As many of you know, Henry Kano Sensei passed away a short time ago. Kono Sensei was a direct student of O Sensei and studied with him for four years in Japan. He was in a unique position of being the only foreign student at that time that was fluent in Japanese. Because of this, he was able to understand O Sensei and avoid the pitfalls of just seeing him only from the context of Japan’s mindset about Budo. By this I mean he didn’t approach Aikido from the standpoint of it being another rough and tumble Japanese martial art but something entirely different.
While Kono Sensei was studying Aikido in Japan, he asked O Sensei the famous question that has become part of Aikido lore: “Why can’t we do what you do?” O Sensei replied, “I know yin/yang* and you do not.” It should be noted that on other occasions O Sensei answered the same basic question differently.
This writer had the pleasure of meeting Kono Sensei a number of years ago in Mountain View, California at a presentation given by John Stevens Sensei. He and Robert Frager Sensei, also a direct student of O Sensei’s and John Stevens Sensei were all at the same table during lunch. The conversation between the three was lively, quick and filled with laughter.
From listening to the conversation, one got a true sense of Kono Sensei’s depth of understanding of Aikido, and also of his sense of humor. The conversation turned to one of approaching O Sensei about beginning training with him (in Japan). Kono Sensei said O Sensei was very formal about this. One needed a letter or letters of recommendation. Frager Sensei interjected unless you told O Sensei you had a dream. Kono Sensei then added, or if you were a woman. All three of the senior teachers laughed.
Between the lunch and the afternoon talk and present by Stevens Sensei, Kono Sensei and Robert Nedeau Sensei sat together and were obviously catching up. They graciously posed for a photograph. Later, Kono Sensei gave a demonstration on the stage at the event. His movements were fluid, and dynamic, showing the power of his understanding of yin/yang.
Aikidoka in the Great Bay Area are fortunate in that we have three of O Sensei’s direct students teaching here: Robert Frager Sensei, Robert Nadeau Sensei and Frank Doran Sensei. Kono Sensei’s presence will be missed but we have this legacy here to experience from these teachers a direct transmission. It is hoped that as many of you as possible can experience classes or workshops from one or all of these three. And it should be noted, that Mary Heiny Sensei and Saotome Sensei, both, direct students of O Sensei, are also regular visitors to the Great Bay Area.
*Yin/yang and the balance between these two forces are a core part of Aikido. The ability to work with these two principles is often mentioned by senior instructors as being a life-long exploration.