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!)
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
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.
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…)