I met Tatoian Sensei, 7th dan, in the early 1980’s at his dojo outside Sebastopol, CA. The building was a World War II era Quonset Hut on a property a few miles south of the town. Inside the curved structure, on a raised platform, was the mat area with a photograph of O Sensei on the far wall.
It was one of those meetings and moments one never forgets, as it was my first direct encounter with Aikido.
Tatoian Sensei’s history in Aikido and the martial arts is as a mighty river, deep and broad. He began his study of the martial arts as a student of Gozo Shidoda Sensei. This was in the mid 1960’s. He then studied with Sugawara Sensei and after that, Saito Sensei during most of the 1970’s.
While talking with Tatoian Sensei that morning as a workshop was on going earlier this year in Santa Rosa, CA at Traditional Aikido of Sonoma, it was obvious that even while we were involved in our conversation, he was aware of everything that was occurring on the mat. He would often stop mid sentence to correct one of those attending and even go on the mat and demonstrate what he wanted to see done. His movements were very precise.
During our conversation, I asked him what he was seeing when he looked out on the mat. He replied that he was sad because he felt that “O Sensei’s Aikido” was not being practiced, as it should be. This he continued, looking to the mat and nodding at the training that this was “the Aikido of O Sensei.” He continued by saying that he wanted students to practice as the Founder did.
I asked him about this and he replied, saying in effect, that the true movements of the Founder were the only ones that should be taught and learned. When I asked him about other “schools and traditions,” he replied that O Sensei’s Aikido was very precise.
We continued this line of discussion as he continued to correct and challenge those attending the workshop. He talked about how he traveled with Saito Sensei and serve as his translator. And in that role, he said that he often had to mitigate what Saito Sensei’s said when translating for him.
If someone asked Saito Sensei about “other” styles or forms of Aikido, the English translation of his words would be too rude and sharp a reply to the question that a student or visitor asked. Tatoian Sensei turned to me and smiling remarked that when he did this, Saito Sensei seemed to know what he had done and would give him a frown.
Tatoian Sensei has also had to work around his body aging. Yet, when I saw him move on the mat, he had an effortless power that was beautiful to watch. It was clear to me that he is very conscious of the legacy he carries with Saito Sensei and his teachings, that which he holds as “the true Aikido.”
Often, just being in the presence of someone like Tatoian Sensei, even if there is a lack of agreement about what is or isn’t “O Sensei’s Aikido,” can be rewarding. I left the interview feeling that I had in some very real and powerful way been in the presence of one of the pillars of Aikido in the world today. He continues to teach at his dojo, Aikidojo of Alfonso in the Philippines.
Dennis Tatoian Sensei is a martial artist continuing to make a great difference!