Reminiscences of Kawahara-sensei

Reminiscences of Kawahara-shihan, from

Yumi Nakamura, Jim Barnes, Rob Carroll, Barry Radun, John Hillson

(The following three notes were written about Sensei and compiled by Wil Wong when the annual Memorial Seminar had to be cancelled.)

Yumi Nakamura

I knew Kawahara sensei since the early 1970s, one year after I started Aikido in Kyoto, Japan.

I have so many memories from his public face and his private side.

I recall this story that shows his public face with his private, warm heart.

He was known to be an old-style Japanese martial arts teacher in many ways — his techniques and strict manners, etc.

A senior instructor from one of the CAF dojos came to me for advice regarding his student.

The story was that one of this instructor’s students got badly scolded by Kawahara sensei at a seminar. The guy was so upset about how Sensei was angry toward him and was so scared, he did not want to take a shodan test at all.

The instructor asked me to talk with Kawahara sensei about how this poor guy could change his behaviour and techniques.

When I had a chance to ask Kawahara sensei about the incident and the guy, he could not recall anything about it.

Then he said to me, “When I get mad at somebody, it is because I want to help them to improve and I do  not hold that anger for later. So, I do not remember those upsetting situations at all “

He was such a great teacher.

Jim Barnes

I first met Kawahara-sensei in the late 1970s, when he took over Vancouver Aikikai. I was already a student there, and there was quite a buzz about him coming to the dojo. I was very curious about this renowned professional instructor.

I had practiced martial arts since I was a young teenager, and had had the experience of my teachers kicking my ass around the dojo rather painfully and without too much trouble before. I was also starting to be familiar with the excellent technique of the existing instructors at VA.

I assumed that Sensei would be qualitatively more of the same. I was to learn that he was on a different level that I could only dimly perceive.

He would often use me for ukemi, I think because I had a little rudimentary skill from my earlier jujitsu practice, unlike most other members.

I will never forget one very early experience when he told me to attack him with tsuki. Being young and dumb, I wanted it to be good, so I watched him intently for any kind of opportunity at all to time my attack as he walked toward me.

There wasn’t one. I felt like he was somehow reading my mind the whole way, and was always two steps ahead of me on whatever I was thinking about doing.

That delay was fatal. He walked right up to me and slapped me — not hard, and with a laugh. He knew exactly what had paralyzed me. “Just HIT!” he exclaimed.

My next attack was at least spontaneous and fast, even if all it got me was Sensei’s usual strict kotegaeshi.

Sensei spoke to me a couple of times over the years about the necessity of learning to read the attacker’s mind. (That’s still a work in progress, for me.)

A series of experiences like that gave me insight into just what a remarkable martial artist he was.

Rob Carroll

For many years I had the privilege of taking frequent ukemi for Kawahara sensei at seminars and classes of all sizes in Canada and abroad. While it was always challenging, it gave me the opportunity to feel sensei’s techniques directly. The sharpness, the precision, and the impressive solidness don’t translate into words.

Sensei was able to create an intense contact. One where all options for the uke would have immediate dire consequences. It wasn’t like a quick change of technique to a variation, or henka-waza, but rather just the direct effect of the impulse from uke. Push in harder, pull back (a really bad idea) or stay in place and hold firm….all with serious outcomes.

Kawahara sensei was determined to maintain the integrity of Aikido as a martial art. He would often link modern techniques to older related versions from the past. Usually this would start with the phrase “In the old days…” (insert terrifying variation) and then end with “but that’s not Aikido.” I can’t overstate the concern that hearing those words can instill in the uke.

Aikido is about learning through practice. Intense practice with a skilled partner is the best option. I have been honoured to be part of the memorial seminars, and find it regrettable that we cannot hold this year’s event. The best way to keep sensei’s legacy alive is through our efforts on the mat.

Barry Radun

At Aikido Kensankai in Montreal, the end of the night’s class was never the end of Aikido activities. When a group of us didn’t gather and make dinner at Ishiyama’s flat, we went out to have a casual meal of burgers and beer. I learned a very important lesson on one of those nights. I was sitting next to Kawahara-Sensei and everyone was in a festive mood. Sensei had ordered a beer and when it arrived, I insisted on paying for it, saying, as I would with any of my friends, “ No, no, Sensei. You can get it next time.” Of course, I didn’t actually mean that he should buy one for me the next time we went out. I thought nothing of it until Ishiyama approached me as we were getting our coats.

“Now you’ve done it,” he said. “What did I do wrong?/ I asked, much puzzled. “The next time we all go out, you must allow Sensei to buy you a beer,” he told me. “I don’t understand.,” I said. “You told Sensei that he could buy you a beer the next time. You should have simply bought him a beer, but, you told him he could buy one for you next time. You put him in a place of obligation and now he must buy you a beer or he will lose face.”

Of course, the next time we went out after class, Sensei bought me a beer and his obligation was discharged. 

I learned that first night that we, in the West, often say things carelessly, without meaning them, and that words have weight. I also learned a tiny bit about how Japanese Sensei was. Much later, in Atlanta, the 2nd instructor had lived for many years in Japan and had married a Japanese woman. He told me he knew Kawahara-Sensei and that he could see Sensei’s Aikido in my Aikido. He also said that Kawahara-Sensei was one of the the  most Japanese of the various Aikido shihan and I had learned from an excellent sensei. I was so pleased to hear that. My search for a sensei was to seek out the very traditional teachers. Part of my motivation was that I was a “Seeker” – a Seeker of a Master, a Seeker ofTruth and Wisdom, a Seeker of the Spiritual and Metaphysical. I was a Seeker of the Answers to the Great Mysteries. Sure enough, I found what I was looking for.

My looking for and finding a very traditional Master surprises me to this day. In so many things, I am not at all traditional. My approach has always been eclectic. No gods, no supernatural entities, no magic crystals, no affirmations, et al. And yet I found a very traditional teacher. Dear friends from the dojo in Atlanta teased me. “You talk about Kawahara-Sensei like he was the ideal of what a Sensei should be. He sounds like the wise old samurai in a movie.” I responded that I could only say the way he was. If Sensei sounded like Master Po from the TV show “Kung Fu”, I couldn’t help it.

Returning to the topic of words and their power. I had a mentor who taught me that me that the only thing of personal value we truly have and can give is our word. It is our most prized possession. This was also a learning I took from my “obligation” situation with Kawahara-Sensei.

As sensei in my own dojo, when people were leaving for the night, most would tell me, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Of course, many didn’t show up the next day for class.  After this happened a number of times, I addressed the dojo members in class.“When you leave after class, just say “Good night” or “Good-bye”. Don’t tell me you will see me the next class. When you say you will be here tomorrow, I take you at your word. I accept that things happen and you cannot come, but, when you give your word to be here, I have the expectation that you will be here. 

If you don’t show up, I won’t say anything, but, the more you make hollow promises, I begin to disbelieve what you tell me. Better for you to say nothing and show up when you show up.” They improved and, as I hoped, they passed on the information to new members.

John Hillson

Aikiweb: This reminiscence appeared on Aikiweb. Please see:

It Had To Be Felt #72: Kawahara Yukio: “Grab Me! Fight Me! Fight Me! (He was laughing)”

I am writing about Yukio Kawahara, the technical director of the Canadian Aikido Federation. I don’t feel I deserve to. Other people spent more years with him, started with him earlier, lived closer, or were clearly his preferred uke. I wish I’d had more time with him. It is hard to find one stand-out memory that will explain him to posterity.

He never really shared much about his early years, and I think he preferred that. Those memories sound horrible, the few I knew of. He lived a simple, and mostly solitary life in the present moment. He just wanted his students to get better.

He insisted on good manners—but he seemed to want a good heart. I was driving him to a seminar when an old man was laying on the ice with a bleeding face in front of us. I apologized to Sensei, got out of the car, and helped the man up and did a quick assessment. The man’s daughter came running to help. We got to the seminar a few minutes late, and Sensei never said a word about it. Years later, we watched a Zatoichi movie together, and he stopped the movie at one line of dialogue, where Zatoichi growled: “Samurai are selfish. They care only about their honor and not about human beings.” He turned to me and said, “John, you understand?

He took seemingly random moments as an opportunity for a lesson. He was a much better cook than I, and he bought a pressure cooker so that I could learn to make brown rice properly. He wanted a certain amount of water in the pot above the rice—he showed me how much by touching his own finger to his thumb. I had to gauge, from across the room, the exact depth of water that short distance translated to.

He was missing a thumb on one hand, but no one ever seemed to know why. It was such an obvious difference between his hands, and yet I could never feel the difference whenever he grabbed or struck me with either hand. After a training injury left me with a partially paralyzed arm, I have been looking more often to his example.

His curriculum was logical and methodical, and reflected what he wanted to see in his student’s aikido. Ikkyo to yonkyo was part of every test. When he grabbed, however he grabbed, he controlled my whole body. He told us once during a seminar that yonkyo used to be part of everything, and I find myself wondering if this is what he meant: his point of contact took my whole body.

One time, he did a nikkyo to me. He was working on something more. He looked intense. He shifted slightly, and my body shot forward. He shifted slightly again, and I skidded backwards. He was in complete control. I wasn’t taking ukemi; I felt like I was his curling broom sweeping the ice. Then, after taking down, he moved to the nikkyo pin. I didn’t feel my shoulder stretching; rather, I suddenly could not move my entire torso. I could not physically breathe, and not due to pain. Rather, my ribs and diaphragm were paralyzed, and my throat was closed. I watched him to it to others too—when he released the pin, one could hear an audible inhale.

Another time, he was demonstrating hijikime during a seminar. A white belt with me was not getting the angle or control. I tried quietly giving feedback. Suddenly Sensei was right there. He demonstrated on me. Nothing . . . nothing . . . “Hmm,” I thought, “maybe this won’t be so bad.” And then, explosive blinding pain turned the entire world turn white, and had me instantly sprawling on the floor. Like many of his techniques, this lock didn’t harm my elbow, but it took over my whole body. My arm was fine, but no thanks to my ukemi. I fell without even thinking of falling. It was all him.

Unlike any other teacher of my experience, he would take ‘what would you do if . . .’ questions from his students. We trusted him to not hurt us, and he seemed to enjoy the odd challenge. One friend asked, “Sensei, what would you do with a boxing jab?” “Hit me!” The punch never landed before a bear paw hand was right in my friend’s face. 

Another friend studied some arnis. “Sensei, they like this slashing attack I’ve been wondering about.” My friend’s hand moved towards his belt (he had no knife on him but he never would have had a chance to draw one), and his hand was slapped away with knuckles driving down on his xyphoid process. The world went into slow motion and I never had a chance to blink before it was over.

A couple of us were using way too much strength in kokyudoza. Suddenly, we heard a snort. “Grab me! Fight Me! Fight Me! Fight Me!” He was laughing. I felt incredibly weak as I struggled. He stayed still. I was lifted straight up. He was connected to the earth and I was trying to move the planet. At least, that is the image I use to teach this now.

One of my dumber moments, I had a VHS of a demonstration showing nikkyo reversals. They all looked very easy to me. I showed it to him during lunch. “No good nikkyo!” I remember him grabbing my hand and suddenly was on my knees with no memory of how I got there, left arm in nikkyo. “R E V E R S E!!!” I was completely unable to move in any direction and the pain was shocking. No curling broom this time, I was firmly rooted to the spot and I felt like I was anchored beneath the floor. He let me up, we went back to eating lunch and my arm was perfectly okay. My cat then stole his chair, completely unafraid of him and oblivious to the events of a minute before. He was reluctant to move the cat, so I did. The cat jumped back in his lap, with a yowl that told Sensei the cat knew who was boss.

He was prolific. He was always able to show another way, always able to show crazy new levels of precision, always able to add something more. He learned from every source that came his way, and he was always creating something new. He taught me that learning was never finished, no source was off-limits. His aikido would embrace things that I never saw anywhere else.

I was used to sankyo hurting as we students drove each other up. He came by after class—and suddenly I was balanced on my tip toes. I couldn’t sink. I couldn’t step in any direction. Nothing hurt. I was completely controlled as always, but completely comfortably stuck floating. He kept up a relaxed conversation with another person, leaving me dangling in the air for a minute. This was new territory for me.

Not long after, he had to be admitted to hospital. I spent the night in his hospital room in the chair beside his bed. I was there for his first blood transfusions. We had a brief afternoon pass the next day, and I was having a hard time coming to terms with what his apparent illness meant. We would only get worse news in the week ahead. We were in the local dojo-cho’s house for tea. “Sensei feels different today. He wants you to grab him.” I grabbed him katatedori. I grabbed a wave that whipped my head down and lifted my heels, stuck me up my tip toes with my nose pointed at my kneecaps. I had no momentum in any direction. I was too far up on my toes to lower the soles of my feet to the floor. I was caught there for what felt like an eternity with my ass sticking up in the air and my arms flapping wildly. I had to wave my arms to fall back enough to get my feet under me. By the time I could look up, Sensei was already sitting back in his chair, looking at me with the most monumentally smug self-satisfied smirk I ever saw. I think he was sending me a message, that he was going to recover and he was going to have years left in him—and he was right.


One of the last great favours that Kawahara-sensei did for the CAF was arranging for Hayato Osawa-sensei to be his successor as Technical Director starting in 2011, and endowing a trust fund to support his visits.

Osawa-sensei has had an outstandingly positive influence on our Aikido community – brilliant technique, clear movement, able to deliver detailed explanations and assess students’ progress very astutely. He has supported us in every way possible, in a very engaging and friendly manner.

A few photographs…

2004: USAF summer camp, with Yumi Nakamura.
2011, Toronto. L to r: Pat Olson, Osawa-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Kenji Yoshimi.
2013(?) Osawa-sensei has worked tirelessly with the CAF Examination Committee to raise the technical standards in Canadian Aikido. L to r: Scott MacPhail, Alex Loo, Yumi Nakamura, Osamu Obata, osawa-sensei, Ishu Ishiyama, George Hewson, Fran Turner, Jim Barnes.
2013, Calgary.
2016. Kelowna. L to r: Vadim Katcherovski, Jim Barnes, Osawa-sensei, Adam Spitz, Yumi Nakamura.
2016, Halifax. Uke, Wil Wong.
2016, Halifax.
2017, Victoria . L to r: Ishu Ishiyama, Alex Loo, Wil Wong, Osawa-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Jim Barnes, Pat Olson.
2018, Calgary. Brad Myers takes Osawa-sensei for a spin in his Model T.
2018, Lake Louise. Dan Jones, Jim Barnes, Yumi Nakamura, Osawa-sensei, Steve Erickson.
2018. Banff. Jim Barnes, Osawa-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Steve Erickson.
2018, Toronto. Uke: Robert Fudge.
2018, Toronto. Uke (???)

2019, Quebec City. Yumi Nakamura, Osawa-sensei, David Mooney.


Yukio Kawahara-sensei was a teacher, mentor and friend, from the day I met him in Vancouver in 1977 until he passed in 2011. From that first day, he took me under his wing and demanded the best from me. He was a remarkable martial artist, and there are few of his caliber left. My debt to him is huge, and I miss him every time I step onto the mat.

1976 – With Yumi Nakamura (and R.C., Brian Mauchline’s dog.)
1977, Vanouver Aikikai yudansha: Yamagata-san, Dick Yao, Kawahara-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Sagawa-san.
1994, USAF summer camp. L to r,, Yumi Nakamura, Toby McGuigan, Greg Donskov, Karen Woon Sam, Kawahara-sensei, Don Bennett, Mary Singleton.
1994, Cooperstown. L to r, Kawahara-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Alex Loo, Anwar Sumar.
Mid-1990s, Samurai Club/Impact Centre in Toronto, teaching a seminar with Yamada-sensei. A long list of local students!
Samurai Club, Toronto, late 1990s, with Jim Barnes.
Early 2000’s, Waldorf Centre in Toronto. Front, l to r, Tom Lindsey, Kali Hewitt-blackie, Yumi Nakamura, Kawahara-sensei, Jim Barnes, Keira Loughren, Rob Carroll, Dennis Adair. Second row: Igor Sitartchouk, Denis Leblanc, Judy Wong. Back: Steve Jones, (???), Vadim Potanin, Sasha (???), Nick Petrescu, Renat Husnudinov, Ray Belanger, David Hsu.
2004, USAF summer camp (uke: Rob Carroll).
2004, BC summer camp, Kawahara-sensei, Jim Barnes.
2004, USAF summer camp. Front, l to r, Robb Wheatley, Jim Barnes, Yumi Nakamura, Kawahara-sensei, Rob Carroll, Alex Loo, Joel Poslus. Rear, Tony Leung, Sharon BAder, Michael Barker, Rika Murota, Mike McGuigan, Kali Hewitt-Blackie, (???), (???)
2007(?) BC summer camp: uke, Rob Carroll.
2008, BC summer camp: Front, Yumi Nakamura, Kawahara-sensei, Alex Loo, George Hewson. Rear, Jim Barnes, Mark Kajin, Rob Carroll, Michael Barker, Wil Wong, (???), Pasquale LaMontagna, Jo Ashley, Rika Murota.
2008: Sensei’s birthday at BC summer camp.
2010, BC summer camp.
2010, BC summer camp. Keira Loughren (with Emile), Yumi Nakamura, Kawahara-sensei, Jim Barnes, Rob Carroll.
2010, Visiting Fort York while in Toronto.
One of my favourite photos of Kawahara-sensei, 2010 (?) in Toronto.

Photos of the Shihan

I feel honoured to have learned from and in some cases enjoyed the friendship of a few of the senior Japanese shihan, students of O-sensei. Some of them I have only taken a single seminar (or even a single class) with. Others I have known for decades. A few that I owe a real debt for training, I have no pictures for.
Here are a few photos reflecting my contact with them over the years. (I have purposely omitted Yukio Kawahara-sensei and Hayato Osawa-sensei, who I will cover separately.)
Again, in many cases I don’t know who took these pictures. My sincere apologies for using them without acknowledgement. As well, I have forgotten some the names of some people in the photos, for which I apologize.

Yoshimitsu Yamada-sensei, 2016(?): l to r, Jim Barnes, Yamada-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Vadim Katcherovski.
Mitsunari Kanai-sensei (2003?): l to r, Elizabeth Flood, Kanai-sensei, Yumi Nakamura
Kazuo Chiba-sensei, 1994: l to r, Yumi Nakamura, Toby McGuigan, Chiba-sensei, Jim Barnes.
Nobuyoshi Tamura-sensei, 2004: with Jim Barnes.
Doshu, 1991: Doshu (then Waka-sensei) with Jobe Groot.
Doshu and Yukio-Kawahara-sensei, 2005: l to r, Jim Barnes, Sachiko Ueshiba, Doshu, Kawahara-sensei, Yumi Nakamura.
Seigo Yamaguchi-sensei, early 1990s: Jim Barnes, Yumi Nakamura, Dave Brown, Yamaguchi-sensei, Karen Woon-Sam, Rob Carroll.
Akira Tohei-sensei, late 1990s.
Seijuro Masuda-sensei: l to r, Jim Barnes, Rob Carroll, Elizabeth Flood, Yumi Nakamura, Alex Loo, Masuda-sensei, Pierre Fortin.
Kisaburo Osawa-sensei (mid-1980s): l to r, Shoji Seki-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Osawa-sensei, Yamada-sensei, Masako Nakatsugawa, Yukiko Katagiri.
Katsuyuki Shimamoto-sensei, 2010(?): l to r, Shimamoto-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Masako Nakatsugawa.
Shichiryodani-sensei, mid-2000s(?): The only people I remember from this shot are Shichiryodani-sensei sitting to my left and Tomasz (???) (far right).
Motohiro Fukakusa-sensei, 2011: l to r, Jim Barnes, Yukiko Katagiri, Fukakusa-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Osamu Obata.
Great shihan, 2004: Ichiro Shibata-sensei, Seiichi Sugano-sensei, Mitsunari Kanai-sensei, Penny Bernath, Yoshimitsu Yamada-sensei, Kazuo T. Chiba-sensei, Peter Bernath.

Photos from my Aikido career

Recently, Wil Wong asked me to post 10 photos related to my Aikido career without comment. I don’t normally do FB games, puzzles, contests etc. but Wil is a persuasive fellow.
Once I got into the process, I found myself enjoying it. I decided to add the comments here, for anyone interested. I will also add some additional pictures soon that didn’t make the cut, but that I wanted to share.
Obviously, most of the photos I am in were taken by someone else. In most cases, I have lost track of who that is. If that’s you, I apologize in advance for using your property without permission.

Training at summer camp, 1991. Sorry, I can’t remember anyone else in the photo.
1991, summer camp. Sitting, (l to r): Waka-sensei (now Doshu), Kawahara-sensei, Yumi Nakamura. Standing: Robert Zimmermann, Jim Barnes, Dave Brown, Jim Wright, Al Bowman, Judy Wong, Joel Posluns, Alex Loo.
Late 1990s Sitting, l to r: Peter Waxer, Earl Tucker, Greg Donskov, David Cheung, Gary Bist. Uke unknown.
Late 1990s, BC summer camp. L to r: Elizabeth Flood, JIm Barnes, Kanai-sensei, Yumi Nakamura, Alex Loo.
1984, Toronto Aikikai. Sorry, can’t remember a few of the names. Sitting, l to r: Pascal Dennis, Yumi Nakamura, Fran Turner, Carol Mark, Robert Zimmerman, (back) Marie Hori, (front) Judy Wong, Dennis Adair, Jean Aubin, Jim Woods, Deb Derbyshire, (back) Trish (???), front, Donna Harris, Jim Barnes, Gisele (???), Elana Joram. Standing, Tom Chong, Greg Long, Alex Loo, Rob Carroll, Al Bowman, Roy Smith, Brian Campbell, (???), Ahmed Doo.
2018, Montreal seminar. Jim Barnes, Yamada-sensei.
2010, Kawahara-sensei memorial seminar. L to r: MIke Roth, JIm Barnes, Michael Barker.
2013(?) CAF Examination Committee. L to r: Scott MacPhail, Alex Loo, Yumi Nakamura, Osamu Obata, Osawa-sensei, Ishu Ishiyama, George Hewson, Fran Turner, Jim Barnes.
2012, Aikido Hokuryukai. Uke: Igor Sitartchouk.
1977, Vancouver Aikikai. Front, l to r: Kate McCandless, Brian Mauchline, (???), (???), Kawahara-sensei, Ken (???), Tak Yamaguchi. Back, l to r: (???), Ron Harder, (???), Reg Bartosh, Jim Barnes, (???), (???).
2020, Aikido Hokuryukai. Sitting, l to r: Aubrie Appel, Marco Racco, Yumi Nakamura, Jim Barnes, Tom Lindsey, Vadim Potanin, Eduard Pelikh. Standing: Alex Vlasov, Alex Kolovskiy, Negar Sabouri, Irina Semenekhine, Jonathon Stefan, Farshid Sabouri, Tibor Bodor, Vadim Katcherovski, Yaroslav Burneiko, Andrei Semenekhin, Moises Rincon, Arunas Tamkevicius.

Jo and jukendo

Of interest to the jo students…

Jukendo, or bayonet technique, is a traditional Japanese martial art based almost entirely on what we would call choku tsuki, the straight thrust. Needless to say, their understanding of this movement is detailed and complex.

It was developed during the modernization of Japan’s army well over 100 years ago and is partly based on traditional spear technique.

As a former soldier, O-sensei was expert in Jukendo and incorporated many of the techniques and ideas into his jo technique, which more closely resembles spear or bayonet movement than conventional jodo. In some of his early videos, you can see him practicing with a mokujo and see them racked on the wall with the jo and bokken.

Jo students will notice differences in that that the hands never move on the mokujo, which resembles a rifle. As well, any contact with the tip of the mokujo is considered a finish, obviously because of the bayonet.

And notice some of the similarities in stance and footwork.

Thrusting is an extremely practical martial arts technique. It is fast and very hard for the opponent to see, when compared to overhead strikes. You can thrust with impact with almost any long object, such as an umbrella or even a rolled up newsaper, where overhead strikes would be ineffective.

Kawahara-sensei once told me that a Jukendo expert, a friend of Tanaka-sensei’s, showed up at Osaka Aikikai and picked up a jo to train with the students. He was so fast and solid that he could hit people at will and nobody could touch him.

This isn’t just historical; I think that some of the choku-tsuki strategy touched on in this video is quite interesting.

O-sensei and the pandemic

I was curious to see what O-sensei had to say about practice during a pandemic. I went back through the references I have available — and could not find that he said anything about pandemics in particular.

However, he would have been well-aware of the situation.

While Japan had experienced many waves of influenza in the past, it was devastated from 1918–1920 by three waves of the Spanish Influenza. A third of the population was sick and a half million people died – many of them once-healthy adults in the prime of life. Without doubt, O-sensei would have known many of them personally.

Even more grievous, O-sensei’s two young sons died in 1920, within three weeks of each other, of an “illness” — the records don’t seem to be more specific than that.

How did he respond?

At about this period, he was intensively practising sword technique, often by himself.

This was also approximately when he became deeply involved in the Omotokyo religion. He seemed driven to further his studies of spirituality.

I may be projecting, here, but I think he viewed the pandemic stoically — as something he could not change, but that could not change his own correct behaviour.

Here are some of his quotes related to Aikido and health, from “The Art of Peace” by John Stevens.

About maintaining practice: “Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”

About personal health: “When I do Aikido, old age and illness vanish!”

About social distancing: “I do not need a dojo to practice Aikido. I’m not teaching for fame, status, or money. I can teach under a tree or on top of a rock. The entire world is my bridge to heaven.”

Lastly, COVID-19 is not the only lethal illness besetting us: “The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. We want to cure the world of the sickness of violence, malcontent, and discord—this is the Way of Harmony.”

Our stories

As we dealt with closing our Finch dojo and not being able to practice in person during the pandemic, we decided to start a small project on our history.

We asked our members to contribute short anecdotes about the various locations we have used. Here are their personal reflections. We hope to be adding more of them, soon.

Samurai Club: 1992-1994


There’s an iconic story of the muscular dude who was whimpering under Yumi-sensei’s devastating nikkyo at the Samurai Club. That is the stuff of legend and should be preserved for future generations!

(Note from Jim: I remember it well. The first class we went to teach, I ran into the “muscular dude” in the change room. He looked at me and said, “I guess I’m in trouble.” I told him that no, Yumi was the one to watch out for. I followed him onto the mats where he caught sight of Yumi and gave me a scoffing look. As the class started, we were doing nikkyo. She walked around demonstrating to individual students, and she had figured out this guy’s attitude already. I remember to this day the high-pitched shriek he made on the way down from his first nikkyo!)

Yumi’s powerful wrist techniques – sankyo.

I share the following anecdote: I ran into this guy called Ron at Loblaws a while back who was in my graduating class in high school. In grade 13, we had a membership at the local Y and that was the only time in my life that I did weightlifting in any regular way, but Ron was dedicated to it and was pretty buff. He’s Italian and loved the Stallone movies (we’re talking mid-1980s here) and had the nickname Rambo Ron. I’m not making that up.

Anyways, we were catching up and I told him that I had reached third kyu in Aikido but recently stopped due to ongoing shoulder issues. He said he tried Aikido back in the day and he was at a club run by this “big Scottish dude and his tiny Japanese wife. I’ve got a lot of respect for you if you could stick it out that far cuz, man, it was brutal! She did this move on me one time and I swear to God I was on the floor in half a second!”.


I had just begun my Aikido career, maybe three lessons in. It was at the original dojo on Yonge St., just south of Hwy. 7.

The format was same as we have now – two, one-hour classes back to back, with a short break between. Both classes were open to beginners at that time.

Samurai Club membership card.

The first class was a normal class attended by perhaps 10 people. At the end of the class, everyone milled around in the lobby area as usual. I was enthusiastic and entered the dojo first and lined up for the second class and began to meditate.

There was a door to the dojo with glass panels so when I heard it close, I knew class was about to begin. Upon opening my eyes, and much to my shock and dismay, I discovered I was the only student.

It was sort of like that scene from Spiderman when Peter Parker is in a cage with the wrestler — I looked at Sensei Jim and the look on his face seemed to be “You’re mine for one hour!”

(P.S. – Obviously, I lived to tell about it )


I remember joining way back in 1993, when I was young, flexible and had a full head of hair! I had just moved to Markham, after graduating from college, to start a new career.

2004: Second row, far right: Denis with Justin.

I made the switch from Karate/Judo/Iaido to Aikido. I joined when the Samurai Club was at its original location on Highway 7 and Yonge St.

Senseis Nakamura and Barnes had just taken over from Sensei Hewson.

So many fond memories over a lot of great years. I wouldn’t trade them for anything!

Impact Centre: 1994-2000


I knew I found the right martial art when I read the book, “The Magic of Conflict” by Thomas Crum. So, I decided it was time to start practicing Aikido.

I had researched Aikido clubs in my area and was told a tall sensei and his wife taught Aikido at the Samurai Club in Richmond Hill and were very good instructors.

I met with Moni, the head instructor/owner of the Samurai Club which provided not only Aikido but instruction in a variety of different martial arts. Although I told him I wanted to focus on Aikido, he pressed me to purchase the most expensive “Gold” membership, so I could try other martial arts.

He did, however, discourage me from practicing karate as he said I did not seem to have a “suitable personality” for that type of martial art. I think he meant I was too shy, or something along those lines.

I attended my first Aikido class, taught by Jim-sensei. I remember Sensei demonstrating some techniques on various ukes and stating to myself “Holy sh-t! How am I supposed to learn to do that?” I still remember trying to conceptualize all the moves… left foot forward — no, right foot forward; does the right arm go with the left leg or vice versa? I had better ask AGAIN! Now we have to practice the other side too ‑ really?”

When the class ended, Jim-sensei asked me “What do you think?’ I still remember my response, keeping in mind I had practiced a little karate years prior. I told him “This is a very humbling martial art — if I am going to continue, I will have to leave my ego at the door”

Aubrie practicing with Pascal.

Many years later, with many classes and seminars as well as a few injuries under my belt (literally), I still feel the same way – some classes more than others.

FYI-during the few years we practiced at the Samurai Club I never once tried another martial art — I just knew that Aikido, with its principles of harmony, blending, ki etc. was in my heart and soul.

Also, what has made my training experience even more amazing are the friendships I have made here. Regardless of the various locations of our club-past and future, it has and will always be my second home


At the Samurai Club dojo at Hunter’s Point, we were doing ushiro tekubitori (attack from behind). Jim-sensei was stressing the importance of uke getting completely behind nage in the attack to avoid being hit. I heard him… but didn’t exactly listen.

I made my attack but ended up standing directly behind Jim-sensei’s right elbow, which proceeded without hesitation and with force into my diaphragm. I hit the ground with the wind knocked out of me. It seemed like an eternity before I could suck in any air.

Tom sticks tight to Jim on morotetori tenkan practice.

Yumi-sensei happened by. She looked down on me, then up at Jim-sensei and said, “Don’t hurt him, I need him for uke in the tests,” and strolled away .


So many memories. But one that I remember vividly is when I called to ask about classes at Samurai Club. It was Fall of 1996. I was freshly laid off from my first job as a new Canadian immigrant. After training with my old friend from Romania at a dojo in Richmond Hill, I decided to make a change. Somehow I’ve always associated all my major changes in life with Aikido dojo changes too.

So I called, and Jim-sensei tells me to come and practice a class. That evening Yumi-sensei taught the second class, too. Tom was there as well and he was my first practice partner.

I felt connected. I felt I found a new family and little did I know that this was going to be a second family of mine 25 years later, still     even though life had me moved to Belleville and subsequently to Ottawa.

We moved to Waldorf and I remember the day we took the attached pictures as well. We were practicing for demos and one of the pictures is an an iconic picture that was on all my posters, all my websites of the club and the demos I’ve done since.

Yumi and Nick.

That is the shot of Yumi-sensei throwing me. This particular technique is so vividly imprinted in my memory that I always try it as a featured technique during demos or advanced classes I teach. Every single time, I remember Yumi-sensei explaining it and doing it with me that very day at Waldorf.

Waldorf: 2000-2005


I get a lot of enjoyment from the kids in the kids’ class. The program started at Waldorf and Tom’s son Adam and Renata (another member’s daughter) were regular and original members. They were both quite playful, about five years old or so

Renata and Adam.

At Waldorf, we had to store the mats between classes, putting them down before class and taking them up again after, piling them onto two steel carts.

The kids naturally wanted to play with them once they were loaded. One day, we saw Adam climbing on the piled mats and told both of them to quit.

Renata hadn’t been involved and was not going to take it lying down. Right away, she came marching out to tell on Adam. It was a masterful performance, almost like a court deposition. She ran through everything Adam had done wrong with great solemnity, in detail, in sequence, with full explanations of how she had told him to stop. It was excruciatingly funny.

But the truly hilarious part was the expression on Adam’s face. He was absolutely mortified and hangdog. I still laugh when I think about that.


We were occasionally honoured by visits from Kawahara-sensei. He liked to stop over in Toronto to rest, on his way to events in the eastern part of the continent.

One day as we drove him to the dojo it was obvious that he didn’t feel well and looked very tired from his travels, so we urged him to take it easy while we took care of the class, which he agreed to do.

Kawahara-sensei, centre; Dennis , far right.

After a few minutes, though, he appeared in the dojo wearing his gi. I guess he had no intention of resting while there was a class. However, we were still very concerned that he did not feel well.

He started teaching the class, and then he completely blew my mind by practicing for quite a while with Dennis Adair. Dennis is a regular member, now retired. He is a well-known, senior black belt and had known Sensei for many years. Sensei took ukemi from Dennis for quite some time. Neither Yumi nor I had ever seen him take ukemi for one of his students!

I was very concerned for Dennis (he later acknowledged that he was, too!) since I was half-expecting to see a demonstration of some horrendous kaeshi-waza (counter-technique). However, Sensei just kept on taking good ukemi, over and over.

Sensei didn’t seem any the worse for wear when we went for dinner afterwards.

He was an enigmatic man. I still can’t fathom why he would have jumped into taking so much ukemi when he wasn’t feeling well.

Perhaps it was his way of bringing his energy level back up.

Finch: 2005-2020


Right after we first signed the lease for the Finch dojo, we went there with our Aikido friend from Tendokai Kathleen, (an architect), to talk about the layout.

We were standing in the parking lot, talking about the dojo’s future. I glanced down, and I saw a $100 bill lying on the ground next to Jim’s foot. We could not see anybody around in the parking lot who might have lost it.

Personally, I believe that found money is unlucky, due to past experience. (It has nothing to do with Japanese beliefs, it is just my own superstition.)

Practice at the Finch dojo. Great luck in finding that space!

I pointed it out to Jim and Kathleen. Jim knew how I felt but doesn’t share that belief, and he quickly picked it up.

I guess it did turn out to be lucky money for us after all ‑ the dojo was a very good home for many years, and the $100 came in handy!

Vadim K.

Out of many hours of practice at our Finch dojo, one particular training stands out in my memory.

Right before an evening class was about to start, the lights in the whole area went out.

Vadim practices with Andrei.

Complete blackout. Jim-Sensei decided that we’re going to have a class anyway.

We were able to find two small flashlights, that didn’t help much, but at least it wasn’t pitch black anymore.

The warmup went relatively easy. However, the actual practice was challenging.

You had to be fully aware of your surroundings: your uke, the other people, the walls.

I think everyone who participated in that practice came out with better sense of ma’ai and musubi.

That blackout practice proved to be one of the highlights of my training.


After arriving in Canada, I had wanted to return to Aikido — though there was always some reason for not doing so.

When my older daughter was about five and a half, she kept coming home from school black and blue. It wasn’t bullying, it was coordination. I was told: “She can trip on her shadow.”

Family practice: Beth, Chris, Kate and Lexi.

I knew the solution: Aikido. I brought her to the kids’ class and within a month her coordination was fine.

While watching my daughter practice, I was particularly impressed with the fact some of the dojo’s most senior instructors led the class. In many dojos, they leave instruction of the kids to junior black belts. 

Thank you Yumi-, Tom- and Igor-senseis!

During this time, I had numerous opportunities to chat with Jim-sensei, as he was usually camped out behind the desk at the entry to the dojo during the kids’ class.

In these conversations I indicated that I had trained previously. He was quite willing to recognize my previous (lowly) ranking.  What with an adult class following my daughter’s class and being able to start at my old ranking, I was keen to get back into Aikido.

One month into my training I spoke with Jim-sensei again and said “Let’s pretend I’ve never trained before.” Returning to Aikido after a long break was like returning to a book or movie you had enjoyed long ago. You knew the general plot, though you were hazy on the details and at times there were gaps in how various parts fitted together. 

Funnily enough, I still find the same thing with new techniques.


The great flood: in January, 2014 Yumi and I were in the Caribbean on holiday when we got an email from Tom. Part of the dojo roof had collapsed under the weight of snow and the floor was a couple of inches deep in melt water.

We were very happy that we had responsible senior members like Tom and Vadim on hand to take charge of this disaster. Fortunately, we happened to be coming back the next day. We had to close the dojo for a couple of weeks while the roof was repaired by the landlord.

Everybody chipped in to help with cleaning up the dojo. It was a tough job… we had to move and stack all the mats so they could dry out, and then dry them out (with hair dryers, in some cases) and glue some of the backings back on. It was a real mess.

As anyone knows who has worked in the aftermath of a flood, the smell is distinctive. We had to make sure that we eliminated all the mould.

To make matters worse, after we finally got the mats reinstalled, the roof repair failed and molten tar started to drip on a few of the mats. Again, it was a mess. Again, chemicals and elbow grease came to the rescue in a malodorous operation.

Eduard works on dojo reno project.

In a funny way, though, shared experiences like this tend to bond a dojo community together. We have all rallied behind other projects as well, including redecorating, installing the sprung floor and the move-out.

Of course, we would much have preferred to avoid the great flood!


It was a funny story when I attended the International Seminar at JCCC Aikikai last fall.

There was a student from Japan, who asked me which school I was from. When I told him Hokyuryukai, he was very amazed and showed me respect and bowed to me all the time.

Eduard practices with Yaroslav.

Jim-sensei later told me that he probably thought I said “Kokuryukai,” which means “Black Dragon Society” – the name of an association of black ops specialists and assassins from the war.

(Note from Jim: When I first told Kawahara-sensei that the dojo’s name was going to be Hokuryukai, he did a double-take too, for the same reason!)


In the Finch Dojo one night I watched Sensei Jim demonstrate the ushiro kubeshimi choke hold on Igor. As Jim explained the finer details, Igor blacked out and slid to the floor.

I asked Igor later why he didn’t tap out. He said “It went quiet and dark… and I felt very relaxed.”

Early students, all of whom became black belts: Vadim P., Jim, Tom, Igor and Nick.


I often get phone calls from prospects about the classes, and some of them have been kind of weird.

I got a call from one lady who immediately asked me if there was a discount for security guards.

I told her that no, we didn’t have any discounts, and that instead we tried to keep our fees for everyone as low as possible.

She said, “Well, the Karate club near me gives security guards a 10 percent discount.”

I asked, “How much do they charge regularly?”

She said $125 a month.

I pointed out that we only charged $90 a month.

She said, “But they give a 10 percent discount. Don’t you give a 10 percent discount?”

I said “So, our dues are $90 a month. Their dues, with the discount, are about $113 a month.”

She sounded confused, and repeated, “But they offer a 10 percent discount!” and hung up.


As you can see from the attached photos, my boys, Lyle and Lee, grew up in that dojo (if I may put it that way.)

Upper left, Lyle, Sigrid and Lee; upper right, Lyle with Vadim; lower left, Lyle and Lee; lower right, Lee.

I can still remember the look of excitement and nervousness on Lyle’s face when he first joined the kid’s class in June, 2012. It was a great experience to be able to witness him improve weekly and move on to the next level/s – from being the shortest and youngest to being the “sempai” in the kid’s class and then finally moving on to the adult class. Lee, on the other hand was all smiles, when he joined (2016)     he particularly enjoyed the exercises that he calls “playtime”.

I would like to thank Jim- and Yumi-sensei (as well as the other teachers and seniors) for leading out and impacting my boy’s lives in a positive way.

We will surely miss this place and all the memories that were created all these years but we’re also excited and looking forward to the new place and new memories we will share.

Cyberspace – 2020


In 2020 we had to close the Finch dojo as a consequence of a very hefty increase in rent demanded by the landlord.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We moved out at just about the time the pandemic lockdown began in Toronto, so we escaped the worst of the financial damage.

Aikido can be practiced anywhere. Social distancing meant no gatherings, though, so solo practice became the order of the day.

Aikido includes buki waza (weapons practice), and the suburi and kata can be practiced by oneself.

Jim – bokken and iPad at the ready…

We all wanted to keep our community together, so we started doing two virtual classes of buki waza a week through Zoom, based in my backyard. The first was in mid-April, with 12 members participating and Yumi-sensei shooting overhead views of the teaching from our deck.

Until we can get together again, we will mainly focus on footwork, jo and bokken suburi and kata, and review the positions for some of the kumijo and kumitachi partner forms.

It is a brand-new environment that takes some getting used to. We have worked out most of the wrinkles in terms of the technology and the content, and we are all getting used to our new training environments. I think the classes improve each time.

It still feels a bit weird to bow to my iPad at the beginning and end of class – but I know you are all out there!

Best wishes until we have the chance to see you in our new dojo (wherever it turns out to be…)

A little history…

We have finished moving everything out of the dojo. Many thanks to the members who helped and are providing foster care for our equipment!

Looking around the dojo yesterday, it was almost empty. It was a sad moment — I thought of all the hard work we put into building that dojo, all the members who have passed through its doors and the many great memories.

We’ve been in that unit for 15 years, which is a long time for a rental space. We didn’t want to move, but conditions dictated it.

We have a lot of members who have never trained anywhere else. It must seem strange to them to be talking about relocating. However, it’s kind of normal for dojos to move once in a while for various reasons.

Our dojo has actually moved a few times before. Here’s a little history.

1992: Samurai Club, Yonge St. — The Samurai Club was a martial arts centre operated by Moni Aizik, a Judo/ Krav Maga instructor. He employed instructors in various martial arts to teach his programs. One of them was Aikido, and the first instructors in that program were George and Gerry Hewson. They decided to resign after a few months due to other commitments, and Yumi and I agreed to take the position.

It wasn’t a big stretch for us at that time – we were running Aikido Tendokai out of the Pape Community Recreation Centre (as it was then known) downtown. After Yumi and I took the classes over, we registered with the CAF under the name “Samurai Club Aikikai.”

The only student remaining from George and Gerry’s days is David Cheung, who is now a dojocho in Hong Kong but remains an honoured member and visits us whenever he can. David gave us a lot of support when we set up at Finch.

Another well-known member and mainstay of the dojo trained at that time. Tom joined us then as a junior white belt.

1994: Impact Center, Hunter’s Point Rd. — Moni decided to expand and relocated his school to a very large facility northwest of this previous location. We expanded the number of classes somewhat and the membership started to grow. The dojo was big enough that we were able to start holding seminars, as well. It was a great honour when Kawahara-sensei came to visit us for the first time. It was around this time that we used the name “Thornhill Aikido Club,” since the name of the main school had changed.

Thornhill Aikido Club demonstration.

The students still with us from those days are Marco and Aubrie (who joined as beginners), Vadim P. and Andrei (who joined as junior white belts) and Dennis Adair, a black belt and my sempai (now retired from practice but still an honoured member.}

2000: Waldorf School, Bathurst St. — We felt it was important to get control of our membership, rather than leave it in the hands of a third party. One of our students at the time, Ed Edelstein, was a teacher at a nearby Waldorf school and he arranged for us to rent one of their gyms three times a week.

Kawahara-sensei visits Waldorf in 2003.

Since we had left Moni’s organization and Thornhill, we need a new name. We settled on “Aikido Hokuryukai,” which we registered with the CAF. Hokuryukai means “Northern Dragon Association.” It is a reference to the fact that we started in the Year of the Dragon and to the dragon spirit that O-sensei felt guided his practice.

Group shot from Waldorf, 2004

It was during this period that we started the children’s classes, which we have maintained ever since.

It was a transitional period and not a great location, so we started to plan on something bigger. We did not gain any of our current members at this time.

2005: 1110 Finch W. —  This space needs no introduction. Before we moved here, we incorporated to make it easier to sign commercial leases. (Even though it’s a private corporation, none of the instructors or anyone involved has ever been paid a salary or made any money from it. It is actually run on a not-for-profit basis.)

1st anniversary at Finch, 2006.

We have so many great memories of the space – lots of great training, several new black belts, very enjoyable community events, and all the rest that goes into making up a dynamic dojo.

New Year’s practice, 2020.

2020: The next place, wherever it turns out to be. The help of all members will be welcome in finding a new home for further growth as an Aikido community.

The bottom line? Occasional moves are normal and nothing to be overly concerned about. The main wrinkle this time around is the timing, because of the pandemic. 

By the way, I have only mentioned the students who are still members in this short history. There were many more great students in all these locations. Some moved away and many of them now practice in other dojos. They continue to be good friends.

I am looking forward to seeing what comes next!

Jim Barnes
Aikido Hokuryukai

Dojo relocating

After 15 years in the same location, the dojo at 1110 Finch Ave. W. is closing its doors. If is a very sad time for us. However, there was no other alternative, because of the terms of the lease renewal that were proposed to us and the lockdown of non-essential businesses during the pandemic, among other adverse business conditions.

We were not able to conclude negotiations for new space before the lockdown occurred.

Accordingly, I can’t tell you where or when we will re-open, but only that we will re-open. The timing depends on the pandemic and the regulations regarding social isolation.

I am hoping that over the summer, the social distancing regulations will be relaxed enough to permit us to practice jo and bokken outside. Stay tuned… I will advise you once the situation improves.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of any way to continue children’s class for the time being.

The current situation feels to me like a fast freestyle with multiple attackers… the dojo closing, the pandemic and various personal issues are all aggressive adversaries we have to deal with simultaneously — with clear minds, solid centres and good spirits. It is a very challenging time.

We have not shut down as an organization and will continue to network with our members and the Aikido community. A dojo is people, not a building, and our community is strong. Hopefully we will have a roof over our heads again in a few months.

Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions. In fact, don’t hesitate to contact us for any reason. It would be nice to hear from you — please stay in touch.

Jim Barnes, Aikido Hokuryukai