I am standing in the middle of the airport. I am surrounded by the dull roar of travelers; people waiting to get through security, giving their last good byes to friends and families, talking on cell phones, ordering coffee. Across the way, one of the most amazing individuals I have ever met has just made it through security. Flanked by two of his trusted students, he turns back towards the terminal and, despite all of the people, spots me. He gives a wave of his hand, then turns and heads towards his plane.
Sensei is on his way home.
To say that the Aikido Kokikai International Convention in Seattle was an amazing experience would be an understatement in the truest sense of the word. Hundreds of students came from all over the world to see Sensei, making this the largest Kokikai event ever to take place in Seattle by a wide margin. The mat was filled with people–in fact, we very nearly exceeded the maximum capacity for the gymnasium, so we will likely have to find a larger space for next time. Some of Sensei’s most senior students, many of whom have either never been to Seattle or had not been in Seattle for many years, came to Seattle to see Sensei and train. The result was a room filled with a tremendous amount of experience, expertise, and enthusiasm for Sensei’s Kokikai Aikido.
And, of course, I can’t talk about the event without talking about Sensei himself. Each time I see him, I am more impressed at his technique, his poise, his demeanor. Every now and then, you find someone so beyond what you think is achievable that the term “master” becomes the only title that seems appropriate. Sensei certainly is a master of aikido; there simply aren’t words that can describe the power, grace, and beauty that are infused within his technique. And yet, Sensei goes beyond even this category, for while there are many masters, there are few who could also be called master teachers as well. I am always amazed at how Sensei balances the power of his technique with the approachability of his methodology. For example, there were many, many new students on the mat who had never met Sensei before. Each one of them came away from the convention with a profound respect for Sensei and for his technique; but they also felt inspired that, one day, they too could do what he demonstrated for us today. There are many who teach aikido who claim to be masters, but their abilities are not reflected in their students, and it becomes doubtful that these teachers are truly passing on what they know. This is not the case with Sensei. While no one could ever surpass Sensei–after all, he is still growing and learning even after so many years–it was clear to see this weekend that there were many who were on the same path, that Sensei’s knowledge was, indeed, being passed on to others. This, in my mind, marks the greatest difference between proficiency and mastery.
But the convention showed that Kokikai was more than just Sensei, as important and astounding as he is. Kokikai is a community that stretches across the world. I was overwhelmed at the sense of community that permeated the weekend’s events. People who had not seen each other in years re-connected seamlessly; people who had never met became friends quickly and easily. The importance of this community cannot be understated. Sensei consistently drives home the point that we must help each other to learn and grow. That we are more than just training partners, more than just students. We are a family. There were many new friendships that I forged over the weekend–friendships that came easily, friendships that will last a lifetime. I was and am still humbled to be a part of something so spectacular.
I realize that I have yet to write about the actual contents of Sensei’s classes; the leaps forward in the proficiency and effectiveness of his techniques, the brilliance of his ideas. Those can wait for a while as they slowly seep into my mind and body. But for now, I am happy just to think of this weekend, and recall Sensei as the true inspiration that he is, and to appreciate Kokikai as the strong, encompassing community of which I am honored to be a member.