Doug began Aikido in 1995 in Pasadena, CA, at Southland Aikido under Dr. James Graves, Shidoin. He then continued his studies at City Aikido of Los Angeles under the instruction of Kazuho Nishida, Shidoin. When Doug relocated to Connecticut in 2004, he joined Litchfield Hills Aikikai under Laura Pavlick, Shihan. In May 2007 Doug became an uchi deshi at New York Aikikai under Yoshimitsu Yamada, Shihan, where he earned his Shodan in 2008. Since then, he has practiced Aikido at various dojos in New England. He currently holds the rank of Nidan.
Sylwia Willcox, 2nd degree black belt, started practicing aikido in 2000, in Krakow Aikikai under Dariusz Zieba Shihan. After 7 years of intense training in Krakow, she became an uchi-deshi (living in a dojo student) in New York Aikikai. She received her black belt in 2008 from Yoshimitsu Yamada, Shihan.
Since then Sylwia has been practicing in many dojos around the world trying to discover the nuances of the path.
Sylwia is also a long time mindfulness and meditation practitioner. She has been practicing in Zen, Theravada and Dzogchen traditions since 1994. She facilitates mindfulness classes for children and parents for North Shore Insight Meditation Center.
For Sylwia, Aikido is a path of finding harmony and peace in motion of body and stillness of mind that is present during the practice.
The passing of Yoshimitsu Yamada, Shihan, in January 2023 leaves me with a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand, I will miss his larger-than-life presence. His classes highlighted the fundamentals and power of aikido. He not only ran a successful business in New York City for 50 years, but he presided over a national organization - and several international organizations - that thrived under his leadership. He has left a significant legacy.
His passing has left a shadow over our house. It was through Yamada Sensei that I met my wife. Sylwia and I met at New York Aikikai in July 2007. (I met her teacher, Darius Ziemba, Shihan, two months earlier at NYA. But that is another story!). Sylwia and I served as uchi deshi at New York Aikikai. He even announced our pending nuptials before we had told others. When we left New York Aikikai, Yamada gave us $100 and encouraged us to open our own dojo. Now, 15 years later, it is so.
Yamada’s classes were simply phenomenal - as were all the other classes that were taught by Yamada’s cadre of students. Yamada focused on fundamentals. He lived an unspoken work-hard-and-play-hard mantra. He was a living example of humility backed by a steel hand of leadership. Y. Yamada Shihan was truly a servant leader at its most profound definition. Every day I practice aikido - every class I teach - I have a piece of Yamada in my heart. I observe my feet, my posture, my center, my hands and I ask - are they in line with what I have been taught?
On the weekend Yamada died, our family went to Plum Island for our own memorial. We planted a poinsettia in the dunes. It reminded me of Yamada: bold, beautiful in its simplicity. I listened to the roar of the storm-driven waves crash and the beach and thought of the power of Yamada’s spirit. I thought of his passion for wine and music, his generosity when he would invite the deshis to Saturday night gatherings in his office at NYA.
I will certainly miss him. But I will in my own way dedicate every aikido practice - whether consciously or otherwise - to his memory.