Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Re: Legacy and the Founder
Aikido is a vehicle that can take you into deep areas of personal transformation. The Doshu's job is to maintain that vehicle. The Nidai Doshu wasn't just given a "finished product" to represent. He was tasked with deciding how the impossibly complex teachings of his father and his technical virtuosity could best be passed on to the public.
I think the Nidai Doshu, for this is how I was introduced to him, was the embodiment of what Aikido practice can represent. He was a total gentleman. He showed us an open, beautiful, gentle and yet powerful Aikido that to me, is the total expression of what Aikido Kihon Waza should be. Everyone else was free to go off into whatever realms of personal investigation they wished to take their Aikido. But K Ueshiba was the center around which all of this rotated.
Back in the eighties, 1987 I believe, I had the good fortune to travel to Tokyo to train for a week, I was the first of Saotome Sensei's seniors to go back. Sensei armed me with several letters of introduction to the Doshu, Osawa Sensei, Yamaguchi Sensei and Kuroiwa Sensei. This was still before the big "rapprochement" between the ASU and Hombu. Despite that, these teachers fell all over themselves to be hospitable to me.
Kuroiwa Sensei was kind enough to set up a meeting with the Doshu. I had tea with him, he was kind enough to sign a copy of one of his books I had brought for the occasion. Afterward, I went to his class. I was honored to have him call me up for ukemi any number of times. This was a very big deal because normally, he only used the uchi deshi. It was quite unusual for him to throw around someone no one had ever seen before. Anyway, I can't describe how it felt to be taking ukemi for the Doshu as I thought how things had come full circle, He had been one of my Sensei's teachers and now here I was, taking ukemi from the man for whom my own teacher had taken so much ukemi over the years.
Osawa Sensei was unbelievable to me. I was partnered with my friend, Janet Johnson, who lived in Tokyo and spoke Japanese. She had been training at Hombu for several years. Every time I turned around in class, Osawa was there, showing us something, correcting us, challenging us to do it better. At the end of class, Janet said that we had just had more attention in that class than she'd had in the whole three years she had trained at Hombu put together.
Unfortunately, Yamaguchi Sensei turned out to be in France when I was at Hombu. I never did get a chance to train with him. I recently bought a DVD from Aikido Journal of Yamaguchi Sensei teaching a seminar in France and I suddenly realized it was that seminar that cause me to miss him in Japan.
I don't harbor any illusions about why these teachers gave me so much during my stay. It wasn't to do with anything special about me, it was them sending a message to Saotome Sensei through me. Knowing how thins were with Saotome Sensei and the ASU, I found many of the foreign students inclined towards being political. But it was the senior Shihan and the Doshu that made me realize that the important thing was not politics but personal relationship. These teachers still considered Saotome Sensei as one of their own, That made me one of their own by extension. The politics didn't enter into it... at least not when it came to how they treated me.
I was actually relieved when I had made my appearances in the classes of these senior teachers to whom I had been given formal introduction. I was certainly "representing" and was scared to death I'd do something that would embarrass Saotome Sensei. These seniors were certainly looking at me to get an idea of what "their boy" had been doing all those years after he "left home". By the end of my week at Hombu, I was free to train with teachers who didn't know me and I didn't have to feel like I had to measure up for. The last classes I took were with Watanabe Sensei, a teacher I had never heard mentioned by Saotome Sensei. However when Watanabe Sensei found out I was Saotome Sensei's student. he started laughing with that huge belly laugh he's git. "Hah, hah, hah, Saotome Sensei... hah, hah, hah..." He then proceeded to use me for uke the entire class and a good portion of the next one as well. It was the most pure fun I had on my visit. At one point he did one of those huge step out kotegaeshis on me and threw me across the whole dojo. I was one of two Westerners in the class and far and away the largest person i the room, by magnitudes. I still remember as I flew across the whole mat, maybe a good ten or fifteen feet in the air or more, I heard the small Japanese students in line going "oooooooh!!!" as I flew by. I'm not sure they had ever seen some my size take that much air before.
So, Saotome Sensei was gone but certainly not forgotten at Hombu at the time. Now the older generation is gone or retired and many of the teachers are the sons of the men who had trained my teacher. Sensei chose to stay in the States, marry, and become a citizen. Now, not many are still at Hombu who remember him. It is recognition of what he gave up in order to come here and teach us that makes me feel all the more committed to trying to understand Sensei's Aikido. He could have stayed and been a big deal at Headquarters. Instead, he came over here and he got us... I think it is incumbent on us to justify that decision by becoming the best possible transmitters to the next generation of the incredible gift we got from Sensei. If he hadn't chosen to come here, I would never have met him, would probably have never done Aikido, and my life would be totally different.