My Story Part 1


I’ll try to make a brief story of it although it’s been quite a long journey. After all I’ll be 67 this year and Sensei Alex will soon be 70. We grew up in New York in a loving home with fun, interesting parents. My terrific brother, Sensei Alex, was the type of kid who brought home or fed all the outdoor strays including dogs, squirrels, rabbits and birds. I can remember my mother yelling, “Don’t you dare give Stubby (a local squirrel with half a tail) cookies at $1.89 a pound!,” which was quite a lot of money in 1950. Later, when I was in High School, our mother got a job at a part-time job agency, so I was sent out on many different kinds of secretarial jobs over the years. The primarily one was art gallery on Fifth Avenue in N.Y.C. where I worked on Saturdays through high school and part of college. My father’s parents were deaf mutes, although all their children were not. All the friends and relatives whom we saw on Sundays and holidays used to sit around the walls of my grandparents living room in Brooklyn so they could see each other sign. Alex and I learned to spell in sign language, but that’s not real communication. My dad signed so well deaf people thought he was deaf too, and mom also learned. But they kept it as a secret language so they could speak without us kids knowing what they said. In those days, our country was supposed to be a, “melting pot,” not diversified, so the older generation did not feel it essential that the children connect with their immigrant past.


Sensei Alex went to Emory University in Atlanta, and I got into Sarah Lawrence College on Early Decision and graduated in 1964. I loved Sarah Lawrence. In those days it was all girls and you could go to class in a mumuu. I’d hole up in a cubby hole in the library all day only coming out to eat. We took only three courses for the whole year, and there were about six girls in a class, except for Joseph Campbell’s course which was considered a, “Large Course,” with about twenty girls in it. If you don’t know who he is, you should look him up on the Web. He was the teacher who influenced my life most tremendously.


While I was in college I was close to a wonderful family that lived upstate New York overlooking the Hudson River, not far from West Point and I used to visit them on weekends. The father was a neurologist and he and the mother and the teenage kids were intensely interested in classical music. The house was always full of friends and teenagers, and there were always extra people like me around the table at meals. Sometimes we would all play hilarious games of Hearts after dinner. Somehow, the doctor always beat us. We would sit up late into the night listening to music, once in a while comparing the same opera by two different companies. They had many musician friends, including some young classical musicians from West Point who were doing their military service by playing trumpet or something else in the West Point Band. They used to sneak out of their quarters at night to come to dine with this family and listen to and discuss music. It was so wonderful during those weekends. I spent my days painting watercolors above the Hudson and when I saw the Hudson River Day Liner pass by on it’s trip up from New York City, I’d know to pack up  my supplies and go back for dinner.


When I graduated, I went to live in Europe for a year. I traveled, had an apartment in Spain for a while, and spent my time painting watercolors and visiting museums. I was going to be a serious artist, and when I came back to the States, I moved to New York City where I intended to pursue a true artist’s life and be part of the bustling N.Y. art world. The art world, which I pursued with great passion and endeavor turned out to be a great disappointment. I didn’t  care for the parties and gallery openings, and I could never, “find MySelf,” in the paintings and prints that I produced. It took me another forty years to find that there was no actual, “Self” to find, no solid, single, permanent, and defined Susan hiding somewhere inside me, but that’s toward the end of the story.


Somewhere around 1963, My brother began taking some private martial arts lessons  although he had done some training earlier in Atlanta. His teacher was an old man from India who used to say, “Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me,” when they were practicing together. Nowadays since he’ll be 70 soon, it  is I we who is thinking, when he’s practicing with our students ”Don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him.”


At the beginning of 1969, Sensei Alex and our mom got together and cooked up a plan to get me to work out while learning self-defense. I had become an avid smoker, was rather chubby, and did absolutely no exercise whatsoever. You see, our mom had world class athletic talent and was even asked to train for the Olympics in running and swimming although she chose to marry dad and have us instead. I had no athletic talent whatsoever and so my parents fostered my artistic talents instead. I was the only kid at camp that failed Jr. Life Saving, and you can guess the rest. But with mom’s offer to pay for the lessons and my brother’s insistence, I decided to check it out. I went around to several karate schools to watch classes which were rather hard to find in those days. I finally decided to sign up at Satsuma Bushi Karate-do about six blocks from my apartment for the Women’s and Children’s Class on Saturday mornings. I remember my first class very well on a beautiful Spring day. I hoped they would be kind to me. They weren’t as they prided themselves on 80% drop-out the first month. Also, we had to run barefoot in Central Park which was two long blocks from the dojo, and then there was another three miles of park in which to run about.


There I was, in my little white karate suit which wasn’t really white in those days. We weren’t allowed to get the nice white ones which the seniors wore, so it was an ugly unbleached muslin, and I was at the back of the line of students stumbling along, being dragged by the belt, doubled over, gasping with huge painful, rasping heaves. This went on for years, and I never got good at it. It seems my mother’s talent did not rub off on me. I remember evenings, running past the diners at Tavern on the Green restaurant in the middle of  the Park: tinkling wine glasses, soft chatter and lights, adults in elegant attire. And there I was suffering, still being dragged along in first, after a white belt, a green belt after one year, and then a brown belt after two years. In those days, we didn’t have all the colors we have now. And I didn’t even have a pocket in which to hide a quarter for the bus, so I was unable to find a quick way home from the torture and humiliation of  continuing to fail miserably at the run. When we got back to the dojo, we used to line up to wash our feet  in the bathroom sink, and then we’d all sit down to pick the glass out of our feet. Those were the days.


There was an interesting part of all this that I will link to the end of my story. And that was a state of mind that we would feel when the body was absolutely completely exhausted. One was just there, no thoughts, simply being, simple clarity, complete, perfect, pure, open, innocent, wise, loving, without any story.

It took me many years to discover this state of mind was with me, with all of us all the time, if only we knew how to look.


But back to the past. An important day for me was when my brother came over to visit my apartment after I had been taking karate for a while. I remember I was standing up, puffing away, explaining what karate exercise was now doing for my life. He said to me, “How dare you stand there with that cigarette in your mouth talking about health.” In shock, I walked across the room to the ash tray and put it out. That was the last time that I smoked. You see, we didn’t know it was hard to quit in those days. I did it by taking long deep breaths, which the smoking had trained me to do, and it was that relaxation exhalation that was part of the good feeling of smoking. I found that it was fine to take long deep breaths without the cigarette. Duh.


We ran barefoot in the snow in the Winter in New York City.  Once a year, the Seniors would run up to 178th Street (from the dojo at 72nd Street) across the George Washington Bridge which connects Manhattan with New Jersey. Several people always got frostbite and couldn’t go to work for a few days. Of course it was out of the question for me, but in order to keep trying my best, I’d run barefoot two blocks in the snow from the dojo to the edge of Central Park. Then I’d freak out sobbing or something and run back to the dojo to get warm. Actually, the snow wasn’t so bad, it was the ice which was traumatic, and I didn’t have a sense of humor in those days. When the class did stretching, we did exercises from the Sumo wrestler tradition, at least that’s what they said. You’d try to do a split V while sitting on the floor, and someone would come by and move your leg so far back you would scream, and then you’d have to stay in that position. We always did, “bunny hops,” and “duck walks,” around the dojo in every class. (I don’t think the U.S. military allows people to do such exercises anymore they are so damaging to the knees.) That was the part of class I hated the most, except for the run of course, but we didn’t do the run all the time. It is no wonder that I had a total knee replacement last May.  With the subsequent torture of half lotus posture in meditation, I really earned it.


Well, I have so many stories and memories of those days, but I must go on and start telling you the good part and what it was that kept me going.




My Story Part 2

I’ll tell you why I stayed. Principally, it was due to the enormous seriousness with which we  trained. Like my school in San Bruno, this was no commercially motivated enterprise but  a heartfelt, genuine, and intense study of a martial art. We practiced to the fullest extent of our ability and were always pushed further than we thought we could possibly do. Just finishing each class was questionable for me and so became a triumph. Occasionally I was unable to finish and the Sensei sent me upstairs  to his wife who gave me some hot food. Today we teach with a much lighter touch of course, no abuse here, and we do have a sense of humor. But there is also something missing from the life or death situation that they created in those long ago days. Modern California people would not want to train like that. And besides, we have real kids classes too which are joyful and lots fun besides work.


In the late 1960’s, the conversation of the day was very different than ours. Like all Californians now take for granted that smoking is bad, my parents generation thought it was okay to smoke. Sensei Omine’s mother in Okinawa said to him when he became 21, “You’re a man now, so you should take up smoking.” Educated people in the ‘60’s thought people’s lives were determined by their early childhood psychology. For example, if your parents toilet trained you a certain way, it seemed likely you’d be some kind of uptight person for the rest of your life. Since I had a very romantic aspiration about the world, this was rather constricting.


Joseph Campbell’s work in the mythology of all cultures, and his interest in Carl Jung had had a great influence on me. Jung was considered to be the first modern psychologist to state that the human psyche is religious by nature; the Tibetans knew this one thousand years ago. Campbell had written a book on the subject of the hero/heroine’s journey, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he described the inner journey an individual can take which may start out self motivated, but which can bring benefit to one’s whole home town, or all of mankind. The journey is a perilous one, going deep into one’s unconscious with dragons to slay, boons to accomplish, and dark or light sails to remember to display on your ship coming home. There was peril in not listening to the inner call to the adventure in the first place, and the journey itself took great risk, being most dangerous to one’s ego, and one could definitely fail.


While in high school, I had memorized Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Less Traveled,  and this idea of the hero’s journey resonated in my being. It was the idea that by my own effort, I could direct the course of my life. I was no longer confined to an early childhood determination, not that I had any problem with my parents or the way they raised me, but life became something vivid to live into and karate training was the path that asked 100% of me every single day, every single practice. Practice was real, physical, not in my mind. You either block or you get hit. And besides, in class, they taught you how, to do it. It wasn’t like school where some kids could climb the rope or jump over the “horse,” but a kid like me just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t a natural talent like my mom. I’d never get picked for a team or get chosen for a game in school, but  that didn’t matter anymore. I could learn and improve. There was a sign at the headquarters in Okinawa that is also in Master Nagamine’s book that begins, “If he practices 8 times, I will practice 10...” I felt I had found my birthright in Karate and all I wanted to do was go to class. But I was also terrified. In the days when I went to practice at 6:30 a.m. I’d walk half of the long, cold, windy  streets populated by derelicts and addicts, and I’d turn around and start to walk home. Around and around I’d go, but then I always chose to get to class. I never expected I would become a black belt, much less a high ranking black belt. When I got my brown belt, I slept with it under my pillow.


Oh, you might want to know that I once spent an afternoon with Robert Frost. He was quite elderly at the time and I was invited to sit with him on the sofa in the office of the President of our college. Truthfully, I was a little disappointed that he was very elegantly dressed. I somehow expected to see an old woodsman.


In 1969, a Zen master from Okinawa came to stay at our dojo to teach Zen

 meditation. The Rinzai sect of Zen uses martial arts training as a form of moving meditation and concentration, as part of one’s total practice. This sect is extremely strict, with sitting sessions of 40 minutes in the half lotus position without moving, and then immediately jumping up from one’s cushion for a few minutes of extremely fast walking, and then down for another 40 minute session of sitting. If you moved, there was a good chance you would be hit on the back with a ritual stick that was extremely painful, but was thought to wake you up. I once  had welts on my back for a week. At the very least, I was usually scolded for trying to sneak a leg off my thigh or move slightly during an excruciating session. If you heard  the meditation master yelling, “You are ruining the kiai (energy) of this whole dojo!” it was at me; I couldn’t take the pain in my legs. At the same time it was also glorious. The accomplishment and joy I felt at the small gains in my practice was so satisfying that they overshadowed the misery. Then again, I didn’t know any better. I had no idea that there was anything else out there that was a, “Path,” art that might have been more appropriate to my stature and ability. It was years later before I started Tea Ceremony, and Zen archery. Karate overshadowed everything else in my world.


Then there were the fantastic movies. From time to time, Japanese samurai films came to New York and we would go to see them as many times as we could while they were in town. Don’t forget, there were no videos in those days. I’d meet my brother Alex in front of the theater and he always found us the best seats. I’d sit cross legged on my seat like the meditation posture, and sometimes we’d sit through the films twice. We particularly loved the black and white films of Akira Kurosawa, the Samurai Trilogy by Inagaki, all of the films of Toho Cinema. You can rent these films now you know, on line or down the street. We would be filled with inspiration for weeks and some of the images never left our psyche. We dreamed to be like the heroes in the films. I once asked Sensei Omine, “Don’t you wish you had been born in the Tokugawa era?” (Lots of samurai fights and famous battles) “Oh, no!” he answered. It was awful. People had terrible lives in those days.” That shocked me, and shook some romanticism off me. We had always seen Sensei Omine as Kyuuzo, the quiet samurai in the film masterpiece, “Seven Samurai” who is always practicing his sword kata in the bamboo forest in the rain.


Late in 1969, my first sensei and the Zen master took me to the Buddhist Church on Riverside Drive in New York to learn Japanese archery, or Kyudo. They thought I needed to balance my karate training with a more “yin” art, and I practiced Kyudo religiously from then on.


In 1971, I was invited to train at the karate Headquarters dojo in Okinawa and I made first degree black belt while there. I ate breakfast and dinner with Master Nagamine, sitting on the tatami at a low table, and took the morning and evening karate classes. I would go out watercolor painting around the island during the day, usually by the sea, and  one of my paintings hung at the dojo there for many years. I’m not sure if it’s still there now. I couldn’t speak any Japanese that first time, so during those four months, I played with the kids in the street after practice. I had a small room right off the dojo floor and you can see pictures of it and me in our albums. Sensei had told me that if I didn’t keep to myself, the Okinawans would think I was trying to find a boyfriend. So if anyone tried to speak with me, zip, I’d go off the other way. Okinawan people are very kind and very friendly, so people thought I was very strange, but I was determined not to give the wrong impression.


During that very hot summer, I typed the manuscript for Master Nagamine’s karate text book at the USO which had air conditioning. I also gave a little assistance with some of the English translation. When I wasn’t typing, I’d go to a department store to sit in the furniture department to be cool. It was a very hot Summer and there was also a drought. We weren’t allowed to flush the toilets and water was very scarce. Once in a while, Sensei Naagamine’s maid would open their refrigerator and offer me a glass of cold water, which was like heaven. I didn’t dare ask for it myself, nor would I ever open their refrigerator. I wanted to be the perfect guest and the perfect student. I had made a promise to myself that I would eat anything offered, no fussing. Most of our meals had an American twist to them, lots of fried Spam, which was delicious by the way, that American karate men had brought as gifts from the military  base along with American shaving cream. We didn’t have any of the delicious but slimy seaweed dishes that characterize some Okinawan cooking. Actually, Okinawan cooking is wonderfully varied and delicious. And you must know that Okinawans are the most long lived people in the world. There was one dish called konnyaku however, that appeared to me to be slabs of animal fat. I had a horrible time eating it until I later found out that it is really a kind of yam noodle. The only thing I finally refused was creamed corn. I felt that since it was American it was okay for me to say no thanks. Master Nagamine, who didn’t speak English said, “Hmm, baby food.”


Upon leaving Okinawa, I traveled with Sensei Omine for a short trip to mainland Japan with a letter of introduction meet a Japanese archery master at the oldest Zen temple in Japan, Enkakuji Temple in Kamakura. It was there that I met and began a student relationship with the great zen archery master Suhara Oshosan. Later, I had a correspondence with him, and I’d meet him at a temple in Hawaii to practice. He wrote to me that he was very impressed with the way Western students were practicing Japanese martial arts. He had traveled around Europe one Winter teaching Kyudo and he wrote, “While meditating in my hotel room on a snowy evening in Paris, the idea came to me that I must build an archery dojo on the grounds of Enkakuji. And until I did that, I would not shave. And so Susan, you would not recognize me because I have a long white beard.” Well he did build that dojo at Enkakuji although it took some years to complete. They used the old architectural style and methods, for example, using wooden pegs instead of nails. While Suhara Oshosan was searching in the temple’s pagoda which is used to store holy relics and treasures, he had found an old statue of the Guardian of Hell, who is called Enma in Japanese. Enma is also the nickname for a school teachers grade keeping book. The large black metal statue which is very fearsome later turned out to be a national treasure. He named his dojo Enma Dojo and later I was the first Westerner to stay over there. You can see pictures of me and Enma in our albums.


On one trip to Japan in the early 1980’s, I had brought some karate students with me to Okinawa and we stopped at Enkakuji on the way home to visit Suhara Oshosan. He had had a bad shoulder at the time and so while he gave my students a tour of the inner part of the temple where visitors never go, he arranged for me to have the “Second highest archer in all of Japan,” give me a lesson in archery.  This exceptional (and very handsome) teacher spent a long time working with me. It was incredible, and I was a pretty lousy archer at the time. After considerable time lapsed, he would ask me if I was tired. “Oh no,” I would reply, diehard that I am. I didn’t realize at the time that his asking really meant that he was tired of teaching me, and the proper response was, “Yes, thank you.” Although I worked till total exhaustion, I’ve never regretted saying no. It was one of my great experiences. I remember watching him shoot a perfect bulls eye while a large mosquito was drawing blood from his neck raising a great welt. He didn’t flinch. And since I didn’t speak any Japanese at the time, I never told him I’d seen the mosquito, and he never showed that it was ever there. Poor master, I even hit him in the head with the bow in that lesson. Since Sakai Sensei was a music teacher, Western classical music, I sent him a thank you gift  when I got home of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, some Chopin played by Horowitz, along with Bach’s Goldberg Variations, all favorites of mine. He wrote me back a letter that began, “Such beautiful music I heard by your present...”


You might be amused to know that on one trip to Japan, Suhara Oshosan had given me an introduction to a fiine zen archery shop in Kamakura so I could purchase a bow, or “yumi,” as they are called. These 8 foot,  handmade bamboo bows can be works of art as are the ones from this shop. The yumi’s  are shot with three foot long arrows, usually of  bamboo and the finest ones come in sets where the notches on the bamboo match each other. They are picked in the forest that way. Good sets have very excellent feathers, and I once had a magnificent set that were so fancy, the feathers likely came from a bird that only flew over a certain province in China. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how rare and wonderful these arrows were.  I knew they were beautiful of course, but I should have saved them for a shrine decoration. Instead, I trained with them at a very intense training with Suhara Oshosan, one where we stayed up all night shooting from midnight until sunrise with only one tea break. Unfortunately, I seriously wore out those wonderful arrows, but I’ll show them to you if you like. I also seriously wore out any meniscus I had in my knees that night as well. But it was fantastic training.


In any case, at the bow maker’s shop in Kamakura, Sensei Omine suggested that I choose the strongest bow I could handle so that it would be sure to be, “spiritual training, not target shooting.” While I was testing the various yumis, I overheard heard the shop owner saying in Japanese to his wife, “Oh, this woman is really strong.” That delighted me, and being as cocky as I was in those days, I chose a yumi  that was so strong I was never able to shoot it. It was a very wonderful bow, but was made for a very strong, short man. Years later I finally parted with it entrusting it to the care of a good student. Pride will ruin you every time.


Well that’s some of the early years. The next bunch of years were unfortunately  very painful too, as I stumbled my way along, butting up against my large ego and an overly romantic view of reality. I used to go to archery practice on Sunday mornings dressed up in Japanese clothes, long skirted blue hakama and tabi socks, with my 8 foot yumi and 3 foot arrows in their quiver. It was an odd sight on the Riverside Drive bus going uptown, but I was imagining I was going off into the sunset at the end of a great samurai film.


My Story Part 3


I was planning on writing my story for our web site, so that potential students could learn about who I am and the background of this school. Therefore, I will write here about karate teachers of our lineage from my early days practicing. Don’t forget, I started practicing at age 25.


Sensei Chotoku Omine came to the U.S. with Master Nagamine in 1969 assisting him on a tour of the Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu dojos in the U.S.  Omine Sensei was to stay in the U.S. as head of Shorin-Ryu representing the Okinawan Headquarters, and he stayed in the New York area teaching on Long Island where my brother was a student. Sensei told me he felt ridiculous wearing a hakama getting off the plane for the photographers, but that was supposed to mark a momentous occasion in the Karate world, and for me, it was.


A few things about my illustrious teachers should be made public. At least, this is the way I heard it. Master Shoshin Nagamine, was the first one in the world to open a karate dojo to the public. It was in Okinawa (where karate originally comes from) before WWII. And he was the first one to put together a modern curriculum with basic and advanced fighting points that he had learned partly from studying old Chinese texts. and mainly from masters who only taught privately at their own homes to selected students. (This is actually the way our senior’s group practices today. We go to the home of our master in Okinawa for lessons. But that’s later in my story.)


When WWII ended, Okinawa was practically leveled and the people were completely demoralized. Master Nagamine, who was then the Police Chief of the city of Naha, found a booklet about karate in the mud on a very rainy day after the war. He felt it was a sign from heaven to reopen a dojo in Naha in order to give young men spirit and fortitiude after the miseries suffered in the war.


Nakamura Sensei was second in command at the Headquarters when I knew him, although he was semi-retired in those days. He was particularly kind to the foreign students who he had traveled across the world to learn karate there. His kindness made a lasting impression on me since, for example, I’d be having lunch in a local cafe when Nakamura Sensei would stop by my table to say  a quick greeting. When I would leave to pay my tab, I’d find that he had already paid it for me. Each time I went back to Okinawa over the years I always asked a friend to be taken to see him. The photo of him on the dojo wall was from one of those times when he took us to lunch.


Omine Sensei really like to strike the makiwara boards which are flexible wooden posts that are set into the ground. They are usually 4/4 inches at the bottom, but tapered to the top, about 36 inches of f the ground. They are often wrapped with rice straw, hence the name, “maki” or rolled, same as in “makizushi,” rolled up sushi, and, “wara,” or rice straw rope. Sensei told me that makiwara training was with him all his karate life and he even built one in the woods when he went away to English school. We had one at our mother’s home which my brother and Sensei installed in the back yard near my mother’s strawberry garden. When not in use, it had an upside down coffee can over it’s head to protect the wood from the rain. The makiwara lasted for years until we sold the house after mom passed away, but the strawberry patch was attacked by a rabbit who ate one bite from each of the berries. I didn’t like that makiwara very much because it was made locust wood and had quite a spring to it. When you punched it, it would “hit you back,” but my brother loved it. He joked that when we sold the house, it upped the property value. We used to have six makiwara in the upper room at our dojo, but we gave most of them up recently when we re-did the floors to make a yoga studio. And besides, the noise irritated our neighbors who are often working during the best practice times. Kids are never allowed by the way, and no one is required anymore.  Nowadays I see schools where the punching boards are solidly attached to the wall. This, in my opinion is crazy, since the shock goes into the practitioner, rather than into the makiwara.


Sensei would train in striking the makiwara boards  for long periods of time and he sometimes broke them. I have never seen anyone else ever break one. He said that in the early days at Nagamine dojo, Master Nagamine’s father, a very old man at the time, upon hearing the sound of the makiwara being struck, would come out to watch him practice everyday, leaning on his cane till it was over. Then he’d go back to his room without a word ever passing between them..


Omine Sensei was extremely strong and I personally saw him break a 3x6 foot plywood board with a punch. He enjoyed punching anything hard, although he used to hang a paper on a string for me to break, which is difficult by the way. You might try it.


It  is really is true that Omine Sensei was the first one in the world to do breaking technique as part of a karate demonstration. The story he told me was that he had a long walk to the dojo in Naha from his home and very often the dojo was locked when he got there because Nagamine Sensei was fulfilling his duties as the Police Chief.. So he enjoyed himself breaking different things lying in the road like roofing tiles, boards, and cement or bricks and he told his teacher about it. When a large karate demonstration was to be held at Naha City Hall, his teacher asked him to demonstrate this breaking, or “atemi waza” as we call it. I don’t remember what it was he was punching, but on the first punch nothing happened. Sensei told me, “I promised myself that I would break it on the next punch, or else my hand would break.” Sensei Nagamine was sitting in the audience with his arms crossed and everything became quiet. No one had ever done such a demonstration in public and the reputation of the school seemed to be on the line. But it did break, and it was written up in the newspapers. And that’s how breaking got connected with karate demonstrations. Recently, much of it has turned into parlor tricks with spacers between boards , and other things like head butts, or dramatic blocks of ice to show off. But in the early days it was really a test of skill after training on makiwara.


Many evenings in Okinawa in 1971, we’d to do a karate demonstration for tour busses full of Japanese mainlanders who were visiting Okinawa on vacation. The demonstration ended with an impressive showing of “atemi waza” by one of the seniors breaking a stack of ten roofing tiles. (The ones they have don’t have as deep a curve as the tiles over here.) Usually Mr. Ahagon would break: He’d place a folded face towel on top of the tiles so he wouldn’t cut his hand. Then he’d strike the stack with one mighty punch, and then pull out the bottom tile to show if it was broken or not. The idea was to crack the entire stack in two neatly, not making a big mess of broken tiles nor breaking only some of them.


One night someone slipped an eleventh tile into the stack, (maybe Mr. Ahagon himself.) As Master Nagamine passed by the stack, he stopped, took a few more steps, and with a quizzical face looked back. Then he went over to the tiles and took the eleventh one off, and continued his way across the dojo. You see it wasn’t a contest. It wasn’t about showing off. It was just to demonstrate the effectiveness of karate strikes. It wasn’t about fear and over-kill. Even my own students want to show off how much stronger they are than someone else  by doing more and more difficult breaks. But this is not a true way of our karate, because of our purpose is defense, not building a huge ego or impressing others. I’ll let them do it anyway however, up to a limit, because they love it, and I really think it is a guy thing. Also, I don’t really want to intrude on their passion to practice having never cared for breaking myself. I didn’t like it because it is dangerous; if it doesn’t break, you can get hurt.  But I could punch two 1” pine boards on cement blocks, which was enough for me. I hope the students will understand better some day, but I can wait.


In case you are worried, we don’t force anyone to do pushups on their knuckles like I had to do. Pushups on your knuckles, if done correctly, is an excellent way to train. In the 70’s my hands were so bruised up they looked like paws. Truthfully, I loved punching makiwara and I could punch for 30-40 minutes at a time. I once took a trip to Aruba with my mother where we ran into friends of hers. When mom introduced me to this couple and I shook hands, the wife looked at my hands and said, “Oh, you poor thing!” I quickly put my hands behind my back.


Omine sensei wanted to bring his family to the U.S. from Okinawa. By the way, Okinawan people that I knew there liked Americans very much. At the end of the War, Japanese loudspeakers proclaimed that the incoming enemy forces, (that’s us, the Americans) would rape and kill all the civilians that they could find. Hundreds of women committed suicide with their children by jumping off the cliffs in Okinawa. But my Okinawan friends said that the Americans were kind to people that there weren’t atrocities. Of course there was the incident where American soldiers threw bombs into a cave where a whole school full of girls were hiding. The girls would not come out at the American’s demands. And the soldiers didn’t know that there were school girls hiding there. All of the girls were killed.


Sensei’s plan was to bring the family to live in the Bay Area because there were more Asian faces here than in other places in the U.S. He asked if I would come out to San Francisco to assist with running the dojo as this was to be the headquarters for Shorin-Ryu karate in North America. Don’t forget, I had all those years of different secretarial jobs. Truthfully, I wasn’t a very good typist before the days of “white out,” when my mother sent me out on all those jobs. I’d taught myself to type, but I couldn’t do stenography.  I used to be pretty good at calligraphy. Eventually it was my job to letter all the promotion certificates for the whole karate organization and I loved it. Unfortunately it’s a skill I lost. You really have to practice in order to keep it up. Students nowadays get very annoyed that it takes me a very long time to give them promotion certificates. (Sometimes an extra year of two if I’m not pushed.) It’s because I hate to see how rotten they look compared with the ones I did in the old days.


Right after we founded the dojo in San Bruno in January 1973, my brother, his teacher, Sensei Joe, came out here with a group of their students to help us build and set up what was needed to run a school. Omine Sensei personally made all the shoji screens and the different woodworking projects in the dojo, including a really nice, low, Japanese style table which I finally gave away because we are unable to sit on the floor anymore. We always had parties and gatherings where we sat at a huge Japanese style table on the floor with flat sitting cushions for 20 people that I sent home from Okinawa. It’s sad that our legs just won’t take it now, but years ago, all our parties were like that.  It’s funny, but once when I was training in Kyudo in Japan at the home of the “Human National Treasure of Japan” for making arrows, I sat kneeling style for a whole dinner as I liked to do very much. My hostess kept begging me to relax my legs and put them under the table. But hard-head over here kept refusing her until the meal was just about over. Finally, I relented and stuck my legs under the table only to find a large pit in which people are to put their legs. Can you imagine how much pain I suffered unnecessarily?


There was no shower here when we moved in, and I have to say that although I was the one who noticed the, “For Rent” sign in the window, I was completely against renting this place. It was too big. At first, there was no place to bathe and you wouldn’t believe how horrible the kitchen was with a huge, grey metal restaurant sink. I have pictures of what it looked like. My eyes cross when I think of how awful it all was when I arrived, wondering how I was going to bathe myself while staring at  that gray metal restaurant sink.


Fortunately however, the day after we opened, a group of service men from the Coast Guard in Alameda came to visit and all signed up. Can you believe that? Their leader was already a 4th degree black belt from our style. Immediately that night, they went to Sears and purchased a shower and put it in, along with locks on the bathroom doors. I was overjoyed.


Later on, we had summer trainings for Shorin-Ryu black belts from all over the U.S. and Canada who would come to visit us in the summer. I learned how to multiply recipes for 40 people and enjoyed cooking for crowds students. Of course, I didn’t have to do the dishes. We had a set of chop sticks with Japanese numbers on them and people had to draw “sticks” for dish duty, which the Alameda Coast Guard group didn’t seem to mind. They were so nice, those Coast Guard guys, that whenever I see the Coast Guard in action on TV, I have sweet memories of the old days, like when all the students used to carry chop sticks in their shirt pockets so they could practice eating with them. In addition,  in order to make brown belt in our school, you needed to be able to eat about twenty different kinds of sushi, which was quite difficult for some of the guys from the mid West. Sensei Omine was sort of the senior sushi chef and we all learned how to roll makizushi. Everybody in the dojo participated, and if you don’t believe it, I’ll show you pictures of us making sushi and also of our finished product which doesn’t look too bad. In fact, we were so proud of our sushi that I showed the photos at our local sushi bar. The sushi chef was kind and pretended he was impressed, but his wife was furious.


We’d even made, “nakami,” here a couple of times, which is Okinawan pig’s guts soup. Yup, right here in our dojo kitchen. We’d stretch the strings of guts over the kitchen faucet so the water could run through it for a long time (to clean out any poo that might be leftover in the guts before we pre-cooked it. Yup, the same faucet that I imagined I might have to use as a bath. Then we’d boil it up and dump out that water and start again fresh with the recipe. I remember it had bamboo shoots and carrots and I think shiitake mushrooms. Nakami soup by the way is absolutely, positively delicious, and I never met anyone who didn’t like it. We just didn’t tell them what it was, giving it a cute name, “Pig Noodles.” I haven’t had it in years.


While all this was going along tremendously, in October of 1975, Omine sensei suddenly had a stroke on his birthday and died ten days later. My dear mother died eight days later in New York. I won’t tell you more about those days except that my back went out for a while and I was physically bent over for a couple of weeks; I felt I had lost my backbone. From then on we all practiced like crazy.


I really was hard headed in those days, especially after Sensei Omine died. Everyone had learned to bow upon entering and the leaving the dojo, and upon entering and leaving the practice floor which we call, “the deck,” since the practice floor in my first dojo was a raised wooden platform. The Okinawan masters who came to visit thought that we were overdoing the bowing. But I countered by saying, “None of us have never bowed in our whle lives, so it’s okay if we make up for it.” One year, the students were carrying a very large refrigerator-freezer up the back stairs and through the dojo to our kitchen. Of course, they kicked off their shoes as they approached the deck. But while carrying the refrigerator across the floor, everyone naturally stopped to bow as they were used to doing, refrigerator in hand.


Sensei had always been serious about doing Zen meditation and I felt we should continue to be very strict compelling the students to do group meditation after every class if they wanted to train here. Of course we don’t do that anymore, everything is optional. But in those days, I followed the same severe ways  as I had experienced and used to scream, “Don’t Move!” if anyone practically blinked an eyelash. It was intended to wake up the meditators if they were getting dull and sleepy.


One year, I invited a nice friend for dinner who worked at  the local health food store.  She was a gentle person who’s hobby was bird watching, and she later married another bird watcher. (My goodness, I just realized her name was Robin!) Anyhow, Robin said she was used to doing silent, sitting meditation and would like to do sit with our class after dinner. I asked her quite pointedly if she thought she could sit completely still, “without moving at all,” and she said yes. Well, half way into the session, poor Robin adjusted her posture. And I shouted “Don’t Move!” as loud as I could, as I was used to doing with the karate students. Poor Robin went literally flying into the air in terror. (I really was awful in those days; now you surely believe me.)


I didn’t know what real self confidence meant. Perhaps, like most people I may have connected it with credentials. If someone was a black belt I had all sorts of dramatic ideas about them. I even thought that if I ever became a black belt, I’d be just as good with my feet as I am with my hands, (and I was an artist.) I’ll bet you might think that if other people think your are a “big cheese” about something, then that means you have confidence. Truthfully, before Sensei died I was happy go lucky and cocky even though I didn’t do well on my karate tests. When I made 2nd degree black belt , Sensei Omine announced  that I “just barely made it.” I always expected that everything would turn out all right, no matter what happened to me. After all, our mom used to get really mad at us but she never carried through with any of her threats. “I’ll beat you to a pulp,” was sort of showing off her bravado, and anyway, we didn’t believe her.


For the next  35 years, I kept the same ridiculous expectations, crashing boldly into reality, stepping on other people’s feelings, and trashing any hope of lasting happiness by blurting out whatever was on my mind. I’m not talking about becoming conniving or devious, I mean just simply using one’s head to see how others are reacting or feeling about a situation and adjusting one’s behavior to bring about benefit for everyone, instead of harm.


Sensei Omine used to say to me all the time, “You are a completely, “outside,” person. You must look inside at yourself, study yourself.” But I had no idea what he was talking about. I tried to look inside, but there was nobody home that I could see. I knew I wasn’t an, “empty box,” as he called some people, and I wasn’t, “carrying a computer on my head,” as he called others. But I just didn’t get what he meant. I didn’t see anything when I looked inside, and I didn’t learn that this was the best seeing, the correct seeing until decades later. And sadly, I never respected my  own feelings about things until recent years. I went along with what I thought was “right,” not trusting that  my feelings could be right. And that is a very sad state of affairs for a person to be in for most of her life.


But all that finally came to an end. Beneath all struggle and grief is natural freedom and happiness which doesn’t come from outside. And it is there for all of us to find. That is what I’d like to share with everyone by running this school. Wouldn’t it be great if children could learn that right away? Isn’t that more important than our fabulously strong, beautiful, effective karate methods? Isn’t that more important  than anything? Well, that is what I want all people to have.


But it’s not that easy, as you can see. What I have accomplished so far is to create an atmosphere of health, well being, kindness, and a structure of serious, valuable, meaningful practice within which people can find their own path, a method, a way to study themselves. We do this at Omine Dojo through our wonderful Okinawan karate, and through yoga in the Iyengar tradition, and through meditation classes in the tradition of my Tibetan teachers. This is lineage. Speaking, hearing, and physically doing traditional art that has wisdom and value. It is not something I nor our instructors made up ourselves, but is carried down to the present by serious practitioners sharing their wisdom and experience.


There is a Zen story about a solitary meditation master sitting alone, meditating near his mountain hut on a full moon night. A thief comes in and steals the few possessions the master owns. But the master, unperturbed, thinks to himself, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.” 


End of Part 3




My Story Part 4


There really wouldn’t be a story without my telling about Tea. My teacher was Hattori Sensei, and I met her in 1976, not long after Omine Sensei had died. I was cleaning out a cupboard and found an unopened can of matcha or powdered Japanese green tea, which was odd because we didn’t have a tea whisk and you need a bamboo whisk to make a cup of the frothy, bitter brew. I thought to myself, “Omine Sensei wants me to learn tea ceremony, and I felt sure that if I did, I would acquire some proper Japanese manners which would do very well while training in Japan or Okinawa. My samurai friend, sword master Takahashi told me many years later, “Beautiful manners keep people safe.” It’s something to think about.


Just before my first lesson sword master Takahashi Sensei invited me to attend a tea in San Francisco. I had met the host Takayama who was designer of living and work spaces as he had visited the karate dojo to help me improve our feng shui although I couldn’t afford to make any of the important changes that he suggested. During that visit he noticed that I have a few antique pieces if blue and white chinaware a gift from 1964 from someone who’s grandfather had been a sea captain in the 1800’s. I hadn’t even noticed that I had this strong preference for sky blue, it was just natural to me. I used to think of Flaubert describing something as, “It was blue, Mary’s color.”  I sometimes think of that even today. When Takayama visited me, he had made tea for us in the dojo kitchen using our homely red kettle and other very plain kitchen items. I was totally impressed with his technique and the atmosphere he created with these unattractive utensils. Unfortunately I’ve never been able to do the same.


Takayama’s tea room was a raised platform with few tatami mats, quite small and the “tokonoma,” or alcove was a mere length of 9” wide dark wood, beautifully polished. When I came into his garden beautifully raked and sprinkled with fallen leaves, he had a  beautiful display of a sky blue and white pottery collection. It took my breath away. His tea style was O-Ura Senke.  I never pass that exit on the freeway without thinking of that lovely day in 1976.


One year in fact, while I was training in karate in Okinawa I was invited to dinner at a restaurant with Master Nagamine and the black belt circle. The table, Japanese style, sat about twenty guests on floor cushions. The men sat cross legged, Indian style as was custom, but I was the only female and wanted to sit seiza for the whole meal. One of the courses was the usual miso soup in the traditional black bowl, and I had just about had two sips when the remainder of the bowl tipped over into my lap making a large puddle in the middle of my dress. I think some of the guests saw what had happened, but no one let on that he noticed. I worked hard to secretly mop up the puddle in my lap. When the meal ended and everyone got up to leave, my legs were fast asleep and I couldn’t move one inch. Everyone took off and I was stuck there. When the feeling came back in my legs, I could finally stand up and staggered out of the restaurant. Someone was kind enough to wait for me at the car.

I remember the first time I went out to eat sushi. I was with my first Japanese Archery sensei in New York. This elderly Japanese sensei had hid all the kyudo practice bows under the floorboards of his house just before WWII. After the war, the yumis were still there and people could begin practicing again. I remember sensei showed us some Japanese woodblock prints of samurai soldiers returning from battle. The heads of their enemies were spiked on the top of their long weapons. I thought it was strange, but Sensei had taken white paper tape and covered up each of the heads so we didn’t have to look at the ugly image.

We were eating nigiri sushi that particular day, “sushi made in the palm of your hand,” where a flat piece of usually raw fish is pressed on top of an elongated wad of sweet vinegar rice. You’re supposed to put soy sauce on fish, not on rice, which means on the fish side of the sushi, not the rice ball side. I had learned that ladies eat sushi with chopsticks, not their fingers. First you melt part of the green wasabi paste hill into a modest amount of shoyu in the little flat saucer. Think of the surf washing up and melting a sand hill on the beach, not the whole ocean drowning it. You pick up the sushi, turning it over (upside down) to dip the fish side only into a modest amount of soy sauce, the kiddie pool, not the deep end, please. This takes a bit of skill with the chopsticks and I kept dropping the whole piece of sushi into my pool of soy, splashing and spraying deep dark soy all over my nice white shirt. Sensei pretended he didn’t see what was happening.


Asking around a bit, I learned that there are two main schools of tea, O-Ura Senke and O-Mote Senke. And then I met someone who had taken some lessons who assured me that Ura Senke style was definitely “the best.” So I found a tea class in Japan Town soon after and went off to my first lesson.


Hatori Sensei was an older Japanese woman who had learned Tea before WWII. She was raised in China where her aunts had taught tea in the Japanese community there. At the end of my first lesson, when filling out the form for continued classes, I exclaimed with gusto, “This is Ura Senke isn’t it?”  Sensei replied, “This is Omote Senke, the backbone of the tea ceremony.”  So it began.



Sometimes I wondered if I would have been different had I learned O-Ura instead of Omote. Occasionally, I missed the glamour of the (actually Chinese) Tea Master who called himself Takayama. Sensei Hattori and her tea were rather plain in comparison, no elegant flourishes, totally unaffected, close to the bone. She taught the basic thin o-usu tea until we were well schooled. We also learned the thick o-koi cha tea in where one shares a communal bowl. In later years while in Okinawa for karate training, I was invited to some tea lessons and I felt confident that I was practicing exactly the same way as the students there did. The pieces of equipment that we used in our tea room in different seasons weren’t gorgeous like you see at public demonstrations or in magazines, but they represented the changing of the season’s in Sensei Hattori’s class. And when I would return to class after an absence, I often had tears in my eyes to be there again, especially when the fragrance of the tea wafted up from the steaming bowl.


Omote Senke was perfect for me. But I sometimes missed the charisma of Takayama’s tea. I studied with Hattori Sensei for around 20 years, and not always steadily because it was very difficult for me and I couldn’t always take it. First of all we were kneeling Japanese style or seiza, for the whole two hours of the class, although you could sit to the side if you wanted to, which meant to me that you were dying of pain. I still held images of Tatsuya Nakadai opening the door to the tea room in a Kurosawa era film so I learned to sit seiza for almost the whole class. I loved it even though I was in pain. I saw women in Okinawa use that form as the meditation posture, and the feeling one has is incomparable. With your back straight, you feel like a lightening rod connecting heaven and earth, grounded into safe, strong, warm planet earth and head reaching up toward heaven. After my knee replacement and for some years preceding it, I could no longer sit that way, but for many years I used to sit and watch my karate students in class that way, and I always sat like that when I worked on the archery bows or yumis of Japanese kyudo. After Sensei Omine died, I used to sometimes dress in hakama and visit sword master Takahashi’s home. I’d sit for an hour or two working on his yumis and other implements. We didn’t speak, except for hello and goodbye. In yoga, we call this pose “Virasana,” Warrior’s pose, and although I can no longer do it at all, this posture marked a good part of my life, and I miss it dreadfully.


One year sword master Takahashi brought an older Japanese gentleman to visit with a lady who was dressed in Japanese kimono. The gentleman was a Mr. Doi, an art dealer from one of the old Japanese samurai families. I remember seeing the name in the subtitles of the Kurosawa era films. The sword class, who used my dojo a couple of times a week for their practice did a demonstration that evening and then our karate black belts did one. I was wearing kimono too and sat on the wooden floor without a cushion for the whole two hours watching the demos. In those days, I was able to get up and down smoothly (and gracefully) because of the tea lessons. When Mr. Doi’s party left, the lady said to me, “You are Japanese.” I thought that that was the nicest thing anyone ever said to me. In later years, when one of the Okinawan karate teachers said, “We don’t like to see Americans acting like Japanese.” I felt disappointed, but I didn’t give up for a long time.


People brought me gifts of tea things over the years. Each object has a name and a special memory of the giver. My karate students Yoshiko and Steve brought me many of my treasures from their trips to Japan where Yoshiko’s family lives. There’s a bowl with the charming, colorful image of Mt. Fuji, and an amazing golden glazed tea bowl that I kept on my Shambhala shrine for years. The black autumn natsume with chrysanthemums on the lid was from Nakamura Sensei. I bought the exquisite, plain black one myself in Okinawa and it was very costly. And there’s a fantastic brilliant vermillion red one with black inside. It has contemporary black splashes and it’s made of the gorgeous lacquer

ware of Okinawa. To set the lid on its base is as soft and gentle as laying a cover on a sleeping infant. Please ask to see it sometime; it’s very beautiful.


There’s a dark (smoked) bamboo tea scoop. Master Nagamine’s son Mamoru Kise carved the characters, “Wind in the Pines,” on its dark bamboo case. Our karate style is called, “Pine Woods,” school although nobody ever uses the English. Kise-san was teaching Zen at Nagamine dojo when I was there in 1971. Although I never missed a morning practice, it was very hard as we had to sit for one hour straight without moving.


Mr. Kise and his family lived at the dojo which was part of Sensei Nagamine’s home. We didn’t speak because I couldn’t speak any Japanese in those days, but his wife was kind to me and I used to play with his kids in the street. Once I took them to the USO for good old American banana splits. We walked holding hands through the crowds of downtown Naha’s Kokusai (International) Street with people looking very quizically at blue eyed me with an adorable Okinawan child in each hand. The children didn’t like the banana splits, by the way, too sweet I think, as their little faces turned to a grimace at first taste. Mr. Kise later went to mainland Japan to study Zen, and became Zen teacher and priest and has his own temple in Okinawa for many years. When I left Okinawa in 1971 and  was waiting in front of the dojo for my ride, Kise-san zoomed up on his white motor scooter,  stretched out his hand, and dropped something into mine and zoomed away. It was a small meditating Buddha. It still sits under a tree with golden leaves on the wall- shrine from Thailand in my home. I still think of him as a close friend.


Tea Ceremony for me was a mindfulness practice where every movement, every thought, every action is a kata or form which makes a work of living art. It is a relationship between a host or hostess and a guest, or guests, at certain time and a certain place in the universe, your place, your time. The form remains the same, but the work of art, the reality changes with the season, the characters playing the roles, the setting, the mood of the players, and the particular tools being used. In winter tea bowls are thicker and taller so the steam warms your face and the bowl warms your hands. In the summer, thinner bowls with flat wide openings allow the tea to cool as though the bowl is opening itself to the sky. Tea involves all the senses, and there is a vast world to learn in each of the different parts. I of course, only learned a tiny bit over the years. There is a kata with every piece of equipment, and practicing over and over, one learns to enact differently between long and short, thin and thick, rustic and sophisticated, hot, warm, cold and so on, so that one’s life becomes infused with tea and you can never be the same. Tea is something you live, and when you live it, you no longer ignore the details of your world, whether the paper is handed to you upside down or towards you, whether someone acknowledges walking in between you and your friend, whether you take something first, or allow the other person to get the best choice, waiting so the door doesn’t slam because you care that a human being is behind you as you pass through the doorway. You notice these things. When I see people acting crudely, letting the door slam on someone carrying a package, I forgive them by thinking, “Oh, he doesn’t have Tea.” Beautiful manners keep people well.


Tea Ceremony is called Sa-Do (Way of Tea), or Cha No Yu (Hot Water for Tea). Aside from all the fancy ways and elegant movements Hattori Sensei’s tea concerned caring about someone else, thoughtfulness of someone else. One serves and one receives. Although we practice the forms over and over year after year, what matters is the intimacy, the relationship in the form, the kindness and respect that flows back and forth between the parties. Though the form is ancient and exquisite, and one learns how to handle objects in a manner that is elegant, intuitive, sensible, clever, rational, what matters most is the heart. H. Sensei never said this to me, but I learned this through her strict teaching. And in the end, I realized I had found the perfect teacher. She always remained formal. She never let me drive her home on the worst of stormy days, insisting on waiting for her usual public bus. She once told me in my hardest karate training years that if she saw me walking on one side of the street, she would cross to the other side. One day when I didn’t wear any make up to class, she said, “You look very ugly today,” Another year, when I was visiting a psychologist after class every week and dressed to cheer myself she said, “You are wearing different clothes each time. This is not a fashion show.” 


I thought we had a language problem so I took Japanese language classes at San Francisco State for a couple of years. I loved it. A Zen master in Okinawa had once said to me, “If you go to France to learn something, you learn French. Why aren’t you studying Japanese?”  My third year I was put into Business Japanese and all of my classmates were from Japanese speaking families. The teacher spoke only in Japanese and I was left way behind. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the vocabulary or grammar, it was the little words I couldn’t remember, words that pointed to or from so I could tell  only the general meaning. Did you want me to give you the box, or were you saying you wanted to give me the box? I couldn't tell.


It seemed to me that I learned tea the hard way, especially being the only non Japanese in Sensei’s class for a long time. When my senior karate student Brian became Sensei’s tea student, it made me very proud and happy. Brian, a very strong man studied with her for several years and I think he was in his late 30’s or 40’s when he began and Sensei was in her 60’s. It was obvious that Sensei Hattori liked him, as she would smile and laugh when he was in class. She made it very clear that he and I had no relationship in her class other than that we were both students. One Christmas Brian brought his wife and infant to visit the lesson. I had expected to take tea with them, but when my turn as hostess was ended, she said to me pointedly, “You may leave now,” which hurt my feelings, but showed me my place.


There was also was Katie, a Caucasian woman in her 60’s who came from Berkeley Hills. She had lost her first husband at Pearl Harbor. Katie’s dog once tangled with a skunk and got sprayed and then ran wildly through the house and I remember her telling us that the cure was a bath in tomato juice. Katie traveled to Japan several times gave me the red raku tea bowl as a gift. I always think of her when I see it. It has a pinkish red glaze with a black mark on the front, quite lovely. I think Katie passed away as we didn’t see her for a long time, and then every time Sensei Hattori spoke of her, she had tears in her eyes and whispered, “I think she passed away.”



I was living in Colorado at the Dharma Center when Hattori Sensei died and her friend Mitsuko arranged for her ashes to be put in the Japanese Columbarium not far from the dojo. Every New Year’s day, when the black belts meet there to pray at Sensei Omine’s urn before we do the New Years kata practice, I stop of course to visit Sensei Hattori, always still with slight trepidation. I apologize for the poor flowers I brought, and for all my continued bad manners. And I thank her for the treasure she gave me.


I used to chant the Heart Sutra in Japanese and English at the cemetery too, and then we always have a small cup of sake with Sensei Omine. He would appreciated that but Hattori Sensei would definitely not approve. New Years is the only time one is allowed to drink alcohol of any kind before practice, and I wanted to encourage the New Year’s party goers to start the year by coming to the dojo no matter what. It was a grand tradition. One New Year day we brought larger cups as the weather was a cold and nasty. And then we had more than one. Later at the practice, I tore the lining out of my right elbow I was feeling so powerful.  It took forever to heal and has never been quite the same.


Before a bowl of tea is served, one usually presents a dish of beautifully arranged sweets. Some sweets are soft and gorgeous, and others hard like the tiny melt in your mouth balls that taste slightly of camphor. Those candies pink and white, are wrapped in a creamy white rice paper, sort of like old fashioned sour balls wrapped in cellophane so they don’t stick together.  Each side of the tea candy ball is a separate perfect half moon, pink and white. Think of an hard boiled egg yolk cut perfectly in half, only tiny. The white side has a small red dot on it as the candies represent a story about lovers who finally get together after a long struggle. I forget what the dot means. The host/hostess serves the dish with the front, the most attractive side towards the guest and they bow to each other. Then the host goes back to his place in front of the kettle to make tea while the guests enjoy the sweet before the bitter tea. Before taking the candy however, the first guest, who is the main guest, puts the sweets between herself and each of the guests sitting beside her. She says something like, “Excuse me for taking while you have none,” or, “Excuse me for going first.” In Japanese it sounds simply like, “o-saki ni.” One day, when I was just a beginner, the sweets were adorable little dry morsels, and when the candy dish was offered to me, I popped one of the little balls into my mouth. Sensei went ballistic, “You do that at home, not here,” she said furiously.  It seemed I was always in trouble.


One year I was alone in an elevator in Kyoto when an beautifully dressed lady entered acknowledging me with a slight bow. When she left at her floor, she bowed slightly again and said, “o-saki ni,” something like, “Excuse me for leaving first.” It made me feel so good. Beautiful manners make people feel cared about. Sword master Takahashi told me that he was once sitting in a chair in a museum as being close to 80 years old he was a bit tired. Many visitors passed in front him to look closely at the works of art on either side. Not one ever acknowledged that he was there; he might as well have been part of the wall. A little nod or slight bow would have made the difference between crude behavior, and natural human respect and dignity. It seems so logical. Although I think my brother who has no tea would have said hello.


Reverend K was the Japanese pastor of the Shinto temple where Sensei held her tea classes, and he took lessons with me for many years. Next to me, he was the one always in trouble as I think Sensei expected him to have perfect, old fashioned Japanese manners. Although born in Japan, Reverend K was a very modern and casual pastor which seemed suitable to me for our modern age. He would sometimes visit my husband at our home and on occasion would fall asleep on the couch while watching a game

with a beer or two. I thought this was pretty neat because my husband was also asleep. Unfortunately I foolishly told Sensei H  who thought it was very bad manners and she talked about it for years. The Reverend of a church should certainly not fall asleep!


When Sensei disapproved of someone or something, she didn’t ever say so. She’d just shake her head and repeat over and over, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know about that Rev. K I don’t know.” One year, she thought a bag of ashes disappeared from our tea closet. Someone had made and given the ashes to Sensei for our hearth and they looked like plain, old, grey ashes to me. Only the bag of ashes was missing, nothing else. Sensei implied that Rev. K must have taken the ashes since he had a key to the tea room. She didn’t say that she thought he took them, but she would talk about how nice the ashes were, how kind the person was who made the ashes, and shaking her head over and over, would repeat, “Rev. K, I don’t know. I don’t know.” I could never fathom why he or anyone else would ever be interested in that bag of grey ashes or what could possibly have happened to them. Anyway, none of us had learned how to work with a charcoal fire in those days, we used an electric gadget in the hearth that looked like fake pieces of charcoal. To this day I can’t imagine what she was thinking or where the mysterious ashes had gone.


Sensei died around 1990 while I was living in the Buddhist retreat center in the Colorado mountains. Years later I met her friend Mitsuko at a gathering after a church memorial service. I complained to her, “Sensei was always angry at me.” She answered, “That’s because she loved you.”