Aki Fleshler Sensei was interviewed by Liese Klein Sensei in 2013. The interview was published in Biran Summer 2013. Click here to view the full issue as PDF.
Excerpts from the interview conducted by Liese Klein:
LK: Where did you grow up?
AF: I was born in New York city in 1949. My family left NYC when I was six years old, to live in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania (and no, I didn’t know anything about heart-shaped beds...) I graduated from Stroudsburg High School, and attended Yale College during the fun years 1966-71. That was plenty of formal school for me until I went for a Masters in Computer Science in 1985-87.
LK: Did you do martial arts as a kid?
AF: My father taught me to box, and wrestled briefly in High School. I guess I should say I had some practical experience in losing and winning fights with the usual stupid bullies -- does that count? In college I joined judo and karate clubs . I loved the feeling of the training, the awakening of ki in my body, but I definitely did not like the competitive atmosphere of the judo club or the punitive, militaristic feeling of the karate classes.
LK: How did you first encounter Aikido?
AF: In my 20s, I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1973, I visited a very close childhood friend who had moved nearby, when another visitor invited us to go watch class at Kanai Sensei’s dojo in Central Square. My friend and I joined together soon after.
LK: What appealed to you about the art?
AF: The simple fact is that I saw it and knew that I wanted to do it, with a feeling deep in my gut, not in my head. I can say a lot of things here, but they are all a kind of story you tell yourself to explain the unexplainable. On the one hand I thought it was completely fake. On the other hand I believed it would help me with certain problems I was having as a pianist in small ensembles (jazz and pop) -- specifically how to play your own music while in the flow of group improvisation. I came back five more times to watch, tried to talk myself out of training, and then just jumped into the deep water.
LK: Who were your first teachers?
AF: Mitsunari Kanai Sensei was my first teacher. Having said that, I think I was a terrible student! I had no idea how to study, how to steal -- I just came to class and soaked it in. There were certainly various seniors at the dojo who helped me a lot. In 1977 I started dojo-hopping around the western US, and found myself in Santa Fe, New Mexico, training with Sensei Masahilo Nakazono and his son Sensei Katsuharu Nakazono. This was a very small, very intense environment. Again I don’t think I retained much formal technique, but I did learn that I could survive! Also part of the package there was Kotodama Meditation, and Sensei’s Medicine School. This lasted until Nakazono Sensei formally closed the dojo in 1982.
LK: Were you interested in Japanese culture?
AF: I had been exposed to Japanese graphic art as a child, brought back here by all the GIs. But it was really an encounter with Paul Rep’s Zen Flesh Zen Bones and Stewart Harold’s A Net of Fireflies which opened my awareness of a different approach to life, a different aesthetic.
Click here to read the full interview with Aki Fleshler Sensei in the complete 2013 Summer issue of Biran.