Never Say Goodbye
January 25, 2022
· Lehrman Shihan – Wednesday, February 8 at 7:00 pm. Lehrman Sensei teaches the second Wednesday of each month.
· Super Bowl Party at the Dojo – Sunday, February 12 at 6:00 pm – Join us to watch the big game together. This is potluck so please bring something.
· Iaido Seminar with Shihan Roger Wehrhahn – Sunday, February 26, 1 pm to 3 pm - $50 Potluck to follow.
· Adult Aikido Class Canceled – Sunday, February 26, 2:30 pm
· Lehrman Sensei Seminar at Tenzan Aikido dojo in Seattle, Washington, March 25 and 26.
· Seminar with Steve Pimsler Sensei, Chief Instructor of NY Aikikai – Saturday, April 22, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm. Potluck to follow.
Rest In Peace Sensei – Hal’s Thoughts
Mike Abrams asked me if I could write something about my recollection of my first impressions of joining the dojo in 1964. At that time, I was practicing judo at the Buddhist Academy on Riverside Drive. I was in the dance department of the High School of Performing Arts, and I was pursuing my practice of Zen meditation. I was into judo but the foot sweeps were bruising my ankles in a way that gave me problems in my dance practice. I talked to my Sensei about this; he lit up and enthusiastically told me about this Aikido teacher who had just arrived.
I walked in the tiny, got to say a bit dingy, dojo that was then on 19th Street. I saw Yamada Sensei in action on the mat. At first glance I saw the combination of the martial power, the incredibly simple elegance of Sensei's movement and the clear aura of harmony and unification of the spirit. My future was instantly and spontaneously settled for me. It was a done deal. I never looked back.
I was a child then. I was the youngest one in the dojo. To me he seemed like a grownup. But Sensei was just in his mid-twenties. Most of the students had previous Budo experience. It was a pretty rock and roll practice. Thinking about it now, I can imagine the courage it took for Yamada Sensei to take on his mission. From the very first, his unhesitating, no extra explanation, youthful energy, completely set the tone on the mat.
I am 75 now. At Sensei's last class, his Aikido was as youthful, pure, and martial as it had ever been. That promise that I saw at that very first glance has never been betrayed, never wavered and has been the most constant thing in my life.
Rest In Peace Sensei – Jay’s Thoughts
There is a beautiful poem I am sure most have heard by Clare Harner “Do not stand, By my grave, and weep. I am not there; I do not sleep.”
You do not say goodbye to someone when their memory will last forever. They are not dead when they are alive in our hearts. Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei passed away on January 15, 2023, at the age of 85. It is no exaggeration when I say the entire Aikido world is affected and saddened. He will truly be remembered. There is a reason I have mentioned Yamada Sensei dozens of times in my letters, always in awe of his skill, his sense of peace, his impact on the world of Aikido or just fondly. I wonder how many of us reading this letter would be studying Aikido if not for him.
He came to the US in 1964 as a young man at the age of 26 and at the request of some students at what was to become the New York Aikikai. Over his life, he founded the USAF which hosts over 200 dojos in North America and many other countries. The sheer number of senseis of dojos in the US that studied with him is mindboggling.
My first “social” experience with Sensei was back in the early 1990’s. I was asked by Todd Martin, an uchi deshi and an old friend, .Yamada Sensei lived a block from the dojo on 19th Street. Todd wanted to do Sensei a favor and fix their bathroom. Todd, having no construction or tiling skills, asked me for help. Over a couple of weekends, we fixed everything. I was now known to Sensei as the ‘construction guy.’
Fast forward to over a decade and a half to 2007, Yamada Sensei wanted to do a larger renovation to his bathroom and kitchen and asked Hal for that ‘construction guy’ who was friends with Todd to do the work. I now have a construction company with 20 plus employees. I would not be doing the work myself this time. We worked out details and my crew went to work. I would show up every day or so and check the progress as one does in this business. When Sensei was not at the dojo, I would find him sitting in the dining area. He always warmly invited me to join him for a cup of tea or another beverage. I was always touched by his warmth and charm. At these times, he was not the bigger than life Yamada Sensei but a friendly guy telling stories.
I would sit and listen to stories and to be very honest, I am terrible with accents. I honestly di not understood some of what he said. Over the next few weeks as I hung out with him, I can honestly tell you I am not sure about some of what we spoke about. I can tell you I always felt comfortable and warmly welcome sitting with this man who was an icon in my world. And the bathroom came out beautifully if you must know.
During these times, I don’t think he ever knew I did Aikido. I was a member of Brooklyn studying with Hal since the early ‘80s. I did take class at NYA as the Tai Chi Chuan school I taught at was an avenue west on 18th Street. Eric Schneider and I would take a class at NYA when we had some down time but, due to schedules, we seemed to mostly take Sugano Sensei class. I’ll never know if Yamada Sensei knew who I was on the mat, but I will never forget those times at his apartment to his wonderful stories.
Fast forward another decade and a half and I am now the Chief Instructor of ASNJ. Frank, from ASNJ, had a great idea to plan a road trip (NJ Transit trip actually) to bring our teen students to NYC and take Yamada Sensei’s class on a Saturday. We ended up doing this about three times a year. We wanted our kids to meet Sensei and to get an opportunity to learn from this amazing man and direct student of O’Sensei. We all saw the joy in Yamada Sensei’s face when the kids were practicing. He often would bring one of them up to take ukemi for him. On the very last trip this past June, Yamada Sensei brought up Patrick, a talented 12-year-old who loved to breakfall. Sensei called him as an uke and threw him in an irimi breakfall, not an easy ukemi. Patrick went flying and landed perfectly, under Sensei’s amazing care and skill. Sensei broke into a huge warm smile and said “See, I still got it.” I am both crying and smiling remembering this story.
I want to send out my love to his family, all his students, all the people he affected and to the whole Aikido world. May God bless his soul. Rest in peace, Sensei.
I am heartened to know Yamada Sensei will live on in all our dojos. I change the words from the poem a little. I think it should read:
I will not stand by his grave, and cry.
He is not there,
He did not die.
Sensei, Aikido Schools of NJ