There is a line in the 33rd chapter of the Tao Te Ching
, which was for very long believed to say that it is possible not to perish. But that was not the longevity Lao Tzu referred to. Archaeological findings in the 1970's made it clear. The line should read:
Those who die without being forgotten get longevity.
That is the true longevity to hope for -- being remembered by posterity.
So, when AikiWeb celebrates twenty years, a reasonable -- though somber -- way of reflecting on those years is to remember aikidokas who have left us, but not without leaving a mark. Here are some who immediately come to my mind. I miss them.
Shortly before AikiWeb started, in 1996, Seigo Yamaguchi died. It came as a shock to the aikido world. He was only in his early 70's and still very active, indeed, up to the last moment.
I only practiced for him a couple of times, but I have had the repeated pleasure of training with some talented students of his. There is a multitude of them, and his influence on their aikido spreads on to generation after generation. His style of aikido was distinctly personal and artistic, really inimitable. Still, the flair of it continues to attract aikido students today.
In the last year of the past millennium, former Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba passed away. The first time I met him was in 1975, when he visited Sweden. I had the pleasure of practicing for him a number of times the following decades.
He was impressive on the tatami, more than it seems he usually gets credit for. A style of his own, most definitely, and a vigor like the wind. Countless aikidokas were drilled and molded in his Hombu classes and seminars all over the world. It is fair to say that he was instrumental in the international spread and advancement of aikido.
Two years into the new millennium, Morihiro Saito left us. Thousands of aikido students worldwide were suddenly without their teacher. But he had laid a good foundation. They still go on, bringing forth a number of new students, and there can be no doubt of Saito's continued presence in their aikido. They are the first to wholeheartedly admit it.
I didn't get to practice much for him, but some of my oldest and dearest friends sure did. My admiration for Saito extends to them and the solidity of their aikido.
A prominent carrier of that legacy is Ulf Evenås. Back in 2002, I was invited to participate in a dan examination at his Gothenburg dojo. It was the start of the process to bring Iwama aikido back to the Aikikai, on Saito's own request. It was a fine moment of renewed and reinforced unity.
When I was driving home from that event, Ulf called me with the sad news that Morihiro Saito had passed away that very day. A teacher also in his exit.
In 2005, Shoji Nishio left us. The virtuoso. I first met and practiced for him in 1982, on his first visit to Sweden. His skills and speed left me gaping. Through numerous classes in the following decades, I was no less amazed. It took us years just to see what he was doing, let alone even begin to copy it.
That level of skill in so many aspects of budo -- who else can hope to reach it? But his clever aikido technique solutions, quite different from what most teachers showed, were somewhat accessible. They sure made sense. I think all of us who practiced for him have at least fragments of that in our own aikido, and we're not about to let go of it.
One aspect of his aikido that I cherish more and more, as the years go on, is this: He never pushed or pulled. He just got into position, as swiftly as you switch a lamp on or off, waved his arms in precise ways -- and you fell. So neat.
I had the pleasure of inviting him to a few seminars in my dojo, too. His behavior was always impeccable. He even treated me with a respect I doubt that I deserved.
Nobuyoshi Tamura passed away in 2010. I didn't think he ever would. His vitality was tremendous, and way into his seventies he was still as supple as a teen. But his kamae was immovable.
We all admired Tamura, didn't we? Even when we were the most frustrated after several minutes of failing to move him at all, when he grabbed our wrists. He was a living koan for us to struggle to solve. So frustrating, and yet so rewarding.
I am very proud of also having had him teach on seminars in my dojo. The first time we were not even 30 on the tatami. That was some luxury! Well, the attendance quickly grew on the following seminars. Still, he managed to give everyone a personal experience of his spirit and that koan katatedori.
On the tatami, he was a leopard, but outside it he was so charming and social. Walking around the tables with a glass of red wine in his hand at the dinners, joyous and friendly with everybody. That's aikido, too.
Less than two months after the death of Tamura, Seiichi Sugano left us. Not without a fight, I'm sure. Some years before, he had his foot amputated. It didn't stop him. Actually, it just made him push harder and go faster. The unstoppable object.
Ever since I first met him in the early 1980's, I was intrigued by his profound simplicity in movement as well as in thought. Right to the point. Like Zen.
Well, he was deep into Zen -- among many other things. I remember asking him back in the 80's what he preferred -- aikido or Zen. He looked me right in the eyes and said: "Zen."
Of course he'd say so. Where Tamura's grip was a koan, so was every comment from Sugano. One had better listen and contemplate his words -- especially when his reply seemed obvious. There was always more. And there was always a sense of humor, sort of ura.
I smile when I think about his interest in swords -- European ones, not the katana. Imagine that. He knew a lot about both, of course. He pointed out to me that with the katana, the blade is everything, but with the old European swords it's the hilt. Isn't that something to think about, also for an aikidoka?
Well, as surely as people come and go, so do the years. Keiko continues. New aikido teachers emerge and excel. But none of them would tread the tatami and sweep us off our feet without those who once did the same to them. The future is bright because the past is rich.
Stefan Stenudd is a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor, President of the Swedish Budo & Martial Arts Federation, member of the Swedish Aikido Grading Committee, and former Vice Chairman of the International Aikido Federation. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at the dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido, the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido