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On Mitsunari Kanai Sensei

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by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #37 (June 1981)


The following article was prepared with the kind assistance of Jonathan Olson of Canada.

Mitsunari Kanai has been and always will be an inspiration for me. I discovered him quite by accident on a trip to Los Angeles for a gasshuku some 8 years ago. I had recently returned from Japan seeking the essence of O-Sensei’s teaching and found myself disillusioned at what I had actually encountered. Lacking any clear-cut notion of what direction to take in my Aikido, I walked into the Los Angeles Aikikai and saw a short, strongly-built young Japanese man with long wild hair combined unseemingly with a somewhat detached look and was immediately overcome with interest. It was soon his turn to teach a technique and there was, I know of no other way to describe it, a sort of fiery non-chalance that pervaded every movement, and which magically turned a key within me rekindling a passion for the art which had long been absent. This man didn’t walk — he swaggered. He didn’t merely throw his opponents — they were catapulted. Who was this guy, anyway? Why hadn’t I heard of him before? I asked my friend Francis Takahashi his name and he simply replied, “Kanai”. Well, I had heard of Kanai Sensei of Boston before, but I had erroneously classified him in my mental sensei directory as a gentle, bespectacled type who fit in nicely with the Harvard crowd. You see, I grew up across the street from a “nisei” Japanese family whose name was Kanai and the father was an unimposing, intellectual type, and very nice, of course. Also, my extensive Japanese language skills had provided me with the invaluable knowledge that “kanai” was the term that a Japanese husband used to condescendingly refer to his wife. The son of a police detective, I had cleverly pieced together these thin shreds of evidence and come to the conclusion there was necessarily a resemblance between the two “Kanais”. Alas, a victim of my own preconception, I was totally unprepared for the reality with which I was confronted.

After that weekend, for the next 3 years members of our dojo in Monterey, California attended every Kanai Sensei seminar held on the West Coast, not only for the instructional value, but also as “motivation” sessions whose psychological value could not be underestimated.

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