dennis Tatoian Sensei and Hans Goto Sensei, both have stories about Saito Sensei that give us a glimpse of the scope of his compassion.
Tatoian Sensei tells of a visit to Iwama with a group of his students during the late 1980s. He says he was surprised during class with Saito Sensei that his old teacher corrected all of the young American students, but never corrected or criticized their teacher's technique in the slightest way. At one point, Tatoian Sensei remembers, "I even started doing things wrong on purpose, things that he always used to yell at me for, trying to see if he would correct me, but he never said a thing."
Later, Saito Sensei told his old student, "when you teach at other dojos never use the head instructor as your uke. This shows disrespect for both the teacher and his (or her) students. The students should never see their teacher thrown around on the mat or corrected during training." Just then Tatoian Sensei realized that Saito Sensei was telling him why he did not correct him in front of his students. It was a compassionate decision to preserve the dignity of his old student, now a senior Sensei in America.
Hans Goto Sensei has many stories about Saito Sensei from his time as uchi deshi at Iwama Dojo during the early 1970s. According to one of them, Saito Sensei had asked Goto Sensei, then a young black belt, to accompany him to a demonstration. At many Japanese Aikido demonstrations there was a great deal of talking first, while the students patiently sat in Seiza, a posture in which you sit back on your heels, your legs folded under you.
Goto Sensei sat quietly in seiza as other dignitaries and then Saito Sensei took long turns talking. As the talking continued Goto Sensei recalls that he began to feel his knees go numb and became unsure about his ability to get up. Of course, he was going to have to get up and attack Saito Sensei most forcefully at some point, and he began to feel apprehensive about whether he could do this. Not to get up and provide the asked for attack, or to do so awkwardly, would be to show disrespect for his teacher, and this worried the young American black belt.
Finally, the talking was over, and Saito Sensei turned and gestured at Goto Sensei to prepare to attack him. As he gestured and began to call out the attack, Goto says, Saito Sensei saw Goto shift awkwardly to ready himself. Immediately, the old japanese teacher smiled slightly, paused for a tiny moment, and then called out loudly, "we will start the demonstration with seated techniques!" Given this opportunity to begin from the seated position Goto Sensei had no trouble warming up, and the demonstration was a success.
Once again Saito Sensei had found a way to preserve the dignity of one of his students. Perhaps among the reasons why so many senior students of Saito Sensei all over the world remained so fiercely loyal to him, in addition to his having spent 23 years with the Founder, was his great capacity for compassion and the preservation of basic human dignity.