Don’t stop here!
by Christophe Depaus
Sensei and me as uke with bokken, for the first class he gave in my dojo
As I leaf through “Aikido in Australia” the deep impression made on me by the quality of the articles and reports makes me aware of the honour involved in Tony Smibert’s request to make this modest contribution to this publication.
A few weeks ago, after a weekend school conducted by him on the Belgian coast, I was contemplating Tony Smibert’s water-colours on show in Aziz Belhassane’s private dojo. While discussing the links between his paintings and Aikido with Tony Sensei, as well as the considerable influence which Sugano Sensei had on his work, we reflected not only on the deep feeling of loss left after his passing, but also on the many questions which we would still would have liked to ask Sensei today. I confide in Tony that despite the enormous amount of notes I had made, mainly relating to weapons practice and regarding the internal aspects of the art, that I nonetheless fear that the ravages of time may make those precious and fragile recollections fade away.
Nonetheless some of them will remain unforgettable, especially those linked to the opening of my own dojo, already five long years ago…. “REN SHIN KAN” is the name Sensei gave to my dojo, even before its actual official opening: “REN” to express the notion of “drilling”, superior to the notion of simple training; “SHIN” for the Spirit; and “KAN” to signify the place. A series of kanji characters which can be read as the place where you constantly train the spirit; or else the location of intensive practice and of development of the spirit. I welcomed the name as a gift without ever daring to ask Sensei if it somehow reflected Sensei’s image of me, for good or ill!
Sugano Sensei and Christophe in 2008, JAPAN, IAF Congress
“It’s important that you open a dojo, even if it is small and even if there already are a large number of dojo’s in Brussels” – is how Sensei urged me on. That was in 2006, a year after I had obtained my 4th Dan. I duly obeyed, opening a dojo a few months later in the gymnasium of a small primary school. This is a place of education, a place with a real heart and a place of real simplicity. A place where the good-will is so strong that you feel as if all the kami’s had supervised the building since the laying of its foundations, and today still look after the well-being of all its occupants. Despite the modest nature of the premises, I dared to ask Sensei to give a course there. That was in May 2007. His response was immediate; however to make up for the shortcomings of the space, I decided to move all the mats into the playground and to call upon my friends Michaël Moyses, Michael Ameye and Benoît Toulotte to bring some mats from their own dojos to augment the available training area. Thus we had a haven of peace: the sun inundated us with its rays and its warmth, our faces were wafted with a light breeze, and everyone attending experienced the course as a memorable one. Sensei’s comment made to several students attending was, “Training outside is a good idea, that’s nice!”
However not actually having yet officially opened the dojo in which the day-to-day training took place, Sensei later returned to the Ren Shih Kan dojo, this time to the actual inside dojo. The class that he gave that day is engraved in my memory. I was swallowing his words whole as he spoke, while simultaneously translating them into French for the students. There are four major educational pillars in Aikido. Katate dori tenkan illustrates the principles of unity and connection, the idea of musubi. Katate dori Shihonage underlies the study of body co-ordination, in particular between the legs and the arms —since at its best it involves ‘opening up’ your training partner — involving as it does a change of direction. Shomenuchi ikkyo reflects the study of the whole Aikido system and in particular the omote/ura aspects of techniques. Finally shomenuchi iriminage allows you to study timing, the moment when you should perform the technique. To say that that these educational pillars are crucial doesn’t mean that the other techniques are not important. The study of these other techniques allows you to focus on other detailed aspects of training. Thus Nikkyo and kaiten-nage are examples of these more minor techniques.
For some years before this I had been following Sensei on all his travels around Europe; around Belgium, of course and in the Netherlands, without having ever missed a course, but also in Spain, in Sweden, in Portugal, in France etc. I also went to the New York Aiki Kai to see him, and I went to Japan during the IAF Congresses so as to spend some time there with him and to attend his classes. Everywhere he went, I felt at home, and every dojo seemed to make me welcome. But I must confess that my being able to welcome Sugano Sensei to the Ren Shin Kan dojo involved something even more precious and inexplicable. Perhaps this was because this involved me being given the opportunity to create a space which could hold the instruction that Sensei had given to me. I was no longer content with just “following”: I had created the right atmosphere for a space that would generate enormous good-will between all the students.
It was in November 2009 that Sensei gave his last class in my dojo, four months before he gave the last course he ever gave, a joint seminar with Christian Tissier Shihan in March 2010, also in Belgium.
Jikou Sugano Sensei in 2011, in REN SHIN KAN, for the first class of the season
A year after Sensei’s passing; I had the signal honour of opening the New Year of training in the dojo with his son Jikou Sugano Sensei. Although scheduled at very short notice, this class turned out to be a big success. We really experienced some magic that day! This class involved not only paying homage to Sensei but also welcoming his son - already known to me as an aikido practitioner, but now also revealed to me as a teacher. Beyond the quality of his very presence, even if it had familiar echoes, Jikou Sensei was quickly able to establish his own credentials by virtue of his own personal qualities, quite apart from issues of heredity. Of course there couldn’t be any doubt regarding his obvious heritage, taking into account such things as his vocal qualities, his good-will, his inherent power (which some refer to as his real genetic inheritance), but what brought it home most was the way in which he too embodies the constantly curious and open student, always hungry for more knowledge.
While still saddened by his absence, I can’t help constantly marvelling at the way in which Sugano Sensei’s Aikido has penetrated our hearts and left us with sufficient nourishment to still sustain us, in as much as so many of us around the world still take inspiration from his teachings — as can be seen in the teaching of the many exceptional masters who have visited us. I don’t believe that there is any fixed form of transmission involved, but rather that there is an underlying drive, one that tells us to never stop.
We have all heard Sensei say “Don’t stop here!"
This injunction should still resonate in our hearts today, and indeed today more than ever before.
Pictures supplied by Christophe Depaus
…I started aikido in 1985 at the age of 11. I receive all my aikikai
dan by Sugano Sensei (1992: shodan;...; 2005: yondan; 2011: godan
still registered under Sugano Sensei’s name because he signed personally
the recommendation in 2010). Together with the two Michaël,
I receive the “certified teacher hands & weapons” from Sugano Sensei