Jerry: Let’s talk a bit more about the early days. Why did you decide to move from the dance studio?
Sensei: Well, we left Mark Spivak’s [the dance studio – Ed.] because our training time was being cut. The space we rented was also being used by cheerleaders. They would stay during the evenings, which left less time for us.
Jerry: And then where did you go?
Sensei: We moved to the JCA [Jewish Community Alliance – Ed]. They were renting space to community groups.
Jerry: How did that work out?
Sensei: At first it was great — we had a really nice room. The problem was that when the JCA rented space for special events, we would always have to move. And the space we were moved to was really small. It became clear to us that it wasn’t working out.
Jerry: What did you do?
Sensei: Well, at that time I was getting my Masters in Psychology at UNF. I looked into organizing the school as a UNF club and moving there.
Jerry: Were you the chief instructor at that point?
Jerry: What was it like to take on that responsibility?
Sensei: [Laughs] It was a lot of work! When Chris moved, he left the school pretty disorganized. Little things, like a mailbox, our own phone number…these things weren’t really planned out. If we were to keep training, I would have to step up and put things in order.
One of the first things I did was make sure we stayed a USAF dojo. For me, it was never a question, but my fellow students didn’t have the experience I had going to seminars and training in New York. I had to convince them that it was important.
Jerry: At that point were you a student of Yamada Sensei?
Sensei: Yes, that happened when I first stayed in New York for five weeks.
Jerry: Who are your main influences?
Sensei: [Laughs] All my teachers!
I obviously owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Yamada Sensei. And of course Sugano Sensei. I also owe a lot to my other teachers in New York, especially Donovan Waite, but also Steve Pimsler, Jane Ozeki, and Douglas Firestone.
And of course Peter and Penny Bernath, and Grady Lane. Grady especially has been a great help to me over the years.
Jerry: Who are your influences regarding your weapons training?
Sensei: I’d have to say I learned the most from seminars with Kanai Sensei and Claude Berthiaume. And of course Sugano Sensei’s classes in New York.
When Mike joined the school he also brought a lot of weapons experience, which was very helpful.
Jerry: You’re obviously grateful to your teachers. How important is it to receive this type of personal instruction?
Sensei: Very important. I’ve always believed that if you want to learn Aikido, if you’re serious, you have to put in your time with the shihans. You need to apprentice yourself, over a period of years. If that’s not possible, then you need to find an instructor who has that experience. And then you need to attend seminars. Lots of them. I’m a big proponent of seminars.
Jerry: Is that also your experience with weapons?
Sensei: Absolutely. With weapons there’s a lot of subtlety which you really can’t see unless it’s personally demonstrated. And again, you need this experience from a shihan or shidoin. When you’re receiving instruction from someone with thirty or forty years experience, over time it informs your technique a lot.
My job as an instructor is to bring these insights back to Jacksonville, to my students.
To Be Continued…