Interview with Aikido of San Leandro Founder Patricia Hendricks: Morihiro Saito, Iwama, and the Legacy, Part II

Patricia Hendricks Sensei stumbled into an aikido class led by Mary Heiny in the San Francisco Bay area in 1974, quickly finding a teacher and lifelong friend in Stanley Pranin. They eventually moved to train at the Oakland Dojo – Aikido Institute – that focused on Iwama-ryu, propagated by Morihiro Saito Sensei. After a handful of students traveled to Iwama, Hendricks Sensei wanted to go, unknowingly establishing a close and ultimately lifelong relationship with Saito. She returned in 1977, opening a school in 1983, and has never looked back since. Today, Hendricks took some time to talk about her aikido journey, highlighting the student-teacher relationship with Saito Sensei, running a dojo while making time to go back and forth with Iwama, and her recent appearance at the 2022 World Games. Special thanks to Noah Levine for his assistance in setting up the interview. All images provided by Patricia Hendricks Sensei. This is the second part of a two part interview. Read the first part here.

MAYTT: After returning from a year stay at Iwama, you finished your degree from University of California, Berkeley and started working at the Japanese Consulate for three years. What aspect of the job later inspired you to take up teaching aikido full-time?

PH: When I came back from Japan, it was 1977. I went to UC Berkeley, and I had to change my major, so I had to do three more years of Japanese, but they put me into second year Japanese. When I finished, the consulate grabbed me right away. It was an exciting job. Dianne Feinstein was mayor. Wendy Tokuda was a very famous new anchor, and we had constant contact with them. They would usher in a limousine, take us to the consulate general’s house – mansion – in San Francisco. We would have lunch and translate all these things. There was one other guy other than me that graduated from UC, Berkeley, and it was only the two of us who translated about ten newspapers a day: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, everything. And everything had to do with the trade war that was going on. Lots of really heavy-duty stuff about time. I was training the whole time; I was training in the morning, going to work, then training at night. I said I have to leave at five o-clock because I need to go to my aikido class. They bought it! [Laughs] They said okay. What I was looking at with the consuls was that they looked really unhealthy to me and not happy at all. And I felt, I don’t want to look like that after another five years. My boss, who was the consul of the economic section, was saying to me that I should take the test to become a foreign diplomat, “It looks like you could have that career.” But then I looked at him; he looked really unhealthy and unhappy. I said to him, “What I would like to do is take a year off and do aikido full-time and see if that’s what I need to do. If not, then I’ll come back.” And he was totally fine with that; “You have a spot here, guaranteed, when you come back.”

MAYTT: Additionally, you began to teach out of a Kaijukempo dojo in 1983 and by the next year, the instructor left and gave you the school. How did you react to taking on this new responsibility of running a full-fledged aikido building?

Morihiro Saito throwing Patricia Hendricks.

PH: What’s funny is that I just talked about this story last night. So, this taekwondo guy, who was one of the top five students of Jhoon-goo Rhee; Rhee was the man that brought taekwondo from Korea to America – this was back in the old days, the 1970s. By the time it was 1983 or 1984, the place I was training, the Oakland Dojo, we had a bunch of taekwondo guys that were training there with Jhoon-goo Rhee, one of them started this dojo I have currently. And this dojo has been a dojo since 1955, except for a few exceptions, it’s been a martial arts dojo all the time. In 1955, there was a judo teacher named Saito Sensei, so there were a lot of coincidences. So then, this taekwondo person, August O’Neil, wanted me to come teach aikido with him. I agreed and built the mat space with a couple of my students. The place was paneled. There wasn’t any furniture in the back. It was empty; I had a picture of O-Sensei at the shomen. We did classes for a month and O’Neil left town, essentially leaving the dojo to me. For six months, I taught without electricity or water. At night, we would put up lamps to train. While we did that, I was trying to find another renter. I found this aerobics instructor that came in, doing some high-energy dance-aerobics mixture. All African American girls that were super athletic and did performances. With that rent, slowly, I built the dojo back up. The lights and water came back on. We started building the dojo in a different way.

It was slow, but I had a lot of kids. That’s a funny story. All these kids on bikes came to the front door and they saw me teaching adults. They said, “We want to train martial arts!” I said, “Ok. Go home, get a check from your parents,” – that’s how simple it was in those days – “come back with a check, if you all join,” – there were about ten kids – “then I’ll start a class.” They all came back with a check. Parents didn’t even come in. Then I had to say that the parents needed to come in to sign this waiver so they could come on the mat. It was really casual. But everybody wanted to do martial arts. and they called this karate. The kids would ask, “When’s karate tonight?” I’d go, “It’s not karate, it’s aikido.” They didn’t even know aikido. When Steven Seagal did aikido in the movies, that’s when we started getting a little bit more well-known. They didn’t care; they just came in and thought they were doing karate – they didn’t care what we were doing. We did, compared to now, we did way more dangerous things with kids. Like jumping over people that were tucking their head. Kids took more chances. I’d never do that now. There’s a couple of kids that broke their collarbones and nobody said anything. Nobody sued anybody – nothing like that. It was just a strange, weird time with martial arts.

This was 1984. There was no internet. No recurring payments. There was nothing like that. Computers were really different. I just used them to do simple things. We weren’t doing high-level brochures – nothing like that. No email, no nothing. Sometimes I did flyers I drew myself – those were the days. But I had a lot of students because martial arts at that time – aikido at that time was just part of the martial arts; by the time 1995 hit, it was still pretty good for aikido, not like it is today. Now everybody wants to do anything that looks violent. It’s so weird; they either do that or yoga. It’s a really odd thing right now.

Between 1977 and 1988, I had a couple of trips. In 1988, I went back because I knew my dojo was getting bigger, I could take a break, I was done with school, I was doing little jobs here and there – translating for people- but I lived a simple, poor martial artist’s life. I didn’t have a house. I didn’t have a new car – nothing like that. Everything was just struggling, making ends meet, but I was okay with that. I never looked back; I thought that this was a great thing. My partner at the time, who became like my top student, Louis, he and I decided to leave the Bay Area – I was able to go around Europe and teach at a yondan level and make money, so we were able to finance the whole trip. After about six or nine months, we were in Europe then we went to Iwama and stayed there about eighteen months, straight uchi deshi. I’ve never ever gone to Japan where I was never an uchi deshi. Now we go to Hombu Dojo, but it’s all aikido. It’s always been that way for me. Then tiny little vacation things with Saito Sensei where we would go up to Sendai, Japan or something like that.

When we came back, Louis and I found out that there was almost nobody in the dojo to come back to. We had no choice, we lived in the dojo. There was no shower. Little by little, we got a shower, facilities; we built a room so that we had a place to stay. Mainly stayed here for about five years. There’s a whole living area in the back, full kitchen, but it’s small and uchi deshi can live here. I was reminiscing with my students, saying, “If I count all the time I’ve been living in a dojo, whether my own dojo or another in Iwama, it’s about thirteen years.” Seven of those were as an uchi deshi with Saito Sensei. But not seven years all at once; it was portioned. We kept going back to Japan every year or every six months to do a month or two and, at that time, Louis could run the dojo – it was a good set up. He had already done eighteen months with me. Saito Sensei actually, when he came to San Leandro, he used Louis for most of the time and I was always translating and hosting him all the time. So, we had a lot of interaction with him. Then I started having his son, Hitohiro, come a little bit. That was more like we had fun, because we are like brother and sister.

Actually, the first time he came out of Japan to teach was here and Saito Sensei said, “I just want him to have the experience.” And we went everywhere – New York, New Jersey – he taught there and then came back here. He had so much fun. Then here, at the time, I lived at the dojo, so Louis and I had a room and we said to him, “You can stay in our room. We’ll stay downstairs on the tote.” And he said, “No. That’s your room. I stay on the tote.” Then, we’d be eating every night back there. Hitohiro would always say, “I’m Pato’s uchi deshi. That’s what I’m doing here. But she’s letting me teach.” [Laughs] He was teaching all of these classes and I would charge a mat fee, give him the money. People brought food to eat with whoever wanted to stay. It all worked out great and he always tells me that that’s the best experience of his life. Saito Sensei was really happy with that.

MAYTT: When you began training under Pranin, what were your first impressions of him? How would you describe him as a person and an instructor?

PH: I was actually in the group called Women in Action and Danielle, as a blue belt, was leading it. She wasn’t even a brown belt yet. She was a major influence from the beginning. And then I saw the dojo. I forget who told me about the dojo, but I knew I wanted to be in a dojo. I was in school at MPC, so I was doing a whole bunch of classes all the time with Stan, like I was an uchi deshi. Then he said, “Well, you’re sort of like an uchi deshi, why don’t you become uchi deshi?” So, I did. He had moved to Seaside, California, which was a little town next to Monterey and he had a place for uchi deshi. I think Tom Campbell stayed there for a while as uchi deshi. That was my first uchi deshi experience, and I was maybe second kyu. I got my second kyu from Kanai Sensei, because Stan looked towards him. We were always really happy when he came and taught. He seemed very professional. I was still in school, and I would train in the morning. When I got back from school, I did some stuff and the evening class. Somehow, I made it all work. I was a really serious student. Then I was, coincidentally, I got my 4.0 at MPC so that I could enter UC Berkeley, that was my choice. Around that same time, Stan decided to go to UC Berkeley to do master’s work, because he wanted to move to Japan. That was his goal. He wanted to bring Aikido Journal to Japan.

He said to me, “You should go to the Oakland Dojo.” The dojo was full of students. Everybody was happy. Training partners were rough, but in those days, it wasn’t that unusual. I still trained with Stan, but we were both turning to Iwama style because we were training at the Oakland Dojo. He had seen Saito Sensei here in a video or at a seminar and he had that book called Budo. He did so much research.

The women’s path is harder. I learned this when I was young, about sixteen or seventeen years old, one guy who didn’t do martial arts, neither did I at that time. He said to me, “Women will never be who they are until they take the sword of a woman, not a man. If you’re copying a man and trying to act like a man, you are never taking your original power as a woman.” I never forgot that. I always respect who has femininity or has that strong female side.

Saito (left) just about to apply a nikyo on Hendricks (right) in Iwama.

He [Stan] was the reason why I could take my own power because he had – I was a small female, but I could take falls for anybody. I just had really good ukemi. He used me for uke a lot and he never thought twice about it. And he never discriminated with men and women. The weird thing was, with Saito Sensei, once he recognized I could do a lot, he slowly changed.

Stan, through the years, completely respected my opinion, completely respected my aikido. He stopped aikido for a really long time; he was just doing the historical stuff and then he came back way later. The first thing he did was host me in Las Vegas, Nevada for a seminar. We taught side by side, which I felt uncomfortable about, but he was and always has been my greatest support. When he passed away, I was so sad. Saito Sensei also completely respected Stan because Stan did the research, saw the budo book, and looked at Saito Sensei, asked him to show older pictures of O-Sensei being eighty and he stood in the jo kamae we stand in, he did a bokken strike the way we do it – not to say that’s the only thing that’s valid.

Stan saw me, always, going back to the source, and always trying to look forward to the creative side. Saito Sensei too. One year, I went back to Iwama and Saito Sensei said, “You know all the basics, now you have to start doing more creative things that you create – nobody else.” Like in the weapons, a lot of the stuff I have, I’m kind of the only one that does that. The ken tai jo, Saito Sensei did it until number seven. He was the first person who formalized the ken tai jo. We did all this research together, Saito Sensei, Hitohiro, and I and two other people were there too. He just decided on the seven. I don’t know if you know this, but Nidai Doshu kept calling Saito Sensei, “I heard that you formulated the ken tai jo. You’re the only one that can really do that; can you demonstrate it in the [1994] All Japan [Aikido Demonstration]?” Then Saito Sensei was just coming here [San Leandro] and he said to me, “Nidai Doshu called me, but I can’t do the ken tai jo without you.” Because I was the only one, besides Hitohiro, that only knew it. He, actually, when we did the debut of the ken tai jo in January 1994, wasn’t doing it. He said, “Hitohiro, you do it and Pato will uke because you guys are the future and people will see that.” And then he changed the ken tai jo after that – there’s a newer version. But we went to Hawaii after that and debuted it there with me. Then the All Japan. He said, “Well, I can only do it with you, so I’m asking you to come back.” I had just been in Japan at that time, so I had to turn around and come back, so that was hard, but it was a great experience. Then he said to Hitohiro and me, “I’m not going to do eight, nine, and ten. I’m probably going to pass away before that, so you guys, together, do that.” I waited for Hitohiro, he didn’t want to do it; he said, “Pato, you should do it.” So, I have created eight, nine, and ten. Within my group, they do it and lots of other people from other groups like to see it and do it – I just teach it to whoever wants it. But I’m very careful about all of that. The movements are directly from the original movements of O-Sensei because he did do his strikes with shomens, not so much with yokomens. It’s just when he did demos, he did that. It’s hard to know – and to an extent, I don’t really care. I just do the form that I was given by Saito Sensei, and I use that form to channel my energy for healing.

But Stan saw me doing that my entire career and I would always talk to him about it and about the politics. If I called him about being wrongly accused or something like that, Stan would always have the right answer; “In this case, don’t touch it. Let it go. You told me about it, so you know what the truth is; you know you’re okay.” Then in another case, “Maybe sit down with the person and tell them the truth and just take a chance.”

MAYTT: In talking with many aikidoka based in California, they all mentioned that the aikido community throughout the state was a much closer bunch than those found elsewhere in the county. How would you describe the aikido community when you began your training? Also, how would you compare the community of then to the aikido community of today?

PH: Oh my god! When I went to Japan for the first time, the entire dojo came with me to send me off to Japan. The same thing happened with our trip to Europe and Japan. It was like, if somebody came like Nidai Doshu or Kisaburo Osawa – the father Osawa – or Saito Sensei, everybody just went from all different styles. We just see each other, especially the AANC, which the name was changed later for legal reasons, was a whole mixture of styles. Now it’s three divisions and we all have our own groups. But in those days, we tested together, especially in Northern California. There were other pockets that were a little bit more separate. I think Ichiro Shibata sensei was not there in the beginning, he didn’t come in until the early 1990s or so. Aikido of Berkeley was under this Japanese American instructor. We saw him when Saito Sensei came out, because everybody would come out. Hideki Shiohira; all these different people would come. Now it’s more separate.

Now the CAA stayed together. Covid took a few, not too much from my group but some from other groups. So, we have about forty dojos each that are still surviving. This event that we have on Saturday [August 27, 2022], we have each of us doing our division thing; for me, that includes uchi deshi coming in – a lot of uchi deshi. It’s probably the first time since Covid that we’ve had more numbers coming in. On Sunday [August 28], we all get together. It used to be Doran Sensei, Nadeau Sensei, and myself. Then, in the way old days, was Bill Witt Sensei. He left to form his own organization, the Takemusu Aikido Association. Around the early 1990s, I was division head. Doran Sensei semi-retired, so Michael Friedl took over and now, Nadeau Sensei is retiring slowly, and Jack Wada will be taking over, so it will be the three of us. We all just teach the way we teach, and everybody gets on the mat and does all three styles. It’s just normal to us.

When I was going to Iwama and other places too all those time, I found that they only do Iwama and there really wasn’t much room for other styles. I would go to Saotome’s seminars, or Hiroshi Ikeda’s workshops, and if I didn’t know what exactly they were teaching, I would try and train with somebody who did. So, I took that mindset and applied it to my division. We still do that cross-style training. I did an Aiki Horizon thing with Danielle, and she’s going to come back to do that. We have all different teachers. Her husband, Michael Smith, would always teach this jo kata that he’d learned from somebody else, and we would all just try to do it. And either myself or somebody else would do Iwama weapons and everybody would try to do it. We are really easy. Within our Iwama group and the other groups, there’s no friction whatsoever. I want to see aikido move into a path of easy harmony. My best friend is Danielle and she’s Aikikai and I’m her best friend and I’m Iwama. I like learning things from her.

Saito (right) demonstrating against a jo-wielding Hendricks (left) in Iwama.

In my years as a division head, I learned the most from Doran Sensei on how to bring in others into the CAA. If someone was interested in joining him, he would say, “Well, just come and train with me a number of times” – we have Zoom too – “we’ll see what that’s like. And then if you want to join, we do a trial year.” Usually, the trial year is the first year of training.

I consider myself a good judge of character, so I get to know the person. Someone now is coming in who was with Gaku Homma. We sat down earlier this year [2022] to talk about coming into our group. But I have a lot of different situations. Like if somebody lives in Europe, but I see them all the time in Europe, they may come here as uchi deshi – that’s another way of doing it – and then I take them in as a European dojo. I have a lot of dojos everywhere – Russia, Poland, England, Germany, Italy, there’s three in Sweden, Mexico, South America. Now New Zealand is coming in. It’s all different situations. For example, for New Zealand, it’s hard for them to travel so far. So, it depends on how far people are from where I am – I give New Zealand a little bit of a break. The East Coast is far away too, but it’s a little bit easier than New Zealand than Europe. [Laughs] I have Europeans do it during their summer vacation, during this time. Right now, I have about three or four coming in, and we didn’t have that during the covid pandemic. So, it’s slowly coming back like that. But it’s case by case – that’s what I would say.

MAYTT: Excluding your own personal training, how have you seen the aikido of your early training days compare to the aikido of now? How have you seen the training and teaching in the American aikido community change and evolve over time?

PH: The old days, definitely, were physically rougher. There were a lot more broken bones. The first International Aikido Federation (IAF) was in 1976. From what he said, it had a really macho atmosphere, seeing who was stronger. That was so long ago and just last year [2021], it was decided that we should have a woman representative in the IAF. When it told Stan before he passed away, they were talking about bringing me in as the first woman. I told Stan and he was like, “Wow. It’s finally changing a little bit.”

I watched Inagaki Sensei – he didn’t hurt me because I was a female – hurt a lot of Japanese guys, almost every night. I still have that memory of him. But he was good with me; he was like an older brother, and he never hurt me. But some training partners did. It was a strange time.

A Swedish guy came who was almost seven feet tall and he was so irritated with Tsuruzo Miyamoto Sensei, who is one of the senior Japanese teachers at Hombu Dojo, he took him by the ankles to the window – this is while Nidai Doshu is teaching – and hangs him out the window. I remember being there, looking around, wondering what I am training with because it wasn’t like that in America. I was kind of a bit used to that. But that was the seventies.

The dojo I was in, the Oakland Dojo, was really dangerous. People, once every couple of months get their arm broken by the teacher. Then Doran Sensei was teaching, and nobody was getting their arm broken there. So, it wasn’t like all the aikido dojos. There were Chiba Sensei, Shibata Sensei, my teacher at the Oakland Dojo, and a bunch of others – it was dangerous in some aikido circles. Then in other aikido circles, it was different. And I came from Stan Pranin, which was already naturally dangerous. He just threw fast and hard. Even Hombu Dojo was dangerous. Then in Iwama, there’s all kinds of stuff

It got better in the 1980s. In the 1980s, it was more of a mixture; you still wouldn’t be able to laugh in class. There was no humor. But sometimes Saito Sensei would tell a joke. Sometimes he would be like. He would always say when I was there – my Japanese name is “Pato,” which means to do something fast – “Pato. Pato nage ru!” Meaning I’m going to throw Pato really fast. You’d have to know Japanese to get the joke. [Laughs] And he would do jokes like that, or he’d talk about different things every now and again. It was pretty serious. And then the 1990s, a little bit looser. When I go to Hombu now, I see people training together and joking. They’re joking with Doshu. And I know Iwama has those moments too. It’s gotten better.

Saito fully applying a nikyo on Hendricks in Iwama.

I would say, aikido was more like jujutsu in the 1970s with hard training; the mindset was hard. It slowly changed. They’re [Japan] always about ten years earlier than us in terms of progress in that way. It’s gotten way better. Now, Doshu is using one of the women for women every single class, just throws her once. There’s a couple of women that they pushed to go teach; when I’m there, I’m pushing the women to start their own group, club, or dojo. That’s helping. It’s gotten better but a lot of martial arts, like MMA, have gotten crazy. MMA is like getting broken bones all the time. But aikido was more like that in the 1970s. Now, it can be semi-dangerous, like in a Chiba group or a group that focuses heavily on the martial. I have people train as hard as they want as long as it’s safe. They could go as light as they want, depending on their age or their physical make up.

I think, in general, the seminars I’ve done this year in the opening, there are so many different styles there. And everybody gets along really easily. I feel like Covid was hard and they had to dig deep. It’s as if everyone did a big meditation retreat and you come out upgraded, consciously. Everybody solved their demons or weak spots and worked on it because you couldn’t run away – you were just there in your house. For all of us. I had a lot of challenges to keep my dojo. Then, I had to trust in it. I prayed and prayed, and it all worked out. I still have my dojo. But I did notice that a lot of different styles would come to every seminar and there would be an easiness about it. Before, sometimes people wouldn’t go. They would just stay with their own group – it was kind of getting that way. But now it’s changing.

MAYTT: You bring up the male-female balance in aikido. Why do you think there is a gender imbalance in the art?

PH: I think, mainly, because aikido comes from Japan. A lot of that is coming from people who go to Japan, they learn that’s the way it is, they come back – I do know some guys that trained with Saito Sensei and would imitate Japanese stuff. It’s the influence.

That was the thing about Saito Sensei and Hitohiro, they genuinely liked women. I don’t mean in a relationship kind of way; I mean they liked their energy. I remember my mom came from Florida because I was with Saito Sensei in New Jersey, which is where I’m from. She had gone down to Florida to meet her friend and heard that Saito Sensei was coming. I’ll never forget this. We were staying in a little motel and the seminar was in New Jersey. Normally, when we came back from class, I would take his hakama, fold it. I would prepare all the food – we had a lot of deli food – and then we would all eat with other people, and then figure out dinner.

I remember we got back, and it was just him, me, and my mom. I went to go in, he put his hand up, “No. You don’t get to go in.” Because he didn’t want my mom to feel uncomfortable. “I got it. You go take care of your mom.” I went with my mom in the other room and then he comes back, knocks on the door, and says, “I did everything. It’s ready.” We went in and saw that he put all the food out, he had folded his own hakama. He was unusual that way. He had my mom sit in the important position. “Get your mom food!” [Laughs] My mom was saying, “This is great! I’ve never been treated like this!”

Then everybody came and we had this big party, and more food came. In the middle of everything, my mom had her friend there and she had brought a carrot cake that she made. At first, her friend and her were sitting on the side, yapping away. I said, “Mom. He’s kind of talking. Maybe you shouldn’t talk so much.” And Saito Sensei understands and goes, “No! No no no! That’s Oka-san! That’s your mom! Let her do whatever! I like that; it’s comfortable.” So, they kept going. Towards the end, my mom said, “Oh, I brought this carrot cake that I made, and I wanted to give a piece to Saito Sensei.” I said, “No. He doesn’t eat cake.” Because usually if men drink in Japan, they don’t eat sweet stuff. He knew enough English to know what I was saying, and he goes, “Nope! I will have a piece of that cake.” [Laughs] So then we brought a piece of cake and I was thinking that he’s just not going to like this, but he ate the entire thing. “Oh! Tell your mom that this is so good! This cake is so good!” I never forgot that. He was a different kind of guy. I couldn’t even put him in a category. He seemed like an old traditional hardcore guy that the rest of the guys were afraid of; he was big and strong like that. But then, he had this other side. He was amazing.

The deal with women has gotten slightly better. The foreign women have made extreme progress but, I was just in Canada teaching and there was not one woman in the seminar. So, Canada is still kind of like that. When I went to Turkey, about seven years ago [2015], there was just one woman on the second day. She was a teacher and very nervous. I asked, “Where’s all the women?” They said, “Women don’t train.” It’s still really tricky.

I finally have women – it took me a long time to get women and have girls in the kids’ class. I didn’t have that before. It’s slowly changing. I’m trying right now, in the IAF, to get more women involved in the officer positions. But I still don’t see a lot of women taking falls, not that much. I had one woman. She came with me, Lauren, she was from Bob Nadeau, and she took falls. She took falls for me within the group. When I did the World Games demo, I had four ukes. So, mainly Noah and Charles were taking all the falls. She took a few falls for me and did really well actually.

In 2024, they’re [Hombu Dojo] doing the big IAF seminar with about 5,000 people and they’ve asked me to teach there, which is a great honor. When they finally thought after forty-five years, they said maybe we should have a woman teacher. They asked Christian Tessier because he’s the top foreign man; “Who would you pick as a woman?” He goes, “Patricia Hendricks.” They were excited and Doshu said yes. One of the main things in the 2024 seminar is that we’re going to have a women’s forum that anybody can come to and ask questions. That wouldn’t have happened before in Japan.

MAYTT: Recently, you performed a demonstration at the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama. How did you come about to be chosen to lead a demonstration? What were your feelings after you finished; were you excited or relieved?

PH: Well, actually I just did the World Games. I was asked by Hombu Doshu to represent the aikido world, which I was so surprised. I thought, “Don’t you have people better than me?” [Laughs] Hombu said I was grand master status now; I don’t think of myself that way. Irie [Yoshinobu]-san came, and he’s kohai to me, seventh dan shihan, but he was there to support. He did a demo too, which was great, but he was kind of there to support. But I remember when I walked out to the World Games, this was two or three weeks ago, I just thought of Saito Sensei. “Oh, he’s probably watching.” We were going to do all of these live weapons then Irie-san said, “I don’t think Doshu would be comfortable.” So, I had to switch at the last minute to the wooden weapons, but it was fine. Saito Sensei would’ve done that; only wooden weapons. It was like Saito Sensei was with me through the whole thing. And Hitohiro too.

Danielle really helped me through that whole event. Hombu was relying on me to help turn the tide; the World Games were not accepting non-competitive martial arts. I don’t know why; the World Combat Games are fine with it. But the World Games weren’t. For some reason, you had to be doing a medal thing. So, they kind of discriminated against aikido because aikido, to them, looked like dance. Then Kei Izawa called me and said, “We’ve seen your demos and they look really martial. You can turn the tide; I know you can do that!” when I got off the phone, I called Danielle and said, “I don’t want to ever prove that I’m martial.” I’ve always just liked to train enthusiastically, that’s all. And I can do anything from live weapons to super ki energy stuff because I have a really strong spiritual path. I believe in energy one hundred percent. So, I can do the whole gamut of it, but I don’t want to prove aikido. It took me a while to work that all out.

All these years, in the World Games, they’ve never had an Iwama person teach. Before the demos happen, there’s always a class and they’ve never had an Iwama person teach that. And then, Wilko Vriesman [Chairman of the IAF] said, “Irie was supposed to teach but he’s deferring to you because your his senpai.” Apparently Doshu wanted that, and Wilko said, “This is history; you’re the first Iwama person who’s going to do that.” I did the class in a different way – all ki no nagare – so that everybody was comfortable. I used the two ukes that were from Hombu Dojo, because they could take those falls. And Noah can take any falls, so it was fine. [Laughs] So I used him too. But there are a lot of things changing right now and even with me doing the demo that was the major demo, Irie was more there to support but, I got so much support from the Aikikai, so that would’ve not happened in the past.

The beginning of a technique.

MAYTT: How do you think aikido will evolve and adapt here in the United States in the next decade?

PH: I actually believe that we’re in a period of time, outside of aikido, where a lot of progress is happening in medicine, math, and physics; we’re just in a fast-moving process. I think aikido will be a part of that. I think all the things that we were talking about today – women being there with men and everybody in general being a bit higher consciousness and allowing people to have their styles more. Let’s face it, you learn a style because you are five blocks away from that dojo. That’s usually the reason. Then it seems like it’s the best style and best teachers – you just go with that, of course. But really, there are no best styles. They’re all the same. And they end up the same way in the later years. I feel like a lot of things are going to change in the next ten years and aikido will just be part of it.

I also felt like at the end of the World Games, CBS was there. I didn’t even know who was filming. They did make a professional film that they sent to Japan. There was something on YouTube, but this film was sent to Japan for editing, and we’ll see it at some point. But CBS filmed. The next morning, I ran into the guy at our breakfast table. I thought about what this guy was doing here. He said, “I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your demo.” I asked him, “Where are you from? What country?” Because all the athletes are from different places. “Oh, I’m from Alabama.” “Do you do a sport? What sport do you do?” “No, I’m media.” “Oh, you’re with Kei Izawa’s [IAF Vice Chairman] group?” “No, I’m CBS. And, for sure, your demo is going to be on the station.” I didn’t see it, but it was in the news and somebody here in San Leandro saw it. But he was the one that was speaking about aikido. They showed some stuff in the background, but he said, “While everybody else is learning to compete, this martial art is a spiritual discipline. That is the main idea of this martial art.” Like, wow, that really sums it up! You don’t hear that so much. I think we’ll go more towards that, not that we’ll lose the physicality – the physicality can be there and have the spiritual energetic element. I think that will be the next step. I think just in general there will be more awareness, energetically and spiritually. Things that maybe a lot of people don’t even believe in, like healing. Maybe those things will be a little more palatable for people.

I had a student that was under the Lama Yeshe; the Dalai Lama has four main lines of teachings. Roger, my student from Britain, came to be an uchi deshi because he was going to guard the Karmapa – the buddha incarnate. So, every five or six lifetimes, the buddha comes back in physical form. And then all the Chinese stuff came in and house arrested him. But Roger had come over here and told me all these stories that were unbelievable, which you can’t even figure that out. Lama Yeshe would ask Roger to come and pick him up at the airport and bring him back. And every time he would do that, a flock of owls – not just one owl and not just one time; every single time – would follow the car. It wasn’t like they had some food there that they were giving the owls. But sometimes, there are just things like that that show people what’s possible. The miracles in this life. O-Sensei definitely talked about that. That was one of the things that Roger told me, and I went, “Wow! that’s amazing!”

Then another woman was flatlining – she was passing away. Apparently, you can do this thing with an arrow, but it has to be the right arrow, and it goes really close to the person when you shoot it. One of the great monks did it, shot the arrow, it went right past the woman, and her EKG came back. She was completely healed. She had some kind of terminal disease, and it all went away. They’re miracles and part of it is because that’s just what happens when your higher consciousness. Little by little, there’s more synchronicity. I feel like it will go more that way and not like we will lose the physicality; we have these human bodies for a reason.

MAYTT: Thank you for joining us today, Sensei! We enjoyed this insightful conversation with you!

PH: It was a great conversation; thank you for having me!

To learn more about aikido and it’s history in America, click here.

This is the second part of a two part interview. Read the first part here.


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