Gratitude Part 2: The Lineage of Good People

In case you missed it, read Part One here.

My good friend Brian was in town for a week for work. I taught Brian Aikido several years back when he trained for his Shodan (1st-degree black belt) test. Brian is about 15 years younger than I am. Back then, he was 6’ tall, 220 pounds, and so naturally strong. He was already an accomplished martial artist in Taekwondo and Kung Fu. Brian was the total package, as well. He was and is brilliant. He had even earned a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. Above all, he loved Aikido, and like me, he loved Sensei Dan.

Brian was the ideal student. He followed instructions and made the technique work for himself. I spent hours with Brian after Aikido class when he trained for his black belt tests. As much as he got something from the instruction, I got more. I got what it is to move and throw a bigger stronger man. We trained, because we loved what we did, more so than the actual accomplishment. We trained because we loved Aikido, we loved Sensei.

I remember having lunch with Sensei at our favorite French café in Culver City. He said, “Brian is a good teacher. He helps out.” Indeed, that was high props coming from Sensei, who was the man of few words. I asked Brian to cover my classes back in the day when I taught a lot. Brian eventually made Nidan, 2nd-degree black belt.

Life happened. Brian got married and moved back to his hometown in Minnesota to start a family. He messaged me on Facebook that he was visiting Los Angeles for work. We hooked up at the Dojo for Sunday morning practice.

It was great seeing Brian. He had to borrow a gi (Aikido uniform) because he didn’t bring one. With his 4 kids at home, Brian hadn’t practiced Aikido in a year or so. Yeah, he got a little winded. He said he was somewhere between 220 and 230 pounds, not all ‘solid’. We trained together. His Aikido technique memory kicked in quickly.

I showed Brian how to roll his thumb under the wrist to apply Nikkyo, a wrist lock. He got it after a couple of tries. It was like ‘old times’. Brian always got the instruction, whether it was from me or Mizukami Sensei. We trained hard. We had fun.

After class, Brian asked if I wanted to get some lunch. I told him that I had to go home to stretch out my ‘older’ body with my foam roller, and ice down following my instructions from my chiropractor Dr. Ali. I needed to recover first. I said I could meet for dinner.

Brian loved Japanese food, especially tonkatsu (pork cutlet), which he couldn’t really get back in Minneapolis. So we had dinner at Azuma in Gardena.

We met up at about 7 pm. The tonkatsu and teriyaki steak were awesome. More importantly, we caught up. It was nice.

Brian and his wife have 4 children including his teenaged stepdaughter. He gets to work from home. He loves being a dad, and he does his best. Consequently, he has no time for one of his first loves: martial arts. Still, he’s happy.

Brian also lamented that his beloved Vikings: They suck. Kirk Cousins has no offensive line to speak of.

Catching up with Brian, I remember all the times I shared meals with Sensei back in the day, even going over for pizza on Super Bowl Sunday. I recalled the many times that Sensei had lunch with Brian and me after Sunday Aikido class.

Sensei was like a father to me, and I was so grateful for what he did for me. When we were all having lunch at Ronnie’s Diner back in the day, we were like family.

Although Sensei would never say it, he was proud of us, and we were all grateful for him. Sensei said to me, “It’s more important to me, who you are outside the Dojo.” Amen. He trained us to be good men. That was his way of leaving the world a better place.

Having dinner with Brian, I got how proud that Sensei would be of him. I was proud of Brian too, that he gave me permission back in the day to be his Sensei, like Dan. I’m touched and honored by Brian’s gratitude and generosity. Really, I’m grateful to him for making me step up to be the greater man, as well.

Perhaps, the world is left in the greater place in the lineage of good people we foster. Sensei in his heart of hearts believed that the world would be a better place if everyone trained in Aikido. No, that’s not really practical.

Yet, hopefully, those Sensei taught Aikido like Brian and I continue to make the world a greater place because Sensei taught us to be good men. Amen. Amen.


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