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Dennis Hooker, Shihan – A tribute

Photograph of Sensei Hooker taken at a seminar in South Carolina
Permission given to use this photograph

Long before my telephone rang that morning years ago, I had heard of Dennis Hooker. I mean, really, who in the Aikido world hadn’t heard about his struggle with Myasthenia Gravis, and how working with Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, he was able to again regain his health.

The truth be told, I was a little intimidated having this legendary man call me. After all, I was a newly minted shodan and here I was speaking with a man who embodied a big piece of the history of Aikido in the United States. But we quickly discovered that we were both graduates of Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. Wow, did we have fun sharing our stories about our times there at both the University and the town itself.

Once we our put our Indiana State adventures aside, he complimented me about the articles I had written on what I was calling, “Low Impact Aikido,” the no-rolling and no-falling form of Aikido.

We quickly segued into that subject, agreeing that every dojo should offer Low Impact Aikido classes as part of their regular schedule of classes. It was obvious from his passion on the subject that his own experiences had given him a deep level of understanding and compassion. We also discussed how too many instructors would not offer these classes, insisting that students do it “their way or the highway.”

We discovered we knew many in Aikido in common, going over a list of names. Of course, his list was much, much longer than mine. And then he began relating stories from his own experiences that included personalities, the politics of Aikido, and all the sad and funny nuances of this wonderful Art we all practice. I found myself at times gasping in near belief at what he was recounting, and other times laughing at the foibles he had seen and observed over his decades in Aikido.

The minutes became an hour as we continued our conversation. I realized that although Sensei Hooker and I had never met, he now felt like someone I had known all my life. Finally he indicated he was tired and need to rest before his evening class. We agreed to keep in touch. I called once more and we talked briefly. He indicated he was having some medical problems so the conversation was short. I wished him well. Before we hung up he said, “Keep up the good work you’re doing Paul.” I knew he referring to my writing about the Low Impact Aikido.

I would hear about Sensei Hooker on the Aikido grapevine now and then, especially when he received the rank of 7th dan and the title of “Shihan” in 2012, receiving his certificate the next year from Saotome Sensei. But sadly we never talked again.

I was announced yesterday that Dennis Hooker passed from this world into the next. This wonderful man who had a life so filled with adventure and struggle will be missed. I know I will always remember our conversation, and how super I felt for days after having spent time on the phone with this great being who was funny, salty, compassionate and humble.

Thank for you walking among us and sharing your life with us all Dennis Sensei.

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