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Dojo as a Cultural Center (1)

by Jay Gluck

Aikido Journal #111 (1997)

In this new series of articles, our contributing editor, Jay Gluck links aikido with other arts and activities, many of which he has personally studied, and offers the suggestion that many of these might be used to expand the range of subjects taught in aiki dojos outside Japan.

In summer, 1951, Tai Chi was introduced for the first time in New York to non-Orientals by Li Chi Chao, graceful warrior and professional modern dancer.

This was at the Asia Institute, where I was deputy director. There were no kung-fu Bruce Lee or Karate Kid movies popularizing it then so no one enrolled, except myself and my dancer sister who had introduced fellow modern dance trouper Chao, but as we were both tuition-free staff members, there was no class.

The Institute regularly offered an MA degree, in which I was enrolled, and some 20 Asian languages for New York Regents-approved college credit. Matriculated and part-time students included exchange students from other colleges with no Asian courses, working international traders, would-be diplomats, and interested individuals, from guitar-playing Asia finks to two uniformed US Army intelligence officers.

We also mounted exhibitions of Asian art in the halls and gallery of the beautiful Victorian mansion on 67th Street off Fifth Avenue, which drew crowds. As we were a night school, except for gallery-goers, our valuable real estate was unused all day.

I added a number of public symposia on timely subjects, non-academic classes and cultural activities to the institute’s offerings. These included tai chi, ikebana (no takers), Chinese brush painting and calligraphy (good turnout), Japanese dance (no takers), Cambodian dance (six students), shakuhachi bamboo flute (no takers) and some others I cannot now recall.

Soshitsu Sen, son of the grand tea master of the largest tea school, Urasenke, was visiting the U.S. to lecture and demonstrate at churches and Buddhist temples. At the “Japan Night” of our series “1,001 Asian Nights” he presented his tea service for the first time to a Caucasian American audience and repeated it on WJZ TV.

At war’s end, Sen had been in training as a kamikaze pilot and I was in US Navy night torpedo bombers,sometimes referred to as “Yankee kamikazes” due to our high loss rate.

Neither of us saw action. He said we were Kamikaze-doshi (both kamikazes) and he invited me as his “younger brother-in-suicide” to come to Kyoto as his guest. This would fulfill my director’s wishes that I spend some time on my own in Asia after graduation and before entering the State Department or CIA, as was my career plan.

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