A Remarkable Afternoon with Professor John Stevens Shihan
& Many of O Sensei’s Students and Friends
By Paul Rest
On Sunday afternoon, January 10th, in Mountain View, California at the performing Arts Center, John Stevens, Shihan, author of over thirty books on Asian culture and Buddhism, as well as The Art of Peace and The Essence of Aikido: Spiritual Teachings of Morihei Ueshiba, gave a lecture and slide show of early photographs of O Sensei and examples of his calligraphy.
John Stevens Shihan
The event was sponsored by Robert Frager, Shihan, and the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) as a benefit for ITP. Frager Sensei, one of the Americans who became a ushi deshi for O Sensei, was able to gather together many senior teachers for this event.
Robert Frager Shihan
It should be noted first, that ITP has been a leader in integrating Aikido into their graduate Psychology program(s). Two faculty members beside Frazer Sensei hold black belts in Aikido, Charles Tart and David Lukoff. Aikido is also a requirement for first year students. And a number of doctoral dissertations have come out of this important intersection of Aikido and Psychotherapy.
Mary Heiny Sensei was there, as was Henry Kono Sensei and Jim Shibata Sensei. Others doing demonstrations as part of the program were Sensei’s Bob Noha, Jack Wada and Linda Holiday. Each of these teachers did a short Aikido presentation, showing how the art has flowed through them.
Mary Heiny Sensei
It was noted during the lecture by Stevens Sensei and also in the program distributed for the event, that over 3,000 images from his personal archive will be donated to ITP to further foster research. Additional photographs by Frager Sensei and Kono Sensei will be added to the digital archive for “Aikido practitioners and scholars.”
Henry Kono Sensei and Robert Nadeau Shihan
Stevens Sensei’s slide show included both photographs of O Sensei as well as side-to-side examples of his calligraphy, showing the stages this went through as he was developing Aikido. In the photographs, some of which have been published, and others that have not been published at this date, those in attendance could see with photographs and calligraphy of The Founder. What was also viewed was the development of the expression of what O Sensei was learning and teaching as his vision shifted and changed as it grew into what we know today as Ai-ki-do. This was especially evident in his calligraphy.
The morning, which included misogi practice outdoors, was not attended by this writer. However, this writer did arrive for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. Seating at the table along with David Lukoff and myself, were Sensei’s Stevens, Shibata, Kono and Frager. The conversations between these four was enlightening, informal and filled with stories of their adventures in Japan and remembrances of O Sensei.
Kono Sensei at lunch
These conversations continued that evening with dinner. We lost Kono Sensei to a nearby table, but Sensei’s Bob Noha and Linda Holiday joined us. One of the more interesting tidbits picked up over excellent Italian fare was regarding O Sensei and dreams. Apparently you needed a formal letter of introduction to begin training with him during the 1950’s and 60’s. And O Sensei, from what was said, was very strict about this. Unless you had a dream about him, that is. Frager Sensei laughed and said that if you mentioned that you had a dream either about him (O Sensei) or Aikido, he (O Sensei) would immediately wave the letter of introduction and you were in!
It is hoped that someday a digital video recording will be made of these senior teachers talking together about their experiences during their years in Japan with O Sensei.
A the end of the formal lecture, those who were not having books personally signed by Stevens Sensei, were enjoying the snacks provided in the foyer of the Arts Center. Many old friendships were renewed and new ones forged during this informal time. For more information about supporting this important work, you can contact Frager Sensei at firstname.lastname@example.org. An earlier article about article about Frager Sensei can be viewed at the following link: http://bit.ly/6hn3mE
Paul Rest, 2nd dan, lives in Northern California. He is a student of Richard Strozzi-Hecker, 6th dan and trains at Two Rock Aikido. He has written for this publication and others about Aikido and teaches classes in various locations, including Bodega Bay where he teaches a weekly Low Impact Aikido class. He can be contacted at email@example.com.