Aikido and Dad

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.

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