Takeno sensei was the head instructor when I arrived in Japan. He was sharp, fast, powerful, and very scary. He was also the greatest teacher I have ever had the good fortune to learn from. He started using me for uke from almost the first day I lived in the dojo, and this is what it was like. One day in an afternoon practice, only David Rubens and I were the only ones practicing, and Takeno sensei came over to us and said, " What do you want to do? " We both just looked at him. He said, "Let's do dai ichi kihon
, which is the first group of basic techniques in the Yoshinkan syllabus. I have never forgotten that class all these years later. Takeno sensei destroyed us. I have never felt such uncompromising power in any technique EVER! He creamed me in every possible way, almost knocking me out with Ikkyo!!!
After the class I was shaking. I had never felt anything like that. He had managed to shatter every idea I had about what was strong Yoshinkan/Aikido. I also knew deep down in my heart I had to discover what he had. Just as he had told me when we met, it was very interesting and certainly was difficult.
I took ukemi for him in almost every class I attended, and he used me a lot as his uke in the All Japan Yoshinkan Embu Taikai. I was always tense during these times because I always had a small part in my mind where I hoped I didn't get killed. My girlfriend at the time didn't like watching me be uke for him and wouldn't watch. She always gave me grief afterwards.
Whether in class or during a demonstration, his technique was like an iron whip. Many times you wouldn't feel anything until you hit the mat. At other times, he would do a technique so hard and strong you think he broke your wrist or your elbow, but when the technique was finished there was no pain (I can honestly say that I didn't get that from the other teachers).
As fearsome as he was, he was also the most generous and giving teacher I have ever met. If he saw that you wanted to learn, he gave you everything. He would watch you do a technique and he would say, "Do this" or "Move this way." If you didn't get it, he would give a big smile and do the technique on you and you would understand, even if you couldn't replicate his movement. It was magical.
After I left Japan, one of my friends took uke for Takeno sensei at the All Japan Embu Taikai, and told me in a letter that he learned more in that two minute demo than in his previous six months training. That about says it all.
Perhaps the best way to sum things up was when I went to Japan, Takeno sensei was strong, fast, very very powerful and his timing was incredible. When I left, nine and a half years later, he was faster, stronger, threw harder and his timing was better. Pretty much as perfect as it gets for a teacher of Budo.
A final story. I think he knew that many people wanted to be his uke to get a name for themselves, and I've seen him ignore those types many times. Those of you who have read the book Angry White Pyjamas
might remember Fat Frank. When Frank was getting ready to leave Japan, he asked me for a favour. He wanted me to take him up to Yamanashi to train with Takeno sensei. I made the arrangements and a bunch of us went up. Fat Frank was a wonderful guy and quite strong. He just wanted to feel Takeno sensei's technique with no hidden agenda. I think Sensei knew this and splattered him with shihonage. Fat Frank came over to me and said "OH MY GOD!!!!!!" Takeno sensei threw Fat Frank from one end of the dojo to the other and splattered him every time, but he never hurt him. It was fun to watch. Going home on the train Fat Frank just sat there with a dopey grin on his face drinking beer. Every five minutes he would look at and give me a big smile and say
"Thank you sensei"
With all his power and potential to do damage, I never felt that Takeno sensei was trying to hurt me when he threw. He just simply believed that whenever he was on the tatami, he was representing Yoshinkan Aikido and Kancho Shioda Gozo.
For those inclined to post, please re-read the introductory column before doing so. The rules for contributors, in short:
Robert Mustard (7th Dan): For close to 10 years he trained as a student of Soke Gozo Shioda, founder of Yoshinkan Aikido, Takafumi Takeno Sensei, 9th Dan; and Tsutomu Chida Sensei, 8th Dan. In 1991 he was appointed Itaku Shidoin by Shioda Kancho and remained the Chief Foreign Instructor at the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo until he moved back to Canada in 1995. He began his Yoshinkan Aikido training under Takeshi Kimeda Sensei (9th Dan) over 30 years ago. After achieving the level of sandan (3rd degree black belt), he left Toronto to continue his study at the Yoshinkan Aikido Honbu Dojo (headquarters) in Tokyo. In 1987, he completed the intense 9-month "Senshusei" training course which is mandatory training for the Tokyo Riot Police and Honbu Dojo instructors. As a direct result of his determination and focus in this grueling training, he was among the first foreigners ever to receive the award for best performance at the annual All-Japan Yoshinkan Demonstration. Today when he isn't conducting clinics at aikido dojos all over the world, or taking Uke and translating for the most senior Yoshinkan instructors in the world, like Shioda Kancho, Chida Sensei, Takeno Sensei and Nakano Sensei, he is instructing classes in his own dojo located in Burnaby, B.C. Canada. This is where he now lives with his wife Carol and daughter Emily.
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