It’s not easy to explain which are the traits of a good Sensei, a good Teacher of Aikido. This is because there is no ideal profile, each student develops his/her own way, helped and encouraged by Sensei. In Aikido, a martial art that knows no competition (someone said it is more a technique for conflicts resolution), the relationship between teacher and student is unique, involving the body but also the mind and the spirituality through e.g. controlling your breath.
I had been lucky enough to meet with a great teacher, with whom I came back to practice Aikido after a break of more than ten years. Movements and techniques were still there, and Sensei Margolis first helped me to uncover them, and then taught me to evolve.
Sensei Steve Margolis was always smiling. He was able to put humor, a lot of humor, irreverent Jewish humor, in the philosophy of Aikido, which is inspired by the Samurai code of honour and sometimes canbe a bit pompous.
Ki Aikido was his life. From a certain point onwards it also became his profession. Steven Margolis quickly had became an authority in the discipline, practicing with no other than Sensei Ken Williams, the first European to be admitted among the students of Koichi Tohei, a direct student of Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido. In Jewish terms, it is what is called an illustrious “Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah” chain of tradition.
Despite being such an authority in the Ki Federation, Steve, Sensei Margolis did not bother that much with the petti politics of martial arts institutions. He was aware of coming from a too illustrious tradition, literally unrivalled. He did not need any confirmation.
But above all, like the Rabbis of the Mishnah, Sensei Margolis has never been in search of honours, but only of students. So he told me once with a smile and I could see in his eyes the same curious look of that little boy, who had had his Bar Mitzvah with Louis Jacobs.
Judaism, you know, is a strange religion. A religion that does not say much about life after death. There are Jews who do not believe in the hereafter. There are Rabbis who, for having experienced persecution, have lost faith in the Divine Justice. There are even Jews who believe in a kind of Jewish reincarnation, the gilgul ha-nefesh.
But all the currents of Judaism agree on one point: that the best way to honour those who are no longer with us, is to look at their lives as an example, so that the memory of them will become, as we say, a blessing. For this reason we Jews we add two letters, z”l, the name of a person who is no more with us. They mean zikhrono livrakha “may his memory become a blessing”.
As Jews, we do not know, we cannot know where is now Sensei Margolis. Perhaps he is teaching Ki-Aikido to the angels, between one Jewish joke and the other. And after an hour of lessons, during which they only thought were joking, these angels will feel lighter and more balanced, maybe even safer, just like how we felt after each class. They are very lucky angels. And we envy them a little.
You have been a great Teacher, Sensei Margolis. May your memory become a blessing and an example for those who have known you, and miss you dearly now.