“Am I doing this right?” I wondered out loud, trying a guard pass on Sakura, my training partner. “I think so…oof,” she said, as I passed. We sat up and looked around the dojo. I squinted at the bodies around me, trying to make out their body positions with my poor vision in the underground basement that we called “Wajitsu Keishukai Tokyo Head quarters.”
I loved that place with all my heart, humble as it was. Located in downtown Tokyo, we occupied the basement of a normal-looking office building. The cold concrete walls were sprayed with a kind of hard/soft yellow foam that didn’t provide cushioning but prevented injury if we crashed into it. It was always flaking off and we had to sweep it up after every class. The ceiling was lined with pipes and wires. There were no heavy bags, no cages, no rings, no weight equipment. But it produced some of the toughest, most successful professional fighters in all of Japan.
A large man rose from his cross-legged position on the floor near the desk and door, and hobbled over to the center of the mats. “It’s best if you put your foot here,” he said, grabbing someone and proceeding to add detail to the technique the instructor was teaching. The guy being demonstrated on grunted as Moriyama-san’s weight came down on him. Everyone snickered a little, but watched with interest.
Moriyama-san was a master at Judo, and started became joint owner of Wajitsu Keishukai HQ with his classmate Kubo-san, a GYM for MMA which grew and grew until four other branches split off and formed in different locations around Tokyo. He was gentle and kind, but a strict task master when needbe.
We all continued practicing the technique until we got it right. Then he made us do 300 push ups. I could only do 50 with breaks in between. The men dutifully pushed out 300.
After training, we all cleaned the mats together. I sat next to Moriyama-san and shared with him some of my uncertainties about my physical strength, striking ability, and career goals.
“Don’t worry,” he said with a smile. “Nan to ka naru. It’ll all work out if you just keep training hard.”
I wondered what he was like years ago when he was thinner and could do martial arts. He hurt his knees doing Judo and so he only observed classes, teaching technique once in a while. Everyone came to him to consult him and ask for advice.
I often didn’t stay until the end on Thursday because after cleaning the gym, they locked up around 11:15 PM and I had an hour and a half train ride to get home.
Saturday rolled around and I ate a big breakfast. I had to work at my English school from 8 AM to 5:30 with barely a break, and then catch the train an hour and a half to the gym. Then I’d do K-taro’s class and train until 10 PM. It would be a long, exhausting, but glorious day.
4:10 PM, my high-level student was explaining about some chemical reactions in his work. The bell rang. YES! Five minute break. I hurried back to the teacher’s room to get a drink of water and check my cell phone.
Oh, there was a message from Naoko Omura, one of my Keishukai teammates. Should I open it? Sure, I had three minutes left. It was in Japanese and I struggled to make it out. It said:
“Dear everyone, (something) I’m so sad to (something) but you might have heard that Moriyama-sensei has passed away (something) so we’re all meeting tonight at (blah blah blah.) Please (something).”
…………….uum…….WHAT?!?! What? No, I misunderstood that. Definitely misunderstood. I definitively can’t read Japanese so well. I should study more. But this kanji “nakunaru” is used for “die.” She couldn’t have meant that…no way.
“Roxy, what’s wrong?” my co-worker Trisha put her arm around my shoulder. I realized that tears were flowing down my cheeks.
“I…I…my sensei….Somebody…somebody tell me what this means! This kanji isn’t ‘die!'” But it was “die.”
The bell rang. That means we all had to get back to the classroom within ten seconds or we’d be in big trouble. Our customers were paying big money by the minute.
“Roxy you have to work,” Trisha hugged me, as teachers filed out left and right.
I was crying.
“Roxy, don’t think about it. Just don’t think about it. You have to work!”
There was nobody else to cover for me and teach. I wiped my tears, waited another 30 seconds, hoping my eyes stopped looking red, and went back in to my student. It was the longest 40 minutes of my entire life. I barely heard a word he said.
After the lesson, I read the email and went straight to the address written. It was a hall for a Japanese wake. So many people were there. Team mates from every branch around Tokyo came, some wearing suits and dresses, some street clothes, someone in an apron, one guy in shorts and tank top and sandy sandals, obviously having come straight from the beach as soon as he had heard. At least a hundred people dropped what they were doing in their lives and came to see Moriyama-san. I met Sakura, who couldn’t stop crying, and told me that he was hit by a truck rolling backwards near an apartment complex the previous night, was taken to a hospital, and passed away this morning. I also heard some rumors that this might not be the case. I timidly glanced in the open coffin and almost threw up.
Scary and confusing.
I learned the Japanese custom of what to do at a wake by observing the people in line in front of me, but I think I screwed it up. Something about lighting candles and bowing a certain number of times. I paid my respects to his wife and family, and they actually said he spoke about me and loved me.
I was the only foreigner there.
I wish I had known him better as a person, but he was always there, always that strong presence in the corner who looked out for us. Keishukai was my first gym that I joined after moving to Japan, and they became my family.
May you Rest in Peace, Moriyama-san.