Aki Fleshler Sensei was interviewed by Liese Klein Sensei in 2013. The interview was published in Biran Summer 2013. View the full issue as PDF: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B430gEINcl_VOUs4TW5FbGJaTUxlRzdCV1ZwUlhfUnFRcmJF
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.
Read the full interview with Aki Fleshler Sensei in the complete 2013 Summer issue of Biran: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B430gEINcl_VOUs4TW5FbGJaTUxlRzdCV1ZwUlhfUnFRcmJF