There is not much I can do about such things as tai no henko with words. Even trying to explain ikkyo or some other technique with words just does not carry any weight.
By themselves such techniques mean little. The connection with a thousand other small ideas make them up”.
I don’t remember the first time I met my teacher. I didn’t know the significance of one teacher or another when I first began my training in aikido in 1998. This was because, in Melbourne, we were fortunate enough to have so many people training and there were so many teachers.
Even when a long standing student and friend pointed out to me advanced qualities in David’s teachings, I couldn’t untangle the complexity of what I was seeing to know that I would one day be in awe of it. It wasn’t until I had been training many years under many teachers in the organisation that I began to notice myself shifting towards a few, and then particularly one.
It wasn’t a rational decision, but rather a felt sense that began to naturally draw me to David’s movements and insights into the art. I can tell you that it was like remembering; as if on a cellular level my body recognised the subtleties in the shapes that I was seeing and feeling within my own body.
After I was awarded my first dan grade I began to feel as if I was learning the art anew. I had some basic techniques down and suddenly, like a tabula rasa, my studies in aikido were beginning all over again. I began to see a whole new dimension to the art and immersed myself in earnest. At this point, going deeper, it felt essential to be working with one primary teacher.
David’s classes in Clifton Hill became a focus, as did Sunday mornings out at his home dojo, which was just a half hour drive away. The latter were particularly powerful for they had that added dimension of ‘taking aikido off the mat’. Often the students would sit around for a cuppa and conversation pre or post training, surrounded by bush and bonsai, walls of dimly lit dust-jackets in the kitchen or perhaps glistening dew in the morning light outside. Here, with no expectations, often some aspect of training, some insight into the art, would deepen within you.
It was the same for me when I would visit David at his workshop in Monsalvat – an artist colony established in 1934. Perhaps a scene from The Red Violin would be playing or a piece of classical music; or would he be brushing sumi-e or playing the shakuhatchi? More often than not in my recollection he would be refining some aspect of his art at the workbench with a cigarette in hand and a brazen grin. For David is no shrinking violet. He walks his own path and he doesn’t mind the paradox: in fact he thrives on it. He is not shy to tell you where someone has overstepped the mark or not stepped up to the plate, and yet, perhaps a bit like uchi deshi Terry Dobson (see: It’s a lot like dancing), there is ever a rough diamond sincerity that shines through; a sparkle of humour set deep in his eyes.
I live a state away now, but I have such gratitude for the beautiful memories of those times of just dropping by for a coffee and conversation in that dimly lit cavern of creativity. Regardless of discussion, aikido or otherwise, it was as if simply sitting in that atmosphere, burning incense swirling about you, was itself a teaching that would touch and awaken the spiritual dimension of the art.
Shihan means ‘teacher of teachers’, and although the title can be awarded through a ‘time-served’ linear model, a true shihan is something you simply feel in the depth of your bones. It is a quality that time cannot buy and yet perhaps it may be cultivated in time. It is a way of being in the world that offers something priceless to those stepping up behind you. Truly, as the samurai who offer their gifts in ‘service’, so too does the true shihan serve an evolving human.