Love: Sensei-Style

Shibayama Sensei was an enigma. Capable of breaking pine boards with the tips of his fingers, he was also equally adept at composing the most beautiful ‘haiku’ ever written. Once, I almost dropped dead when I saw him – in a near-trance state – practicing ‘ikebana’, the Japanese art of flower arranging. What was a man like him – someone who, as rumour had it, had once single-handedly taken on eight armed Yakuza men in mortal combat to save the virtue of a girl he hardly even knew – doing playing with flowers? When I asked him about the flowers, he replied in his usual cryptic manner, “Do you not yet understand that softness comes from strength and strength form softness?” That was way too much for my, then, very tender 20-year old brain to handle.

Ken Watanabe-like, my sensei wasn’t. There were times when I even thought plastic surgery would be lost on him. But he wasn’t exactly ugly either. There was something indefinable about him that drew people to him, to like him, despite the fact that he looked like an old, abandoned Russian tank. I guess that was why he was the sensei and I was the apprentice. Perhaps there was something to this ‘haiku’ and ‘ikebana’ stuff, after all.

One day, I decided to ask him of his alleged altercation with the eight Yakuza men.

He took a sip of his green tea and said, “What is there to say, Bangkai-san? They wanted to rape her. I put an end to their plans.” He looked out the window for a while. Then, with a dismissive wave of his hands he added, “That was a long time ago. Now, Bangkai-san, drink your tea.”

It was as if saving damsels in distress was somehow nothing more to him than buying newspapers from the corner shop. I wasn’t quite satisfied and decided to press the matter further.

“After you whacked all the baddies, what did you do, sensei?”

“After that, I took her to her family home. She was due to marry the very next day. And that was that.” he replied as a matter-of-factly.

We sipped our tea quietly for a few moments. Being in particularly inquisitive mood, I pressed on. “Sensei, was there ever a girl you really liked?”

I had wanted to ask him that question for a very long time.

“Of course there was. I am, after all, a man. Am I not?”

“Then what happened, sensei?”

“Bangkai-san, why do you ask questions, the answers to which you are not ready for?” He was doing it to me again; that Zen master thing that drove me insane.

“Pease tell me, sensei. What happened?”

“Very well” he conceded. He took another sip of tea and explained, “Then I fell in love with her.”

“Huh? Where is she now?”

“She is living somewhere in Tokyo with her very successful and powerful husband” For a moment, I could have sworn that his eyes went wet when he spoke those words. My sensei was human, after all.

After allowing for a decent time to pass, I commented, “I guess it’s not easy to compete with such a man when we are but mere mortals, right, Sensei?

“I never competed, Bangkai-san. Make no mistake.” He paused again and continued, “I just never told her I loved her”

“You what?! Are you out of your mind?” was my knee-jerk reaction.

“I knew you weren’t ready for the answers.”

“Explain it to me then, sensei!” I demanded.

“Alright, I still think you will not understand – but I will try. When you truly love someone, never make the mistake of telling her so.” I was convinced I was talking to a raving lunatic. “By telling her so, you only dilute the love that you feel for her. Don’t you see? By telling her you love her, you are putting expectations upon your beloved. How can there be true love when there are expectations?” he continued.

I was lost. He was right: He was right in thinking I would not understand. But I was also determined to fight all that conventional wisdom had taught me and all the knee-jerk reactions that came with it.

“So, she doesn’t know you love her?

“Bangkai-san, when two hearts are one, words will only get in the way. Though I have never told her, she knows, Bangkai-san. She knows.”

I was on the verge of losing my mind. But I wanted to take it one step further.

“But don’t you ever miss her, or anything like that, sensei? After all, she is in Tokyo – with her husband and all – and you here?”

“Bangkai-san, when another heart lives within yours, space, time, and even circumstances, loses all meaning. Someday you will understand this.” He just smiled. I believe it was the first time I had ever seen him smile.

It was all too much for me to handle. I thanked him and asked to be excused. As I was about to close the door, my sensei spoke again. “Bangkai-san, remember the girl I rescued? The girl whom I sent to her family home so that she could be married the next day?”

“Yes, sensei, I do.”

“If you must know, Bangkai-san, she is my beloved…”

I didn’t understand it then. But now, some twenty six year later, I am beginning to.


23 thoughts on “Love: Sensei-Style

  1. [scout]

    I reckon you are much smarter than me. So, it will only take you no more than the better part of 26 seconds.

    I on the other hand, am a dumb-ass. That’s why it took me 26 years.

  2. Hello Bangkai-san,

    What a beautiful, touching story.

    This is a very difficult concept to understand. It is very very deep.

    Sensei goes for depth & meaning & see things beyond physical. That’s about as far as I could go explaining what he is all about, for I too am yo-yoing between I thought I undesrtood what he told you or maybe, need to wait another 26 years to see the light..ha ha

  3. Hi Old Timer

    Still remember me, old man?

    You studied under the legendary Shibayama sensei? No! You pulling my leg, right? You’re yanking my chain, right? Listen old-timer, if it is true that you studied under Shibayama sensei, we must meet one day, OK?

    But more importantly, what was the lesson you learnt from him? I’m kinda like unsure here. Need help lah, old timer.

  4. My dear,

    You write like an angel – that I have no doubts.

    But it’s the wits and a soul so barren that touch my heart.

    Until your next posting.

  5. [digital]

    Thank you, bro. These days, I feel like I am driven to write these things.


    Many more to come, I think. Teh rarik at your office soon, OK?

  6. [ruby]

    Good to hear from you again, ma’am.

    You got the first part right. Shibayama sensei seeks love in its purest from – no expectations; the epitome of unconditional love.

    The second part is that sometimes, though two hearts may be entwined inseparably, life makes it impractical, or even impossible for them to manifest their love. Should they then abandon that love? I should think not!

    I don’t know, maybe sensei and his beloved escape to some secret tree-house (one that only they can see) when they need to be with each other.

  7. [samad]

    Hello, snot-nosed kid

    Yes, Shibayama-san was my sensei. He taught me how to fight. But more importantly, he also taught me how to love. For that, I shall forever be indebted to him.

    The lesson? Let me put it in terms you can understand. Though it is a bonus, love is not simply about doing the horizontal tango – it is much more than that, son.

    Love is NOT just about making love to each other’s bodies; it is about making love to each other’s souls! Physical bodies get old and decrepit – souls never do.

    Comprende amigo?

  8. Dear Ms Hanff,

    The ease and accuracy with which you are able to see into my soul is frightening. It is as if I am standing naked before you (not a physically pretty sight, I might add)

    However, I am very pleased to know that you enjoy my somewhat feeble attempt at pretending to be a writer. Thus, I am inspired to to attempt yet another piece, which I hope you will also enjoy.

    Until then…

  9. Mat, (while drumming my fingers on the table)

    For the first time, really, I couldn’t find anything to say. Ah, there’s always the first for everything, right?

  10. Mamak,

    Where on earth and how did you get the energy to do that Judo-Karate san stuff,(chop-chop hai).
    You smoke,I smoke,you drink we drank,you jam the plug,we jam till wee morning but come to KarateDo,leave me out.
    How on earth you managed to dothe straching warming up?I pengsan on straching and chuck away with the idea to be a Rambo.

    So it make you more macho than me I reckon?
    I’m a lover not a fighter.

  11. Dear Ms Hanff

    I, too, am dismayed at my lack of progress.

    However, I shall endeavour to write a new posting that I hope will be worth your wait. Whether or not it will be such, I leave you to be the sole judge of.

  12. Good post.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the many facets of Japanese Zen.

    So much so I’ve made the striving for “shibui” a cornerstone of daily life.

    Would love to have met your sensei. He’s no longer around, I assume …

  13. [cipan]

    Thank you for the words of encouragement, sir.

    Ah! Shibui – the beauty that lies in understatement and subtlety. Now there’s a concept!

    Sadly, sensei passed on on about 5 years ago. It was said that his beloved was there beside him, at the very end.


  14. Bangkai-san…

    Am almost afraid to leave my comment here, for fear of appearing ‘buffoon-ish” … and not gettin’ it, get it? 🙂

  15. Madsalo da Man!

    Er… try this for size: Sometimes, because of circumstances, two people who maybe so much in love, cannot be together. Do they then kill that love? Sensei doesn’t think so.

    They should then look beyond the physical and still be with each other – albeit in a different reality.

    Heavy stuff, eh?

  16. when i think of your sensei… pat morita comes to mind..


    Actually, he was slightly taller, a lot slimmer, and also a few years younger (I think) than Morita-san

  17. salam MB…

    i hv been following yr articles for quite sometimes but this is my 1st time writing 2u…

    i really love all your stories…especially this one but i wonder…. did sensie marry his beloved?

    yang still blurrrr….


    No, Ell. Sensei didn’t marry his beloved. Sad, huh? But she was there with him when he passed away.

    And thanks for visiting. I hope you like my stories..

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