This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Linda Eskin © 2013, all rights reserved.
The bad cold that had been going around finally got me. For months I'd been looking forward to a big seminar. Now with less than a week to go I was suddenly wiped out, feverish, sniffing… I hoped I would be OK in a few days. No way I'd be able to make it through three days of training in the shape I was in. Besides, it wouldn't be right to spread the misery, especially not to the visiting teacher.
He is one of the old guard. A long-term student of O Sensei. A highly regarded shihan.
I don't mean to be elusive - many will know who he is - it's just that who he is isn't important to this story.
I'd gotten to train with him once, two years earlier, and enjoyed it. He struck me as a nice, gentle guy. Generous and kind. He's a writer and an artist. His love for Aikido is obvious, and he's doing all he can to see that it's continued for generations to come. I have a lot of respect for the man.
As I was trying my best to get well in time I heard a lot of advice from friends: "Go if there's any way you can!" "There aren't many like him left." "You never know how much longer he'll be teaching." "Don't miss the chance to train with him."
Those are good points.
Ultimately, though, it was clear I wasn't going to be up to it. I decided to call off the whole idea and spend the weekend resting at home. I'm sorry I didn't get to go, but I made the right choice.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
At that seminar two years before, near the end of the afternoon session, this shihan wasn't feeling well. He asked another teacher to take over for the last hour. It was hot in the dojo. It had been an intense day. I was tired. Some guy I'd never seen before - younger, tall, slender, quiet - bowed us in again after a short break. I don't remember any specifics now, but I recall it was an interesting class. A friend who had gotten to train with him earlier that day was very impressed with his soft technique.
We found out later that evening the stand-in teacher had been Kevin Choate Sensei. His was a name I'd heard, someone I understood to be a rising star in his organization. My friends and I talked over dinner about going to one of his seminars someday. He had a bright future. We were sure we would be seeing more of him.
Before we found the right time, Choate Sensei passed away.
Many of my friends, people who knew him well, were naturally heartbroken. He was not a dear friend of mine. I felt his loss in a less personal way. A loss to the community, a loss to the art, and in a small way a loss to my own Aikido. It was only an hour, but I wish I had stayed more awake, paid closer attention, remembered…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
So yes, I was disappointed to miss this recent seminar. My friends were right. "Go if you can." "This teacher has something special." "Don't miss the chance." "You never know…"
But they were right in a bigger way than they intended. Their comments reminded me of something I learned from my brief encounter with Choate Sensei - something that affects how I train every day.
They feared I would miss a rare chance to train with this very experienced, brilliant shihan. A reasonable enough concern. I'd seen him those two years earlier, thinking the same things myself. Now here he was again in all his glory. Instead the one everyone expected would be with us for years to come was lost, along with his own special experience and brilliance.
We can't do everything we'd like - there are many opportunities we have to pass up - but each time we train with someone is precious and ephemeral. Not just the famous old shihans. My
visiting instructor, the up-and-coming leaders at this
teacher you don't know, who's called on to teach the last hour at the end of a long day at a seminar, this
new shodan leading their first classes, this
training partner… They each
offer something special. There is no one else like them. Even tomorrow, they will be someone different.
Whomever you find yourself training with, don't miss this
Stay awake, pay attention, remember.
"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.