The kamon (crest, logo) for the Aikido Chuseikan of Tampa Bay dojo represents a waterwheel, which we feel is a symbol that embodies some very important ideals in Aikido philosophy.  During an airplane flight with Saotome Sensei in August of 2016, I had the opportunity to discuss the many layers of meaning that Sensei thinks is symbolized by the waterwheel.

At the simplest level, the waterwheel represents stillness in motion, and motion in stillness.  It is the energy of the river that turns the wheel, and is in turn transformed into a useful outcome through the strength of interaction of the wheel and nature.  It is the energy of the river that lifts the water, and the wheel that transforms it.

The secret of how the waterwheel works is subtle, and teaches us the relationship between strength and technique.  The part that appears to be in motion, where the water is being lifted, is not the source of the motive force; instead, the strength that lifts the water is hidden beneath the surface of the river and draws from the power of the flowing river. This is the same as our technique; the power of our technique should not come from our muscles or where we connect to our attacker. The wheel works not because it “uses the water’s strength against it” or because it overwhelms the resistance of the river, but because it taps into a greater force that is removed from the attack, that cannot be influenced by the place of connection.

The wheel represents tenkan, the spiral, the rotation.  It is the transformation of linear force (the direction and intent of the flow of water) into a spiral. The center of the waterwheel rotates (tenkan) and holds its center but never moves, while the edge of the wheel blends in harmony with the energy of the river.

“Water wheel” – Saotome Sensei’s sketch of man harmonizing with nature in the environment

The river represents nature, that both the Dojo and the student harmonize with, are always connected to, and draw their strength and peace from.  When one envisions a working waterwheel, there is the gentle sound of moving and falling water, the creak and mumble of the moving wheel.  The design of the waterwheel makes it a part of nature, and although the river never stops or relents, the relationship between the wheel and the river brings us peace and calm.

Saotome Sensei described that the waterwheel also represents the Great Wheel of Karma manifested in nature, the universal law of harmony and spirit.  Its nature is reconciliation, and its motion brings all actions back upon their origins. This is the flow of the universe in which the attacker and the defender exist and participate whether they intend to or not.

Finally, Sensei described how the river represents both the concept of sh-ha-ri and our Dojo lineage.  Originating with O Sensei and even before, it represents a flow of students and teachers following each other through time.  Through the dedication, compassion and commitment of these students and teachers, new students are lifted out and up; they learn and become strong and unique; and then they return to the lineage to help the next generation.  At the point where the wheel touches the lineage (river), there is basic technique (“shu”); as the wheel rises there is mastery and expression of technique (“ha”), and as the wheel descends there is transcendence of technique (“ri“); but at the end, there is the return to the basics just as the wheel completes its rotation and starts one anew.

Saotome Sensei drew sketches at that time to illustrate his thoughts about the waterwheel concept and symbolism. Then, to extend the connection between our Dojo and our lineage, he sketched a logo design for the Aikido Chuseikan of Tampa Bay which demonstrates the waterwheel design as an echo of the ASU logo.  In outline and in shape, the ASU logo and the logo he sketched for our Dojo are the same; but instead of the sun and clouds (fire, air, water) in the ASU logo, the Chuseikan waterwheel logo represents water and earth.

The ASU logo, and the Aikido Chuseikan logo as designed by Saotome Sensei


Based on a conversation with, and sketches by Saotome Sensei on 8/22/2016.

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