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Profile of a Shihan: Mitsunari Kanai

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by Kazuo Chiba

Aiki News #26 (August 1977)

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

Mitsunari Kanai Sensei (1939-2004)

They call him “Hambei,” but no one knows why. For many years one of his character traits has been to annoy people by appearing in unexpected places at unexpected moments. If I remember correctly, it was one morning in early autumn of 1959 or 1960 when Mr. Kanai appeared in front of me while I was sprinkling water on the stepping stones at the front entrance to the old Hombu Dojo. He and I had become very close friends during our youthful years while immersed from morning till night in judo training.Together we had read the novel, Sugata Sanshiro, by Tsuneo Tomita* so many times that we wore it out.

He had criticized me for abandoning judo and betraying our friendship “to seek refuge in Ueshiba Sensei’s bosom like a cornered bird.” Actually, I had suddenly become aware of budo (as distinct from judo) following my experience one day while practicing judo when I was challenged to a sword duel and was soundly beaten, without so much as touching my opponent.

Sensing something unusual in my old friend who had suddenly appeared in front of me that morning, I asked the reason for his visit. Hearing his answer, I beat a hasty retreat. He said, “I’ve made up my mind to become O-Sensei’s uchideshi, but I don’t need your help. As far as I’m concerned we have never met.” In due course, after undergoing a severe trial period, Mr. Kanai was admitted as an uchideshi, and from that time on we began eating rice from the same rice-cooker.

More than ten years have passed since he went to Boston, carefree and sword in hand. Ignorant of the different time-zones, he didn’t believe the stewardess when the plane arrived: “My watch says a different time. This can’t be Boston!” He stubbornly remained seated in the plane and made Yamada Shihan, who had come to meet him, search high and low for him. The subject of this anecdote now runs one of the largest aikido dojos in the United States, which is flourishing with hundreds of students.

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