Paolo Corallini: “Following in Morihiro Saito Sensei’s Footsteps” by Stanley Pranin

Paolo Corallini and Morihiro Saito Sensei practicing the Aiki Ken in Iwama c. 1987

I would like to dedicate this article to Paolo Corallini Sensei one of my closest aikido friends, among Morihiro Saito’s most devoted students, and one of the main torch-bearers upholding the Iwama Aikido tradition in Europe. Paolo’s life — as was my own — has born the indelible stamp of Saito Sensei’s teachings and example. I would like to share with you some of my personal recollections and highlight Paolo’s importance to the development of aikido in Italy and other European countries.

Let me begin by providing some information on Paolo’s martial arts background with a little help from his Wikipedia entry to refresh my memory.

At the age of 18, Paolo Corallini joined a jujutsu dojo and immediately thereafter discovered the martial art of aikido — at the time in its infancy in Italy — that would determine the course of his life. At this stage he studied with Motokage Kawamukai Sensei who awarded him his first dan in 1977. He next received his second dan from Hirokazu Kobayashi Sensei in 1979 and began to travel to France to study aikido in various schools. There he met André Nocquet, a student of Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba and President of the European Aikido Union. Nocquet awarded Corallini his third dan in 1981 and 4th dan in 1983. Corallini was also selected President and Technical Director of the Italian Aikido Union which was the Italian branch of the European Aikido Union. During that period, Corallini published his first book on Aikido and attended many seminars conducted by prominent Japanese instructors among them Nobuyoshi Tamura, Koichi Tohei, Yoshimitsu Yamada, Mitsugi Saotome, and Katsuo Chiba.

In 1984, stimulated by the desire to meet Morihiro Saito Sensei and see the dojo where the Founder had created Aikido, Corallini traveled to Iwama situated in the countryside of Ibaraki Prefecture about 90 km to the northeast of Tokyo. It was here that his encounter with Morihiro Saito Sensei took place and Corallini realized that the art practiced in Iwama was the traditional Aikido of the Founder. Corallini then decided from that moment forward that Morihiro Saito would be his only teacher and became one of his most devoted students.

In February 1985, Saito Sensei accepted Paolo Corallini’s invitation and conducted a seminar of Iwama Takemusu Aikido in Italy visiting central Europe for the first time. Beginning on this date, Corallini invited Saito Sensei to Italy on eight occasions. He accumulated at least eight years of study in Iwama through 24 visits spent as an uchideshi (live-in student)…

In 1988, Corallini received his 5th dan from Saito Sensei and during this period received the five Buki Waza Mokuroku (Aikido weapons scrolls). In March, 1993 Saito awarded Corallini the sixth dan and named him his representative for central and southern Europe…

[Excerpted from Italian Wikipedia entry for Paolo Corallini]

The Wikipedia entry for Paolo continues with a long list of his accomplishments and contributions to the furtherance of Iwama Aikido in Europe with the assistance of his son Francesco Corallini and senior instructors of his Takemusu Aikido Association Italy organization.

Morihiro Saito with Paolo Corallini in Swiss Alps c. 1988
Morihiro Saito with Paolo Corallini in Swiss Alps c. 1988

To provide further background information on Paolo and the importance of his association with Morihiro Saito Sensei, I also offer excerpts from an article I wrote shortly after Saito Sensei’s passing in 2002.

In late 1984, an Italian aikidoka named Paolo Corallini arrived at the Iwama Dojo to train. He became captivated by Saito Sensei’s aikido but could not speak Japanese or English. Though I was living in Tokyo by this time I sometimes visited the Iwama Dojo to practice and I met Paolo on one occasion. He asked me to interpret for him and this led to Sensei being invited to instruct in Italy in February 1985. I was invited along as interpreter.

This new connection with Europe proved to be of great significance to the future development of Iwama Aikido. Paolo Corallini became totally devoted to Saito Sensei and this visit would be the start of annual and sometimes biannual visits to Europe.

On this first trip Sensei conducted seminars in Turin and Osimo, the latter located along the Adriatic Sea coast. The Italians and aikidoka from other countries in attendance reacted exactly like everyone else who came into contact with Sensei’s instruction. As I mentioned above, Sensei was a masterful teacher. Not only were his techniques superb, but he would vary the mood greatly while teaching. He would sometimes explain in an analytical way. At other moments, he would chide a student for a mistake and issue one of his famous “dame” admonitions, and then in the next moment make a hilarious comment that would break up the serious mood. Sensei was very conscientious about teaching these seminars and always succeeded in endearing himself to those who attended…

The seminars Saito Sensei taught were also professionally videotaped by one of Paolo’s friends. They capture the magic of his teaching skills and technique at this stage of his life…

Paolo’s enthusiasm was contagious and he succeeded in convincing Sensei to visit again in May of that same year, not something that Saito Sensei would do normally. There was another reason for Sensei’s accepting a return invitation so soon after our initial visit. Paolo is a dentist by profession and Sensei’s teeth were in pretty bad condition. Paolo offered to completely repair his teeth prior to the seminar.

This trip proved quite an adventure because the dental work involved would normally have taken several weeks to complete. Paolo somehow compressed the entire treatment down to four days! He was a nervous wreck during this time as he was deathly afraid that something might go wrong. Fortunately, for all concerned, the treatment went flawlessly and Sensei emerged with a big smile and new teeth as you can see in the accompanying photo!

Although I have remained silent all these years, I must confess that I hatched a sinister plot on this trip. As those who spent time with him know, Sensei was fond of drinking as are most Japanese men. Foreign visitors are sometimes shocked at this phenomenon when they first visit Japan, but it is a fact of life that social drinking is commonplace at all levels of society and is regarded as a safety-valve for the stresses of daily life. In any event, out of concern for Sensei’s health and perhaps due to a bit of prudishness of my part, I was always trying to get him to cut down on his drinking. Paolo was the key to making my plan work!

Paolo Corallini’s destiny has been to devote himself to the best of his ability to disseminate Saito Sensei’s aikido exactly as our teacher had done before him to faithfully preserve the Founder’s art.

I conspired with Paolo and Tomita-san to have Paolo give Sensei a lecture in his capacity as a medical doctor on the reasons why it would not be a good idea for him to continue regular drinking if he wished to maintain his teeth in good condition. At the appointed time after the treatment was over, Paolo stood in his office wearing his white dental frock with Sensei seated unsuspectingly in the patient’s chair and delivered his lecture. Everyone knew what was going on except Sensei. Tomita-san almost could not contain himself and I feared he would burst out laughing and spoil everything! I was having a hard time keeping a straight face myself as the interpreter.

The upshot was that Sensei apparently took the lecture quite seriously and stopped drinking all together for several days. He would report to me everyday how he had not had a single drop! Finally, shortly after we boarded the plane to leave Italy, he could contain himself no more and poured himself a long drink. Seated at his side and normally very talkative, I remained stone silent pretending not to notice. Sensei looked very sheepish and said to me, “You’re angry at me, aren’t you?” I don’t recall what I mumbled in reply. But that was the last time I tried anything like that and it was a good lesson to me to mind my own business!

Ulf Evenas, Morihiro Saito, Paolo Corallini, c. 1998
Ulf Evenas, Morihiro Saito, Paolo Corallini, c. 1998

To the best of my recollection, we visited Italy five times all together, sometimes going to other countries on the same trip. The connection with Paolo Corallini would later give birth to the formation of several European aikido organizations centered on Iwama Aikido. Paolo Corallini’s organization called Takemusu Aikido Association Italy is the largest among them and remains under the Aikikai international umbrella.

On a side note, these visits and the collaboration of Paolo enabled us to undertake some important historical work that could not have been attempted under normal circumstances. First of all, in 1987 I succeeded in talking Sensei into doing a very unusual project. This involved him reading aloud into the camera the text of the 1938 training manual Budo and then demonstrating the techniques from the book in front of the video camera. This is the same book I mentioned above that I had discovered in Iwama a few years earlier. I thought Sensei would be the perfect person to carry out this project because of his familiarity with the earlier techniques of O-Sensei. Also, since the content of Budo was very convincing as a validation of Saito Sensei’s approach to aikido, I believed he would welcome the opportunity since we had the cameraman and facility available. As it turned out, Sensei was tired from the long travel and I had to convince him to agree to the videotaping. By then, he must have known instinctively that if I were involved it would be a tough project!

At video shoot for the Aiki Ken and Jo tapes, Osimo 1987
At video shoot for the Aiki Ken and Jo tapes, Osimo 1987

One of the biggest problems to be overcome was the naming of the techniques covered in Budo. The techniques are merely numbered in the original manual and there are only single word section names. It took some cajoling on my part but Sensei succeeded in coming up with names for all 50 of the techniques. The finished video is an excellent technical document and also captures Saito Sensei in his prime.

The following year in 1988 we did yet another videotape, also of great significance. We recorded most of Saito Sensei’s aiki ken and jo suburi and kata as they stood at this point in time. The video shoot took place in Paolo’s private dojo in Osimo and Ken’ichi Shibata partnered Sensei on this occasion. In looking back, I really appreciate how fortunate we are to have these documents preserved for future generations!

Excerpted from “Remembering Morihiro Saito” by Stanley Pranin.

It should be obvious that Paolo Corallini’s efforts to disseminate Saito Sensei’s aikido in Europe have proven to be one of the principal factors in the strong base of Iwama Aikido established in Europe. Paolo’s early collaboration with Aikido Journal and support of a series of video projects with Saito Sensei made possible the preservation of vital historical footage of this great aikido master who so influenced both of our lives.


In September 2015, I visited Paolo’s home dojo for the first time in 26 years! It is beautifully decorated and contains many precious documents and belongings of Saito Sensei that he had gifted to Paolo. It was an exhilarating experience tinged with nostalgia to be inside this historic place. This dojo is truly a shrine to Morihiro Saito Sensei and Paolo’s devotion to him. As is our custom, Paolo and I had seemingly endless conversations on Saito Sensei’s aikido and his role in shaping both of our lives.

I was thinking just the other day about something that had never occurred to me before. In conclusion, let me share this with you.

Stanley Pranin, Ulf Evenas, Paolo Corallini, Osimo, Italy, September 2015
Stanley Pranin, Ulf Evenas, Paolo Corallini, Osimo, Italy, September 2015

Anyone who knew Morihiro Saito would recall his insistence on the fact that he was not at liberty to develop his own aikido. He saw his mission in life to be the preservation to the best of his ability of the aikido of Founder Morihei Ueshiba. While watching Paolo Corallini teach his classes during our recent joint seminar, it struck me that Paolo was doing exactly the same thing. His mastery of Iwama Aikido, attention to detail and authentic technique strongly recall Saito Sensei’s art in every way. Paolo’s destiny has been to devote himself to the best of his ability to disseminate Saito Sensei’s aikido exactly as our teacher had done before him to faithfully preserve the Founder’s art.


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