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Susan Dalton
09-20-2010, 11:17 PM
This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton © 2010.
My teacher is in his 70's. I love his technique and the way he teaches, but most of all I love his joyful practice and the way he's so easy with people. You know that exercise where someone grabs you hard and you breathe out and put a calm hand on his arm and he automatically relaxes and you can pull away? My teacher's presence is an embodiment of that exercise. People near him visibly relax, smile, then laugh. Wherever he goes, he leaves a path of goodwill. He's the same calm, centered person no matter who he's with. Since 2004 when I first visited Japan and observed my teacher's effect on others, learning how to achieve and maintain that calm joy has been a goal of my practice.

So naturally I really, really looked forward to his visit in July. Two instructors and one instructor's child were coming with him. We cleaned and painted the dojo, steam-cleaned the mat, took everything out of the building and washed it; we trimmed bushes, rehung the sign, and put a new water garden in the yard. My teacher likes animals; I couldn't wait to show him our fish and tadpoles. At my house I cleaned out closets and scrubbed behind all the furniture.

They would arrive on Friday; we set up a special class for Saturday. We had the beautiful building beside our dojo reserved and the mats already transported. I wanted the special class to go from 10 -12 and 2- 5, but someone was already using the building until 12:30. We couldn't get in until 12:45. In that case, the special class would start at 1:00 and go until 6:30.

Since our rented building didn't have a kamiza, J Sensei spent days constructing a gorgeous green bamboo structure to hold O Sensei's picture and our scrolls. Elizabeth Sensei gathered potted plants, measured space, and planned the decorating. Leslie was organizing a potluck lake party for Sunday. Our students volunteered to assemble the bamboo structure, haul plants, cut oranges, mix Gatorade, steam clean and set up mats, bring in the water cooler, and do all the little chores that made having class in somewhere other than our dojo possible. I cooked most of the day Friday while hubby put a new doorknob on the bathroom door, mowed the grass, and mopped one more time.

After checking my computer for flight information, I met J Sensei at the airport. I knew the flight from Nagoya had arrived in Detroit just after noon, and our guests had left Detroit soon after 2. Even after flying all night, they planned to arrive in Greensboro at 4 and go straight to the dojo for Friday night's class.

"Delayed," the sign said. They wouldn't be here for two more hours. Well, okay, we could go back to my house and check the testing paperwork and recount the yen. I could raid my quarter jar so we'd have enough for the meters in front of the terminal. We could call Elizabeth Sensei so the folks in the dojo would know we'd be late to class.

When we got back to the airport, the sign said, "Cancelled." "They're in a hotel," the customer service rep told us. "Booked to arrive at 12:07 tomorrow." Unfortunately, she couldn't give us the name of the hotel—the airline uses many and she wasn't sure which one they'd gone to. Our cell phones wouldn't call international numbers. We'd go back to my house to email our contact in Japan. He'd know how to reach them. First, we'd swing by the dojo.

Even with temperatures over 100 and no air conditioning in the dojo, hard-working, getting-ready-to test-tomorrow- students packed the mat. What if Sensei couldn't get here? I was supposed to be fixing one last thing in the dojo. What was it? And where did I put my keys? "Breathe," I told myself.

"Your keys are right there," Leslie said. "And I washed and hung the curtain on the dressing room we made for Sensei."

I bowed and walked across the mat to go look at the new dressing room. It looked great. The dojo looked great. I hoped Sensei would see it. I hoped he was sleeping in a nice comfy bed somewhere near the Detroit airport.

Elizabeth Sensei let me interrupt class to make an announcement. J Sensei told them about Sensei being stuck in Detroit. I told them I had a whole lot of food and no guests to eat it. "Dinner at my house," I said. "Everyone please come. But you're not allowed to make a mess."

They didn't. After dinner they helped put up the food, then washed the dishes and dried them. J Sensei spent most of the evening on the computer and the phone. We emailed and called. We could call Japan, but we couldn't get through to a Japanese cell phone in the US. "They aren't in a hotel," our contact in Japan told us. "They're in the airport."

They had flown all night and now had been sitting in the airport for more than eleven hours.

"Please," J Sensei said. "Have them call us. We have hotel points. We can get them hotel rooms."

We got it arranged. Finally. We found two rooms. However, so many people were stranded. The closest hotel we could find was over 20 miles from the airport. After an hour or so, we called the hotel. Had our guests arrived? No? Would the front desk have our guests call us when they arrived? "Hold just a minute," the desk clerk said. She came back to the phone. "That reservation has just been canceled."

Oh no! I didn't have a thing on the dojo credit card. It couldn't have been refused! And our student who made the reservation was a priority gold member. Surely it wouldn't have been canceled with our guests standing right there waiting for their rooms. Did they give our reservation to someone else? Did…

"Who canceled it?" J Sensei asked.

"A gentleman with very accented English, "said the clerk.

"They canceled it," J Sensei said. "I'm sure they had good reason."

Our contact in Japan emailed us. They were in the airport. They were safe. They would arrive at 12:07 on Saturday afternoon.

"Go to bed," J Sensei said. "I'll see you in the morning."

The next morning the plane landed just before noon. I watched Sensei walk his stiff-kneed walk down the concourse. I could recognize him from afar because of his perfect posture. J Sensei and I started toward the "Only Ticketed Passengers Allowed " sign. We were waving madly. They had seen us because now they were waving too. "You and Truman can teach," I said. "I can take them to my house and let them sleep."

"Ask him," J Sensei said. "I promise you he's going to want to teach."

Sensei was wearing his beautiful lavender linen shirt, the one I'd never seen a wrinkle in before today. We all hugged and chatted while J Sensei passed out bottles of water. I gave them each a granola bar.

"Want to go to my house and have a real breakfast and get some sleep?" I asked.

Sensei smiled his wonderful smile and shook his head. He pointed toward the clock. "Aikido," he said."The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:

We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.

09-21-2010, 09:18 AM
So nice!

Susan Dalton
09-21-2010, 01:58 PM
Thanks, Steve. When I started writing this, I thought it was about a lesson in perseverance and mental toughness. But when I reread it, I saw I'd also been given a lesson in keeping one's center and being joyful no matter what's going on.

Lan Powers
09-21-2010, 03:05 PM
Striving for equanimity in the face of.....
pretty much sums it all up to me. On the mat, in daily life, what a great approach.
Thanks for another touch to the heart of the matter..

Susan Dalton
09-21-2010, 06:28 PM
Thanks, Lan. I remember being at a seminar with Toyoda Shihan. He was talking about how we can be so centered on the mat, but then when someone cuts us off in traffic... I have a ways to go.

R.A. Robertson
09-24-2010, 11:23 AM

And in a strange, almost preternatural sort of way, I believe that students make a teacher as much as the other way around.

Your dojo's great spirit calls out and receives a great spirit.


Susan Dalton
09-25-2010, 05:31 AM

And in a strange, almost preternatural sort of way, I believe that students make a teacher as much as the other way around.

Your dojo's great spirit calls out and receives a great spirit.


What a touching thing to say, Ross. Thank you. Actually, we're the way we are because he insisted we be this way. Our dojo has really strict rules about etiquette and how people are treated, and he has told us that relationships are the most important part of aikido (his aikido anyway). When I first became dojo cho I had difficulty being strict because as you probably know, I'm a people-pleaser. But the longer I do things his way, the more I understand and appreciate his philosophy.

Katie Parsoneault
09-26-2010, 08:20 PM

What a wonderful column. And I bet class was wonderful, too. Thank you for a column near to my heart.

With best regards,
Katie Parsoneault
Still Point

09-27-2010, 04:10 AM
NIcely said. Compliments and appreciation.
Its not only what the teacher shows us on the mat that makes a difference, but what they show us about life.
When we imitate and identify we get the whole package.
We all need to be mindful of what we model.

Susan Dalton
09-27-2010, 02:28 PM
Thank you, Katie, thank you, Lynn. Lynn, I agree that we do have to be careful about what we model. I teach English, too, and a few weeks ago I got an email from a student who graduated from our college in 1996. She was in a really tough place when I met her and she wanted me to know how far she'd moved from that place. She could quote whole paragraphs I had said to her. I didn't remember saying any of it! When we teach, our words can have tremendous power.