In Memorium
Mitsunari Kanai Sensei
April 15, 1939 - March 28, 2004

by Joel Posluns
Chief Instructor of San Francisco Aikikai
Shidoin, United States Aikido Federation

* Photos courtesy of Lyn Flitton

Kanai sensei (nage) and Joel Posluns (uke)

It is just over a year since Kanai Sensei passed away and with the anniversary of his birth (April 15th) just this last Friday, it has finally sunk in that he is gone. I was never a direct student of Sensei's in terms of my day to day practice, but he always treated me as such, which meant a lot to me.

I started Aikido in 1973 at Toronto Aikikai and my first teacher (Bruce Stiles) was one of Kanai Sensei's first students, so I always had a great affinity for Kanai Sensei and interest in the physical style of his techniques. Over the years I have followed him to many seminars and summer camps. One special trip in particular I traveled to Japan with Kanai, Yamada and Tamura Senseis in May of 1989. It was a combination of North American students and also Europeans, so needless to say it was like oil and water trying to mix together.

I have also had the opportunity to travel with Sensei to Europe and all around North America for 25 years as a Yudansha. For the last 14 years I have been Chief Instructor of San Francisco Aikikai and Kanai Sensei encouraged me from the outset and was so generous with the time and energy he spent on me and my students. He visited us many times within that period and came to my home on numerous occasions, usually on the Sunday after a seminar. He loved to take a nap in my wife's studio which was a converted garage at our house in San Anselmo in Marin County just north of San Francisco where I lived with my wife and two kids until moving back to Canada. After his nap, we would cook dinner and talk about the seminar or other things. He always made a big fuss over my wife's artwork, and Lyn usually gave him a little picture or photo to take home with him and of course he got to see and know our two children as they grew up over the years.

Kanai sensei

When I first moved to San Francisco in January of 1991 starting a dojo was the furthest thing from my mind. I relocated there for a senior marketing position in a financial services firm. After about 6 months I decided that while we liked the Bay Area, corporate life was not for me. I went to the 30th Anniversary of the Waialae dojo in Honolulu in June of 1991, to see my friends in Hawaii and to talk to Kanai and Yamada Senseis about my predicament and to ask them individually what I should do. Both suggested to me to open a dojo since I liked it there and wanted to make Aikido my full time occupation.

Kanai sensei

Over the last 14 years, in combination and individually, they have visited my dojo probably 40 or 50 times. One of my most memorable visits from Kanai Sensei was after he had knee surgery a few years ago and he wasn't allowed to put any weight on his leg for six months or more. So he came out with his wife Sharon and his kids Yuki and Misha for a holiday. They stayed at one of my student's who had an apartment that they were moving out of by the beach and just had a family holiday and hung out with us and at the dojo. Sharon and Misha came every day to practice and Sensei came to watch class and to see our new tatami which we had just installed. It was nice to be with him outside of the context of a seminar and to see him relaxed with his family and having fun with them. Sharon told me afterwards for years that it was the best family holiday they had ever had. I couldn't believe that was true but I was happy just at the thought.

Kanai sensei

Kanai Sensei for me really represents the height of the development of Aikido. I believe he has really taken Aikido to a new and fascinating level so well explained in the articles he published and interviews he gave to Aikido Online. See the Kanai Shihan archive and for more information, see Mitsunari Kanai Shihan: A Devoted Life.

Intuitively, I realized that in order to preserve Sensei's techniques, we had to capture them for future generations and that is why in 1999 I decided to start videoing Sensei on Digital Video and to learn how to edit and make them available through my website online and in DVD format. Please find examples of this material at San Francisco Aikikai DVD production, some can be downloaded from the web or in streaming format as well.

Fortunately, Sensei lived long enough to see the fruits of our labor and was particularly pleased with the quality of this new digital media. He too realized that it would be important for future generations to see this material in its original and unadulterated form. I am pleased that I have been able to keep Sensei's legacy going in my own small way and I know that he was pleased with what we were able to accomplish. To see and hear Sensei for yourself, try the following link Kanai Sensei Lecture Series 1993. This is a lecture that Sensei gave at our first location on Pacific Avenue in 1993 about his ideas regarding Aikido techniques.

Kanai sensei

I have so many fond memories and times I spent with Sensei and my video material is a constant reminder for me of what he was like. He was one of the most wonderful human beings, I cannot remember ever hearing him berate a student. I only remember one time his being mad at me for some issue of etiquette and I felt so bad that I let him down, I decided that I would never make that mistake again.

When I moved to Vancouver in July of 2003, I had decided to practice with my old friend Ishu Ishiyama at the Kitsilano Community Center and felt very fortunate to be so welcomed at his dojo. When I told Kanai Sensei about my choice he was very pleased and told me that Ishu-san was his first soto deshi and that he was the first person that he had taught sword to. I realized what a fortunate situation it was for me to be able to practice and teach within an environment where I wouldn't have to explain why I practiced as I did and who had taught it to me. I think Kanai Sensei was pleased at this turn of events even though we never got to talk about it again. I told Sensei in my last e-mail to him that I would see him in May at Claude's regular seminar in Montreal and that I couldn't make it this year to his seminar in Boston for the first time since that annual seminar's inception. At that time, we were to discuss the possibility of him coming to Vancouver for a visit and to teach a seminar, and I kept on trying to lure him here with the enticement of a salmon fishing expedition, leaving from Horseshoe Bay (where I now live). But unfortunately, that was never to be, it was too late.


I will always miss Sensei and wish that I had made that one last trip to see him. But somehow I know that he keeps watch over me and continues to direct my growth and development.

Joel Posluns,
West Vancouver
April 18, 2005