Next? Waka!

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“For me, and the over 400 other lovely maniacs from all over the globe who are my training partners, the camp represents an uber-immersion in our beloved martial art. We are all here to learn from a slew of world-famous teachers, to enjoy the company of old friends, and even to have some real vacation time to boot. And Waka Sensei is here, too.”—By Jerry Zimmerman

Squibs & Blurbs

By Jerry Zimmerman

Waka Sensei.

Waka Sensei.

Jerry Zimmerman

TEANECK New Jersey—(Weekly Hubris)—9/5/2016—The United States Aikido Federation’s annual Aikido Summer Camp, at the Seaview Hotel in the small town of Galloway NJ, offers a full week of training, with up to nine Aikido classes per day, all taking place in a large ballroom that has been converted into a temporary dojo.

For me, and the over 400 other lovely maniacs from all over the globe who are my training partners, the camp represents an uber-immersion in our beloved martial art. We are all here to learn from a slew of world-famous teachers, to enjoy the company of old friends, and even to have some real vacation time to boot.

And Waka Sensei is here, too.

This is a big deal. Waka Sensei is the great-grandson of Morihei Ueshiba (respectfully called O-Sensei), the founder of Aikido, the martial art that I practice. He is the fourth generation male to continue to represent this traditional Japanese art to the world, duty-bound to preserve its lineage and body of knowledge for the next generation.

O-Sensei.

O-Sensei.

Waka Sensei’s real name is Mitsuteru Ueshiba. “Waka” means “young successor” to the hereditary head of an important family and “Sensei” simply means “teacher.” To all of us aikidoists throughout the world, he is a star.

This is Waka Sensei’s first visit to the eastern coast of America and we all wonder what he will be like in person. In the last year or so, through YouTube, we have all checked him out, watching him teach and do demonstrations as he began to emerge on the international stage. But really, how good is he, what kind of real power does he have, what kind of a man is he . . . and will he be the next leader of Aikido we hope he will be?

The current official leader of Aikido throughout the world is Waka Sensei’s father, Moriteru Ueshiba. The grandson of O-Sensei, he is called Doshu (hereditary head). I saw Doshu twelve years ago at one of these Summer Camps and I observed him teach a class there, but only from a distance due to the throngs of students on the mat. Two years ago, I was in Japan and took several of his classes at the Aikikai, the main headquarters dojo in Tokyo.

Doshu.

Doshu.

In Japan, Doshu seemed a different man than the slim and delicate figure I had seen throwing students with a deft grace at the Summer Camp of years ago. He now had a more powerful build and a palpably confident maturity. To my great surprise, in a swirling class of 60 or 70 students, he calmly walked over to me to ask in English where I was from. After a brief exchange, he held out his arm, a signal to grab him, which I did. Immediately, I was caught up in a quiet tornado, carried aloft, blown gently yet firmly around, and safely set down. Doshu was a calm Titan of energy, a literal force of nature, able to completely change my universe for a couple of minutes without ruffling his hair or changing his smile.

This is a special man; this is the leader that one would hope for.

And his son, Waka Sensei?

Waka, at summer camp.

Waka, at summer camp.

Waka Sensei walks out on the mat for his first class in Summer camp with more than 250 students waiting for him, including me. He looks boyish, with a wispy confidence. I thought he was 26, though he could easily be mistaken for an older teen. Surprisingly, I later find out that he is 35! His long walk to the center of the mat is . . . interesting. His posture is beautiful, his face relaxed, yet his feet make a slightly comical flapping noise as he walks. When he begins the class, he is a confident and personable young man with wonderful technique and a lot to teach us. 

He seems as interested in seeing who we are as we are in seeing who he is. After demonstrating a technique for us to practice, he goes methodically through the large hall, inviting as many different students as possible to attack him and then be definitively thrown by him for their efforts.

To the surprise of no one, he is superb. 

It is a wonderful moment for us all as he happily takes on all comers, cementing his stellar place in our hierarchy. (We East Coasters aren’t easily impressed but, after his classes, we are confident that, young as he is, Waka Sensei has what it takes eventually to follow his father and, in effect, his grandfather and great-grandfather.) 

At the beginning of one of the classes, I am seated in the center of the front row of students on the mat, directly in front of Waka Sensei. After bowing to the class, he stands up in preparation for warm-ups. I look straight up at him as he calmly readies himself. Behind him is a six-foot blow-up photograph of the face of O-Sensei, his great-grandfather. Peering over Waka Sensei’s shoulders are O-Sensei’s famously twinkling eyes, looking at his great-grandson with warmth and affection; he seems very pleased to see that the soul of his art is still guarded by an exceptional man of exceptional purpose.

We are all happy. The future of Aikido looks very good.

And Waka Sensei has a seven-year old son.

Waiting his turn.

Photo Credits: Images 1 and 4: Jaime Kahn; Image 2: F. Geissler; Image 3: Ueshiba Aikido Association Singapore.

About Jerry Zimmerman

Jerry Zimmerman was born and bred in Pennsylvania, artified and expanded at the Syracuse School of Art, citified and globalized in New York City . . . and is now mesmerized and budo-ized in lovely Teaneck, New Jersey. In love with art and artists, color, line, form, fun, and Dada, Jerry is a looong-time freelance illustrator, an art teacher in New York’s finest art schools, and a full-time Aikido Sensei in his own martial arts school. With his feet probably and it-is-to-be-hoped on the ground, and his head possibly and oft-times in the wind, he is amused by the images he finds floating through his mind and hands. Author Photo: David Zimand

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2 Responses to Next? Waka!

  1. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    Sensei! I always love the tatami-based specificity of your essays. Truly! AND the exclamation points. This column comprises such a lovely, focused, up-beat take on the future of one group of lovely maniacs. And I learned a lot from you in reading it. But, as one other reader has asked, DOES Waka Sensei have a seven-year-old DAUGHTER?! xoxoxoxo

  2. jerry says:

    Thanks E!!!
    I threw in a bunch of exclams just for you.

    Ah, the “daughter question”…….

    It seems that the Japanese martial arts, including Aikido, are still pretty much “old-school”, with the sons of the Founder’s family expected to carry on as the leaders of the art, perhaps in the traditional style of Iemoto (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iemoto).

    I did read that Doshu (Waka Sensei’s father) was asked about aikido training for his daughter (Waka Sensei’s sister), who was eleven at the time, and he replied that she was much more interested in swimming than aikido! I don’t believe Waka Sensei has a daughter at this time.

    All I can say is that I think it’s pretty amazing that three generations of sons were born and that they all wanted to go into the family business and they have all done it with enormous success.

    I would love to see a daughter in the family don the family gi and hakama, take over the leadership reins and start throwing us all around – sign me up!

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