Saturday, April 15, 2017

Osensei and Me

I started martial arts in 1968 during my junior year at the University of California Santa Cruz. I helped form a karate club on campus and I trained winter and spring quarters..Even though I enjoyed the training I happened to read an article in Black Belt magazine on Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. The first thing was not the words but the photos of him. Even though he was of an advanced age, I could not say he was old. He seemed to radiate something. His posture in the photos was strong and natural. And his face seemed to shine with a special light. He was alert, energetic, and it was said he was powerful enough to throw people without touching them. It peaked my interest. One of the other things about the photos was his resemblence to the character of the Ancient One, the teacher of Doctor Strange in the Marvel comics. So for me he seemed to represent the archetype of the Sage/Magician.

So we go onto the summer before my senior year. Still practicing karate. But I came upon an article in Psychology Today titled "The Psychology of the Samurai". It was about the psychological and spiritual growth of the Japanese samurai warrior. And much of the article focused on Ueshiba Osensei..I was fascinated and I remember actually saying to myself,"I wish I could study Aikido!"

Well Summer ends and the Fall semester 1969 is about to start. I go back on campus for orientation and am amazed to see posters up for the formation of an Aikido club on campus. There was a demonstration held on the Cowell College courtyard which I of course attended. And I was present at the first club meeting.
Robert Frager was an assistant Professor at Merrill College. He was a direct student of Osensei and had studied with him during a post Doctorate study in Tokyo. At that time he was closely connected to Robert Nadeau(Frager sensei to the left. Nadeau sensei to the right). Nadeau was also a direct student of the founder and had even received an instructor's certificate signed by Osensei himself. So Frager sensei was my home dojo instructor. And once a month he and Nadeau sensei would hold a weekend workshop Friday night/Saturday/Sunday at Nadeau sensei's dojo in Mt View. It was a sleepover event. There was aikido training, but they both worked together to give us a fuller sense of the depth of Osensei's art. There was a lot of emphasis on meditation, centering, energy movement, and sound(chanting). And they would show(no videos available in those days) home movies of Osensei Saturday evenings. This was before a lot of these films were later collected and archived. They were very rare. And I don't think I can adequately convey the effect they had on me.All I can say is that this was decades before CGI special effects. So the closest thing I had seen to any of this was in the media of comic books. He seemed to disappear sometimes when attacked. He movement was seemingly effortless and people went flying. He would do solo movement with the staff and it seemed  like he was in a spiraling field of energy which formed the movement of the staff.as well as himself. His sword work had his weapon moving like a blur. Yes, he seemed like he was in this world but he himself moved like he was a comic book character in a comic book universe. Wow!!!!!

Later, after one of the club practices I approached Frager sensei and told him one of the main reasons I had taken up Aikido was this article in Psychology Today. His reply? "I wrote it...".Another Wow! So that was the chain of events that led me into Aikido. I will always be grateful that I started with these teachers who had a deep connection to Osensei and sort of passed onto me a sense of their love and devotion for him and dedication to pursuing this path. Also the fact that they were not Japanese gave them a perspective on Osensei that many(not all) Japanese seem to miss about the founder and his art.. It has strongly shaped my particular approach to the art to this very day.

After that one academic year I graduated from UC Santa Cruz. I was accepted into Phd programs at several UC campuses, but I chose a Master's Program at UC Davis. I needed to get a graduate degree for my parents, but I really wanted to go to Japan(a dream) to study Aikido. I wound up in 1973, after I had finished my Masters in the fall, going to Japan for a short year. And I trained at the Kumano Juku dojo in Shingu city, Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. This was a dojo started by Osensei and headed at the time by Micho Hikitsuchi sensei, whom Osensei awared the rank of 10th dan. My other teachers there of shihan caliber: Motomich Anno, Motoichi Yanase, and Yasushi Tojima.senseis.
In the above photo we have Hikitsuchi sensei as second to the left in the first row. The second row from left to right: Yanase, Tojima, and Anno senseis.

Whereas I felt I had   gotten a good feel for Osensei's teachings from Frager and Nadeau senseis, in Shingu the sense of the Founder was not just Japanese, but extreme in that regard. I found out that Osensei seemed to have framed everything through Shnto mysticism. On a daily basis Hikitsuchi sensei would chant norito,formal Shinto purification prayers. Twice a month there would be formal ceremonies to honor him.For me it was an intense period of study. I had no language skills. My Masters had been of all things in the Russian language. So here I was struggling to learn a new language but also to assimilate the Founder's teaching from this perspective. Even without the language skills thanks to Mary Heiny , who was fluent in Japanese, and Linda Holiday, who picked it up very fast, I was able to absorb a bit of what was taught to us until my language skills improved.

I made 2 more  major trips to Japan and the Shingu dojo. Finally in 1978 I settled into teaching full time at the San Jose dojo and in 1980 became chief instructor of that school. I continue to have connections with Frager sensei, Nadeau sensei, and Anno sensei, who comes to the states in July to teach at the Santa Cruz Summer Retreat. Yanase sensei I saw in my last visit to Japan in 2015. I took and group to personally accept a promotion.  We visited World Headquarters in Tokyo. Then spent a few days in the Shingu area. Of course we visited the grave of the Founder in his home town of Tanabe.

 I do this everytime I go to Japan. This was something I did with Hikitsuchi sensei then later with Anno sensei.

Nadeau sensei and I meet once a week to try to decipher Osensei's process and bring it into this time period. Osensei hung out with very original deep energies in an archetypal place. What has come out of the work is the Osensei Revisited weekends held in Occidental California. The 6th will be held April 21, 22, and 23rd.

I am probably of a minority now, but I believe that to truly get the essence of Aikido on has to develop a relationship with the Founder. While they are still around try to connect with those who directly studied with him. There are a number of books that have been translated by John Stevens sensei that make much of his work and history accessible. So the journey continues!



2 Comments:

Blogger Linda Holiday said...

Thank you Jack. Your dedication to Aikido has always been an inspiration! - Linda

11:58 PM  
Blogger BRYON JOHNSON said...

Thanks for writing this article. Aikido has become a part of how I think. Bryon

12:41 PM  

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