The Iaido Journal  Aug 2004
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Yoshiteru Otani, at 75: 
Pioneer USA Iaido Instructor

It is with great sadness that I have to announce the death of our teacher and founder of New York Budokai dojo, Otani (Raymond) Yoshiteru, after a long battle with heart disease.  He was 75 years old.

A native of Osaka, Sensei was a descendent of a middle-ranking samurai family from the area.  He began training in swordsmanship and other martial arts as a boy.  His first (and he told me later, most important) teacher was his father.  As a high school student, he had amateur competitive status in sumo.  He studied iaido, kendo, judo, jodo and other styles.  After the war, Sensei worked to support his family, who had lost basically everything, and put himself through college.  He moved to the US in the early 1950ís and taught judo at the McBurney YMCA in New York City.  He traveled back and forth to Japan frequently and continued his training, adding, among other things, TenShinSho Jigen ryu iaido.  Eventually he added iaido, kendo and jodo to his teaching repertory and taught at various locations around the city.  (I once asked him why he didnít teach iaido from the beginning.  He told me people wouldnít understand it; at least they knew about judo.)

When I first met Sensei, he was still a relatively young and strong man.  Even though he was not teaching judo at that point, one of his favorite things to do in the dojo was to take on the biggest guy there and show us some technique, which always ended with the big guy on the floor, writhing in pain.  He told me that size didnít matter, as long as you had good technique.

Sensei always encouraged my practice.  Sometimes, especially since for many years I was the only female student in the dojo, I would become discouraged.  To be honest, some of my sempai were not always very kind.  (One guy once told me flat out that women should not study swordsmanship.)  But Sensei always had a good word for me.  As I got to know him better, I found out he had no sons, only daughters, and I understood his encouragement.  His daughters are now are all successful professionals, and wonderful people.

First work (Sensei was an educational and business consultant), then his health kept Sensei from coming to the dojo regularly after awhile, but he still managed to come by about once a month to train us and check our progress.  After his health dramatically declined in 1997, he retired from teaching, as the travel to the dojo in Manhattan from his home in Queens became too exhausting.  So, we organized lunches at his favorite Chinese restaurants around his neighborhood.  Sensei always enjoyed meeting new students and answering questions.  He knew a lot of people in the martial arts, including Ueshiba Morihei and Donn Draeger, and he could tell great stories.

Sensei still came into the dojo to test students, after which we would go to a restaurant, usually in Chinatown.  We also took him on outings to Sotheby's when they had their Asian art and antiques shows, since watching him look at and comment on swords was a great educational experience.  He most recently came to a test back in December, during a raging snowstorm.  I asked him if he was worried about the weather that day, and his response was typical: ďI donít care.Ē  I had the pleasure of telling nervous dojo members that we were not postponing - if Sensei was willing to brave the snow, then we'd better be there too.  As was often the case, Sensei was absolutely right to insist.

I could say a lot more, but I honestly donít feel like it, because I feel awful.  Otani sensei was one of a kind,  He was my teacher and my friend.  I knew him for 18 years, but it wasnít long enough.  I miss him more than I can say.

Otani Sensei is survived by his wife, Michi and his daughters and their families.  He is also survived by his students, past and present.  We were lucky to have him.

 - Deborah Klens-Bigman

Let me express my condolences and heartfelt sadness for the passing of  Professor Yoshiteru "Raymond" Otani of NYC in August,2004 who was my private teacher, colleague and "true friend" whom I dearly loved and respected like a blood brother when I lived in the region and when I had a Japanese Bujutsu Dojo in N.J.

Kindly give my best to his wife in this time of need.

My grief is beyond repair and I find it difficult to brace myself. I will offer prayers for the repose of his soul. It was Otani  Sensei who inspired me to return to my true love--- Judo. Never let Judo die!

Otani Sensei was a righteous man who taught me "how to move and CUT" and be in the now. Otani Sensei was a  teacher's teacher. Y.Otani, T.Nakamura and K. Yonezawa Sensei --all three now deceased-- I shall never forget the WAY they acted with passion and the WAY they were. The book of Buddhism that Otani Sensei gave me written by his best religious friend from Japan when they both gave a talk "On the Way of Life and the Mind" in the 80's in NYC inspired me most vividly.

I am told Otani Sensei  also was very kind to Mr. George Harris, Olympic Champion in Judo and especially when Harris was a young man learning Judo.This was during the days of the NYC-McBurney YMCA. I loved and respected most highly Otani Sensei for his kindness and benevolence to all. There was not a mean bone in Otani Sensei's body. Otani Sensei had the finest philosophy of life and was so giving of himself. We --my students and I knew him well and we got to admire him more and more.  After Otani Sensei said to me one night in Manhatten, NYC --"the aikido sword does not cut". I knew full well then and there that Otani Sensei was a true master--an OSensei. I am having tears as I write this.

Maj. Donn Draeger,USMC and I were also contemporaries. The Major is now deceased from cancer and buried in Wisconsin. I served with him several times in the USMC. My rank is Captain USMC and I am a retired Infantry/Reconn Officer. We were both  USMC Training Officers at Quantico, VA.

I am 73 years old and the days are growing shorter and the nights longer. My mind is not as clear as it used to be so forgive me. I soon plan to come back East to be buried in Holy Seplechre Cemetary in Paterson, NJ. I also plan to live on the East Side of NYC.

If I may help you in anyway please ask me.

Somewhere in our archives are films--VHS of  Otani Sensei and his fine, great deshi doing Kenjutsu/BuJutsu/Budo etc at my Haledon Dojo in the circa 1980s. Otani Sensei was so vigorous and spirited in those days. He loved teaching at the Military Acadmy at West Point, N.Y. I do not remember if I gave copies to  Otani Sensei . I will look for them stored in boxes. Also, I have in my archives some professional posed photos and will look for them of Sensei Otani and all his fine students of the highest calibre. There are some professional photographs of him in sword poses of the highest quality in my archives.
I am still in a state of shock. I have not been to NY in ages. Please excuse any errors in that I typed this in a hurry.

Kindest personal regards,
John Denora
Professor,Daito Ryu,USA

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TIN Aug 2004