Seishiro Endo Shihan Visits North America

Contributed by Dan Nishina

From March 30 through April 5, 2006, Endo Seishiro shihan, 8th dan at Hombu Dojo, Aikido World Headquarters in Japan, traveled to various destinations in Canada and the U.S. for a series of 3 day seminars. Among his stops were Toronto (ONT), Commerce (GA), and Seattle (WA).

Toronto – This was Endo sensei’s second visit to Toronto. This year the seminar was held at Naka Ima dojo, headed by Greg Angus. Greg lived and practiced aikido in Japan for several years, moving back to Canada approximately 4 years ago and opening his dojo last year. There were many participants who traveled a long way, a good number by car, to attend the seminar, including from Washington D.C., Chicago, Florida, and New Jersey.

Because of the limited space, the Saturday and Sunday schedule was split into alternating kyu-level and dan-level classes. The primary difference in content was the kyu classes’ emphasis on more concrete concepts, such as sitting, footwork and posture.

On Saturday evening there was a party in the dojo, at which Sensei asked everyone to introduce themselves and give their impressions on the seminar as well as what brought them in the first place. Several people stated that they came because their peers attended last year and urged them to try it out. Finally sensei asked if there were any questions for him, and talked extensively, including about his early years at Hombu Dojo and his experience with O-sensei.

From Toronto we zipped to Commerce, Georgia, where Robert House and his wife had refurbished (to use an understatement) an opera house to be a restaurant, banquet hall, aikido dojo, and gymnastics studio. Robert is chief instructor of Aikido of North Georgia. Robert lived and practiced in Japan for several years before moving back to the U.S. in the early 90s. The seminar was held in the former opera hall upstairs on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Again, there were participants who traveled from far away, including from, Colorado, Florida, Chicago, the D.C. area, and even Holland.

As this was Endo sensei’s first visit to the area and, accordingly, his first time to meet most of the participants, he discreetly “changed course” from his original “lesson” near the beginning of the seminar but covered his general, introductory concepts and exercises while incorporating a relatively wide range of actual techniques.

The closing party was held in the banquet hall downstairs, and included a round of self-introductions and comments. Many reflected how it struck them that practice could be so distinctly joyful, as it was being shown in Endo sensei’s classes. There was also appreciation for the fact that sensei would continually go around and work with every single participant in every class.

After an early morning departure on Friday, April 7, we found ourselves on (intentionally, yes) in Seattle, to be greeted by Glenn Leichman. Glenn had organized last year’s seminar with Endo sensei, as well, with the help of the Seattle area aikido community. This 2006 seminar was held in a large community center and was well attended by over 100 students.

The expectation level for the “Endo experience” seemed to be high, possibly in part thanks to an active West coast grapevine. A wide variety of participants filled the mat, diligently practicing and breaking a good sweat. During the seminar, Glenn and his friend Louis received their promotion certificates from Endo sensei.

On the Monday following the seminar, there was an official opening practice at Glenn’s new dojo, Aikido on Willapa Bay, Seattle. There were about 10 people in attendance, consisting of the dojo’s members, and local students and teachers.

In addition to the component of joy being a significant part of practice, Sensei revisited the importance of sensitivity (inward and outward) and a quiet and settled mind. These ideas connected with a flexible and viable mind, and accordingly a like body, with many possibilities. He also explicitly stated his view that aikido practice comprises opportunities to study and become better able to use the mind and body, while downplaying emphasis on technical effectiveness and associations of self-defense, as the all too often become unconstructive preoccupations.

– Thank you to Greg Angus, Robert House, and Glenn Leichman, as well as the many who shared their energy and effort to help make these two weeks possible. And many thanks to Endo sensei for sharing his time and energy in what was for him a non-stop, intensive teaching schedule to share himself and his aikido, and the joy and possibilities that come with it.