For the last 14 years the 4th of July has been a bittersweet day.
On the bright side, the day is filled with celebrations of the U.S. independence. It’s one of the few days off restaurant employees get (I cooked in restaurants for 13 years). There are cookouts, beer, hanging out with friends. In the evening there is fireworks all across the country. It’s one of my favorite holidays.
For the last 14 years it also has turned into a day of remembrance, not only for me but for the hundreds of students of Fumio Toyoda Shihan, who passed away unexpectedly on July 4th, 2001.
Everyday for the last 14 years the first thing I do on the morning of July 4th is light an incense and a candle in his memory. I like to believe that the forces of the universe decided to take Sensei away on this day so that we don’t spend it in sadness, but in joy, celebrating his life and what he gave us.
I met Sensei for the first time when I was 13 years old. He made a huge impression on me at the time, and I wasn’t even training in Aikido yet. My older brother had been training for a while now. Sensei came to Puerto Rico to visit the dojo and teach a seminar for the first time in the island. I accompanied my brother to the dojo because I’ve never seen a Japanese dude before, let a lone a Japanese martial arts master. I would never forget the feeling in my chest when he walked in to the dojo.
Shortly after, I joined the dojo. I attended a few of his seminars and in 1998, at age 17, I traveled to his headquarters dojo in Chicago, IL to train for the summer. Sensei passed away the year I started college. It’s unfortunate I knew him when I was a teenager and didn’t have the maturity to understand his teachings, nor the insight to follow him closer.
It wasn’t until almost 8 years after he left us that I realized what Sensei had given me. Everything I do: Aikido, Shodo, Zen, and even cooking, are all influenced by my experiences with him. But even more significantly is that I met my wife Rachel at the dojo in Rhode Island. A dojo I joined because Sensei told me to when I moved to Rhode Island to go to college. In a very direct way, I met my wife, married her, and had my kids because Sensei told me to go somewhere and I followed.
We don’t realize the impact we can have on other people’s lives. What we say, do, or do not do for others can have a life changing impact on some one else. I doubt Sensei knew my destiny was being written when he told me to join this dojo vs the this other one. It seemed a very simple decision (he told me to go to this dojo specifically because he didn’t like the instructor of the other dojo) but one that would truly define my future.
Two years ago, I wrote this post and made this video about the calligraphy Sensei gave me in 1998 which set me on the path I walk today with GOHITSU Shodo Studio.
If you’re interested in learning more about him, Google him, or search him on YouTube. He’s everywhere and there are far more people who knew him better than me that have written about their experiences.
Today, all I can say to Sensei is thank you. All I can do to honor his memory is to nourish what he gave me: Aikido, Shodo, Zen, and Cooking, but more importantly my family.