George Mokray was Kanai Sensei’s student 1982-2004

Kanai Sensei was a powerful presence.  Not tall but broad across the chest and with well-muscled forearms that, I later learned, were soft.  All that iaido.  He paid special attention to beginners, teaching basics classes every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. He had a curriculum that he followed, showing all the fundamentals.  Anybody who went to those classes for the three-month period when they were “official” beginners would be firmly grounded in aikido.  Anybody who wanted to deepen their practice could learn something new at any one of them.  Of course, over the years, he changed the way he
did some techniques and discovered new ways to teach old techniques (Paul Keelan’s story about coming to the dojo early to find Kanai Sensei on the mat exclaiming, “I found it, Paul. I found it!” but what “it” he found is not known).  There are lessons I learned there that will take me the rest of my life to explore.

At evening classes, I remember Kanai Sensei at the edge of the mat, his hands on his knees, crouching like a baseball umpire, watching students throw and take ukemi as we practiced in lines.  You could feel his attention and felt validated when he had that slight smile on his face. 

His technique was always fierce and mysterious.  I’ve heard that people in other dojos feared him more than Chiba Sensei because they couldn’t understand where his technique was coming from.  He did all those kokyu throws and they couldn’t figure him out.  We knew that it was that little hip thing he did, shifting his hips a little back and then forward again as he breathed out and threw.  Such a small move and such power! Beautiful, subtle, and so effective.

Some days he’d be back in his office working on his art.  You’d hear tic-tic-tic as he engraved a design on a knife blade or shaped a tsuba. At least, I think that’s what he was doing.  Back in the office, he had his books, his tools, his workbench, his tea.  You’d knock on the door, wait for his call to enter, and ask about whether you were ready for a test or to get his help for an injury.  There’d usually be a book open on his desk, sometimes anatomy and physiology, sometimes his notes on techniques.  

The last few times I saw Kanai Sensei, he seemed to be happy.  He’d taken to greeting me by poking me in the belly with a finger and a smile on his face.  I could never block him and that was just fine. One night, nearly a month after he died, I was walking home after listening to some fine jazz.  I was thinking about another aikido friend, Pete Kairo, who died suddenly the year before, a musician, and then I thought about Sensei. Suddenly, I felt that poke again and his smile.  I laughed out loud in the dark.  

As Kanai Sensei would say, “Thank you very much!”