以春風接人, 以秋霜自粛


When jointly attending to Saotome Sensei’s attention flow, one moves amongst a pidgin blending diverse language communities and communities of practice. Within this changing context, are many ideographs passed down through oral and written languages across thousands of years. As has been said, “when you learn a foreign language, you learn more than just the language.” Herein is a primary example, in studying, not only words, but the objects words point out, in Saotome Sensei’s brushwork of a variation on a leadership maxim from Satō Issai.


Just the other day, Don Ellingsworth sent a video and photo of Saotome Sensei brushing a variation of “以春風接人, 以秋霜自粛” as “春風以接人秋霜以自齎”. The original reference is from Satō Issai’s (佐藤一斎; 1838/2005), 言志四録 located in the book titled 言志後録. In the early days living at Aikido Shobukan Dojo, Sensei referred to a book placed on the living room fireplace mantle as his “bible”.

Now, years later, it is evident through research, that of many Japanese, this is a leadership bible (青木 , 2016). It is founded on many philosophies, and is written by a samurai scholar that is attributed to Japan’s earliest isolationist behaviors against foreigners, the Meiji restoration, and further behaviors (note that the spring breeze blows here) leading to the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Peace and Amity. Satõ was a skilled swordsman, scholar, calligrapher, and fatalistic in perspective (Armstrong & Gakuin, 1914, pp. 167-169). 言志四録 is a tremendous work studied by scholars, politicians, business professionals, and leaders all over Japan. And now it makes sense, given the context to continue to translation.

Translations of Satō

Modern & Post-Modern Translations

First it is appropriate to consider Satō’s original turning of the phrase: “以春風接人, 以秋霜自粛” . According to 上寺康司 (2021), the first portion of the quote “以春風接人” symbolizes 恕 (reciprocity, forgiveness, mercy), and the second portion “以秋霜自粛” symbolizes 忠(respect, loyalty) (p. 19). With respect to loyalty in Satō’s writing, loyalty refers to learning (上寺, 2021, p. 19). Here is a translation provided by DeepL and some author’s effort:


“Treat others with the spring winds, and yourself with the autumn frost.”

(上寺, 2021, p. 19)

According to the Japanese National Diet Library, the meaning of the text is (with the author’s effort):


“Treat people with the calmness of the spring breeze, and discipline yourself with the strictness/modesty of autumn frost.”

(National Diet Library, 2009; 佐藤一斎『言志後録』第33条)

Now, prior to continuing, it may be important to pause (i.e.,残心 [zanshin]) for a minute to reflect on 恕 and 忠. These are component concepts of Satō’s writing (上寺, 2021, p. 19).

A Word of Caution: The Meiji Indexical Inversion

The Meiji period is a period of dramatic change in Japanese society and presented new cultural contingencies which changed attitudes across subsequent generations. Within this background, turning to Japanese language itself, it is important to understand that concepts herein are pre-Meiji’s indexical inversion (Inoue, 2006, p. 51). An indexical inversion is a semiotic process wherein a language ideology (e.g., newfound capitalist nation-state language structures, uses, and ideologies) “inverts the indexing and the indexed and provides a meta pragmatic narrative to normalize the inversion and what it entails” (Inoue, 2004, p. 43). The topic here is not of this realm entirely, so an extensive detail is not provided; readers interested are suggested to dive into Inoue’s studies. Laying this groundwork, one can proceed to offer caution and a strategy to advert misinterpretation.

“This indexical inversion and the erasure of its ideological process owe a great deal to contemporary scholars and intellectuals who have created a national narrative of the history of women’s language by linking all the historically disparate incidents of women’s language up to the present time and presenting these as the essence of Japanese culture and tradition.”

(as cited in Inoue, 2004, p. 50; per Inoue, see Hill, 1998)

The indexical inversion Inoue (2004, 2006) reveals is of a change between pre- to post-Meiji language use which differentiated masculine and feminine language. This differentiation resulted in a “Japanese women’s language” (Inoue, 2006). When considering language pre-Meiji, consider “ancient, widespread, traditional way[s] that all Japanese women actually spoke” (Ahearn, 2017, pp. 225-226; MDL applied). Consider a wider net of language users across genders and identities, inclusive of communities of practice [in language use] across classes, trades, and arts. This ability to see beyond current culture frames is really critical in interpreting Satō.

When reading Satō, suspend post-Meiji gendered language ideologies—this may be difficult if one cannot differentiate language ideology from language. See more directly, ungendered historical contexts of words like “treat”, “calm”, “spring”, “breeze”, “discipline”, “strict”, “modest”, “autumn”, and “frost”. What is an ungendered spring breeze? What is ungendered discipline? Consider actual realities signed by the words, bereft of language ideology—go straight at objects which pre-Meiji indexes point. Furthermore, consider what learning may be in pre-Meiji life. Doing this, one may arrive at a more clear and direct understanding what Satō is pointing out, kofu-no-antoku style (see semiotic correspondence).

An Author’s Translation

Considering the gimbals of a diverse li<f|r>e, and the acculturation when steeping in languages of varying streams of communities of practices, an alternate translation reads:



“Within, spring wind, welcome others;
within, autumn frost, restrain oneself.”

Satō Issai (1838/2005; Roy Æ Hodges, trans.)

This translation is preferable, given a prevailing context of loyalty to learning (i.e., flow and autotelic behavior), wherein joy sans self-concept is synonymous with warmth. In this way, a compulsive “doing” language ideology is released. Satō’s fatalism returns to its roots. What remains is harmony with rather than change sought—to enjoin with the divine what is (i.e., inseparable suchness[-less]). Having jointly attended life with Saotome Sensei for many years, this phrase is most appropriate.

Saotome Sensei’s Innovation Beyond Satō

Sensei’s variation reorders some kanji, and is quite readable, beautiful, and reflects Morihei Ueshiba’s vision(s) as received. The author attempted to preserve Saotome Sensei’s community of practice (i.e., Aikido Schools of Ueshiba) pidgin for the purpose of transmission:


“Spring breeze, receive others;
autumn frost, bring oneself.”

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan (Roy Æ Hodges, trans.)

The character for 齎 substitutes 粛 (an earlier attempt used 齋 rather 齎). This is ideal in the context of practices of and with Saotome Sensei. The character contains a semiotic element indexing that which represents an economic foundation of exchange (i.e., cowry; 貝) and a phonetic ideogram (齊) indexing equality, sameness, completeness, togetherness, simultaneity, and at the same height as. In this sense, the reader, observer is invited to consider the highly indexical aspects of ideographs and see directly what is pointed to. Together 齎 indexes “taking in both hands to offer”.

This is representative of Morihei Ueshiba’s (O’Sensei) teachings with Saotome Sensei to help others avoid karma’s results—bringing oneself rather than standing idly by in restraint (i.e., psychological bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility [Darley & Latané, 1968; Latané & Darley, 1968, 1970; Latané & Nida, 1981]). It is worth considering Saotome Sensei’s stories about karma and protecting society and individual by “controlling the ego” (Saotome, 1993, pp. 142-146). In another text Saotome Sensei writes of aikido that it “is the study of how to fulfill life’s mission in a way that matches the universal order, and, consequently, it demands of us that we make an effort to do away with egotistical thinking and selfishness and that we do our best not to show in the mirror of life as warped and misshapen” (Saotome, 2015, p. 81). One can see the influence of Satō, and also, the influence of O’Sensei, and thereby greater teachings that O’Sensei himself received. The net of learning is wide, and vast.


What had been accomplished is to illuminate the content from which Saotome Sensei brushed a variation, and offered further refinement to Satō Issai’s maxim. Translations have been offered from the Japanese National Diet’s library, academia, and political realms. Following, was context offered on how Saotome Sensei’s inspired philosophy, offers warmth even in the coldest of seasons, and is a benefit for the world. It stands to question whether Saotome Sensei’s brushwork is a “happy accident”, intentional, or spontaneously recollected due limitless practice, insight, and tranquility in the formation and maintenance of attitudes. Perhaps Saotome Sensei, suggests a new linguistic inversion, inspired by his teacher’s vision— student willing. It’s held between your hands now.

“When blue, turns red…”

Mitsugi Saotome Shihan hands Julie Tollen the chop;
Aiki Shrine, Myakka City, FL
Photographer: Don Ellingsworth (2022)

“When material and spiritual science are united, we will be able to progress even farther than we have now. That progress will lead to world peace.”

(Ueshiba, 2010/2013, p. 83)


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Saotome, M. (2015). A light on transmission: The teachings of Morihei Ueshiba founder of aikido. Cedar Forge.

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上寺, 康司. (2021). 佐藤一斎の 『言志四録』 にみる 「象徴」 と 「機」: 時代を越えた直観性 (共感性) と体系性 (解決性). 社会環境学 [Journal of Socio-Environmental Studies], 10(1), 13-31. http://www.ses.fit.ac.jp/bulletin/pdf/10-1-2.pdf

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