My interactions with the late Shihan, Chiba Kazuo, were small. There were two times were he spoke directly to me. The first was at the end of practice at a New England Aikikai seminar. It had been a long day. I was tired. My legs felt like they were filled with molasses. My arms felt like they were filled with ball bearings. My body was slowing down, even as my mind was sending command after command. My brain watched while my body didn’t do what it was supposed to. We were practicing in two long lines in the MIT practice space. Each line was made up of pairs and we all threw in the same direction, away from the center, in order to maximize safety.
But I was dragging. I was counting down the minutes. Chiba-sensei patrolled the center of the mat. For those of you who never met him, Chiba-sensei was deadly serious on the mat. I could feel his presence coming up behind me. As he passed, he barked, “Too slow!” I jerked, surprised, even though I knew it was coming.
The second time was after a seminar party. It probably was the same seminar, but I’m not sure. After a long day and a big party, people were slowly filing out. Jeff and I are outside the door to the dojo, at the top of the stairs that lead to the street. I’m not sure what we were waiting for, but we were waiting, causally leaning against the walls. Suddenly, we hear a clear, but gruff, “Good night, boys!” We snapped to, bolt straight, and an amused Chiba-sensei casually strolled between us. It was a strange, powerful authority that compelled us to straighten up.
Chiba-sensei passed away last week. My sensei, Stroud-sensei, passed away the week before. And Paul Keelan, another of Kanai-sensei’s oldest students, a few days before that. This is, I suppose, the natural course of life. But it is hard to realize that those giants that are walking just in front of you are just people too. You often are fooled into thinking that they will always be there.
To all my aikido compatriots who were Chiba-sensei and Keelan-sensei’s students, my condolences for your loss.
To my aikido brothers and sisters in the MIT club, Stroud-sensei was the best of men.