The book begins with the author relating her finding Aikido and her decision to study in Japan. There, she met an American woman who was already training, Mary Heiny. The author and a companion, and later Jack Wada (whom I have profiled here earlier), shortly thereafter begin training at a dojo in the town of Shingu, located on the coast of the main island of Honshu.
With little Japanese when she arrived, she eventually learned the language, noting that “…Japanese [is] a beautiful language whose profound dissimilarity to English opened my mind to new avenues of thought and perception.”
What was unique about this dojo, as many readers know, was it was a favorite of O Sensei’s. It was on the road to his home in Tanabe and he visited and taught there often. The chief instructor at the dojo was one of The Founder’s students, Hikitsuchi Sensei. And it was there that the author met Motomichi Anno Sensei.
Linda Holiday writes as her ability to understand Japanese increased, “More important, I enjoyed an increasing comprehensions of the inspiriting talks on Aikido that the Shingu instructors loved to give. Looking up my teachers’ words in the dictionary was a treasure hunt. Each day brought thrilling discoveries, as I learned new words like zanshin (continuous awareness), dai shizen (great nature), and tamashii (spirit). Gradually I became familiar with the specialized spiritual terms O-Sensei had used to describe his art, such as Ame no uki hashi: The Floating Bridge of Heaven.”
She continues, “…the Floating Bridge of Heaven did not feel like an abstract reference to a story of the past. It was a vivid invitation to venture into the world of the spirit, and to integrate that sacred spirit of creativity into all of our actions. It was a compelling reminder that to O-Sensei, and by extension to all sincere students of his art, Aikido was far more than physical technique.”
As she trained, Anno Sensei, who she relates worked in a paper factory, became an important part of her Aikido and experiences there. The author writes, “’Heart’ – kokoro was one of the first words I learned from Anno Sensei.” In answer to her question about heart, Anno Sensei replie[d], “Yes…people search for many things in Aikido. I myself am searching for heart.”
One of the many aspects that makes this book unique is the author’s ability to bring the reader into her thoughts and experiences and allow us to look through her eyes and heart. The words come alive in the imagination whether she is on the mat training or listening to a lecture, or visiting the temples or sacred locations in the Kumano area.
I will end this first part of my review and commentary with this wonderful exchange between the author and Anno Sensei. In 1976, when she was preparing to return to America, she expressed reluctance leaving because of the high quality of training there where she was in Japan.
Anno Sensei asked her, “Why?” She replied, “Training is better here.” “Why do you think so,” he asked? She replied, “Because you are here, and the other high-level teachers.” Anno Sensei replied, “Don’t make the mistake of depending on the presence of certain people for your training…teachers come and go. My own teacher, O-Sensei, died not long ago. I could have given up when O-Sensei passed away. Instead, I’ve continued my practice, even thought I’ve found it difficult at times. Don’t reply on other people. Do your best Aikido practice wherever you are.” (my italics).
My, doesn’t that just say it all?
More will follow on Linda Holiday Sensei delightful, inspirational and thought provoking book that is available now at your local independent bookseller. And a reminder: Anno Sensei will be at Aikido of Santa Cruz this weekend
“Journey to the Heart of Aikido – The Teachings of Motomichi Anno Sensei” by Linda Holiday, Blue Snake Books, Berkelely, CA – ISBN 978-1-58394-659-6 – US $21.95 / CAN $24.95