Interview with Bruce Bookman by Meik Skoss

Bruce Bookman, 5th dan, is Chief Instructor of the Seattle Aikikai. He began studying aikido at age 12, under the direction of Yoshimitsu Yamada of the New York Aikikai. In 1978, he went to Japan to train at the Aikikai Hombu dojo, where he studied under Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Kazuo Chiba. In 1980, Bookman returned to the United States, and established the Seattle Aikikai. A professional aikido instructor, Bookman has recently begun to produce quality instructional videotapes.

AJ: For the record, Bruce, when and with whom did you begin your aikido training?

Bruce Bookman: I began training twenty-five years ago, in 1970, at the New York Aikikai with Yamada Sensei.

And why did you begin training?

I needed self-defense. I looked in the yellow pages and discovered that the martial arts school closest to my house was the New York Aikikai. I had no idea what they taught there; martial arts were martial arts, as far as I was concerned. I went to the dojo and just fell in love with aikido.

So it was love at first sight?

Yes. I saw one of the senior members doing a forward roll, and it looked so smooth and beautiful that I just had to learn how to do it too. I didn’t even care if aikido was self-defense, it just grabbed me. I went out and got a gi right away and came back and started training. Yamada Sensei also impressed me very strongly right from the beginning. He was such a kind individual and I always felt him to be a very nurturing presence.

It’s hard to describe all the ways that Yamada Sensei has helped me. He had something that I wanted—mastery of this art. Yet, he was one of the kindest people I have ever met. I recall the times I was called up to his office for these little talks. I can almost remember them word for word—the attitude adjustments, talking about training and how it related to my life, how a dojo operates, how to interact with other people, and the whole idea behind aikido. One thing that I genuinely appreciate about Yamada Sensei is that he has very few pretenses. At the time, I was reading everything I could about aikido. I had spiritual ideas about the art and Yamada Sensei would go through and destroy every single one of them. Any preconception that I had of what an aikido teacher should be, Yamada Sensei helped me to dissolve. And this helped me to be able to absorb more. It was quite spiritual, in a way. Yamada Sensei probably wouldn’t describe himself as a spiritual person, but I think that at some very important level he is.

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