Yasuhisa Inaba Shihan was born on November 26, 1952 in Osaka, Japan to parents who were grocery store owners. As a youth, he was unable to do any physical activity as he had a weak heart. After reparative heart surgery he became involved in various martial arts, practicing Jujutsu, Judo and Shorinji Kempo, making up for lost time.
His older brother was a professional boxer, but upon the urging of his mother, Inaba Sensei sought out a martial art that did not involve punching or kicking. Needing a non-aggressive means of strengthening his body, he joined the Motosumiyoshi Aikido dojo, which was overseen by Yasuo Kobayashi Shihan, a former instructor at Hombu Dojo and student of aikido’s founder. It was also there where he met Kazuo Igarashi Shihan, who at the time was his senior in the dojo and would become his lifelong companion in aikido. Soon aikido become a passion for Inaba Sensei, and he continued his training under both teachers.
He met Keiko Inaba, the daughter of a contractor, while they were both on holiday in Guam and they were married in 1975. They had their first son, Yuya, in 1979, while they were living in Yokohama.
In 1980, with a predetermined path in the corporate world in Japan, he set out to Canada to go to school to learn more skills in oil & gas. However, a job opportunity arose, and with a young family, he chose to take a job with Petro-Canada. They had the support of the Akutagawa and Tano family when they arrived, who they met through a Japanese relocation group. At the time, aikido was still a fledgling martial art, and virtually unheard of in Canada. In Calgary, there was only one small aikido dojo, with a Shodan (first degree black belt) as instructor. The 28-year-old Inaba had attained Ni-Dan (second degree), and although he didn’t feel quite ready to be an instructor of his own dojo, it seemed logical to start his own practice.
In 1980, the first class of Calgary Aikikai had three children as students and operated out of the basement of the Tano residence. Inaba Sensei held his first demonstration that fall at the CFB Calgary military base, where he soon moved the dojo. His English was very limited, but he said that “teaching the techniques was the one thing I found to be simple; all I had to say was, ‘Like this.’”
A few years later, he began a lasting relationship with the Calgary Board of Education, and was able to relocate the dojo to the Dr. Carl Safran Centre (formerly Central High School) in 1985, while also teaching Aikido classes in the Board’s Continuing Education programme. The Inabas had twin boys, John and Mark, in 1982, and then a daughter, Grace, in 1988.
As an extension of his interest in the benefits of aikido, Sensei started to take courses in Japanese and Chinese acupuncture and Shiatsu medicine, and this also developed into a strong passion for him. In 1995 he realized his dream of having a business place of his own and moved Calgary Aikikai and the newly founded Japan Shiatsu Clinic to a large commercial space in the Manchester industrial area. He was able to resign his position at Petro-Canada and devote himself fully to practices that were for the benefit of others: aikido and oriental medicine.
Calgary Aikikai began hosting summer seminars in 1986, and throughout the years has welcomed many prominent shihans, including the third Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba, Yamada Shihan (New York), the late Kawahara Shihan (Victoria), and his mentors Yasuo Kobayashi Shihan, and Kazuo Igarashi Shihan. These events were often held in the sunny mountains of Banff and Canmore, Alberta and have been a highlight of the region’s aikido calendar. The 20th anniversary of Calgary Aikikai in July of 2000 was a fantastic event with three visiting instructors, and attended by nearly 200 students.
Sensei began a series of regular trips to Japan with his Aikido students in 1990. He always maintained a traditional Japanese approach to instruction and etiquette, and the visits to the homeland of aikido were immeasurably resourceful for those who went with him. He regularly traveled abroad to teach Shiatsu medicine and aikido in Germany, Mexico, and the USA. He also visited Hawai’i numerous times and formed a lasting fraternal bond with Robert Kubo Shihan.
Unfortunately, the realities of living in a boomtown made it financially difficult to maintain Calgary Aikikai in a much sought-after industrial area, so in July of 2008, Sensei moved the dojo to its current location at River Park Church, and placed the Japan Shiatsu Clinic in a nearby medical centre. This arrangement was originally to have been only temporary until a permanent location could be found, but in August 2008, Sensei suffered a massive stroke. Despite a strong struggle against a host of repercussions, he succumbed peacefully on January 26, 2009, aged 56, surrounded by his family and students.
Those students who followed Sensei’s teaching through the years could benefit from how it deepened and developed. The practicalities of initially instructing soldiers brought out the more martial aspects in Sensei’s teaching, but as his understanding and skill grew, so too did his appreciation for the broader implications of aikido. In his message at the 20th anniversary of the dojo, Sensei wrote, “… over the next ten years I am focusing more on ‘harmony and developing wonderful Ki’ to spread throughout our dojo and beyond.” This effort was apparent during the last decade of his life and can be seen in the dedication and spirit of Calgary Aikikai as it is today.
After Sensei initially had the stroke, he placed control of the dojo to his wife and children, daily operations and instruction to his senior students and technical stewardship to Igarashi Shihan, who has visited Calgary numerous times before and since. Igarashi Shihan has also graciously assisted the dojo with black belt grading, relations with Aikido World Headquarters and with co-ordinating the 30th Anniversary seminar in 2010. This seminar was the realization of an event that Inaba Sensei looked forward to with great enthusiasm and had been planning for years. Seven leading practitioners of aikido from as far away as Germany and Sendai, Japan came to teach and honour Inaba Sensei’s contribution. Hundreds of students from Canada and abroad took part in what remains the largest aikido event ever held in Calgary.
Inaba Sensei’s sudden departure meant that like himself, the senior students of Calgary Aikikai had to step up and assume leadership of the dojo, even though they may not have felt quite ready. The years since Sensei’s passing have been very successful, however, and the dojo is as strong as ever. Although it is unusual for a dojo to be run by a collective, Sensei gave his family and students the skills and attitude to succeed as a group and to keep his lifelong dream flourishing into the future.
The loss of Inaba Sensei to Calgary Aikikai was indeed tremendous. As a source of information and wisdom about Aikido, Japanese culture and healing, his absence is felt every day by his students. He was a mentor to many. But perhaps the greatest loss was his good-natured approach to teaching, sharing and learning as a dojo. He continuously displayed a beginner’s fascination with the complexities of aikido. Sometimes when a student asked him a question, he would just say, with a characteristic sparkle in his eye, “Just keep practicing. You’ll see.”