Tom Collings - Searching for O'Sensei

As a nervous, self-conscious ADHD kid Tom Collings says at age 15 he had the great fortune to stumble into a small traditional martial arts club. "The dojo was a whole different world from high school, and changed my life." Traditional Asian martial arts of Aikido, Chi Gong-Tai Chi, and Yagyu Iaido (Japanese sword) have led him on a 50 year journey that continues to this day,

His first dojo in the 1960's was the budo of Isshin-ryu Karate, but even then he says he was searching for O'Sensei. "I never knew exactly what it was, but it had something to do with learning the true meaning of 'warrior'. At some point I learned about Morihei Ueshiba and his pursuit of something beyond 'fight or flight,' which he referred to as Takemusu Aiki." The discipline he founded was Aiki Budo, later called Aikido. After adding aikido to his martial arts training, and earning his black belt in 1976, Collings moved to Japan. He immersed himself in traditional martial arts, Japanese sword, and Zen practice for several years.

For a year and a half he studied with Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Moriteru Ueshiba, son and grandson of O'Sensei, at Aikido Hombu Dojo,Tokyo. Next was six months private study with Kazuo Chiba Sensei and Zen Master, Hogen, at Chogen-Ji Temple in Shizuoka. His search then led him to the village of Iwama , the small rural training compound where O'Sensei spent the last 25 year of his life. There Collings spent one and a half years with O'Sensei's closest disciple, Morihiro Saito, as both uchi deshi ("live in student") an later soto deshi commuting 7 days a week.

Since his return to America in the 1980's, he has returned five times for further study in Japan and China, pursuing the paths of both O'Sensei and his predecessor, Tamo Bodhidharma.

"In China I discovered the powerful living legacy of Bodhidharma, the fierce legendary Zen master who integrated a life of shugyo (intensive spiritual practices) with martial arts. O'Sensei followed his lead, and we can walk that same path today."

Although Collings considers Morihiro Saito Sensei his primary teacher, his training with Kisshomaru and Moriteru Ueshiba, Kazua Chiba, Koichi Tohei, and Michio Hikitsuchi have left lasting influences. In China he fell in love with the internal martial arts of Chi Gong and Tai Chi, crediting these disciplines with allowing him to practice sword and aikido as intensively at age 64 as he did at 24. He also credits martial arts and Zen practice with helping him survive 26 years on the "mean streets" of New York, as peace officer and self described "dharma cop."

After retirement, Collings spent a year as a corrections counselor for young convicts and recovering addicts, then found his most recent calling: " I discovered the most dangerous job in America had become - ATM repair man. Those fellows were getting assaulted, and some have been killed. So now this old warrior provides security, protecting them so they can do their job without fear. "With the ATM machine open, and his head stuck inside working the repair, he looks like easy pickings for any gangster who wanders by. But try to hurt my ATM guy and you got to get through me. And that ain't gonna happen," Collings says with grin.