My Aikido Journey, Part 2

sailing into the sunset

Now I’d like to still keep things a little secret; the world is a slightly more interesting place when things are withheld. But anyway I wanted to share with you guys my two Aikido Sensei.

NSS: A Shihan (master teacher), for the past 50+ years he has been practicing martial arts in general. A French-Canadian Jewish (I think) man, born and raised in the 40s and 50s, this guy’s old enough to be my grandpa. But senior citizen he is not! Trained as a Marine in the 50s and having been a police officer during the same time, he was exposed to many martial arts and self defense tactics (he was also a  Judo champion in his teens). What makes his background more interesting was that he was into Yoga very early on in his life – during the same time that he was in LE (law enforcement).

NSS was a direct student of Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei, one of the few westerners to have this honor and privilege. It shows in his classes that I’ve had with him; he almost also has some sort of story about him and O’Sensei and what O’Sensei taught him about the true meaning of Aikido. What I’ve discovered – oddly or sadly enough – is that NSS seems to have been omitted from the Aikido history books. His name is not found on the mainstream “family tree” – the lists of Sensei that have gone on after O’Sensei.

Maybe it’s because of politics; I don’t know. However at this point it matters little since he is here.

Personality wise I’d describe him (nicely) as a hard-ass; his teaching style also reflects this. He’s a very “honest” Sensei, physically letting you know that you’re doing something wrong (I’ve been on the receiving end of this) . An example of this teaching is that he has a reputation of scarring away students!

Despite his lack of recognition on the international stage, he along with a handful of other Americans were instrumental in bringing Aikido to California in the 60s.

JWS: A 6th degree black belt, he is in my book no less important than NSS has been in my development in Aikido. A sansei (3rd generation American of Japanese descent), he originally was a Karate guy who moved into Aikido during graduate school at UC Davis. Defying his parent’s wishes to become a doctor/lawyer/engineer, he fled (I kid you not) to Japan to learn Aikido. By the time he got there O’Sensei had already passed away for a few years, but he did train with many of his first generation students;  Anno Sensei and Hikitsuchi Sensei among them.

JWS is something of a polar opposite of NSS; both grew up in very different time periods and had very different backgrounds before Aikido. NSS has a  military/police background while JWS went through college and later obtained a master’s degree (NSS never went to college). NSS grew up in the 50s, JWS in the 60s.

JWS is an American of Japanese descent – giving him dual exposure in two different cultures at home. NSS grew up in a household that had a lot of “traditional” American values.

It’s worth noting that both Sensei are unique in their own way. There is a running gag in these parts that states “NSS does what he does because he is who he is”. To this day, I don’t think I’ve seen any 70-something year old who can pull off that kind of presence and self-confidence quite like him. And for JWS, he is only 1 of 3 Aikido instructors out of 40 who are of Asian descent – that is of the 40 in the Aikido association that I belong to.

JWS has been practicing Aikido for about 40 years. He has been teaching for 30 something.


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