Aikido Coming Full Circle
by George Ledyard

This past weekend we had the honor of hosting Shizuo Imaizumi Sensei at Aikido Eastside. Longtime students of this wonderful teacher came from all over the country, including a good sized group from his own dojo in New York City. As I watched my own students training with all of these folks from outside our own dojo I was struck by the fact that something of real significance was happening here; something that was of symbolic importance for the Aikido community as a whole, not just the participants of our little three day seminar.

In the old days of the uchi deshi training under the Founder at Honbu Dojo, my own teacher, Saotome Sensei, and Imaizumi Sensei were fellow deshi and friends. When Koichi Tohei chose to leave the Aikikai in 1974, the effect on the Aikido community was cataclysmic. Friends of many years suddenly found themselves on opposite sides of a great divide. Imaizumi Sensei and Saotome Sensei were amongst those caught up in these events. Making opposite choices about whom they wished to follow, they didn’t speak again for the next 25 years.

Imaizumi Sensei eventually ended up in New York City. After serving as the senior instructor of Tohei Sensei’s Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido organization, Imaizumi Sensei went independent and started his own organization, the Shin Budo Kai, in 1988. Saotome Sensei also found himself as the independent head of his own organization, the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba, founded after he came to the United States in the mid-seventies (the ASU has since re-affiliated with the Aikikai Honbu Dojo).

In 1995 I was fortunate to have a young man come in to my dojo to enroll. He was a new import to the North West, having moved there from New York City to work for Microsoft. Kevin Lam was one of the best prepared students I had ever had come through the doors. He had incredible ukemi, strong technique, good weapons skills…. And he was about the nicest guy you’d ever meet. It wasn’t long before I asked him to be my Assistant Chief Instructor, a decision I have not regretted for even a moment ever since.

Kevin Lam was a senior student of Imaizumi Sensei. Through his good offices we were eventually able to invite Imaizumi Sensei out for the first of his visits to our dojo. In the mean time, Kevin had been getting to know my own teachers, Saotome and Ikeda Sensei’s. Soon we found ourselves acting as the merest beginning of a bridge between the two groups. My teachers thought the world of Kevin and Imaizumi Sensei was gracious far beyond expectation towards me whenever we met. He consistently made me feel like I was one of his own students and I felt incredibly complimented.

All of this took a few years to work through but in 2002 an historic meeting took place when Imaizumi Sensei consented to be a guest instructor at the Rocky Mountain Summer Camp. Saotome Sensei and Imaizumi Sensei found themselves together again after twenty five years. Our own Stan Pranin was there to conduct a dual interview with the two Senseis, both actual participants in the events which have shaped modern Aikido as we have inherited the art. I listened in wonder as I heard stories of the post O-Sensei break-up and how it had effected the people involved; stories I had never heard before. It was wonderful to watch as a friendship was renewed after all that time with stories of training under O-Sensei and Koichi Tohei went back and forth.

So when I looked at what was happening this past weekend at my own dojo, I realized that things had come full circle. The students of two teachers who had shared so much in their early years and then had become estranged due to the politics of their chosen art were now training together as if they were from the same dojo. Imaizumi Sensei’s students feel like family when they visit. I have never seen two groups train together in such a joyous spirit. The fact that this has happened represents the beginning of a great healing on some level. I have been happy to be a part of it and I hope that this kind of thing will become more common all over our Aikido world. This “coming together” has got to be part of what O-Sensei would have wanted for his art.

Aikido Journal 2004

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