Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nakajima Sensei

Takeshi Nakajima Sensei is a truly encredible individual. The more I discover about his life and character, the more I am left smiling at his non-prepossessing manner and open attitude. I was first drawn to his exuberant personality and, since, have been deeply impressed by his lifetime dedication to budo. Nakajima Sensei is an expert in both Judo and Aikido and is director of the Japanese academy of budo. He has traveled throughout the world, promoting the martial arts and encouraging people’s with disabilities to get involved. Most recently, I spoke to Nakajima Sensei about his experiences learning how to snowboard at the mature age of 68.

I first met Nakajima Sensei through my Judo instructor in Kitakyushu, Japan. Masamitsu Haga Sensei was concerned about the difficulties I was having in finding a university where I could study Japanese. He made some calls and, finally, set up a meeting for me in Tokyo with Nakajima Sensei at the Kokushikan University.

Nakajima Sensei is a short, energetic man with shriveled ears that have seen many years of judo. I know this because he proudly grabbed my hand on our first meeting and said, “Here, feel my ears! They’re like potatoes!” I shook his hand—then ear—and, in the customary Japanese tradition, offered him a souvenir from Kitakyushu, saying, “Sumimasen, Kore tsumaranaimono douzo…” [Excuse me, this is a boring thing but please take it].
In his cheerful manner, Nakajima Sensei said, “If it’s boring, than keep it! I only want delicious things!”

After some debate, we determined that the box of Ramen I had brought from Fukuoka—where ramen is famous for being prepared in a pork soup—was, in fact, possibly delicious.

As we sat down at his desk, Nakajima Sensei asked me, “When did you go blind.”
“I went blind when I was eight years old,” I told him.

With that, Nakajima Sensei jumped out of his chair and slapped his hands on the desk, exclaiming, “That’s great! You must be so strong!”

I must admit, I’ve told many people about my childhood illness and, inevitably, they have reacted with sorrow or commiseration. Never before had someone exclaimed how wonderful a thing it was to go blind, however.

“We all have a weakness,” he went on to explain, “I am short. You, though, you know your weakness. You are blind. So now you can deal with it and become strong. You have had so many years to become strong.”

Even now, I laugh to remember his excitement. What he said was true and, despite all my years of travel and adventure, I had never quite looked at things in this way. Some people have spent their whole lives wondering what’s wrong with them. Me, though, I know what my problem is. I’m blind. Done and done; let’s move on.

And move on we did. Nakajima Sensei took me around the Kokushikan University to meet professors and students and told me stories about the amazing people he had met who have overcome diversity to achieve greatness, each in their own way.

Upon our parting, he said, “I think you should study judo at the kokusai budo daigaku.” The course at the international budo university was something I had researched and dreamed of attending. With Nakajima sensei’s encouragement, I applied to the course.

So here we are, sitting in Katsura, Japan.

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