David Nobuhiro Ito, Aikido 5th Dan
Aikido Chief Instructor and Dojo-cho
Kaicho – Aikido Center of Los Angeles, International Organization
Most people who meet me think that I must have grown up in a “Japanese” style household, but actually it was quite the opposite. I was kind of a juvenile delinquent when I was growing up and I didn’t like anything Japanese nor did I know anything about what it meant to be Japanese. I didn’t grow up with any Asian friends, I couldn’t speak any Japanese and I didn’t even know how to use chopsticks. For all intents and purposes, I was an “American” just like everyone else in my neighborhood. Truthfully, I didn’t become interested in Japanese culture or my own heritage until I started Aikido training. Training in Aikido has made an enormous impact on me as a human being.
When I was 19 years old, I wanted to study Aikido for some reason. So, my mother asked our family friend Dr. Steven Nakauchi Sensei, a Kendo teacher for a recommendation. He gave us Furuya Sensei’s telephone number and told us that he lived on top of the dojo and said, “He is kind of eccentric, but he’s the real deal.” This was all way before emailing, so we left a phone message.
A couple of days later, Furuya Sensei called me back. I remember being really nervous during our phone conversation. Furuya Sensei didn’t say anything about Aikido. All that I can remember him talking about was what it means to be Japanese and how Japanese-Americans are losing their identity as Japanese. Whatever else Furuya Sensei said on the phone that day must have convinced me because I started training the next day.
It has been 27 years since that afternoon in March when I spoke to Furuya Sensei on the telephone. In the interim, Aikido has changed my life in ways I never thought possible. What Aikido has given me is too wordy for this short essay. If I had to sum it up, the training in Aikido has given me a sense of “personal power.” It is not power in the modern definition meaning “over others,” but “power” in this sense is what the Japanese call jiriki or “personal power” which is a power over myself.
Externally, I would have to say that my jiriki is that I am more confident, outgoing, organized, and have a more positive outlook on life. I believe these characteristics are the external manifestation of how I feel inside.
Internally, I think that jiriki is having a sense of wa or “harmony” in my life. Harmony is more than being in harmony with nature or with other people; it is a sense of harmony that I feel inside. Aikido teaches us that everything begins with being mindful, balanced and centered in not only our bodies but in our minds too. This inner nature is harmony. No matter how my day is going, when I bow to O’Sensei’s picture in the shomen before class, I am reminded that harmony is internal and that everything else is a manifestation of my internal state. I breathe, take a moment to reflect and I instantly feel better.
I think that “harmony” was what Furuya Sensei was really talking about all those years ago when he called me. On a certain level, being in harmony with one’s self means having a sense of identity. Today, I understand that I get to be both Japanese and American. I can look at it negatively as being neither here nor there and caught in some type of purgatory. Or, I can be my own person influenced by all the good that both Japanese and American cultures have to offer. The definition of harmony is “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.” Life being “my choice,” I get the wonderful opportunity to choose what elements to hold on to and combine them together to form something special which will enhance my life.
I believe that everyone has “personal power” and that Aikido training helps one find, bring out and use their own personal power. Training in Aikido can have a tremendous impact on one’s life. There are so many layers and one can choose any way they want to approach their Aikido training - physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. They say that training in Aikido is akin to the forging of a beautiful sword. The sword begins as crude metal, which is heated and then the layers are pounded into the shape of a sword. Aikido is then the forge, the training is the heat and we are the metal. However, a sword is not sharp nor an object of beauty until it undergoes a polish. The polish in this sense comes from consistent and constant effort by both the student and the teacher.
My job is to provide the best instruction that I can and to create the right environment just as Furuya Sensei did for me all those years ago. Like me, it is the students job to put in the hard work, determination and perseverance. What comes out in the end can be a beautiful person who is better, stronger and flexible not only in body but in mind too. The student who masters Aikido is a person who finds harmony within themselves.
I think that Aikido is the greatest martial art on the planet. I believe in the philosophy of Aikido and I have faith in its effectiveness. I hope that you will join us and use Aikido to find and harness your personal power en route to finding your own personal harmony.
About Ito Sensei
David Nobuhiro Ito Sensei began his study of Aikido and journey into Japanese culture at the age of 19. He has been studying Aikido for over 27 years and has been awarded the rank of fifth-degree black belt in Aikido from the Aikikai Foundation – Aikido World Headquarters located in Japan. Ito Sensei apprenticed directly under Reverend Kensho Furuya for 17 years until his passing in 2007. After that fateful moment, Ito Sensei became the Chief Instructor and Dojo-Cho of the Aikido Center of Los Angeles and the Kai-Cho of the dojo’s international organization.
Ito Sensei has a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Physical Education from California State University, Long Beach and a Master’s degree from Emperor’s College in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He is licensed by the State of California to practice acupuncture and has been a personal trainer since 1998 holding one of the highest personal training certification as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Ito Sensei travels every year to visit the Aikido World Headquarters or Hombu Dojo in Japan in order to deepen his understanding of Aikido and Japanese culture. He is also a Doctor of Acupuncture candidate at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine – San Diego.
Ito Sensei also writes the dojo’s Daily Message and edits and publishes the Aiki Dojo, the dojo’s free monthly newsletter on all things related to martial arts, Aikido and Japanese culture.