Several weeks ago, Haruki MATSUZAKI-san sent me an e-mail saying that he'd be visiting the United States and that he would very much like to treat our Aikido students to an authentically-cooked, Japanese tempura meal. Matsuzaki-san owns a quaint little restaurant in Nagasaki where he cooks right in front of his patrons. That way he can interact with them, tell jokes, and sometimes even perform magic tricks – all this, while he's preparing their four-to-five course meals! How could I possibly refuse such a generous invitation?
Matsuzaki-san and I are both students of Morihei IIO Shihan (pronounced 'ee-yo'). We met shortly before I left Japan to return to the United States. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be until several years later upon revisiting Japan that I would get to enjoy his unique and delicious tempura-style cooking. Although we only had the opportunity to train in Japan together once, he made quite an impression on me.
Matsuzaki-san is an incredibly friendly person with a great sense of humor. In fact, I can't imagine him not getting along with anyone.
A san-dan (3rd degree black belt) in Aikido, Matsuzaki-san lives and breathes Aikido both on and off the mat. One could easily observe his Aikido fluidity and creativity as he adapted to his new and unfamiliar surroundings here in the US as he set up a make-shift mini-restaurant right outside the front door of our dojo! For someone who claims not to speak very good English, Matsuzaki-san also managed to crack several very funny jokes in English!
In addition to his amiable disposition and delicious tempura, Mastuzaki-san brought with him many good wishes and salutations from past friends of ours in Japan and some fun stories, too. For example, there still appear to be some remnant stories about me being perpetuated back at the Nagasaki dojo. Matsuzaki-san reminded me of an old "rivalry" during my tenure there. In Japanese the term "rival" is used in a positive context for someone who pushes you to get better (as opposed to the negative context of the word here in the US, which usually means an enemy or hostile). A student named, Kei WAKASUGI and I were "rivals" to each other. That is, we definitely pushed each other very hard to grow.
Today, Matsuzaki-san and Waksugi-san are good friends with each other and Matsuzaki-san said that whenever a student complains about the intensity of the training at Nagasaki Kiwakai being too tough, Wakasugi-san says, "Aww, come on, this is nothing compared to when Jefu-san and I trained together." Wakasugi-san was a big guy (by Japanese standards), about 5'11" and quite muscular. We were good rivals for each other and that is, in part, because of the tremendous spirit that exists at Nagasaki Kiwakai. Shiraki Sensei and I are very much intent on creating that same spirit, authenticity, and sense of community here at Castle Rock AIKIDO that exists at Nagasaki Kiwakai.
Indeed, I did train more intensely in those days. Actually, in order to get enough training to satisfy my seemingly insatiable appetite for Aikido I trained at three dojos simultaneously: Nagasaki Kiwakai, Nagasaki Aikidokai, and Nagasaki Aikidoukai. Nagasaki Aikidoukai was actually located in Omura, which was about an hour from Nagasaki by train. I trained six days a week with two practices on Thursdays and another day just for practicing Iaido (the art of live sword drawing). In Japan, they called me Keiko Oni, which literally translates as "training demon." Here in the States, we call someone like that a "dojo rat" – a student who eats, sleeps and breathes their martial arts training.
Matsuzaki's visit reminded me of an amazing and truly meaningful time in my life - one which I shall never forget. He reminded me of how much our mutual teacher has influence my life. Yet, using the word "influence" to describe Iio Shihan's effect on me is grossly inadequate. In Japanese, the noun SONZAI kind of translates as "being" or "existence." Iio Sensei is the biggest sonzai in my life, in the sense that the effect he has had on me has truly touched my very being, my very existence. He taught me everything that I was seeking, at that time in my life, and he opened me up to a world to which I wouldn't otherwise have had access to. Without him, I would not have had many of my cherished life experiences. Indeed, he was very much a father figure to me. Yet, no matter how hard I try to convey his significance in my life, words consistently fail me. I simply cannot accurately and comprehensively express in words what my years and experiences in Japan have meant to my life and Matsuzaki-san’s visit caused me to, once again, reflect on these times.
It was an absolutely pleasure hosting Matsuzaki-san at our Castle Rock dojo. Matsuzaki-san, and I sure had a blast going from store to store in Denver trying to find the right Japanese produce or the closest thing we could find to such. It was quite the scavenger hunt! It was also nice to drink some real Japanese sake that Matsuzaki-san brought with him.
Our friendship was greatly strengthened over his recent visit and I very much regret not having gotten to know him earlier when I was living in Japan. What a much needed gift from Japan his visit brought. We look forward to having him return to Colorado and perhaps visit a future Colorado restaurant of his!