Mitsugi Saotome Shihan

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan is the Founder and supervisory instructor for more than 100 affiliated Dojos of the international Aikido Schools of Ueshiba association.
Master Saotome has devoted his entire adult life to the study and teaching of Aikido. He began as a special apprentice with the Founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei (O Sensei) in 1955 and continued for 15 years until the Founder’s death in April of 1969.
From 1960 until 1975 Master Saotome taught at the World Aikido Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. During this period he was accorded many positions, honors and achievements. He appeared publicly at many events in Japan and abroad for the purpose of spreading the understanding and knowledge of Aikido.
In 1975 Master Saotome decided to leave his highly respected position as a senior instructor at World Aikido Headquarters in Tokyo to come to the United States.
In addition to regularly scheduled national and international seminars, Master Saotome has taught many special seminars including a U.S. Military Special Forces seminar, special training of the U.S. Security Forces in Washington, D.C. and has demonstrated before the United Nations General Assembly.
Master Saotome has published a number of highly respected books on Aikido including A Light on TransmissionAikido and the Harmony of Nature, The Principles of Aikidoand Aikido: Living by Design. He has also authored several training videotapes.
A detailed biography of Saotome Sensei is been recently written, and is available here: Living By Design, A Biography of Mitsugi Saotome Shihan.

Bill Gleason Sensei

William Gleason Sensei studied Aikido from 1970 to 1980 at the main world headquarters (Hombu Dojo) in Japan and also with Yamaguchi Seigo Shihan. During that same period, Gleason Sensei studied swordsmanship (kenjutsu) as well as Japanese language, classical music, and Eastern religion. Since 1985 Gleason Sensei has continued to practice and teach under the auspices of Mitsugi Saotome Shihan and the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba.
Gleason Sensei founded Shobu Aikido, Inc. in 1980 in Boston, Massachusetts, and there are presently five Shobu affiliate Dojos from the Midwest to the East Coast. His latest book is Aikido and Words of Power: The Sacred Sounds of the Kototama. He is also the author of The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido, which has been translated into four languages.
His first DVD, Aikido and Japanese Sword, shows how the movements in traditional swordwork and those in Aikido barehanded techniques are essentially one and the same. His second, William Gleason at Aikido Eastside, explores the secrets of aiki hidden within Aikido techniques.

Mary Heiny Sensei

For fifty years, Mary Heiny Sensei has followed a path of physical and spiritual inspiration as a student and teacher of Aikido. She started this journey in 1965 after watching O Sensei teach a class at Hombu Dojo in Tokyo, Japan. After studying at Hombu Dojo from 1968 to 1973 with O Sensei’s direct students and with Hikitsuchi Sensei, 10th dan, in Shingu, Heiny Sensei returned to the United States and began teaching at the University of California in Santa Cruz.
In 1976, she went to Seattle and opened Seattle School of Aikido. After nine years, she turned that dojo over to her students and left to begin another journey. Heiny Sensei was invited to the Ottawa Aikikai in Canada in 1987 where she worked for three years developing the club into a full-time dojo. When the school had grown to her satisfaction, she handed it over and embarked on another period of personal training and increased activity in teaching seminars and workshops in Canada, the US, and Europe.
She continues to travel and teach seminars all over the world, always striving to communicate the beauty and challenge of O Sensei’s desire that we use Aikido to become empowered as creative, compassionate beings and learn to appreciate each other as members of one human family.

Dan Messisco Sensei

Dan Messisco Sensei holds the rank of rokudan (6th dan) and has been training in martial arts since 1964. His martial arts background includes extensive training in both Korea and Japan. He earned his Chodan in Tang Soo Do in Korea and studied under Hwang Kwan Jang Nim, son of Grand Master Hwang Kee. He also trained at Hombu dojo in Tokyo, Japan. Messisco Sensei studied under Mitsugi Saotome Shihan in Sarasota, Florida where he earned his shodan (ASU). He also studied under Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan in Boulder, Colorado where he received his nidan and sandan rank (ASU). He received his Aikikai yondan in Japan, godan while studying in Pennsylvania, and rokudan while in Michigan.

Jan Nevelius Sensei

Aikido has been my deepest inspiration since I was a child, beginning my training at the age of 11 in 1975 in Stockholm, Sweden. At that time, I trained with several aikido teachers. Among the most influential was Hermansson Sensei, Itchimura Sensei, Kobayashi Sensei and Igarashi Sensei.
In 1983, I left for Japan, and lived in Tokyo for 3 years, training mainly at Hombu dojo. There I met with Endo Sensei who became my personal teacher. He has been my deepest aikido inspiration for over 30 years. In Hombu dojo I was also strongly influenced by Osawa Sensei and Yamaguchi Sensei. In 1986 I returned to Europe and in 1987 I met with Tissier Sensei who also became my personal teacher. Tissier sensei is a fantastic teacher and inspiration.In the 2019 Kagami Biraki ceremony I received 7th dan Aikikai from Doshu by recommendation from Endo Sensei, Tissier Sensei and the Swedish Aikido Federation.  I am very grateful to all my teachers who taught and inspired me for so many years, and still do. When it comes to other martial arts I have studied some Judo, Karate and Daitoryu Aikijujutsu (I hold the rank of 2:dan Daitoryu Roppokai from Okamoto Sensei). I also began studying Tai chi chuan with Master Mantac Chia in 1998. In addition to martial arts, I have studied traditional Chinese and Japanese healing arts since 1979; working for many years in Sweden with Acupuncture, Shiatsu, Reiki and Qigong. Zazen has also played an important role in my life and I try to sit as often as possible. All of these arts have influenced my aikido profoundly on many levels. Today I see more similarities than differences. Trying to look for what is behind the shape. Saotome Sensei has been an icon in Aikido from the very earliest days of my training.I was fortunate to have met with Saotome Sensei twice, a long time ago (maybe 30 years), both in Japan and in France. His charismatic presence, skill, and flowing movements made a strong impression that remains on my mind today. I am honored and accept this momentous opportunity with a deep bow of gratitude.

Chuck Weber Sensei

 I started Aikido in 1975 in Denver, Colorado, with Seiji Tanaka sensei of Waseda University and Tomiki Aikido. Tanaka sensei and his assistant Stan Hartz were very kind to me. When Hiroshi Ikeda sensei moved to Boulder he and Glenn Bluestone introduced me to Mitsugi Saotome sensei. I was fortunate to have these people share their ideas about aikido with me as an aikido-crazy beginner. In 1981, I moved to Washington, D.C., to be a bicycle messenger and study with Saotome sensei. In 1988, Saotome sensei asked me to start a dojo with Charles Page in Baltimore. In addition to receiving the rank of nanadan, Chuck Weber sensei has been given the Ueshiba Juku designation by Saotome shihan. Ueshiba Juku translates as “academy of the Founder.” It recognizes that the recipient has shown exceptional leadership in transmitting the teachings of O-Sensei and is a true inheritor of the teachings of O-Sensei through Saotome shihan.

Wendy Whited Sensei

Wendy Whited Sensei is an Aikido Shihan and 7th dan (ASU and IAF), but has also studied Iaido, Judo, and Shorei Ryu Karate. She began her study of Aikido at Northern Illinois University in January, 1973 after studying Judo for a year. After college, she continued her training at the Illinois Aikido Club in Chicago. With other club members, Whited Sensei met Saotome Sensei at the Winter Seminar in January of 1976. Subsequently Saotome Sensei sent one of his students, Shigeru Suzuki Sensei, to teach at the Chicago dojo. Whited Sensei trained with Suzuki Sensei until his return to Japan. She was also awarded a shodan in Iaido.
In July 1978 she visited Japan for the first time, training with Hikitsuchi Sensei in Shingu for three weeks. Having fallen in love with Japan, in 1987 she responded to an ad for the Japanese Exchange of Teachers Program (JET); she spent two years in Funabashi, Chiba Ken and taught in forty-four different junior high and five different elementary schools. She got very good at riding trains and buses.
On her return from Japan, she took up Shorei Ryu Karate while continuing to attend Aikido seminars. In 1990 she began teaching at the University of Chicago Aikido Club until, in 1992, she received permission to start Inaka Dojo in the bustling metropolis of Beecher, Illinois (population 2,000). She is now a popular and effective seminar instructor, and is invited to teach (and train) all over the world.

Photos and videos courtesy of Lars Ullberg