Sunday, May 12, 2013

Koichi Kashiwaya Sensei

The other day I visited with Sifu Andy Dale who stocks a prodigious collection of videos from the early days, as well as instructional videos he has produced.  As we were reminiscing about the good old days (circa 71) at 306 South Main, it dawned on me how we had maybe thirty regular students and both Hirata and Lau senseis as instructors.  Chief Instructor Tohei Sensei was a regular visitor, and Seattle was a transfer point out of Haneda for JAL and NWA flights, so we have a steady stream of visitors like Imaizumi, Maruyama and Toyoda senseis.   Aikido comes from kendo, and we had several students who were advanced kendo-men, and even the legendary kendo sensei Omoto graced us with a few practices. Proportionally I doubt there was any place outside of Japan with better instructional talent to student ratio.

And then in 1973 Tohei sensei added Kashiwaya (Koichi) sensei to the mix.   Kashiwaya sensei was a newly minted san-dan, and Hirata sensei appointed him instructor of the children's class.  I had been teaching the children's class for about a year, and I was demoted to assistant instructor of the kid's class.  Only a blue belt and already demoted!  Hirata sensei consoled me by saying I was an uchi deshi (except for the fact I was not live-in, nor cared to be).  In retrospect appointing Kashiwaya "children's instructor" was probably one of those martial art discipline things wherein Hirata made clear to Kashiwaya who was boss.

Of course the kids were far better off with Kashiwaya sensei, and staying on as assistant instructor meant I was schooled by Kashiwaya sensei as well.  He built up the program and the watching parents were treated to some cross-cultural experiences.  Once a walloped kid was about to offer tears when Kashiwaya sensei barked "Don't cry!"  The kid did not cry.  Interesting.  Another time while explaining a katate tori movement from the beginning, Kashiwaya's eight year old uke unintentionally let rip an astonishing fart, much to the delight of the assembled kids.  "Oooooo!  Too much ki extension!"  cautioned Kashiwaya sensei.

You see in those gung-fu movies where the fighters are trying to sweep or knock off balance the opponent but one has made his "legs like tree trunks" and is immovable.  Kashiwaya sensei provided my first experience going up against someone who decided if you were not going to move him, he wasn't going to move.  Nat Steiger had it in his arms, but Kashiwaya in his whole body.

At this point there was aikido available seven days a week in Seattle, up to four hours a day, five days at Seattle Budokan, four days at University of Washington, all under one club.  It was one of the brief and shining moments you do not realize you are in except in retrospect.

Then came the "multiplying of aikido by dividing."  At first there was just the idea of some special club, you know, for like uchi deshi, and there was going to be a training facility and dorm in Japan and that sounded pretty good to this uchi deshi, so I bought a lifetime membership, I got the ID card and the Ki Society pin, and I was set.  But then it transpired this was a split into something called Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, with an emphasis on spiritual development.  Well, that was always the least interesting part of aikido to me, so when the split came, I was on the Hombu side of the divide. Like some Japanese period drama, Hirata and Kashiwaya senseis stayed with their champion. Although Tohei sensei had recruited a 15 year old Bernie Lau into aikido in Hawaii circa 1955, Lau Sensei had received his first two black belt ranks from O Sensei, and his instructors were tighter with O Sensei than Tohei sensei.  Just as well, both sides of the divide were happier with the alternative emphases.

We decamped to probably the oldest continuous judo dojo in USA, 1510 S Washington Street (which probably has the best value for martial arts instruction in USA: $25/month.  They gave us Mo We Fr nights, so with Lau Sensei as our chief instructor, away we went.  Les bon temps, sont finis.

We still had a procession of excellent visitors, and in some the differences were beneficial as many of the members were not so aikido-centric, which made for plenty of innovations.  Aikido newcomers to Seattle were invited to visit and even instruct, and I recall Mary Heiny, Bruce Bookman, and one extremely unfortunate fellow who expected to be proclaimed chief instructor of aikido in all of Seattle.

Bernie Lau reasoned that a fellow who had practiced a year or two in Japan, regardless of his instructor, was not up to leading people who collectively, nodding to his top students, offered well over a century of experience.  The fellow stormed out after vowing to report us to his master.

Even with the split, Seattle was small enough and feelings cordial enough to where I and a few others were supernumeraries at Kashiwaya sensei's wedding reception.  About that time I began travelling for work and always took a gi to practice on trips since it seemed aikido was everywhere.  There were some wonderful seminar opportunities in various cities and I was able to train at Hombu dojo and in Hong Kong among other places.

In the late 70s San Francisco had an awesome dojo and I managed to visit a few times, and be there for a black belt test, which must have been 79, since Doran, Nadeau and I believe Dobson senseis were officiating.  No doubt Wada and Klickstein were there since it was a black belt test, who knows who else.  Talk about a concentration of talent.  (Klickstein later suffered abandonment when unwarranted claims of sexual abuse surfaced in the false-accusation, witchhunt rich 90s.  Nothing came of any of the claims, not even charges, and Klickstein went off to build another life.  C'est la vie.)

On a business trip to Boulder I looked up Kashiwaya sensei circa 1980 and we had dinner.  Mixed expectations.  I figured on catching up and maybe some practice, but it seemed that to him my visit meant I repented of my decision and came seeking reinstatement.  Ooops.  Apparently feelings were hard in Japan and over time those feelings filtered down, I suspect.  Things had changed.  Too bad.

I saw him again maybe 20 years later on the UW campus and happily, with time, no one gives a hoot anymore.  That is better.  Tohei Sensei did in fact build his training center, and as  life member I guess I belong there, but even his school has broken up.    His top people found a return to the Hombu fold to include a chilly reception, so most of them have seem to have started their own schools.  More multiplication by division.  Even those who who stayed with Tohei Sensei, such as Kashiwaya sensei, seem to have formed independent disciplines.

And so it goes.  The good thing is just about everywhere on earth you can find a dojo, some practice partners regardless of the "style", a club to which you are a member with branches worldwide.  Good enough.

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