Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughts on the 2013 Kawabe Shihan Memorial Seminar

2013 Kawabe Memorial Seminar
Hosted by Minnesota Aiki Shuren Dojo and Mark Larson Sensei
April 6-7, 2013 - Collegeville, MN

Saturday night at the 2013 Shigeru Kawabe Memorial seminar we had a banquet where different people shared their personal experiences with the late Kawabe Shihan. Since I didn’t know him personally, my story pales in comparison. However, even though my contact with Kawabe Shihan was indirect, he still made a lasting impression.

I would not be here without Kawabe Shigeru Shihan. I would be somewhere else. Another state perhaps, maybe doing aikido, maybe not. Another life.

Back in 1995 I joined a small aikido group at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. We didn’t have a sensei, so sempai (senior students) from different styles would lead practice.

Our club struggled to find a regular teacher. Some of the senior students would invite dan-level aikidoka they knew from Charlotte or Raleigh to come teach the occasional Saturday class. But  most of the time sempai would teach. Then we struck gold. A new faculty member, Ted Jones began working at the university. Ted had just returned from Akita, Japan where he had been working with Minnesota State University. Lucky for us, Ted had trained in aikido while in Japan under Kawabe Shigeru Shihan.

Ted-sensei’s aikido was a little different from what we had been doing. He made us use “kiai.” We started every class with tai-no-henko and morote-dori kokyu-ho. We began doing katas with the jo and ken, and suburi practice. Ted-sensei explained that in Iwama aikido, weapons (aiki-ken and aiki-jo) were an integral part of training and testing.

Later in 1996 I had the opportunity to travel to Japan for year-long exchange program. Determined to train in aikido while there, I talked to Ted-sensei about how to go about finding a teacher. His response: Morihiro Saito-sensei, who taught his teacher, Kawabe-sensei.

In Japan, I felt like Luke Skywalker seeking out a Jedi master. I was still struggling with Japanese so I had my language partner help me call dojos looking for a teacher who had trained under Saito-sensei (I was in the Kansai region which is a long way from the Iwama dojo and Saito-sensei himself). I was fortunate to find a small dojo in Kyoto lead by Higuchi Takanari sensei who had trained under Saito-sensei for many years. Under Higuchi-sensei I was able to continue my training in Iwama aikido until leaving Japan in mid 1997.

I had the opportunity to see Kawabe sensei in person a few years later in 1999 after moving to Colorado and attending a massive seminar hosted by Nippon-kan and instructed by Morihiro Saito Shihan. I remember looking over the sea of sweaty aikidoists at Kawabe shihan observing practice from the front of the gymnasium through his signature thick-rimmed glasses. I felt a sincere gratitude to the man who, even though he had never taught me directly, shaped the direction of my own aikido.