This afternoon I got a call from Craig about how to keep the dojo alive now that Tatoian Sensei has left for the Phillipines. I'd been in a kind of dreamy, unfocused space (perhaps tinged with denial) since Sensei left last Tuesday to begin building his new life in Tagaytai, south of Manila. Craig's call moved the whole scene into sharp focus: there would be classes this week; what are we going to do about it?
As we were coming up with a working strategy I flashed back to some scenes of Dennis Sensei from over the past decade or so.
The first one that always comes up is his Zato Ichi impersonation. He has Shintaro Katsu's voice, mannerisms, and stumbling walk down to a perfect art. I'd first seen it at Lake Tahoe a few years ago in the cabin we all shared for the annual Memorial Day Gasshuku. Then - I think I blogged this - last year at a party given by the Swedes at Lake Tahoe he did a full-on performance. I managed to get parts of this on video, and the picture is a grab from one of the video frames. Tatoian Sensei is a natural showman, and he had members of about five dojos and a bunch of european visitors convulsing with laughter. Later he said that Japanese people are always astonished that a Gaijin can so perfectly impersonate one of their favorite movie characters. He even has the "yakuza speak" dialect, which I think he learned from his time in Iwama, down flawlessly.
Other images flashed past, such as the time he put a guy to sleep in our old Rohnert Park dojo after the student repeatedly ignored Sensei's warnings not to do some dangerous thing.
Also in that dojo, after class Sensei would come and sit with Carmen and me for up to an hour, videotaping our practice so that we could prepare more effectively for our upcoming shodan tests.
His best advice for me at that time I can still hear clearly: "You know a little; show what you know."
Sensei told me last week that he feels physically a lot better in the Phillipines, and that's good, because in the past few years he'd been hurting more and more from his deteriorating hip and other physical ailments, no few of which stem from his fall from an exploding helicopter during the Viet Nam War.
Dennis Sensei was never happier than when some student would test him, attacking him viciously before, during, or after class. I never had the slightest impulse to go after Sensei, but others did, especially Jorge. When Jorge was about a third Kyu he began really trying to mess with Sensei, attacking him from behind, running at him from across the mat, punching, jumping on his back, etc. These episodes always ended badly for Jorge, usually within one or two seconds. One time I remember Jorge taking a swing at Sensei from the side. Instantly, his body flew half the width of the mat in an blinding fast exchange that had many elements of koshi nage, especially the extremely wide uke eyes.
Forever after those days, Sensei has always loved Jorge, remembering him as one of his favorite all-time chew toys. Jorge still would visit now and then in the new dojo space in Santa Rosa. Here's a picture of Sensei having more fun with Jorge from about a year ago.
I will not be able to attend our special, outdoor weapons class until the middle of February, but we are going to try to keep that going also. Now that it's winter we'll be training under the overhang at the Rohnert Park Recreation Center where we used to have indoor classes in 2000 and 2001 after we got evicted from our old dojo space.
Here's a photo of some of the usual suspects with Sensei, showing the overhang and protected practice space where we have weapons class.
Dennis Sensei will be back in California a few times a year, and we have still an abundance of great teachers who have studied with Saito Sensei: Goto Sensei, Newens Sensei, Witt Sensei, Hendricks Sensei, Peuser Sensei, just here in the SF Bay Area. But Dennis Sensei's departure is a big loss to those of us who admired his single-minded loyalty to Saito Sensei and his Aikido.
In his absence we could not do much better than to follow in that same spirit.
technorati tag aikido