My Life’s HonorMay 2016
It has been my experience that there is maybe one or two times in life when we really get what we desire, when all things just come together and the fantasy you were playing in your mind was indeed real, and the reality was staring you right in the face and it was everything you were hoping it would be. And that's the way it began for me when I met Sensei Takahashi at the age of 15 years old. I recall my first day as if it was yesterday and I remember vividly in 1982 when Sensei said, "Greg, it looks like I have to go to a tournament at Madison Square Garden, I'm going to compete, let's go together you can do Basai Sho".
So, the dye was cast and we practiced diligently, however, I never really saw Sensei practice; in those days the Dojo was small, Sensei had a lot of time and I was a private student so I never saw any other Karate players or instructors. Also, the world was very different, for instance, there was no computer or YouTube, there were no DVDs or video rentals, television stations were limited and not on for 24 hours a day, no, all you had was your imagination, your hopes and your dreams. What I was about to experience would not only change me but remain engraved in the deepest recesses of my memory because it could only be done by a magician, and it was nothing short of extraordinary.
The morning of the tournament my Father and I took the train to Madison Square Garden. This was to be my first experience of seeing other karate players, schools and instructors and I was shocked by the amount of people who appeared, literally there were thousands from all different styles and places, it was absolutely overwhelming. So, I put on my GI, stretched, practiced and waited for hours. Finally, I checked into my division, this was an open tournament so there must have been 30 or more people in my class, so I just walked around and waited.
It must have been around noon, when in typical fashion Sensei Takahashi seemed too materialized out of thin air, I spotted him at a distance across a sea of individuals but he did not notice me through such a large crowd. I saw he was wearing his GI and appeared to be preoccupied when suddenly he disappeared behind a dark yellow curtain with two other Japanese men also wearing uniforms.
I approached the area with a combination of caution and apprehension, I did not want to be obtrusive since I did not know who those other gentlemen were and they obviously wanted their privacy, however, my curiosity was now at an exponential level, so I very quietly pushed aside the outer curtain, peered in and remained still like a shadow on the wall. The room was dimly lit but I saw clearly, it had a low ceiling with overhead fluorescent lights and a dark carpet, two men stood to the left of center and there was Sensei Takahashi, in the middle of the room doing his favorite kata "Unsu". Now remember, I never saw Sensei practice before and it would be close to 20 years at least until I would eventually tell him this story.
For me, here is where fantasy and reality would meet and for a few minutes would be one in the same because what I saw was not humanly possible, water in motion is what it was, fluidity, grace and speed. I can still hear the sound of his GI resonating off the wall, his eyes were razor sharp, piercing, even frightening and not just for me, you should have seen the look on the other two guys who were to be in his division, Sensei was both dangerous and brilliant at the same time, his hands and body moved as if they were carving out the space around him, each motion cascaded effortlessly into the next as he glided in one continuous motion across the floor. It was frightening, it was raw, and it was threatening, and these things were mixed together with a profound beauty. This was a surreal experience, I was hypnotized, frozen in time, and as I write these words I can still visualize that scene because I was watching a genius performing his art, a genius doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing with his life and to do anything less would have been a mistake.
The day got even better; I was able to sit next to my Dad as we watched Sensei perform in his division for which there was no equal. Later, when it was my turn to perform I was well past nervous, there were so many people in my class and I knew nobody. Suddenly, and completely out of nowhere, I received a tap on my shoulder as Sensei knelled down beside me, my heart soared and I at least had enough energy for my kata.
I could hear him shouting OSS when I finished, and although I did not win the fact that Sensei acknowledged me as his student, clapped and stayed by my side was a feeling one rarely gets to experience in life, it's a moment I treasure now and always.
I was beyond exhausted when I finally fell asleep on my Dad's shoulder on the train ride home; I bet you can guess what I was dreaming about.
I have said this to several of my close colleagues at the dojo and will repeat it here, being Sensei Takahashi's student is and will always be my life's honor. I thank you Sensei for a beautiful memory and a million others, I thank you for your talent, your passion and for always bringing everything you have to the dojo for all of your students.