George Leonard – Memorial Training
By Paul Rest
On Sunday, January 31st, there was a Memorial Training for George Leonard Sensei, 5th dan, at Aikido of Tamalpais. The training was at the dojo’s new location in Corte Madera, California. Aikidoists gathered from all over Northern California to honor the memory of their teacher and friend. Many came on the mat who had not trained in years. As Richard Strozzi-Heckler Sensei said, “It’s great to see so many old faces.”
Leonard Sensei was one of the pioneering spirits of Aikido. As Wendy Palmer Sensei wrote, “He probably introduced more people throughout the world to Aikido than anyone except Doshu, Kisshomaru Ueshiba .” His books on leadership, education, athletics and Aikido were examples of how, in the words of Richard Sensei, “He often saw the future and helped make it happen a decade before it occurred.” All his books, whether written in the past years like the revised title, The Silent Pulse, or books written decades ago like Education and Ecstasy, are as timely today as when they were written.
There were three lines of people in seiza as Wendy Palmer Sensei was about to begin. Suddenly, someone’s cell phone rang. A voice said, “It’s probably George calling.” Ripples of laughter followed. This became one of the themes of the training, George’s Sensei sense of humor, his big heart and how he embraced everyone.
Palmer Sensei, in demonstrating a kokyu technique, said we should think of champagne bubbles going up. She turned to all of us and said, “George would like this.” Everyone then tried to bubble up like champagne bubbles in a glass. “You are affecting your training partner by what you are doing within yourself, not what you are doing to them.”
By the amount of laughter heard on the mat, it was clear all were training in the spirit that Wendy Sensei suggested. Although the mat was too crowded for rolling or even falling, the energy generated was clearly evident. She even suggested we could stand on our tip toes to do this technique. “An Aikido heresy,” she said smiling, as she talked about her grandchildren running around on their tip toes.
The second part of the training was led by Richard Sensei. We began with a grounding exercise in which all extended energy and connected with the heavens, the earth and all living things. He remarked that he always was aware of Leonard Sensei’s center line. So that is what we worked on: blending with the incoming energy from our training partners and keep the integrity of our center line.
Whether we were moving our training partner off the line, or giving them the line, the goal was to do the blend and keep our center line straight and true. As Richard Sensei was demonstrating, he said again and again that George Sensei’s center line, and the power he derived from that, was something that he observed in him from their very first meeting in Golden Gate Park. That, and his open-heartedness., where even on that first meeting George Leonard embraced him like a true friend. Richard Sensei had written in an earlier email to me that, “He always had a smile on his face and brought humor and laughter to his classes….he was welcoming to everyone.”
The training was followed by remembrances of George. One person said he saw George going through the Pearly Gates and upon seeing all the clouds announced in his booming voice, “What a great Aikido mat!” Others shared how George had encouraged and even prodded them along in their Aikido careers. Wendy Sensei said George saw in her the teacher long before she even dreamed about it.
Others, often tearfully, related how George had embraced them the first time they came to the old Tam Dojo. One story was that George was driving with this person in his MG sports car, having him extend energy up to the heavens and then down to the center of the earth, all the while tooling around. And there were much laughter when his powerful technique was brought up. Greg Owens told how George would have him hidden in a crowd when he was holding a class at Esalen. On George’s hand signal, Greg would attack him with a vicious shomen and George would calmly plant him on the mat. Greg said, “A third of those attending didn’t move; another third were terrified; and the final third fled the room.” George thought this was great fun.
Annie Leonard, Sensei’s wife, joined us on the mat. She too shared stories about George. She mentioned that she felt his spirit enter her that morning as she was preparing to come to the dojo. “It was the first time I had felt that.” And she said it was something that she had been waiting for.
We closed by sending the energy we had generated to the people of Haiti, Wendy Sensei saying how George’s spirit would embrace and care for everyone. Groups of people lingered on, sharing stories and renewing friendships. Many spent time looking at the photographs of George Sensei on a shrine set up in the front room.
On February 28th, there will be a Memorial Service held for George in Mill Valley, CA. For more information, please contact Aikido of Tamalpais at: http://www.tam-aikido.org
Paul Rest is a writer living in Northern California. He studies with Richard Strozzi-Heckler at Two Rock Aikido. His classes are currently held in Bodega Bay, CA. An earlier article about Sensei Leonard can be found at: http://bit.ly/6VeNge. Paul can be reached at email@example.com