by Paul Tigh, Aikido of Dallas
On October 7-8, 2023, Aikido of Dallas had the great pleasure of hosting Steve Pimsler Sensei for a weekend seminar. Forty members and visitors from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and Plano participated and filled the mat for every class. Thank you. Your presence is an encouraging sign that the practice of Aikido continues to recover from the ill effects of the pandemic.
Steve is a New Yorker. He joined New York Aikikai in 1974 with Yamada Sensei as Chief Instructor. Steve is credited with preparing much of the text for Yamada Sensei’s instructional book Ultimate Aikido. As deshi, Steve would host visiting Aikido dignitaries including Kisshomaru Ueshiba Doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu, Osawa Sensei, Saito Sensei and Arakawa Sensei of Hombu Dojo as well as senior teachers and practitioners from around the globe. Steve’s practice reflects the great history and diversity of technique and teaching methods uniquely available from so many years at New York Aikikai. Steve serves on the Technical Committee of the United States Aikido Federation, and in January 2023 he assumed the role of Chief Instructor of New York Aikikai at the request of Yamada Sensei.
At the Dallas seminar, approximately half of the participants were well-seasoned veterans who, like Walt Whitman, “…have learned that to be with those I like is enough.” About 30% of the seminar participants were in the early yudansha stage of their Aikido journey, and about 20% were mudansha looking at the ranks of hakama and wondering if they belonged.
Each class led by Steve was considered and deceptively simple: a single attack, a series of beginning movements for receiving the attack, and a progression of techniques, each leading uke to a natural place of unbalancing and an easy, welcoming fall. No frightening technique was shown. No heroic ukeme was necessary. Minds and bodies relaxed and opened to what was being shown.
Most of the time, Steve would first demonstrate the next movement or technique with a mudansha. Over the course of the weekend every mudansha was called upon to demonstrate with Steve. During each class, Steve moved around the mat and gave every beginner the opportunity to throw him and to be thrown by him. A 1,000 watt smile never left his face.
Steve’s openness continued between classes and during shared meals. He would joyfully field questions about his Aikido journey, recounting memories of teachers and freely identifying the source of a “stolen” technique or movement. During the potluck dinner, Steve sought out and listened to the stories of the participants, eager to hear their sense of their individual Aikido adventure.
As surely as water answers to the power of gravity, the great wave of the boomer generation is nearing the fall from which it will not get up. Demographics, pandemic hangover, technology, and social evolution conspire to challenge the continued recovery and growth of Aikido. It is now especially important that we nurture the naturally curious who may cross out threshold, and that we offer ourselves as servants to those who are only at the beginning of their practice.
A seminar with Steve Pimsler Sensei is a lesson for our time.