On August of 2013 I uncovered three diamonds. They came unannounced and certainly unexpected. They were left at my front door by the mailman, carefully placed inside a folder so they wouldn’t bend or wrinkle.
They came with a letter from a dear friend who I’ve known for many years.
When I read the first sentence of his letter I had to sit down. I did so on my porch steps with my heart beat accelerating and Rachel asking: “What is it? What did you get?”
“Esteban Sensei,” read the first sentence of his letter. “Enclosed are some practice calligraphies that Toyoda Sensei had done.”
You may know already, if you’ve been with me for a while, that one of my biggest treasures in the world is the calligraphy Toyoda Sensei brushed for me at the end of my training at Tenshinkan Dojo. I’ve written a lot of about this calligraphy and I also made a video about it. It is so important to me because that calligraphy is what set me on the path I walk today in Shodo practice.
I read the very touching and humbling letter to Rachel. “Whoa,” she said, sitting next to me as I immediately opened the folder containing these mysterious practice calligraphies from Sensei.
Instantly, I recognized his brushwork. They were his without question. I knew it even though they were neither signed nor stamped. Sensei had passed 12 years prior, but I could feel his KI radiating through each brushstrokes. Sure, technically the calligraphies are a bit flawed; they were probably done quickly and without much attention. I get the feeling he was probably just trying to figure them out as I do now with many of my practice papers.
The first calligraphy (pictured above on the left) reads CHOZEN JI – Chozen-Ji is the name of the Rinzai Zen temple in Hawaii Sensei was affiliated with. Toyoda Sensei received Dharma Transmission from Tanouye Roshi, Abbot of Chozen-Ji, in 1997.
The second calligraphy (pictured centered above) reads SHIN SHIN KAN – This was probably a name for a dojo. It means the “God-like Mind Place”.
The third calligraphy (pictured above on the right) was also a dojo’s name: EIDOKAN or YODOKAN – “The place of the honorable path”.
Besides their translations, which I figured myself, I don’t know much about these calligraphies. What was he practicing? Who these dojo names were for?
What I do know, as I looked at them for the first time, is that I had unearthed three diamonds. The letter explained that after Sensei passed people were cleaning up his office, “… so I pulled them out from the waste basket and have let them sit all these years.”, he said on the letter.
From the trash! Yes. These calligraphies were considered garbage. They were probably trash in Sensei’s mind too, who knows. But this is why I’ve always liked the saying: “someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure.”
Twelve years ago these three pieces of paper were trash. They were then collected by someone, who may or may not have had the insight at that moment that these calligraphies could be of some value. They sat somewhere, probably at the bottom of a drawer not just collecting dust but transforming themselves into priceless gems. These diamonds are meaningful to me and probably just a handful of others who share my respect for Sensei. But to the majority of the world they are still trash.
These calligraphies are connecting me to Sensei in a way. They are imprints of his energy at that moment in time when he brushed them. I am imagining that these were done very close to his last day. They could be one of the very last calligraphies he’d brushed. I don’t have many photos of him. I have a very few handful of Aikido videos of him. However, photos and videos captured just an image of him, an interpretation. These lines were done by him. It was a direct transmission from his mind to brush to paper.
In life we do things over and over and we don’t realize how we are affecting someone else’s life. Anything you do, or don’t do, anything you say, or don’t say, can send someone on a path that can change their lives. We interact with people all day everyday and we don’t realize that our actions always have consequences. The thing is we can’t know. There is no way to tell the future. Nobody could’ve predicted Sensei’s fate nor mine. I firmly believe that have Sensei not died I wouldn’t have taken Shodo practice this seriously.
I am grateful and humbled to have the privilege to not only see these calligraphies, but to keep them and treasure them. They now hang on the wall of my studio and serve as guide and inspiration in my journey.
The letter ended:
“I just feel you may have more appreciation of these as Toyoda Sensei was part of your own early Shodo development. Please keep them and know that he is still helping inspire your work as you carry on his transitions of Shugyo and Aikido.”