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Aikido and Dad | faulty vision

My mother and I were surfing the web — or to be more accurate, I was surfing the web and periodically pointing my mother to a site or a video recording of something or another. The subject of the moment was Aikido; a search of my father’s name had produced, in short order, several students who now ran their own dojos, and a video clip one of them had put up.

I expanded the search and found an interview on Aikiweb that mentioned him. “Huh,” I said, and turned the laptop to show my mom. “Did you know him?”

My mom glanced over from her letter-writing and examined the picture thoughtfully. “Who is–” she began, and then broke off to exclaim, “Imaizumi-sensei!”

She began to laugh.

My dad was friends with Koretoshi Maruyama and Shizuo Imaizumi, who went on to become leaders in the Aikido field. They were headed towards the ocean on a train, and while two of them fooled around, Imaizumi sat in disciplined silence, reading a book. “What are you reading?” they finally asked. He showed them: a How To book on swimming.

“Maruyama-kun,” he said. “When we get there I’ll show you how to swim.” He was convinced that he could learn from the book.

When they arrived, he had finished his reading and felt confidence in his book-conveyed prowess. He jumped into the ocean and disappeared. His two friends gaped. When he didn’t come back up, Maruyama was alarmed and dove in after him, grabbed him and hauled him out.

***

Dad, me, and Maruyama-sensei in 1975(?)

Dad, me, and Maruyama-sensei in 1975(?)

Dad had a complicated relationship with the leading figures in Aikido, not least with Tohei-sensei. His friendship with Maruyama-sensei, on the other hand, seemed very straight-forward to my admittedly youthful eyes at the time. He was one of Dad’s best friends, and came over at least once that I remember; I recall a lot of laughter and a lot of drinking, and several drawings. Maruyama-sensei drew cartoons at the drop of a hat, and one of the clearest memories from my childhood, bizarrely, is of a cartoon he drew of my Dad cavorting happily with a bottle of beer while my impatient mother looked on.

At some point, he disappeared off the face of the earth.

I don’t know what my father had to say about that — I’d have to ask Mom to find out — but Mom told me that Maruyama-sensei‘s wife used to receive yearly postcards from her husband to let her know he was still alive. Beyond that, nothing. He was still missing when Dad died of lung cancer in 1994, or at least did not reach out to my mom if he was not.

“Maruyama-sensei,” I said with nostalgia, when Mom had told me about Imaizumi-sensei. “I remember him. I wonder what happened to him?”

She shook her head. “It’s a great mystery.”

I was already on google anyway; it was a simple step to type in his last name and the word ‘Aikido.’ “What was his first name?” I asked.

“Koretoshi,” she said. I typed that in.

The miracles of Google.

“Holy crap,” I said. “He’s back.”

“What?” she said, and craned to look.

“And he’s founded his own branch of Aikido,” I said, my voice rising. “Look.” Wikipedia informed us that he had emerged from a 10-year seclusion in a temple in 2001.

My mother, as is her way, seemed pleased and interested. My first emotion was likewise pleasure, followed swiftly by a keen sense of injustice. While I don’t know the ins and outs of my dad’s relationship with his friend, it seemed as though reaching out to his friend’s widow after returning from a mysterious disappearance would be common courtesy. After about an hour of temper, it also occurred to me that I might still have some tangled up emotions about my dad’s life and death. It came as a weird revelation.

In the freakish way of these things, the next day my mom got a Christmas card from old Aikido students of my father who were now based in Olympia. Jim and Lynda West studied with my dad in Seattle for a time, back when I was still a kid. They wrote that Maruyama-sensei “may come to Seattle in August and we would like him to visit with you.”

In progress…

Dad came across in 1964
Mom in 1967

Dad DOB 2/26/42
Mom DOB 9/26/39

Aunt Michi married in ’54

 

5 Responses to Aikido and Dad

  1. [...] Click here to read entire article. [...]

  2. Lawrence A. Kurfiss says:

    Dear Yuhri:

    I just finished reading your remembrance of your father, Mr. Y. Hirata. I was a student in Hirata Sensei’s dojo around 1980-81, when classes were held in a beat up old former pool hall off Pioneer Square, downtown Seattle.

    Later we moved to 20th and Jackson, and sometime thereafter Sensei decided to stop teaching aikido and concentrate on teaching children the Suzuki method of violin.

    Your father was the most remarkable man I have ever met. His face was seldom without a smile, and he really did seem to have an “aura”, (extending ki!)coupled with a great humility. One day he told a little story, illustrating the practical benefits of studying the art of ki/aikido.

    “I come to America, I join U Ess Ah-my. Not much English. Soldiers laugh, they think ah’m pretty funny guy. We go through basic training, guys start getting hurt, sprain ankle, sprain wrist. I fix they sprains, can go on training, not go back. Pretty soon guys ironing my uniform. I love U Ess Ahmy!”

    I was tall, and Sensei often picked me to demonstrate holds and throws. One time he used my elbow to demonstrate how Japanese police encourage cooperation, applying pressure of thumb and middle finger while hoisting the subject’s arm. “Now he WANTS to go with you!” he said with that big smile, and YES, I did want to go.
    He was truly a great man, and I always wondered what became of him. I’m sorry to learn of his passing, but I know he lives in many hearts.

    Lawrence Kurfiss
    Chiang Mai, Thailand

  3. Lawrence A. Kurfiss says:

    PS:
    Thinking about my time as student in the old dojo, and seeing the photo, I remember that Maruyama Sensei did come to visit one time. It was a very big deal. You was quite a youthful looking, slender man. As I recall, his role was one of honored guest, working with the advanced students. I was only a rank beginner.

    Ever since I discovered your blog entry about your father, I’ve been remembering things he said, and the graceful way he moved. Maybe the most important thing he stressed was to always be ready for The Test. It was his habit to walk around the mat while we were practicing, and give us a shove to check our awareness. I came to see that The Test was life itself. “Test can come ANY TIME”, he said, “Always be ready for Test”.

    Indeed.

    Lawrence Kurfiss

  4. yhirata says:

    I am deeply belated, because I always forget that I have these pages — having the attention span of a gnat, I go through cycles of updating, followed by vast tracts of oblivion — but I really appreciate your comments. Thank you for those memories! It’s been a long time since my father passed away, and the gift of remembrance brings him back to life for me in a way I’m truly grateful for.

  5. Lawrence A. Kurfiss says:

    Yuhri:
    I was thinking about your dad again tonight. A couple of nights from now, I will be speaking at an open mic night of writers and various other performers here in Chiang Mai who have an urge to show off in front of an audience. I have decided to share memories I have of your father.
    I can’t imagine him gone, at such a young age. He was the kind of guy, you’d naturally assume he would outlive yourself and everybody like you.. He was only three years older than me, but seemed to be much older, and definitely wiser. I will never forget him.
    You don’t need to publish this, it’s just a note to you. Be sure to tell your son what a great man his grandpa was.

    Lawrence A. Kurfiss
    Chiang Mai, Thailand

    PS:I will soon be moving back to Seattle. If your mother is still there, I would like to pay my respects. If there is a grave site, I would love to visit.

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