Of all the instructors I trained with, Chino sensei proved to be my hardest challenge. The brutality in which he behaved took me completely by surprise.
I knew Chino sensei from the day I joined the Hombu Dojo, six months prior to the beginning of the Senshusei course, as he was one of the teachers of the beginners’ classes that I took every evening. He was a short young man who could emit incredible power, his grip so strong that I heard quite a few students complaining of headaches after he applied yonkajo lock to their wrists.
His style of teaching was old-school, very technical, hardly using any words. Unlike most instructors, he rarely socialized with the students, a distant approach that he continued to maintain when training was over. This became obvious when I moved into the Hombu Dojo, a few weeks before the beginning of the course, due to my precarious economical situation.
Chino sensei lived part-time at the Hombu Dojo, one week sleeping at the room next to the kitchen and on the other, staying at the apartment that the Hombu Dojo rented just a few blocks away. He alternated the spaces with Mori sensei, the youngest Japanese instructor at the dojo.
Despite the fact he only slept at the Hombu Dojo every other week, and that I lodged on the other side of the building, he looked rather grumpy whenever we met at night, very unlike Mori sensei, who spent the evening trying to socialize and converse, regardless of our language barriers. Although I never took Chino’s behavior personally,
I consequently did my best to avoid the kitchen, where he spent most of his time, thereby cutting myself off from the only source of entertainment left in the house, as the kitchen and Kancho sensei’s chamber were the only rooms to host a television. To make matters worse, the Hombu Dojo used to close its gates at ten o’clock every night, limiting my ability to get out.
“If you’re not sure you’ll be back by ten o’clock,” I was warned by Mark Baker sensei, “then you’d better prepare a nice cardboard box in some cozy street before you leave.”
“For your bed, Gadi, because there is no way in hell you’ll get in after ten.”
Luckily, there was one Japanese instructor who would sit and converse with me, at least for a short while, on the evenings Chino sensei was around. This was Nishida sensei, a kind young man with a round face and thick round glasses, who came from the island of Hokkaido. Nishida lived full time at the Hombu Dojo, and although his exclusive work description was as Kancho sensei’s chauffeur, he occasionally taught the beginner’s course. Nishida could speak some English, and he was very inquisitive about the country I came from and the countries I’d visited. In exchange, he would enlighten me about various Japanese customs.
The only down side was that Nishida sensei liked to go to sleep quite early, leaving me to either sit in the kitchen with the gloomy Chino or to be confined to the Sho-Dojo, the room I used for sleeping.
“It’s not ideal,” Baker sensei warned me when the Hombu first presented me with the option of staying in the Sho-Dojo.
“The Sho-Dojo?” I frowned. “Are you referring to that big storage room with the brooms? The one next to the training hall?”
“Like I said, not ideal but perfect under the circumstances.”
“Forgive me, Sensei, but isn’t it the same room where the police stay during the course?”
“But they only stay there during the day. Look, Gadi,” Mark sighed as he studied my dark expression, “you need to understand that the Hombu Dojo holds no facilities for uchi-deshi since it moved to Ochiai. You should be very grateful they allowed you to stay at all.”
“I am grateful,” I promised and took the offer without a second thought. I was indeed thankful, despite the lack of privacy and the constant stench of cigarettes that remained in the room from the heavily smoking group of policemen. The only downside was Chino sensei and his un-welcoming attitude.
However, none of his antisocial etiquette could have prepared me for the way he behaved when he partnered with me during the course. It remains embedded in my consciousness to this day.
It happened on a Saturday morning, a class dedicated to summarizing all the techniques that we learned during that week. I remember standing in line, and waiting at the beginning of the class for my partner to arrive. I never had forewarning who that partner might be. Where I stood, at the very far end of the dojo, my field of vision was hampered by a number of students who stood still and waited for the lesson to commence.
A few seconds passed until Chino came to stand at attention across from me. He glared at me through his half closed eyelids and the look in his eyes was cold and piercing, as if drilling a hole through my centre with a frozen drill.
“Rei!” Barked Chida sensei, the headmaster of the Hombu who took the class, and we bowed to each other. “Kamae!” and we moved into a fighting stance, motionless and staring at each other. Chida sensei then called out the first technique of the day, “Katatemochi Nikajo Osae Ichi,” meaning: ‘Wrist-grab with Lock number 2, variation number 1,’ and we moved into position. I reached out and grabbed his wrist, as always, my position in the line dictating that I should first play the role of the Uke.
Now nikajo, as any aikidoka knows, is not only one of the most painful locks, but also one of the most dangerous, simultaneously putting at risk the wrist, elbow and shoulder, not to mention it allows the shite full control over uke’s body, a quality Kancho gracefully used to its full capacity.
Chida sensei called the command to strike, and in response, Chino sensei landed a heavy blow, not as heavy as a ‘Roland sensei strike’ but pretty close. I blocked it without flinching.
“I’m onto you,” I thought as I studied his blank expression, not knowing how far I was from being ‘onto’ anything at all.
“Ichi,” Chida sensei counted and Chino fixed my arm to the position of the lock, “Ni,” Chida sensei counted the second move and Chino came down on my arm with unbelievable force, crushing all three joints and pinning me down to the floor. My arm felt like a twig in his deadly grip. The pain was unbearable, but it was nothing compared to the overwhelming sense of danger that gripped my heart with fear. I tapped the tatami to indicate my submission, and in response he increased the pressure.
“He’s going to break it,” an internal voice screamed in my ears. “Fight him, or it’s the end of that limb.”
I had no doubt in my mind that he could do as he wished with my arm, that he possessed the skill to cause permanent damage, and that he would suffer no consequences even if he did. In Japan, at least during those days, there was no law to prevent a martial arts instructor from damaging his students, no insurance money to claim for such injuries. The rule of engagement was quite simple – all wrong-doings were always uke’s fault for the following reasons:
Uke was too slow to react, his mind wondering off – Completely inattentive.
Uke was too fast to react, his arm too stiff to the touch, his attitude over zealous.
Uke was holding back, not fully committed to the technique and as a result, the demonstration was destroyed.
And shite can do no wrong – always perfect.
Bad, bad uke!
I bit my lip and tried my best to push against the pressure in my arm but it only hurt more, the over-strained muscles and tendons pulsating rays of agony. It seemed like the only way out was to wait for the next move – wait while tapping the floor like a mad-man with my free hand.
I was so relived when Chida sensei called out for the next move that I didn’t care about the way Chino sent me flying forward, almost knocking my head onto the floor. In fact, I was so pleased that the pressure on my arm was released that I forgot all about the osae, the final pin that waited at the end of the technique. On the next call Chino sensei flattened me to the floor and as he moved to position himself for the osae, he attached my arm to his body, so tightly that I already felt pinned down.
“Osae!” Chida sensei called out and in response, Chino twisted my arm and forcefully pressed it to the ground. A loud scream escaped my mouth as I felt my shoulder grind against the floor, as if Chino was using it as a blade he was trying to drive through the mat. I tapped the ground over and over again to indicate my submission, but to no avail. He seemed determined to hurt me.
When the technique was over, I jumped to my feet and ran to my position across from him. I had tears in my eyes, a throbbing right arm and the fact we were about to go through the same technique a few more times before moving to the other limb, filled my heart with terror. But there was no time to dwell on my pain and fear as Chida sensei called us again to move in. I clenched my teeth and grabbed his wrist, hoping he would show some compassion now that he had established his dominance.
A curse nearly escaped my open mouth when he cut down on my wrist and drove me down with the full backup of his body. We repeated the drill five more times and I could barely move my right arm when the session was over and we moved to the other side.
“There goes my left,” I thought when I reached out to hold him. He had the same cold look in his eyes as he repeated the assault on my left arm. From the corner of my eye I saw Chida sensei staring at us and for a second I fantasized that he might put an end to the ordeal. But he only moved his eyes away when he saw me looking at him. I was all alone, and the only thought to keep me going was that soon I would have a go at his wrists.
Both arms were shaking spasmodically when Chida sensei ordered the roles to be reversed.
“Vengeance is mine,” I thought and tried my best to return the favor, to twist, hurt and grind his wrist with all my might. I didn’t care if my actions would cause permanent damage. I wanted him to pay. However, I was denied satisfaction as he never seemed bothered by my efforts, his arm dangling relaxed and heavy from my grip, so much so that I actually had to struggle against gravity in order to keep his limb aloft. I was panting laboriously at the end of the session, beaten physically and mentally when we moved into Katatemochi Nikajo Ni, the circular variation of the same technique. Once more I went through the same painful experience, only this time around my mind was filled with inciting voices calling me to quit.
When the lesson was over I collapsed at the corner of the dojo. I sat with my palms resting on my thighs and closed my eyes, trying to calm my breathing and to assess my condition. My shoulders felt as if they were torn out of their sockets, the elbows pulsating in agony, the arms heavy and throbbing with pain. Worst of all was my right forearm. It was swollen, tight and restricted in all turning motions.
“Gadi?” I heard a warm familiar voice and I opened my eyes.
“Hey,” I smiled sadly at the tall bearded man who stood in front of me.
His name was Robert Mustard, a Canadian in his late thirties who had come to Japan three years previously and had participated in the Senshusei course. Robert completed the course and remained in Japan, diligently training every morning, and in the evenings working as an English teacher. Robert was a gifted aikidoka, his technique flowing and powerful. He never held back from helping me out, always happy to answer questions regarding the techniques, or just to sit and give his support when things were getting tough and miserable.
“Are you alright?” he asked and lowered himself beside me.
“Couldn’t be much worse, thank you.”
“Yes, I saw,” he sighed and patted my shoulder. “But don’t worry about it, don’t let him ruin your day. He’s young and young people sometimes tend to be very stupid.”
“But I’m younger than him.”
“Exactly my point,” he nodded.
“But what is their point?” I asked, smiling despite my gloominess.
“Their point? What do you mean?”
“Does he behave this way of his own accord, or is it because he is told to do so?”
It was Robert’s turn to chuckle.
“Are you suggesting a conspiracy, Gadi? That maybe Chida sensei or even Kancho has some devious plan to hurt you?”
“Well… I don’t know what to think.”
“Are you getting paranoid on me?”
“I’m just trying to figure it out. Seriously, Robert, there must be a better reason for the way he behaves than just being young and stupid.”
“Maybe I was too cocky during training or disrespectful to one of the instructors? I don’t know.”
“I never saw you being disrespectful and although you are cocky at times, I don’t think either one is the reason. It sounds too far fetched to me.”
“So what is it?”
“I guess only Chino knows the answer to that,” he sighed and then pointed at the clock on the wall. “Shall we go and get a drink before the next lesson?”
“I don’t think I can do the next lesson. I’m done for the day.”
“You’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
“No buts,” he raised his voice. “Don’t you dare quit because of him.”
Luckily, Chino did not return to train with me during the next session and when the day was over, I left the Hombu and went straight to Tessa, my girlfriend, who lived at a Guest-House one subway stop away. Tessa spoiled me all through the weekend, helping me nurse my wounds and listening to me grumbling about Chino sensei.
“I don’t want to go,” I told her the day I was supposed to get back to the dojo. “Don’t want to see him anymore.”
She exhaled loudly.
“So what,” she said. “You’re going to quit the course just because of him?”
“Better than killing him.”
“You’re not going to kill anyone.”
“I will if he bullies me again.”
“Shut up,” she said. “You’re being over-dramatic. Just go, train and avoid him the best you can.”
“But he’s staying at the dojo this week.”
“Then come and stay with me when you’ve had enough,” she smiled and kissed me. “There’s always room for you in here.”
I took up her offer and slept nearly every night at her place, usually arriving early and hanging out at the guest house during the afternoons, watching videos, socializing with the tenants and trying my best to ignore Phil, a Canadian who lived at her guest house, California House, and who found extreme pleasure in taunting me, especially after I unwisely disclosed to him the reason for my frequent visits.
“The Aikido Master is here to find shelter,” he would announce to the house upon my arrival. He would laugh at my frown and would usually add something like: “Yes, I know, don’t tell me, you’re not hiding but actually practicing the aikido principal of avoiding conflict.” He would continue to throw his jokes around all through the evening.
But despite the extreme measures that I took to avoid Chino sensei, I had zero control over the instructors allocated to train with me and he would come and face me every Saturday morning for yet another session from hell, terrorizing me and hurting my body, crushing my joints and squashing my will and spirit.
“That’s it,” I told Payet sensei after a particularly brutal lesson in which Chino twisted my arms so badly that I could hardly move either one.
“That’s it?” he raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean? Are you going to quit?”
“No,” I whispered coarsely, my eyes stinging from tears. “I’m not quitting, not because of him.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Fight back but not under his terms anymore. Please tell Chino sensei that next time he behaves this way, I’ll be waiting for him downstairs.”
“Do you want to fight him?”
“Why not? I used to box and do karate and he’s a high level aikido specialist. So let’s cut the bullshit and have a fair fight instead of this role playing.”