(The following piece first appeared in the souvenir program commemorating Aikido Philippines federation's 25th anniversary. The publication was distributed on 2017 November 18.)
It's safe to say that Aikido Philippines would not have been born if Tadashi Komenoi Sensei had not been there to midwife it.
After an earlier career spent at sea, Komenoi Sensei, a marine engineer, came to Manila as an expat executive of a Japanese zaibatsu. He had discovered aikido at university. On reaching Manila, and upon the recommendation of Hombu Dojo, he sought out the Makati Aikido Club.
Normally, the idea of a mere third dan parachuting into a dojo and taking over as sensei, is the naive daydream of unseasoned - and Hollywood-deluded - junior black belts. But this was one of those rare cases where the absurd daydream actually came to be. Sensing decency and humility in the man, the MAC embraced Komenoi Sensei. He trained with the MAC from July 1988 to November 1993.
The impact of a teacher is hard to pinpoint. Some teachers will be remembered for transmitting skills about movement and technique. Others are remembered for pronouncements that resonate with wisdom. Still others will be remembered best for their laser focus on the money.
Komenoi Sensei certainly didn't care about the money, and he wished to purvey more than technique. Rather, he was more interested in giving his students useful mental models for approaching aikido training. And - let's just say it out loud - for engaging with life. Many times he would say, "We should always be brushing up our aikido." That was one of his favorite phrases, "brushing up."
Another time, towards the end of his Philippine stint, he uttered an insight so piercing that I felt compelled to record it in my sports journal. It was at the 1993 midyear seminar, led by Shigeru Sugawara Sensei, who was then fourth dan.
He said, "When looking at a master's technique, you see the beautiful building, but not the foundation. The building is too impressive. An experienced, advanced aikido man would be able to discern the foundation (basement), but a new or low-belt student would not; he would be too dazzled by the building."
"The advantage of a young teacher like Sugawara Sensei is that his aikido is still in the foundation-building stage; it is as yet not too "colored" by his personality. The aikido of senior masters is already colored by their personalities. That is good, advanced aikido, but perhaps beyond the beginner's ability to appreciate. Watching a teacher like Sugawara is therefore important, valuable and instructive because it lets us see an aikido [teacher] at an earlier stage of his growth." (I have paraphrased.)
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, you couldn't accurately characterize the Philippine aikido community as a community. Rather, it was a scattering of fiefdoms, each filled with self-regard, all of them embroiled in mutual suspicion. Exams were exclusive ... and excluding. Students from different dojos did not train together, and rarely knew each other.
In the years that he taught at the MAC, Komenoi Sensei would visit other dojos in the metropolitan Manila area. This was at the behest of Hombu Dojo. On Hombu Dojo's instructions, he was hoping to unify the various aikido groups into a real community.
As might be expected, this effort met with mixed success. There were resisters. But Komenoi Sensei persisted. My sports journal records show that he either organized or joined aikido demonstrations at the Ateneo de Manila, at the Manila Metropolitan Theater, at offices and malls, and of course at other dojos.
In January of 1992, Hayato Osawa Shihan was Hombu Dojo's designated visitor to the Philippines. As was the pattern at the time, Osawa Shihan held exams for different groups, at different places. Right after conducting the exam at the MAC, Osawa Shihan and Komenoi Sensei called me into a huddle and instructed me to form a new federation of allied dojos. This federation is what came to be known as Aikido Philippines.
Tadashi Komenoi Sensei was the builder who laid its foundation. -rsreyes