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Lost in Translation


The past few days have been quite a trip. An Aikido retreat was held in the small Californian coastal town of Santa Cruz and while boasting a shortlist of qualified Aikido instructors the one that stood out is Motomichi Anno Sensei.

Motomichi Anno Sensei (8th Dan Shihan) is not only highly regarded as an Aikido Shihan, but also as a person as well. In the Aikido community his personality is as well known as his martial skill. At Santa Cruz he was able to teach for 2 hours each day for the 5 days of the retreat. I was only able to make it to 2 days, but after 2 days I feel that it was well worth the attendance.

To meet another one of O’Sensei’s direct students (possibility for the first and last time) was quite an experience. I had the pleasure to of exchanging a few words with him yesterday night during a social event at the dojo in Santa Cruz and had some encouraging words for myself and my training in Aikido before he continued to meet the others in the party.

However the premise of this post belongs to an occasion a few hours prior. A dinner that was thrown on by a retiree couple who lived in the hills above the town. A nice, quaint modern neighborhood among the trees had the “humans living among mother nature” vibe. They were playing host to the group of Japanese who came with Anno Sensei from Japan. They had trained under him in the past or were close to him, including Anno’s Sensei’s wife.

So there I was put in the table with the Japanese only speakers and with 3 other Americans who were UCSC Japanese language students who (I later found out) were only helpful in translating 20% of the time (no offense to them). My Japanese speaking friend was talking to the host a table down and was unable to help me much to my dismay. This situation was made even interesting when I was seated next to the elderly gentleman of the Japanese group, a man known as (if I remember correctly) Horihata-san.

Not knowing a lick of English on his end, and not known one bit of Japanese on my end it was awkward for the first 20 minutes. With the American students testing out their language skills on the visitors (out of the 4 Japanese in the table only one spoke mediocre English) I felt like the Sean Boswell of the group.

Then out of nowhere Horihata-san starts talking to me. With one of the students translated our conversation was about me, my Aikido experience, my nationality…and some other things I can’t remember. Jolly ol’ gentleman, a little on the humorous side. Then we started doing Aikido – in the middle of dinner. I was there thinking “Sean Boswell ain’t got nothing this!”. So here I was having nikkyo done on me by this 5’3″ 60-something don’t-know-English Japanese man in them middle of dinner, all the mean while chilling and having dinner in the great out doors.

Not bad. Especially since Horihata-san was speaking to me ONLY in Japanese. Do elderly folks talk a lot even to those who they know don’t understand what they’re saying?

but here’s the kicker: at the end of dinner the student who was translating for me comes up and tells me that despite the fact that he was the translator, I understood Horihata-san better than he did! It was then that I remembered Horihata-san mentioning during dinner that despite not understanding him, I understood the ideas of what he was saying to me versus the American translators who were more concerned with translating what he was saying.

Lost in translation? I think what happened was Aikido mind translation. That’s right, 10 points for me. Hell yeah 😉

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4 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. Pingback: “Lost in Translation,” by the Accidental Aikidoist

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