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Interview with Pat Hendricks

by Ikuko Kimura

Published Online

This interview was conducted by Japanese editor Ikuko Kimura at Aiki Expo 2002 in May in Las Vegas, Nevada

Pat Hendricks at Aiki Expo 2002

Ikuko Kimura: How are you enjoying the Expo?

Pat Hendricks: This is more than I ever expected, there is so much talent here, not just the teachers, who are amazing, but so many people of a really high caliber. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any event in my whole martial arts career that equals this.

I hear you trained very hard to prepare yourself for the demonstration?

Yes, my three students, who are all exceptional in their own right, and I have done demonstrations together in other martial arts events, so at first I thought, “We have our standard demo, we can just change it a little bit.” But then I felt this event was so important that I wanted to put more time in and help make it as special as it deserved to be.

How many students did you bring?

Eight uchideshi (live-in students) from my dojo came, and two former students who have now become teachers, plus ten direct students of mine and another four or five from various regions.

How many students do you have?

I have about sixty adults and fifty or sixty children, at my dojo, so over a hundred all together.

Do you teach every day?

Yes, I do. My philosophy, that I got from observing Saito Sensei, is that no matter how high-ranked I get or how advanced I am, it’s really important for me to do as many classes as I can. So when I am at the dojo and not traveling, I teach all the classes. That’s just what I do. I teach the kid’s classes because I feel that inspires them.

When did you originally start aikido?

I started in the summer of 1974 in a small college in Monterey where Mary Heiny was teaching. Soon after enrolling I found Stanley Pranin’s dojo, which was also in Monterey, so I started going there. I drove about an hour each way three times a week to get to the dojo.

How old were you then?

I was eighteen when I started aikido in June and I turned nineteen in September, so when I entered Stanley’s dojo in the fall, I was nineteen.

Stanley said he was very proud of you.

Oh, I’ve always had unbelievable support from him. He was my first teacher and I learned so much from him. I did three times a week with him, and then a Saturday women’s aikido class with Danielle Smith. At some point I moved into Stanley’s dojo and became a sort of informal uchideshi, and trained in all the classes.

Around 1977 Stanley went to Japan. We were up at Oakland training with Bruce Klickstein at the time. Bruce had already been to Iwama once and he was getting ready to leave for a longer stay there.

Bruce, a couple of the senior students and Stanley, in other words everybody I felt close to was going to Iwama. So I just decided, “Well, I’m going to go too. It must be a neat place.” I had done a year or a year and a half of university and decided to take a year off and go to Japan. I stayed over a year, which was longer than I expected. This was Fall 1977, when there were few foreigners or uchideshi. The training was very severe and traditional. It is still traditional in Iwama, but not so many people are going through what I had to go through.

At that time it was easy for any uchideshi to have personal contact with Saito Sensei and his family. Bruce Klickstein and I were the only uchideshi for most of that year.

No Japanese uchideshi?

No, there were people that came for a month or two, but the only long-term uchideshi before us was Shigemi Inagaki. He was Saito Sensei’s first long-term uchideshi. He taught at the morning class where mostly just the three of us trained. It was a very hard training, very intense. They were 3rd or 4th-dan and I had just become shodan. I learned a lot, including all my weapons training, in those circumstances.

As uke for Morihiro Saito in Iwama Dojo, c. 1988

Being in Iwama for over a year and training in that way must be worth a couple of years or more elsewhere?

Absolutely. We saw Saito Sensei all the time and worked with him all day long.

Did he go abroad at that time?

During my stay he took his first international trip, to Sweden, but it was unusual for him to travel. He didn’t travel anything like he did in the past ten or fifteen years. After that trip to Europe he didn’t go anywhere for a long time. He was at the dojo a lot; he would have lunch with us and even cook for us. It was a wonderful time in that sense, but the training was very, very severe and a lot of people got injured. I took my shodan test soon after entering the dojo and within two weeks I got my arm broken. But in those days you didn’t stop, so I had the bones set by an old blind doctor, Mr. Tachikawa, who was very famous in Iwama. When they brought me in I saw this old blind man just feeling around with his hands and I thought, “I am in trouble now.” But, he was amazing! He was a genuine healer! He took me on as a special project and used all kinds of needles and things to get my arm working again.

How many weeks later?

Within two or three weeks the arm was set and I was training with one arm. Full recovery took about five weeks. It was winter so it was slow to heal. I did experience full recovery, though, and it was fine after that. That was just the way things were done at that time. You would get a bloody nose one night or get something twisted, and it was par for the course. I got many injuries, but I think that was about the time when Saito Sensei decided to really make an effort to make the training safer. Bruce was there and Mr. Inagaki as well. Bruce is a great sempai and a big brother to me. His aikido was awesome.

Why did you become interested in aikido in the first place?

In high school I saw a lot of Bruce Lee movies and I was just drawn naturally to the martial arts.

Why aikido, then?

To be honest it was a coincidence. I wanted to do martial arts, and aikido was what was offered at the time; but from the moment I did my first class I knew it was for me. Everything fit, the movements, the philosophy, the way people taught, everything! I don’t know if I would have stuck with another art, but aikido just suited me from the very beginning.

Have you tried any other martial arts?

Over the years I’ve had a lot of martial arts friends and have done many camps like this although they were on a smaller scale. At a lot of camps you just take whatever classes are being offered. People tend to ask you to play around, so I have experimented with a lot of different martial arts, but aikido has been one consistent thread through my whole life.

So you stayed in Iwama more than a year, and then went back to America?

I went back to America for nearly eight years then returned to Iwama for a number of months, and I continued going back frequently as a short-term uchideshi until 1988 when I decided to become a long-term uchideshi again, for the last time. I have made fifteen or sixteen visits to Iwama all together, but that was my fifth or sixth. I had already started my own dojo back in 1984, and I deliberately decided to leave it, turned it over to a friend and went back to Japan, where I stayed for about 18 months.

If you added up all the time you have spent in Iwama, how long would it be?

I think it would add up to around six years. In 1988 I was experienced enough for a lot of opportunities to come to me. It is a kind of funny story. On one occasion Saito Sensei was being interviewed by the famous Japanese magazine, Wushu. He did a few things with me but mainly used the male uchideshi.

Then everybody dressed for lunch, except me as I was serving tea, as I normally did, still wearing my keikogi. Saito Sensei said to this man, who I guess was the editor, “Well, I guess I can demonstrate with her even though she is a girl,” and he started demonstrating, and just didn’t stop.

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