Interview with Paolo Corallini

Aiki News #94 (Winter/Spring 1993)

Paolo Corallini, veteran Italian practitioner, discovered the rationality and power of the aikido of Morihiro Saito Sensei on a 1984 trip to Iwama, site of the Aiki Shrine. This meeting with the famous ninth dan Aikikai Shihan led Corallini to a new understanding of the principles of aikido and kindled a renewed passion to share his discovery of the depth of O-Sensei’s art with others. Since that time, Corallini has worked hard to spread Iwama-style Aikido in Italy and Europe and displayed an uncommon devotion to his teacher.

Aiki News: When did you first begin your practice of aikido?

Paolo Corallini: I first began my study of the martial arts in 1969 with jujutsu and then in the same year I began to practice aikido. My first teacher was Motokage Kawamukai Sensei. I followed him for several years and to this day I hold in him in high regard. During these years I participated in many seminars throughout Europe conducted by famous Japanese teachers such as Nobuyoshi Tamura, Koichi Tohei, Yoshimitsu Yamada, Hiroshi Tada, Mitsugi Saotome, Seiichi Sugano, Yasufusa Kitaura, etc. I have also trained for a number of years under European teachers such as Christian Tissier and André Nocquet. I remained linked with Master Nocquet until the spring of 1984 when I finally met Saito Sensei.

How did you meet Saito Sensei?

I was told by a French friend of mine that it would be possible to meet Saito Sensei and then become his student by going to Iwama. When I heard this I decided to accompany my friend to Japan. Thus, in May of 1984, we went to what for me was a legendary place, Iwama, and I was introduced to Saito Sensei. I was the first Italian to set foot in his dojo, and he accepted me as an uchideshi. Saito Sensei wanted to know whose student I was and I explained to him my experiences during my sixteen years in aikido.

Did anything particular happen during your first trip to Iwama which convinced you to follow Saito Sensei?

During Saito Sensei’s classes in the Iwama Dojo I immediately realized that what I had learned up to that point was not enough to enable me to practice together with his students. I had great difficulty coordinating my movements and I felt that my techniques were neither precise nor effective, not to mention the jo and ken techniques, which for me were enormously confusing. The little that I knew about weapons training was from consulting Saito Sensei’s books, which I had done for several years. In other words, those first days in Iwama were very traumatic for me. Watching me, Saito Sensei immediately understood my problems, and fortunately, helped me to correct my movements in such a precise manner that little by little I was able to make some small progress. His teaching method and the concern that he showed for his students made it truly possible to understand the original form of the techniques as taught by O-Sensei. This was like a lightning bolt and led me to a final decision to close my past relationships and dedicate myself heart and soul to this great teacher and to Iwama-style aikido.

How did you manage to convince Saito Sensei to come to Italy the first time?

Toward the end of my first stay in Iwama, Saito Sensei handed me a letter containing several questions, which thanks to the help of Mr. Pranin I succeeded in understanding. He wanted to know what I thought of his teaching method, the Iwama-style, and my experiences with this form of aikido. In addition, he requested that if my response was positive that I talk about Iwama aikido upon my return to Italy. I realized at that point that I must do something and that it was not fair that I was the only one to have the good fortune of such a marvelous experience. One evening after explaining the aikido situation in Italy and central Europe to Saito Sensei, I sincerely invited him to come to my country to conduct a seminar. After a long silence, Saito Sensei accepted my invitation. This event determined my future. From that moment on I dedicated myself completely to him, in order to make his technical and spiritual genius known to all of those with whom I would come into contact.

How did practitioners of aikido in Italy react to Saito Sensei’s visit and his teaching?

Unfortunately the first seminar in Italy, conducted in February 1985, was not a success from the numerical standpoint because the other federations explicitly prohibited their members from participating. However, it did serve to sow the seeds of Iwama-style aikido in Italy.

After this initial experience what happened to you and your group in Italy?

In the beginning I lost many students who were accustomed to a softer, less precise and less demanding form of aikido. Then little by little, the rational nature and value of Saito Sensei’s techniques have had an impact on a number of people, and today, eight years later, our group includes twenty-four dojos that practice the Iwama-style Takemusu Aiki exclusively.

How did your experience influence other people outside of your group and outside of Italy?

During the course of these years, many people from other federations (the same ones who in the beginning were hostile towards us) became interested in the Iwama-style and the number of participants in Saito Sensei’s seminars has steadily increased. I have attempted to involve my many old friends from different European countries and have often succeeded. Today I can say that Iwama-style aikido has some presence in all of the aikido organizations, not only in Italy.

We know that you invited Saito Sensei’s son Hitohiro to Italy in 1991. Was this visit a success?

Yes. I invited Hitohiro Sensei in November of last year, in order to introduce him to everyone and to make it known that he was not only the son of a famous father, but that he too is a true sensei with exceptional technical and pedagogical abilities. I am happy and honored that he accepted and that everyone appreciated his visit a great deal. The number of participants in the seminar—more than one hundred and sixty people from all parts of Europe—proved this.

I have the distinct impression that Saito Sensei has a particular regard and trust in you. Would you comment on this?

This is a rather embarrassing question, but I will attempt to answer it. I believe that due to his experience in life and aikido, Saito Sensei is capable of seeing the hearts of people directly, not through his eyes, but on a spiritual level. Therefore he realized in the course of these years that I have a deep and total admiration and love for him, like that of a son towards his father. Also, over the years I believe that I have shown him this through all of my actions and efforts, which have been directed towards the goal of making Iwama-style aikido (and therefore the aikido of the founder, O-Sensei) known, and to make Saito Sensei respected as the great teacher he is by as many people as possible. I would actually do anything, and he knows it, to help to disseminate the aikido of O-Sensei. Therefore on many occasions Saito Sensei has shown his trust in me. For example, several years ago, he accorded me the honor of the godan ranking in bukiwaza [weapon techniques], and the instructor’s certification for these gradings. He has also selected me as his representative for Southern Europe.

You also invited Saito Sensei to Italy in June of this year. Have you noted an increase in interest in Iwama-style aikido?

As I have already mentioned, the interest in Saito Sensei’s aikido has grown exponentially. This year, we had more than one hundred and eighty participants, not only from all over Europe, but also the United States, New Zealand, etc. During his stay in Italy this year, Saito Sensei decided to present me with a marvelous gift. He said to me, “I am going to leave with you all of O-Sensei’s basic standing taijutsu techniques. I want you to have a professional film all of these techniques; this film will then remain as a treasure to compensate you for the help that you have always given me. In Iwama I will have all of the other techniques filmed, including the suwariwaza, hanmi handachi techniques, jo dori, tachi dori, tanken dori, and kaeshi waza, with my son Hitohiro.”

As a result we filmed an extraordinary video, using a crew of cameramen. Saito Sensei was in splendid form and executed more than sixty basic taijutsu and ki no nagare techniques with many henka waza from the basic series.

What was your impression upon seeing the enormous technical knowledge of Saito Sensei?

It was something marvelous and indescribable to watch him for hours and hours practicing numerous series of techniques with such precision, power, and harmony at the same time. After more than twenty years in aikido I finally understood the meaning of takemusu aiki without there being a need for words, just by seeing it. The techniques of Saito Sensei came uninterruptedly, surging forth spontaneously and expressing themselves in movement and harmony. This martial creativity, this inexhaustible source of techniques and vital energy, is takemusu aiki, and merely by seeing this, the faithful reflection of the aikido of the founder, I finally understood.

Do you plan to make this technical treasure available to aikido practitioners in the future?

Saito Sensei told me, “This is a gift for you. Use it in any way you consider appropriate.” I believe that it is truly too great a treasure to keep to myself, and therefore in the near future, I am thinking of making a videotape containing at least all of the basic techniques and placing it at the disposal of those who admire the true aikido of O-Sensei. At the appropriate time, Mr. Pranin, I will ask you to make an announcement in your magazine.

What are your future plans?

That’s simple. I will continue to follow Saito Sensei with the same enthusiasm as always, and the same faithfulness, and do whatever possible to stimulate others to do the same thing.

Could you tell us about the aikido organizations in Italy and their affiliations?

In Italy as in most other countries there are various federations. The main ones include the Aikikai of Italy, which is the Aikikai’s organization in Italy. The nominal head is Hiroshi Tada Sensei, but it is actually Yoji Fujimoto Sensei and Hideki Hosokawa Sensei, both sixth dans, who have lived in Italy for many years. This organization has the largest number of registered members. Our group, the Iwama Takemusu Aiki Italy (UIA), faithfully follows the teachings of Morihiro Saito Shihan, and is authorized and recognized by him.

The Aikido section of the F.I.L.P.J. (Italian Federation of Wrestling, Weightlifting, and Judo) has in the past been connected with various Japanese and Italian teachers. For the last six years it has been under the technical supervision of Takeji Tomita Sensei.

The Ki no Kenkyukai Italy is based in Florence and follows Koichi Tohei Sensei. It does not have a large membership, but it has an active following, particularly in the northern part of the country.

Unione Aikido Kobayashi (UAK) is the group which, as its name indicates, follows Hirokazu Kobayashi Sensei and it is especially active in the south of Italy. Finally, the Lega Italiana Aikido (LIA), the group connected with the European Aikido Federation, is under the supervision of Nobuyoshi Tamura Sensei and Motokage Kawamukai Sensei.

How did your organization the UIA come into being?

The UIA was established at the end of the 1970s as the Italian representative of the UEA (European Aikido Union) directed by André Nocquet. At that time I was an active supporter of this teacher, who had contributed so greatly to the diffusion of aikido in France. I set up this group on the advice of Master Nocquet, and at that time it had a membership of about one thousand persons. Then, as I have said, I met Morihiro Saito Shihan in 1984, and decided to follow him exclusively. From that time the UIA left the UEA and continues its exclusive affiliation with Saito Sensei.

Please give us your impressions of the teaching methods of Kawamukai Sensei, Tamura Sensei, Nocquet Sensei, and Tissier Sensei.

Since I have trained a great deal with Kawamukai Sensei, I can state that he teaches in a clear, understandable way, emphasizing physical preparation and coordination. His way of teaching is similar to that of Tamura Sensei. There is not much to say about this great teacher, who is known to everyone. Personally, I have a great deal of respect for Tamura Sensei, for his qualities as a man, as a teacher, and above all, for what he has accomplished in Europe and other countries for the development of aikido.

I can say about Master Nocquet that he is without doubt a man who possesses great human and spiritual values, a philosopher of aikido. During his lessons, besides teaching techniques, he speaks continuously of O-Sensei, episodes from his life, his manner of thinking and his religiosity, as do other teachers from the Hombu Dojo.

Christian Tissier is, as you know, a person who has spent a long period of time in Tokyo at the Hombu Dojo in order to acquire a good technical level under the guidance of various senseis. Personally, I must say that his school is characterized by considerable physical and athletic preparation. He has extraordinarily good ukes and he is very powerful and elegant in his movements. In addition, he has the uncommon ability of being able to create around him a certain enthusiasm which maintains the unity of his students. He is, in other words, an extremely charismatic individual. It is also true that he has numerous students in France.

What is your profession and your hobbies?

I am a dentist and I have two offices where I have practiced my profession with great enthusiasm from the time I made the decision to become a dentist. In fact, from the time I was a child, I always wanted to be what I am today.

As far as hobbies are concerned, I have had many and I have many today. Even as a boy I had a wide variety of interests. At the age of thirteen I began taxidermy and did this enthusiastically for eighteen years. Other hobbies of mine were painting, archeology, fossil collecting and rock collecting, and currently I collect cameras. Finally, on the few weekends free from aikido I practice archery. In other words, as you can see, I have loved and love many things. I believe that life, even if it is short, is very beautiful and should be lived with an appreciation of this fact at every moment. Perhaps it is because I think of life in this way that I love aikido so much as a marvelous means for being in harmony with human beings and with all that surrounds us.

In conclusion, would you tell us what deeper meaning aikido has had for you?

This question would require a great deal of space to answer. I may briefly say that I consider aikido to be above all a rational, complete, extremely effective and intelligent martial art. At the early levels of training one is hypnotized by the beauty, difficulty, and harmony of the techniques. However, the keen eye will perceive little by little the physical and geometrical principles of the forms. Advancing in the study of this fascinating art while training simultaneously in taijutsu and the jo and ken (as O-Sensei wished), one comes to truly understand the significance of takemusu aiki as the martial origin of the art and as a method for remaining in harmony, first of all with one’s self and then, in a broader sense, with those around us. Above and beyond the indisputable martial value of aikido I would emphasize its educational and spiritual potential for today’s youth, who live in this materialistic and competitive world and tend to see other people as possible enemies and competitors. Aikido, with its principles of blending and its capacity to lead negative energy which comes to oppose it in a positive manner while respecting and preserving the life of other people, is without doubt a marvelous means—given to us by O-Sensei—to overcome our negative egos.

Paolo Corallini Profile

Born ca. 1952. Fifth dan Iwama-style. First studied aikido in 1969 under Motokage Kawamukai. Traveled to Japan in 1984, when he became a student of Morihiro Saito. Responsible for helping introduce Saito Sensei and his aikido to Europe. President of the Unione Italiana Aikido.

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