Our dojo hosted a seminar with Mary Heiny Sensei last weekend, making the sixth year she’s been out to see us in Austin. In addition to being a wonderful person and a great aikidoist, Heiny Sensei has a wealth of stories about training in Japan in the early 70s. Her status as a foreign female meant she had a lot of obstacles to overcome, and she speaks of those experiences with candor and familiarity. I learned so much from her on the mat thanks to her skill as an aikidoist and an instructor. But even more than the training on the mat, her stories have stayed with me, and reopened a train of thought that I’ve considered on and off through the years: lineage.
By “lineage,” I mean more than simply the transmission of technique from master to student. Although that is encapsulated in the concept, I’m also thinking of the continuity of experience that personal contact allows. Even more than books or video, having a living, breathing human relate her experiences gives those stories an immediacy that allows them to sink in. They make a home in my brain, changing how I think and how I view the world.
On the other hand, when I visited Saotome Sensei’s Aiki Shrine in Florida a couple of years ago, he also spoke of lineage, calling us assembled students the third generation of aikido: O Sensei to him to us. He meant it to instill a sense of responsibility for carrying forward the art to successive generations. But his charge to us wasn’t personal; it was an admonition, not an anecdote. It lacked story. But for all that, his skill and instruction were clear, and insistent: you have a duty to continue this. Learn it, and pass it on to others.
Two facets of lineage, expressed by two very different people. Heiny Sensei’s stories and Saotome Sensei’s formidable skill, laid out before me, drawing me down the path to continue my practice, to bring it to others.
Our teachers, whoever they are, have written an epic, astounding poem of life and training and adversity and sweat and joy and pain, and invited us to add our own stanzas. I hope to write something worthy of their company.