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Saito Shihan’s First and Last Uchideshi, Bill Witt and Mark Larson, Visit Richmond in October

By Tim Sheldon

RICHMOND, Va. (11-9-06) - The Iwama lineage was present at full strength here in October when William Witt Shihan, 7th Dan, and Mark Larson Sensei, 4th Dan, visited for two separate seminars.

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Witt visited Randolph-Macon College Oct. 7-8 as the guest of Bryan Park Aikido and Chief Instructor Tim Sheldon, and Larson visited the Lewis Ginter Recreation Assn. in Richmond Oct. 21-22 as the guest of River City Aikido and Chief Instructor Brian Hill. The two did not meet, and it was by coincidence that they were both in Richmond within two weeks of each other.

Witt was the first American uchideshi of Morihiro Saito Shihan dating back to 1969 and continuing for extensive periods of time through 1975, while Larson was Saito's last principal American uchideshi from 1993 until Saito’s death in 2002.

(Photos: Bill Witt, top, and Mark Larson.)

Witt Sensei was the first to receive the menkyo kaiden scroll for the Aiki-ken from Saito Shihan, while Larson was the last to receive the scroll in 2001.

Saito Shihan (1928-2002) was the longest direct student of the Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) and former Chief Instructor of the Founder's Iwama Dojo from 1969-2002. He was also caretaker of the Aiki Shrine.

Witt did extensive translating for Saito Shihan for an initial series of books in the early 1970s and brought Saito to the U.S. for his first series of U.S. seminars during that same period. Larson traveled extensively with Saito Shihan as his primary uke and otomo for seminars in the late 1990s and early 2000s and served as his translator.

"I was there when Saito Sensei wanted to promote Bill Witt Sensei to 7th Dan and helped with some of the translating," Larson recalled. "I also remember translating letters from Witt Sensei to Saito Sensei toward the end of Sensei's life and for the Saito Family after Saito Sensei passed. Witt Sensei sent me a nice email after Sensei passed away about our connection to Saito Sensei and Iwama that I kept."

Both Witt and Larson reflect the teaching of Saito Shihan in their technique and follow the same precise training methods that are characteristic of the Iwama lineage, descending from the Founder, Morihei Ueshiba.

Witt is now President of the Takemusu Aikido Association and teaches at the Silicon Valley Dojo in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Larson is Chief Instructor of the Aiki Shuren Dojo in St. Cloud, Minn.

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