The first time I met my aikido teacher, Professor Iwao Yamaguchi, I was lost. Literally.
It was 1990, and I was a young Marine who had just been sent to Okinawa, Japan. I'd been introduced to aikido in California and had practiced for two years, but I still didn't know much about the art. Okinawa is actually the birthplace of traditional kick-and-punch karate—aikido was a mainland Japan invention. And the Okinawans and mainland Japanese have a pretty tense relationship, dating back to atrocities committed by Japanese Imperial Army troops stationed on the Okinawa islands during World War II. So there was only one aikido school on Okinawa. And I couldn't find it.
I had an address and a phone number that a fellow Marine had given me, but that was it. I didn't speak Japanese. I didn't have a smartphone with Google Maps. The crowded streets of Okinawa were totally overwhelming to a kid from Erie, Pennsylvania. There was no way I was going to find this place on my own. So I just handed the scrap of paper with the address on it to a Japanese taxi driver and hoped for the best.
The taxi got hopelessly lost. Obviously, I was no help. So eventually, the taxi driver stopped the car, got out, and called the phone number on my scrap of paper. Two minutes later, this guy in a black-and-white martial arts uniform showed up. My future teacher had ...