Mike Huben was Kanai Sensei’s student 1983-2004

Thumbnail of Omar Rayyan - kanai Sensei - Shared by Lee Pistone

My first experience of Kanai Sensei was in my first day of classes.  During kokyu ho, he came by and seated himself to practice with me.  He grasped my wrists and I tried to move him, and it was hopeless.  I struggled for a minute or so, and started to relax, and he said, “Don’t give up! Don’t give up!”  So I resumed struggling fruitlessly, and after another minute or so I started to relax again, and again he said, “Don’t give up!  Don’t give up!”  I started again, and after a little time he graciously rolled over.  Then it was my turn to grasp his wrists.  It was a strange sensation: he had these enormous thick wrists from decades of sword work and Aikido, starting in his early youth.  They felt like iron bars wrapped in foam rubber.  I grasped his wrists, rose into the air, and landed on my back a few feet away without feeling why.  I was convinced!  In my last (30th) year of practice, I finally was able to make people rise like that sometimes, but I never integrated it into that sort of throw.  I’ve never felt that from anybody else, either.

I made it a point to not bother Kanai Sensei unless I had a medical problem or something that
might interest him.  He was tired of people asking him what ki was and other foolish questions. When I had to drive him a couple of hours each way to Smith College one day, I was racking my brains for something to converse about that might be new to him.  Finally, I asked him: “Sensei, what do you hate the most about teaching Aikido?”  He got a big smile on his face and said (roughly), “I hate it when they ask a question, and they don’t understand me but won’t tell me that.  They just say ‘Yes, Sensei’ and continue to misunderstand.”

Omar Rayyan, an artist and Aikidoist from Martha’s Vinyard, made a splendid painting of Kanai Sensei throwing a demon on a bridge in irimi nage.  He very kindly provided me with a copy.  As I was heading to the framing shop with the picture, I walked past a restaurant and saw Kanai Sensei and two other senseis eating there.  I went in and said, “Guess what I’ve got here.” When I showed him the picture, he said, “Oh!  That’s me throwing you!”  Those were the last words he ever said to me; he died the next weekend in Canada.