Pat Hendricks’ Incredible Aikido Odyssey by Stanley Pranin

“As someone who has overcome incredible odds to achieve world-class status as an Aikido Shihan, Pat Hendricks remains a shining example of the seemingly impossible things that can be accomplished personally and professionally through unwavering determination and hard work.”

Back in 1975, an attractive young blond woman joined my aikido class in Monterey, California. From the very start, she attended class religiously and displayed an uncommon enthusiasm toward training. I immediately noticed she was very athletic and quick to pick up techniques and falling skills. She insisted on being treated on a par with male students, was afraid of nothing, and approached practice with a laser determination. I wondered how far she would go along the aikido path. I had seen enthusiastic students before, some who continued training for years, only to slowly drift away from the art. I needn’t have worried, for this was Pat Hendricks.

Pat dedicated herself over the next couple of years to improving her martial skills and participated in classes and workshops all over northern California. Women in aikido were just coming into their own at this stage, and Pat forged many friendships with some of the top female instructors in the area that continue to this day.

First trip to Iwama

Morihiro Saito Sensei instructing Pat Hendricks at California seminar c. 1979

By the summer of 1977, I had relocated to Japan and immersed myself in training at the Iwama Dojo under the tutelage of Morihiro Saito Sensei. For her part, Pat was pursuing her practice at the Oakland Institute, also learning the Iwama style of aikido. One day, later in that same year and to my great surprise, Pat strolled down the path leading to the Iwama Dojo. She had taken a tremendous leap of faith deciding to leave her life in the States and journey to the source of aikido, O-Sensei’s country dojo in Iwama.

Possessing virtually no Japanese language skills, but full of determination, Pat immersed herself into Japanese life as an uchideshi of Saito Sensei. Typical of her character, she threw herself headlong into her training, and quickly earned a reputation as a promising up-and-comer and a favorite uke of Saito Sensei. Almost daily, Pat could be seen inside the Iwama Dojo taking impressive high falls, her blond hair tied up in a pony tail whipping from side to side. The dojo was full of seasoned Japanese sempai and strong young foreign students. Practice was very intense.

During her first stay in Japan, Pat made the effort to study Japanese and calligraphy with the same ardor that characterized her aikido training, something that most foreign visitors to Japan never get around to doing. In the process, she endeared herself to the Saito family, and with the passage of time, became a “sempai” to newly arriving foreigners helping them with the transition to the arduous dojo life in the Japanese countryside.

Establishing a dojo

In 1979, Pat returned to Oakland, California to pursue a college education at the University of California at Berkeley while continuing her pursuit of aikido training. At a crossroads career-wise, she had the foresight to realize that a formal education in Japanese would create a wide array of work opportunities for her future. Upon graduation with a degree in Oriental language studies, she landed a job with the Japanese consulate in San Francisco and entered the diplomatic world. As fate would have it, after two years, Pat decided against this life of government service and determined to make her career in aikido, her first love.

Soon thereafter, events accelerated for Pat Hendricks as she embarked upon her aikido teaching journey when she opened a dojo in San Leandro, California in 1984. Little by little, she made progress in developing an aikido community and built a devoted student following. Never one to do things in a conventional way, Pat continued to make regular, extended visits to Iwama to continue polishing her aikido skills and preserve close contact with Saito Sensei and Iwama. Back and forth between California and Iwama she would travel, her feet in two worlds while she somehow managed to keep her dojo going at the same time.

All during this period, I was living and working in Japan as I continued my research into the life of the Founder Morihei Ueshiba and the publication of Aiki News and Aikido Journal. As Pat made regular visits to Iwama, we saw each other periodically and maintained our close ties. I’ll always remember the occasion when she shared the stage with Saito Sensei at our Aiki News Friendship Demonstration in 1988 in Tokyo.

Traveling and interpreting for Morihiro Saito Sensei

Pat Hendricks taking ukemi for Saito Sensei inside the Iwama Dojo c. 1990

As the years passed, Pat’s frequent trips to Japan, her superb aikido skills, and Japanese-language speaking ability, earned her a place in the inner circle of Saito Sensei’s senior students. She would often serve as Saito Sensei’s interpreter, especially when he conducted seminars in the USA in the late 1980s and 1990s. One of the highlights of her association with Saito Sensei took place in 1992 in Tokyo when she served as his uke at the All-Japan Aikido Demonstration in front of thousands of spectators. This was a first for any woman, and one of her most cherished memories.

Later after my return to the USA, Pat was kind enough to support me by participating as a guest instructor at the Aiki Expo events I organized in 2002, 2003, and 2005 in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. On those occasions, she gave memorable demonstrations and workshops alongside some of the top martial artists in the world.

After more than 30 years of operation of her dojo Aikido of San Leandro in northern California, Pat has produced scores of black belt students, many going on to open schools of their own. Today, she is one of the leaders of the California Aikido Association, heading the Iwama Aikido division of the organization which maintains ties with the World Aikido Headquarters in Tokyo for purposes of ranking.

Receiving 7th dan award from Aikido Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba in 2012

World travels and 7th dan award

Pat’s 40 years of aikido training and close association with the Saito family have not gone unnoticed. As a result, she is kept very busy on the seminar circuit. In fact, Pat’s schedule is filled with teaching engagements that take her all over the world. Over the years she has taught seminars in more than 30 countries!

In January of 2012, Pat Hendricks was the recipient of a 7th dan ranking from the Aikikai, one of few women worldwide to have been elevated to this level. Following her promotion, she traveled to Tokyo to receive her certificate directly from the hands of present Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba.

Stanley Pranin, Pat Hendricks, Hitohiro Saito, and Todd Jones at Aikido of South Florida seminar in 2007

For the past decade, Pat and I have seen each other every year or so, usually at seminars conducted by Saito Sensei’s son, Hitohiro Saito Sensei, in some part of the USA. We do speak frequently over the phone and update each other on the latest happenings in the aikido world and our lives.

Contemplating the future of aikido

As the years roll by and we advance in age, Pat and I often find ourselves discussing the future of the art we both love and have devoted our lives to. We find ourselves agreeing on many issues due to our common background. One of them is the fact that the techniques and philosophy of Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei’s have somehow become lost in the today’s aikido world and regrettably have left only a faint trace. Since our teacher, Morihiro Saito, was one of O-Sensei’s closest and most talented students, our views on this subject are heavily influenced by his teachings.

In 2013, Pat and I conducted a joint seminar in Las Vegas, California and I was honored to be invited to the 30th anniversary celebration of Aikido of San Leandro in 2014.

As someone who has overcome incredible odds to achieve world-class status as aikido’s first female Shihan, Pat Hendricks remains a shining example of the seemingly impossible things that can be accomplished personally and professionally through unwavering determination and hard work. I am proud to call Pat Hendricks one of my closest friends as we continue along our respective aikido journeys after 40 years of association.

Patricia Hendricks on AikidoJournal.TV

Contact Aikido of San Leandro

Josh Gold

Executive Editor of Aikido Journal, CEO of Budo Accelerator, and co-founder of Ikazuchi Dojo.


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