The late Terry Dobson (1937–1992) was only one of two Caucasians to study Aikido with O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, before he passed away in 1969. I believe Dobson Sensei earned Yondan, 4th-degree black belt, from O-Sensei. Amazingly, I’m the same rank and about the same age as Terry was when he passed. Although, Terry was far greater than me.
Sensei Dan trained with Terry, and knew him pretty well. He told me about Terry a few years after he passed away in 1992. Sensei said that Terry was strong, and his Aikido was strong as well. He was a good man. Terry trained for several years in Japan with O-Sensei at Hombu Dojo.
I read Terry’s book, It’s A Lot Like Dancing: An Aikido Journey (1994) about his time with O-Sensei. I recall buying and reading the book when I attended an Aikido Seminar in San Diego years ago. According to Dobson Sensei, Aikido is “a lot like dancing”. The operative word being: “like”.
On the surface, Aikido occurs as flowing and dancing with the opponent. Yes, performed by masters like Terry it’s a beautiful art. Yet, O-Sensei’s Aikido is still budo – the Way of the Warrior.
Watching Aikido at times is like watching Misty Copeland dance ballet with the ABT. Conversely, where the purpose of ballet or dance celebrates the freedom of movement, the purpose of Aikido is to end the conflict, as peacefully as possible.
In “It’s A Lot Like Dancing” Terry wrote, “I hate the samurai. I think the samurai suck.” That spoke to his training with O-Sensei, who believed, “The Way of the Warrior is to give life to all things, to reconcile the world, and to foster the completion of everyone’s journey.” O-Sensei was not a fan of the samurai, either.
The purposefulness of O-Sensei’s Aikido reinvented what it was to be the warrior. The warrior stands his or her ground. Like the French Aikido Sensei said, “Enter the attack and die with honor.” In Aikido I match the attack with my attack. That’s awase – to match up. That ‘looks a lot like dancing’. Yet, unlike dancing, the purpose is singular: finish the opponent quickly and mercifully. Where the samurai killed their opponent, in Aikido we spare life. That is the relevancy in life and death.
One’s Art arises as meaningful in the service of others now, and for generations to come. That makes one’s Art purposeful. Otherwise, Art has no relevance. Really, like O-Sensei’s Aikido, Art is only relevant when it makes some kind of difference for others, making a difference in the world on some scale.
When I trained Aikido with Sensei Dan, he inspired me to create the greater version of myself. He told me, “Jon, your Aikido gets better when you teach.” So Sensei allowed me to teach the class a couple of years after I made Shodan, 1st-degree black belt.
Having to break down techniques so that beginner could learn actually strengthened my own technique. It’s what Bruce Lee said, “True knowledge is self-knowledge.” I taught myself through teaching others. Amen.
I spent many years training to become the best I could be at Aikido. Over the years I was humbled by injuries and age. Mortality set in. My purpose shifted from creating the greatest version of me, to create the greater-than version of others. My purpose transformed into making others their greater version, absolutely greater than me. I’m reminded of that sense of fulfillment and pride when I train with Jackson on Sundays.
Sensei, Bobby, and I trained Jackson when he started at the dojo almost 20 years ago. Now, Jackson and I are the same rank. He’ll soon become Godan, 5th-degree black belt. I shall not. Jackson is becoming his greater-than version. That is both meaningful and purposeful to me.
Last year I wrote my first book. It started out as the counterproposal to my therapist Lance when he asked me to look at what I wanted in a romantic relationship. Listing down a bunch of qualities I wished for in a woman was not at all interesting or sexy. I had no fucking interest in coming up with that list.
However, I loved movies and loved writing reviews about them. So I looked at what falling in love means to me through the lens of the movies that I loved, like “Meet Joe Black”. Yeah, kind of crazy. Yet, it worked for me.
I discovered my passion for writing. I decided that if I’m going to write about something meaningful, I might as well put myself out there, risk sharing about me: be it never risking falling in love or my childhood fear growing up at home.
I had gone through a lot and emerged on the other side, okay. I wanted to make a difference for anyone who had experienced their darker times and suffering. I wanted to give hope, that you can emerge greater than with compassion in your heart. I hoped that what I wrote was not a vanity project – all about me.
So I worked with my high school friend Ken, who is the bestselling author. He thought that I had something to say that might be meaningful for others out there. He encouraged me to self-publish. I did so.
My book is on Amazon. No, it’s no bestseller. I had no misguided aspirations or expectations. I simply wanted to make a difference for someone out there who might have gone through their tough times. My greatest acknowledgment was hearing or reading what others got from my book.
Ken bought my book. He even schooled me on how to sign the book for him. He said, “You’re an author.” I was happy. I had fulfilled my purpose in my Art. That meant something to me.
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