by Deborah Maizels
I was trying to “Marie-Kondo” my home recently when I uncovered the keiko gi from my own Sayonara party held in Iwama on September 6, 1981.
[Marie Kondo’s Rules of Tidying: “…discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go…”
…Does it spark Joy?… What a difficult question... How can the answer be only ‘yes’ or ‘no’?]
In Iwama, Saito Sensei would hold a ‘Sayonara’ party when a student was leaving to return home. You were to bring a gi top that Sensei and your fellow deshi would sign with good wishes and memories.
I had spent a year training at the Iwama dojo. My time there didn’t end well. I fell ill with hepatitis in July and was hospitalized in the Tomobe Chūōbyōin [Central Hospital] for a month.
My liver, health, eating habits, and the ‘tough time’ are all discussed in a variety languages on my gi …
[Ok. Now my answer to “Does it spark JOY?” is clear: “No. No Joy!”]
Then I look closer at all that’s there. And there is so much. So much kimochi. So much feeling.
In the middle of the back of the gi, Sensei has written the most energetic, vibrant “IWAMA TAKEMUSU” in bold red.
I remember my gi on the table in the shokudo before the party. People started signing it there before Sensei arrived. Everyone was extremely mindful that the back of the gi was to be left untouched until Sensei had signed. When he arrived, Sensei opened one of the shokudo table drawers to get a marker, but it contained only one red marker that had a gigantic tip. I’d never seen a marker like that in the shokudo before. Sensei didn’t hesitate. He picked it up and wrote “IWAMA TAKEMUSU”.
[… Does it spark JOY?... it's more a feeling of deep, strong, vibrant, grounded power. The same power I felt from him both on and off the mat.]
When I arrived in Iwama in 1980, Hitohira Sensei, who had gone off to study Japanese cuisine, had returned and had begun training again. His drawing of Daruma is there on the back to the right of his father’s calligraphy. He had borrowed that same big red pen to create Daruma’s earrings.
[…JOY?... more an unfathomable feeling tinged with a hint of melancholy… the feeling of seeing both father and son together again, side-by-side.]
There are so many other names on this gi, names of my senpai, my dohai, and my kohai (so many of whom became sensei themselves that it is mind-boggling. Names like David Alexander, Bernice Tom, Mark and Ute, Kayla, Satoshi … and on and on.) Each name sparks some feeling, thought, memory, or emotion that all combine in my heart to create Iwama again for me.
Does it spark JOY? Not really. For me, it sparks IWAMA.
Totemo Iwama-kimochi desu.
🙏Many thanks to Rie Matsutani, who provided the translations of the Japanese on my gi. And to Marlene Schoofs, who translated the German. And a deep bow filled with the kimochi of our shared memories on and off the Iwama mat to: