This is the story of how I met my Aikido instructor, Kato Hiroshi.
He wasn’t my first Aikido instructor, but he was my last.
It was a fateful moment, in Japan and I was ready to give up on my dream, to learn Aikido.
I was totally defeated, the wind knocked out of me, laying flat on the ground, not knowing what had happened.
OK, so it all started with my desire to learn Aikido in Japan from the top masters in the world. I heard from everyone here in the United States, the best Aikido is in Japan. I heard we do it this way because that’s the way they do it in Japan. I even heard, you’re not good enough to go to Japan…
So what did I do, I went to Japan. At first I had no idea where anything was. I didn’t know where honbu dojo was, I didn’t know where my homestay was, I didn’t even know where my university was, and I was certainly that typical male that would rather walk around lost for hours than ask for directions!!!
I finally got situated, First joined the Sophia University Aikido club, then I joined the The AikiKai World Headquarters hombu dojo. I started training a lot. Everyday morning and evening.
Then started the burnout…or was it burnout…maybe it was a thirst for knowledge, practical knowledge of an Aikido that would really work.
I learned quickly that the Aikido taught in the United States is very different than the Aikido taught in Japan. I also learned that Aikido is a lot of fun, but not that effective for real situations. And, I learned quickly that some instructors really did not like me at all! Especially Yamaguchi Sensei.
What can you expect, I was young, stupid and pretty strong.
So, I became very disillusioned. How could this be the Aikido that I read about, and that everyone back in the States told me about. I was ready to quit! I was ready to give it all up, tuck my tail between my legs and walk away.
Out of the corner of my eye, one day at the honbu dojo, I saw Kato sensei’s training and teaching. I was impressed. I thought, wow that guy is really good, too bad I’ll never get the chance to train with him.
Well, a few weeks went by, barely hanging on ready to quit at any moment, then one of the Sophia Aikido members said that he wanted to introduce someone to me. Someone very special. That Friday night at Honbu dojo, after the 7:30 – 8:30pm class, he introduced me to Kato Senei, but at this point I was gone, ready to quit and tired of all the ego. Kato Sensei asked me to attack him, and all I thought to myself was, boy, another old egotistical Japanese guy, thinking he can tell me how not to do the technique even though he can’t do it.
I was ready to attack him and show him that his technique doesn’t work.
I went straight in with an shomen attack. I struck fast and hard, I thought I was going to hit him square on the head, but he wasn’t there, so I decided to tense up my whole body and not let him throw me. I resisted with all my might, and suddenly I felt like my lungs were being stretched from the inside, the next thing I knew I was on the ground, on my back with the wind knocked out of me. It was the worst feeling I’d ever had, I had no idea what had happened and no one had ever done that to me.
That moment, I decide, wow, now that’s an Aikido I want to learn. That really worked. This small old frail japanese guy just knocked the wind out of me with an iriminage throw. It was the most mesmerizing thing that had ever happened to me.
With a smile on his face, he looked down at me and said, are you OK? Daijobu? I was seeing stars.
At that very moment I became his apprentice. I studied with him every chance I got, I learned as much as I could from him and about him. His lineage, his technique, his subtle personality. He was an amazing man.
I would train with him almost every Friday night from 7:30pm until they kicked us out, usually close to 10pm. I went to his classes that he held in a gymnasium, usually on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, on top of my training at Hombu dojo and at Sophia University Aikido Club. My desire to quit disappeared, and 29 years later, I’m still doing Aikido.