Jerry: When did you start training?
Sensei: In Aikido? I began in 1996 with Chris Rozette. I had actually tried a little Hapkido before joining the dojo. And later on, when I wanted to try grappling, I enrolled in San-Jitsu for a bit.
What I wanted back then was to learn a martial art. A coworker had taken some Aikido lessons with Curtis Rosiek, who started our school. He suggested I give it a try.
Jerry: What was the school like in the early days?
Sensei: For me, it was incredible. Back then we were training in a dance studio. But it didn’t matter! I just loved training. Chris and I would travel to every seminar we could. I probably attended a seminar every three weeks or so my first two years. I wanted to learn everything.
Jerry: What seminars did you go to?
Sensei: [Laughs] Every one I could! Boston, Montreal, Atlanta, New York, Fort Lauderdale…
Jerry: OK. How many students were in the school back then?
Sensei: Around six to eight, on average. After Chris left, our black belts were Mike [Sands] and Brett Jackson.
New York Aikikai
Jerry: Tell me how you first met Yamada Sensei.
Sensei: I first met Sensei in Atlanta, at Dogwood Aikikai. Yamada and Kanai Sensei were teaching. I had asked Chris to make the introduction, because I knew I wanted to train in New York. Chris introduced me to Edwin, who was a deshi in New York. Edwin then introduced me to Sensei.
Jerry: And then you stayed in New York?
Sensei: Well, the first time I went to New York, I stayed for one week. This was in December 1996. I then went back in April 1997, and stayed for five weeks.
Jerry: What was it like for you in New York?
Sensei: It was amazing. I was in awe of everyone. You have to remember, when I first went, I was just a 4th kyu. I was 35 years old. I worked out a lot with the deshis, who were in their early twenties, and male.
The talent there is unbelievable. Not just the instructors, but the students as well. When I first went, I didn’t want the deshis to think I was a wimp. I wanted to be tough, so I trained hard. I would take, on average, three classes a day, and on Tuesdays I would take five. And of course I would never miss class when Yamada or Sugano Sensei was teaching.
Jerry: Is that where you learned soft ukemi?
Sensei: I was first introduced to soft ukemi through Joey Turner. But yes, my real education was in New York, with Donovan Waite Sensei and his students.
Jerry: It must have been thrilling learning a new way to take ukemi.
Sensei: It was. I was so excited about all the new things I had learned. I couldn’t wait to bring it back with me.
Jerry: What happened when you did return?
Sensei: [Laughs] Well…It was difficult.
Let’s just say that my reception wasn’t all positive. The ukemi I was taught was different than what my fellow students had been practicing here. It was something new and different. Some even refused to learn it.
Jerry: A lot has changed though, right?
Sensei: Yes. Now, soft ukemi, the kind I learned from Waite Sensei and his students, is very common. But when I first brought it back to Jacksonville, that wasn’t the case.
I’m happy that it’s become a standard type of ukemi here locally.
To Be Continued…