The Wrist of the Story – Kotegaeshi

I’ve mentioned before that none of the HISKF sensei’s ever entered the dojo with the dream or goal of becoming a sensei one day – each was called to it by circumstances.  By happenstance, the 1970’s would find Sensei Peter heading up a dojo in Michigan, Sensei Wayne heading one up in Oregon, and me teaching a group in VAFB California.  This was several years before Sensei Trish was born, however, by the early 2000’s, she was teaching a group of college students in Pasadena, California.

No one sought this out.  Sensei Wayne was assigned by the KAH to establish a dojo in Oregon.  Sensei Peter took over the reins of a dojo in Michigan when the original instructor PCS’d away.  Sensei Trish was asked by fellow students at Bible College to establish and lead a dojo.  I was similarly asked by a group of my airmen to teach them karate, but there is a backstory to this.

My first real teaching experience was due to an inadvertent (and embarrassing) display of kotegaeshi.  Imagine a very cold Air Force office (on the second floor of an old barracks) where the “hot” water radiator is barely working and the mid-morning temperature in my office is in the 40’s.  I am so cold that I’ve kept my AF jacket and flight cap on to keep as warm as possible.  I am wrapping up a morning briefing to my airmen when someone approaches from my blind side through a second door and his hand quickly reaches for my cap.  I am focused on my closing remarks to the group, yet, feel a spark of irritation that there’s some intrusion to my meeting when a hand flashes by my peripheral vision.  That hand never reaches my precious cap, as my own hand shoots up by its own volition and smoothly intercepts it, taking it, along with the person down in less than a second.  And – I have continued talking to the men.  The “distraction” quickly gets up and hurries to his own office.  He was a civilian co-worker who really didn’t like military protocol, although he worked for the Air Force.  I believe this stemmed from his combat experiences in the 101 Airborne during the height of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968.  In his mind, he was justified in removing a cap that didn’t need to be worn indoors – however, he should have known better than to barge into a military briefing that he wasn’t a part of.  In less than 5 seconds, he was taken down to the floor, scrambled back up and hurried to his office.  Meanwhile, I never stopped talking or looking straight at my airmen the whole time…it was kinda surreal, like an SNL skit.  I finished up and dismissed the men – who had sat perfectly still with eyes and mouths wide open during the entire incident.😘

Immediately after, I rushed over to my co-worker’s office and apologized profusely for my reaction – he was gracious and accepted.  Till today, I don’t know who was more embarrassed, him or me.  A couple of days later, my NCOIC and another sergeant came into my office and sheepishly asked if I would be willing to teach a group of them, some of the “kung fu/karate stuff” that they had witnessed.  Soon, we were holding daily training sessions at lunch in one of the large, unused rooms of our building.  It was a lot of fun and they all made it to the blue belt level (in the evenings, I also helped teach at the local Shotokan dojo on-base).  After about six months, my first little “dojo’ came to an end when I became a new father and studies from grad school began to consume lunch periods at work.

And that’s the “rest of the story” of how I was first called to become a sensei.  Ironically, it’s inspiration came from an embarrassing moment involving the reflexive use of kotegaeshi – an Aikido wrist throw or takedown, practiced thousands of times as a young teen.  How you figgah?

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