I was already a seasoned uke when Chino sensei came and asked me to demonstrate with him. I’d participated in tens of performances and had plenty of experience with a wide range of instructors, some of whom held higher rank than him, were more aggressive and stronger.
Seemingly, I had no reason for concern besides the bitter past experiences I shared with him, two years earlier, when he partnered up with me during my senshusei course.
“You’ll be all right,” said Mustard sensei, the head foreign instructor. Robert Mustard sensei had replaced Payet sensei a few weeks before the beginning of the second Kokusai Senshusei Course.
“We’ll see the day after tomorrow,” I sighed.
“Why? What happens the day after tomorrow?”
“Chino sensei wants to have a practice.”
All through the day I thought of the upcoming practice and demonstration. I analyzed the few occasions in which I had taken his uke in class, remembering how strong and ruthless he was, so focused on his performance that the welfare of his uke came secondary to being punctual, centered and powerful. The best example of this statement would undoubtedly be during one early morning session when Chino sensei was the main instructor and the dojo was packed with students and teachers alike.
The first ten minutes of the class were dedicated to warm ups and practicing the basic movements with partners. When this was over, Chino sensei cried, ‘Yame’, and everyone dropped to their knees, everyone apart from the few students who ran to face him, eagerly competing to become Chino’s uke. The first to reach him was one of the four women who had participated in the first kokusai senshusei course, a woman in her late thirties,
She took her position in front of Chino sensei and they bowed to each other. He called out the technique of the day, Katate Mochi Hijiate Kokyunage. It is a throw in which the uke holds the wrist of the shite and the latter moves to align himself with the outstretched arm of the uke, one hand holding uke’s wrist while the other arm is attached to the elbow, creating tension on the joint as the whole body drives forward, a move that forces uke to quickly rotate his shoulder and roll forward or else, risk his elbow being snapped in two and his forearm and collar bone, maybe even both, being shattered.
The two dropped to seiza and demonstrated the Suwari Waza variation, (performing while moving on the knees), which is the hardest variation on the uke since it is rather difficult to react quickly in such an awkward position. He reached out his arm and she grabbed his wrist without hesitation. He gave a few explanations before smoothly moving to the side, fully stretching her arm out in preparation for the throw. A few more words and he launched forward, so swiftly and forcefully that she had little chance of catching up with the move.
She began to roll forward but the brutal execution caught her in mid motion. A loud cracking sound was heard as her collar bone snapped dead in the middle while she rolled forward. It did not stop Chino sensei from completing the technique with perfect Zan-Shin, (end of the throw focused and with fixed posture).
The brave uke maintained her composure as she slowly rose off the mat and bowed to Chino sensei. Silence reigned in the room as she held her dangling arm and graciously excused herself from the hall. Needless to say, it took months until she returned to training at the dojo. But she did return.
During lunch break I went through everything that had happened between Chino and me in the past. The first thing that came to mind were the unpleasant training sessions I’d experienced with him during my course and the year long disconnection that followed, where we did our best to avoid one another on the mats, in the kitchen, the office and even when we randomly bumped into each other in the corridors of the dojo.
When I became a member of staff our relationship improved slightly. The ice broke when Chino sensei, at one of the senshusei dojo parties, suddenly approached me with a bottle of beer in his hand. The party, as was customary, took place in the center of the training hall where tables, set in a long row and covered in white cloths, offered snacks and beverages. The seating was arranged according to hierarchy; Chida sensei at the head of the table, followed by the teachers according to their rank and then the senshusei.
The pattern of all aikido parties is determined by the level of alcohol consumed by the participants. They start with rigid, formal and polite speeches and toasts, the first delivered by the head master, then his next in command and then a few others, the atmosphere gradually relaxes and there are already whispers, chuckles and even loud remarks.
When the speeches are over and the guests starts to mingle and socialize, students and teachers getting up from their seats, beer bottles in hand, approaching others, gesturing to their victims to finish up their drinks and quickly topping up the empty glasses. Needless to say that no longer than twenty minutes after the initial toast, everyone is completely intoxicated, disorderly, loud and in many cases, very rude.
“Why do they do it to themselves?” I feebly asked David after the first party we attended.
“To loosen up,” he explained while holding my upper body over a bush, a bush I decorated with the contents of my stomach.
“Loosen up?” I wretched. “How can getting drunk in such a short period of time be considered a form of relaxation?”
“Because it’s the only way they know how to break the rigid boundaries of their hierarchy. When drunk, they open their minds, talk freely with their superiors and even speak about their emotions. Hey, stop leaning forward or you will end up with your head in your sick!”
We used to do that a lot in those days; me, getting almost senselessly drunk, while David, patiently helping me through the process of rejuvenation. David, who was far more mature and wiser than me despite the similarity in ages, somehow knew how to avoid the over drinking at the parties, a technique he tried a few times to teach me and that I failed to learn.
“It’s too complicated,” I complained.
“What’s so complicated about not being an easy target?”
“I guess I’m just girl who can’t say no.”
True to my system of complacency, I had already consumed quite a few drinks by the time Chino sensei approached me with the beer. He smiled, his eyes red and his face flushed, and gestured for me to finish my half empty glass. I was quick to obey.
“Oh,” he observed. “Gadi san can drink very well.
“Thank you, sensei,” I said while tightening my chin against my chest, keeping the belch at bay. Chino sensei smiled and reached forward with the bottle. I held the glass with both hands as he refilled it.
“Gadi san became stronger,” he pointed at my arms then at my chest. “Aikido made you bigger.”
“Not as strong and as big as Chino sensei,” I said and he frowned in return and placed the bottle on the table top.
“Not big,” he said and ran both of his hands along the sides of his body, sliding the palm against the fabric of his tight suit from his chest to his waist line, like a model demonstrating the perfect curves of her body.
“Smart,” he concluded and looked deep into my eyes. “I’m smart, not big.”
“Sure, sensei. You’re very smart.”
An awkward silence followed, then we both smiled, bowed and he moved on.
“You worry too much,” Tessa said when we had dinner together that night.
“Not that surprising considering the circumstances.”
“What circumstances? He’s just another teacher who’s going to throw you around.”
“Have you forgotten everything that went on with him in the past?”
“Not forgotten, simply moved on.”
“But that guy can be a real monster. A Godzilla by all accounts.”
“Well. You know what they say about Godzilla, don’t you?” she chuckled.
“That Godzilla is just a sweaty skinny man in underpants hiding inside a silly rubber costume.”
“Chino sensei wears no costume.”
“Nonsense! All martial artists wear costumes.”
“Funny shit. I never saw anyone dressed up in the dojo.”
“You’re all dressed up, white suits, black belts, wearing tough expressions and carrying yourselves as if you’re the most powerful people on earth.”
“So what are you saying?”
“That you shouldn’t worry. You’ve faced stronger and tougher instructors before and come out without a scratch, sometimes even more complete than the person throwing you. Now snap out of it and figure out how to handle this sweaty little monster.”