I’m not going to mention his name, because I’m not sure he’d want that.

He’d been training a long time, and not just Aikido. So long, in fact, that his instructor, a senior American practitioner, once referred to him as sempai.

The day he came I was teaching. We were cubs back then, that day, rolling and tumbling on the mat. Not him, though, as he watched us training, off to the side. He was a wolf.

So one day he’s teaching bokken and I was there. I was impatient then, and sure of myself, when he walked over to demonstrate.

It’s hard to describe what happened. I doubt he even remembers it. But I do.

I held my bokken before me, the way I was taught, the blade extending outward, my wrist slightly turned. I projected from my center. It was, I remember thinking, a solid and impenetrable barrier. With time enough and patience, I could almost keep the world at bay.

The cut was immediate, decisive. So quickly did the blade drop, that I had no time to think, to even breathe. As the moment passed, and my breath returned, I felt the tip of his sword resting lightly against my trachea.

Nowadays when I teach bokken, I demonstrate the movements, again the way I was taught. Sometimes, though, I’ll stop, and think back to that day.

“You have to understand,” I tell them, “this happens very fast…”

And then I’ll wait, and look, and see if they understand. And sometimes, as I watch them, I’ll see my younger self: eager to train, quick to answer, and confident.

18 thoughts on “Wolves

  1. Did I ever tell you that Maggie, Dee, Buck, and I saw him at wintercamp last year? We told him you said “Hi”.

  2. You are thinking of Joel. He tested nidan at winter camp and passed. Congratulations to him.

    Joel was very sweet.

  3. Yeah, Joel is awesome. I may have a story or two to share about him.

    You’ve not met our mystery friend, dichotomy. He was before your time.

  4. Now you’ve got me thinking about Joel, Ryan!

    It’s too bad you never had the chance to train with him. He relocated a few years before you started. I remember helping him prep for his shodan test. (He tested, I think, the year before me).

    Anyway, I remember him being one of the most mellow guys I’d ever met. I learned a lot from him.

  5. “enter and die”
    “If you’re gonna die, you might as well die correctly.”- Jerry

    I trained with Joel in Penny Bernath Sensei’s Randori class last year. It was right before the black belt tests, so I guess it was a last chance training session for the potential sho,ni and san dans.
    His Aikido was very beautiful. He might of appreciated working out slow with me, a tired kyu, considering he was testing for nidan directly after that class. lol

  6. Yeah, I trained with Joel for most of Yamada Sensei’s class. It was fun. We saw his Nidan test- looked good. I liked his randori best out of the pool he tested with.

  7. You did say that. Your logic…

    Edited by Admin because I’m pretty sure I didn’t say what you just wrote. Although the actual quote does sound like me.

  8. No, unfortunately, that’s the conundrum. It’s you who die. Even though Aikido is, according to O-Sensei, a life affirming martial art.

    I grant you that there are skilled Aikidoka, in our own Federation, who can square that circle. I’ve seen them on the mat.

    But if Aikido is for the world, as O-Sensei says, where does that leave you and me?

    There is an answer here, I’m sure of it. It’s tickling at the back of my mind, but I can’t express it.

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