Today, my Ryukyu Kobudo friends and family are spending the afternoon celebrating the lives of our teachers and friends who, though gone from the this world, left behind an enduring legacy. While I cannot attend the ceremony, I would like to take the time to offer my thanks to a few folks who have had a direct influence on my life in budo and beyond.
Sadly, I do not recall Hank’s last name. I do know he left us too early. Hank was a Marine who trained at the Harrison dojo when I was a kid. He was as tough as they come. And, he was quiet, kind and gentle. His example taught me that one could be tough with out being brash and boastful.
Coming up together in Matsubayashi-Ryu, at different, somewhat rival dojo, John and I shared a lot of bruises and bloody noses over the years. Much later, we would reconnect through Aikido and, still later, would open The River Dojo with Bruce Helwig. Closing the dojo in 2001 was a low point in my life and, for a time, it meant the end of our friendship.
Happily, we would later reconcile but by then, I was in Las Vegas and John still in Greater Cincinnati. I never knew how much I’d missed John until, at his wake, I realized my sons would never meet one of the few men I would have completely trusted at my back in a life or death situation. I am not ashamed to say I wept.
William Dometrich was a founding pillar of authentic, traditional martial arts in Greater Cincinnati and the United States. Also member of the 101st Airborne and motorcycle cop, Dometrich was also a great example of the fact that one could be tough and have high standards while still being kind, decent and giving.
After leaving the Harrison dojo, I was a true rōnin, adrift on the sea of budo. Dometrich Sensei and his wife, Barb, took me in and gave me a dojo home. Occasionally, we have a beer in the kitchen or office at 22 Martin Street. He knew I was a writer and would occasionally share his ideas and philosophy about budo with me, particularly about the role of the written word in forwarding budo.
My experience with Dometrich Hanshi was not unique. He and Okusan were amazingly giving to everyone who trained at Yoseikan.
Still, the biggest debt I owe Hanshi is for his daughter, my teacher, Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich. I met Yoshiko Sensei while attending a Yoseikan Summer Camp. She, and Ryukyu Kobudo have been an important part of my life ever since. Every Ryukyu Kobudo student in the USA, and some from around the world, owe William Dometrich for setting Yoshiko Sensei on the budo path.
Akamine Shizoku (Anma-sai)
Akamine Shizoku was the wife of Akamine Eisuke Hanshi; Yoshiko Sensei’s kobudo teacher. She was affectionately known as Anma-Sai to her husband’s deshi (students) and, in turn, theirs.
In 1999, shortly following Akamine Sensei’s passing, I was honored to stay at the Hombu Dojo in Okinawa for the better part of six weeks. During my stay, Anma-sai and her family were exceedingly gracious about having a giant American stomping around upstairs. They fed me, looked after me and told me stories about Akamine Sensei.
One day, Yoshiko Sensei, Takara Sensei, Anma-sai and I took a drive out to one of the more remote, connected islands in Okinawa; Ishigaki-jima if memory serves. There, we hiked up to a memorial cave, where Okinawans had hidden from both US and Japanese troops during World War II. While Anma-sai did not say much, it was clear that such places held difficult, solemn memories for her. It was a moment and memory that will remain with me all of my days.
On the way home, Anma-sai and I both drifted to sleep in the back of Takara Sensei’s taxi. Yoshiko Sensei snapped a photo as we had fallen asleep leaning on one another. I cherish that photo still.
I did not know Anma-sai well. But, she forever holds a warm place in my heart. And, every Ryukyu Kobudo practitioner would do well to remember her in their memorials as she was by Akamine Sensei’s side from the very beginning.