On Saturday, April 30th the Chicago Aikido Club honored Jo Takehara Sensei for 50 years of studying and sharing the art of Aikido and for his 80th birthday, which had occurred earlier in the month. Festivities took place at Café Furaibo a cozy Japanese restaurant that is one of Takehara Sensei’s favorite after-class hangouts.
Guests from Chicagoland dojo, the Milwaukee Aikido Club and past students of Takehara Sensei were all in attendance. These included Art Benjamin, who began training at the old Illinois Aikido Club and now runs Aikido of Evanston; Cheryl Matrasko, who once belonged to the Illinois Aikido Club children’s program and now runs the Aikido at Northwestern University Chicago Campus; Professor Donald Levine of the Hyde Park Peace Dojo, University of Chicago Aikido Club and Aiki-Extensions; and Peter Georgiev and Ivaylo Evitmor of Progressive Aikido, who drove in from the far North suburbs. Former students came in from the far reaches of the country. Jennifer Roach flew in from New Jersey with her daughter Mary while Dominic Fleming, former student and an instructor at the Chicago Aikikai, traveled in from Washington State. The Milwaukee Aikido Club were well represented by a group led by club founder Norio “Mike” Mamura Sensei’s daughter Deborah Mamura-Beltier.
The guest of honor almost didn’t make it, as Takehara Sensei had decided earlier in the week to teach at Milwaukee Aikido Club (Ironic given who was coming). Luckily for all, club members Amy Androff and Elizabeth Margetich interceded and escorted him from his home to the party, whereupon realizing what was in store he jokingly turned tail to leave.
Café Furaibo owner and chef Aki, also a student of Takehara Sensei, and his wife Omme kept an ever-changing assortment of Japanese delicacies flowing. After the considerable food and socializing came the presentations and speeches.
Dominic Fleming kicked things off by reading a letter from Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan who was teaching the annual May Fair seminar at Oberlin Collage and could not attend. Marsha Turner read a very warm and nostalgic letter from Francis Takahashi, chief instructor of Aikido Academy in Alhambra, California, and son of former Illinois Aikido Club chief instructor Isao Takahashi. Elizabeth Margetich read a letter from President of the United States Barack Obama congratulating Takehara Sensei on his 80th birthday and a letter from First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama commending Takehara Sensei for his 50 years studying and passing on the art of Aikido. Luis Vera read a proclamation from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in honor of Takehara’s life in and contributions to the City of Chicago. At Takehara Sensei’s own request, Dwight Sora read aloud a very personal letter from Tsuguma Suzuki, son of former Chicago Aikikai chief instructor Shigeru Suzuki. Tsuguma, who was born in Chicago yet raised in Japan and moved back to attend college in the U.S., thanked Takehara Sensei for helping him adjust to American ways of life.
Messages of congratulations were sent from several not in attendance; including Joanne Sakamoto on behalf of herself and Robert “Red” Sakamoto (a founding member of the Illinois Aikido Club); Mitsugi Saotome Shihan and his wife Patricia; Wendy Whited of Inaka Dojo in Beecher and Lisa Tomoleoni of Aikido Shimboku Dojo in Lake In The Hills.
Speeches came from aikidoka representing the many periods of Takehara Sensei’s life in Aikido. Art Benjamin of recounted his years as a young buck at the Illinois Aikido Club and his appreciation for Takehara Sensei’s care in instruction and consistency of character over the years. Deborah Mamura-Beltier, reminisced about riding down to the Illinois Aikido Club with her father when she was a child, not knowing that one day Takehara sensei would step up as a guiding influence with his regular teaching at the Milwaukee Aikido Club. John Eley of Evanston Ki Aikido talked about the early days of the Illinois Aikido Club, and how things had gotten easier when he joined since the club no longer trained on a marble floor in a basement. The club at this point had a mat made of carpet scraps in its new space. Takehara Sensei added that when Joe Eley joined, club policy was to make applicants sit and watch multiple classes. Takehara Sensei also pointed out that Joe Eley and Frank Knapp (deceased) were the first non-Asians to join the club. Dominic Fleming, representing the 90’s-00’s students, also touched on Takehara Sensei’s character and his change in emphasis in his instruction from external to internal. Stephanie Folk, who had started Aikido while teaching English in Kyushu, Japan and continued training after returning home to Illinois, thanked Takehara Sensei for his inspiring instruction and the great impression it had left on her friend Richard “Pepe” Peplinski (one of the club’s newest students and a Chicago Police officer who could not attend the party because he was on duty).
Winding up the presentation was Keiki Hinami, who presented Takehara Sensei with special gift on behalf of the club and guests: a “hato no tsue” or a dove-handled cane. As Keiki explained, this cane is a traditional gift from the Akita prefecture in Northwest Japan. In Japan, one is considered to have lived a full lifetime at the age of forty, and reaching 80 is akin to living two life times. Having the dove on the handle is symbolic, as the Japanese word for dove (“hato”) sounds as if it is comprised of words for eight (“ha”) and ten (“to”), making the number 80.
After the speeches, letters and gifts, Chef Aki brought out a wonderfully detailed and delicious cake he made for Takehara Sensei. The cake was enjoyed by all.
The next day at Takehara Sensei’s Sunday class, a few out-of-town guests showed up hoping to make their last goodbyes. With some coaxing from Yuki Hara, they ended up training on the mat, regardless of whether they had their gi with them. Class ended up going on for an extra hour, as Takehara Sensei took the time to share some of his latest ideas.
Again, all the best to our instructor, friend and mentor – Jo Takehara Sensei.