The Long Goodbye

By James Sawers, Oak Park Aikikai

After over 20-plus years of running and operating Oak Park Aikikai and about 39 years (and counting) of practicing Aikido, our sensei, Rich Roberts, is leaving. Rich retired last year from diligent and hard-working service with the Chicago Public School system. Rich’s specialty was working with children with special needs; skill sets that I’m sure helped him in good stead with teaching and guiding his Aikido students in our dojo, particularly, me, I’m sure.

On August 25, 2012, a goodbye seminar for Rich Sensei was hosted by Oak Park Aikikai at Fox Valley Aikikai, in Naperville, IL. Many thanks to Maureen Browne Sensei for allowing this seminar to be held at her dojo. Thanks also to all the people who showed up for the seminar. We tried to invite all the people significant in Rich’s Aikido history who had trained with Rich in the past. This, of course, was a long list, and several people that we would have liked to attend were out of contact or had moved away. But, we were able to contact and invite a lot of of Rich’s old Aikido friends. The seminar, of course, was also open to any who wanted to attend. The number of attendees who showed up to honor Rich Sensei and to say goodbye was impressive.

We called the event “The Aloha Seminar” because Rich is retiring to Hawaii (hold that jealousy till the winter really sets in). We, of course, all wish Rich well; he will be strongly missed, both for his skill and dedication to Aikido, but also for his dedication to his students and to the continuation of Oak Park Aikikai. As an easily transportable keepsake, at the end of the seminar everyone in attendance signed the “Aloha” banner that was made for the occasion. Deb Pastors Sensei (get used to this title, Deb) will be taking over Oak Park Aikikai. With the depth of Deb’s own Aikido experience and her own dedication to the art and the dojo, Oak Park Aikikai will be in good hands.

Rich’s retirement and move to Hawaii has opened the door to numerous celebrations, as mentioned, from his own dojo and from other Aikido friends and colleagues. Rich, I’m sure, has also been feted by his own circle of family and friends outside of Aikido, and colleagues from his former employment. Other celebrations I know are in the works. So many, in fact, that I’m sure that while Rich is certainly appreciative of them, his goodbye is turning into a long goodbye, indeed.

For those of you who recognize the nod to Raymond Chandler in the title of this piece (if you don’t, ah, well…), you will undoubtedly appreciate this quote, also from Chandler: “I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.” I am certainly not implying Rich would end up this way, but he has been known to enjoy his occasional beer, and, if you substitute Hawaii for Singapore…..well. Just kidding, Rich would never grow a beard!

However, change is inevitable, and while Rich is going on to a new and exciting period in his life, saying goodbye is never easy.

Saying Goodbye

We all abide

In the Book of Changes

Aware that the universe

And our own lives

Are in continuous flux

Changing naturally

And constantly

But unless we have all

Faced the wall for nine years

And use the sutras for a pillow

Attachment and connection

Are still with us

We will feel the loss

Of a friend and mentor

Even though

He goes on to paradise

Rich has already been in contact with an Aikido dojo in Hawaii, so he will continue to pursue and expand his art, and I’m sure contribute to his new dojo as well. We can only wish him the best of luck and good practice in his new life, new home and new dojo.

From all of Oak Park Aikikai: Sensei, domo arigato gozaimashita!

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