Saturday, November 04, 2006

Steven Seagal @Aikido of San Jose 1990

In July of 1990 we had a famous guest instructor at Aikido of San Jose at our old Japantown location: Steven Seagal. At that time Robert Frager and I were co-hosting a series of Aikido Summer workshops. Earlier in the year, when it came time to plan for the summer, Frager sensei asked me whom I’d like to have as a guest instructor for the Summer Seminar. Almost jokingly, I said, “Steven Seagal.” Seagal had already debuted in the film “Above the Law”. And earlier in the year he had hit number on in the charts for “Hard to Kill”. It seemed an impossibility, but Robert Frager peripherally knew a couple of people connected to him, so began a long period of tracing contacts.

For a long period nothing seemed to be happening. We, of course, had made contingency plans in case we couldn’t pull of this coup. Suddenly one night I got a call from Frager sensei. “I just talked to Steven Seagal, and he confirmed for the Summer Seminar!”, Frager sensei stated. So this unlikely idea happened to have legs of its own after all.
I remember going to the San Jose airport and picking up Seagal sensei, who flew in by private plane. I recall he had on a black leather jacket, and he looked like he had literally stepped out of one of his films.

We drove him to the dojo, where he taught a class. At that time, one of my students, Ed Rathman, owned and ran the Eulipia restaurant downtown. We took Seagal sensei there for a private lunch. He then returned to the dojo, taught an afternoon class, did a question and answer, and then flew back to Southern California.

Of course the workshop itself was a huge success. We had over 150 people on the mat for Seagal sensei’s classes. It was covered locally by channel 11 news and in the San Jose Mercury. Though Seagal sensei himself has never, to this date returned, we later had Abe sensei from Osaka to our dojo for a couple of workshops. Abe sensei donated a piece of Osensei’s calligraphy,” Ai Ki Do”, which today still forms the shomen at our current location.

What are my impressions of the man? I found his aikido dynamic, powerful, and innovative. He was respectful and approachable, freely signing autographs and posing for pictures. On a personal level, though I enjoyed his first series of films, I have not followed his latest endeavors. He certainly went on to achieve a level of success and therefore notoriety. And I thoroughly enjoyed his Mountain Dew commercial.

I wish him well.


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