At various points in all our lives, we experience situations which force us, either by choice or necessity, to step back from those activities and/or people who are an integral part of our lives. For the better part of 5 years, I found myself in such a set of circumstances.
Following my last trip to Japan in 2012 to attend the Kodansha Training Seminar with 15th Soke of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Tsumaki Kazuo Genwa, I became occupied with numerous work and family related issues that forced me to step back from the second great love of my life, the art of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu…my wife, Dianne, being the first (of course). Thankfully, I was able to lean on an extremely competent and reliable group of Instructors, Assistant Instructors and Board of Directors to “take up the slack”, as it were, and to keep things running efficiently during this time.
United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu (USTRI) has always been a “family-centric” organization. Whenever anyone in our group finds themselves in a situation where they have to miss a training session, or take an extended leave of absence due to family-related matters, we do not chide them or make them feel like a lesser person for doing so. In point of fact, we chide them if they DON’T take the necessary time to attend to whatever family issues they are having, so that they can eventually return to their training knowing that they have done all they can to resolve their family matters and can approach their training with a clear mind and open heart. There are very good reasons for this, rooted in my own personal experience.
In 1994, my late father was diagnosed with severe C.O.P.D. and was given about 2 months to live. He was a very proud (and private) man who only felt at ease receiving care from licensed caregivers and doctors. At that time, I was involved in a sword art (not Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu) whose members considered themselves a very tight-knit group and felt that if one of their own was in a grave family situation, fellow Dojo members should be asked to step in and help. This was not acceptable to both myself and my father, so I was, in essence, ostracized from the group and all evidence of my presences was expunged from the Dojo.
Following my father’s passing in February of 1994, my wife, Dianne, and I traveled to Japan to seek rejuvenation and renewal. During that time, we had a chance to meet again with Tsumaki Sensei (as he was known to us at that time) over lunch at the home of the family who introduced us to him the previous year. We explained our situation regarding our former Dojo in detail, and with our friends acting as Interpreters (our Japanese was not quite as developed as it is now), asked him if it would be possible for him to ask his father, the 14 th Soke of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, whether he would consider accepting us as Deshi of his Ryuha. Upon hearing of our ostracism from our current Dojo, he simple shook his head and said that it was very unfortunate and that if we were under his tutelage, he would have insisted that we take whatever time we needed and return to our training when the family situation was resolved. Prior to leaving Japan, we learned from our friends that his father was most enthusiastic about having us join the Ryuha and that we should begin our new training in earnest. The rest is, as they say, history…
Bringing things back to the present, I swore a solemn oath in 1994 that if I ever had the opportunity to create a group in the United States to preserve and teach the art of Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu, that I would never chide or belittle any Deshi who needed to attend to family concerns and would follow Tsumaki Sensei’s example of encouragement. So it has been for 20 years since USTRI was founded.
However, in 2012 I found myself in the position of having to take my own words to heart.
In February of that year, we willingly and gratefully became caregivers for Dianne’s mother, which entailed having her move into our home and involved a distinct change of lifestyle. It was at this time that I realized it would be necessary to curtail much of my involvement with USTRI in order to provide the proper assistance that she needed. In 2015 her condition worsened and she merged with the great void in July. Dianne’s father, who was suffering from cancer due to complications from Mesothelioma, passed that same year in October. After the traditional Japanese mourning period of 1 year, and following my retirement from my job on June 30 of this year, I found that I was now able to rejuvenate and renew my involvement with USTRI, all family responsibilities being properly fulfilled.
I do not mean this essay to be an “apologia” by any means…simply a testament to the adage: “Always practice what you preach” and Tsumaki Sensei’s example of “making one’s own family a top priority.”
I would like to conclude these ruminations with one final thought. While a certain camaraderie exists within a given Dojo, the leader of that group, and its members, should respect a given student’s boundaries and encourage them to attend to family matters without fear of ostracism or derision upon their return. They should be welcomed back with open arms and open hearts as if they never left…
Michael Alexanian (Gennan Buhaku)
Genwakai Shihan (Head Instructor)
USTRI General Manager
United States Tamiya Ryu Iaijutsu Gengo Hojisha no Kai Kaicho