My friend, my Sensei | Tribute to Michel Hannoyer

It is Sunday. It is eight o’clock. I stop the alarm clock, go back to sleep a little. No, I have to get up. Quietly, of course. But still. Come on, get up! We have to go to the dojo later on. Otherwise, on Tuesday, there will be someone to tell me: “We didn’t see you on Sunday!” and then to explain to me all the beautiful techniques I missed to practice.

Especially since I already know what I’m going to miss most fundamentally. I always make the bus ride to the dojo, thinking that I would have been fine with a good book or a good movie on my futon. But after the door closes behind me, I take off my shoes, greet O-Sensei’s portrait, put on my uniform and put my bare feet on the tatami… a beautiful energy comes over me, and we exchange it with each other after each technique, transported to a universe where it is impossible to live other than in the present moment. I leave the dojo invigorated, serene, ready to dive back into the complex universe of our postmodern cities.

Then, in this spring morning, I nonchalantly go to the bus stop. The latter is not very frequent on weekends. So I make sure I always take the one at that time. A friend from the dojo, living further west on the line, does the same. When I’m being lazy, he’s the first to know that I won’t show up for class.

The bus finally arrives. I get on and see my friend waving at me with a big smile: there is a seat right next to me that he has reserved for me with his backpack. He knows the effort I put into getting there, after a long week of classes at the university followed by outings with college friends on Saturdays. So,” he says, “is the Miss looking good this morning? No ? Let’s fix that on the tatami!”, which makes me burst into a big laugh! He likes to make me laugh.

And, obviously, we also make the way back together, talking. Well, I mostly talk. He just starts a topic, with a banal air, and listens to me babble on about it. And suddenly, I find myself talking about my childhood in Senegal, my academic projects, my family projects, my literary projects… And he says to me: “We’ll have to include the exam for the black belt in all this”, which makes me burst into a big laugh! I told you how he likes to make me laugh.

That’s on Sunday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we often drive home thanks to the generosity of another friend. Both are Sensei. There are several Senseis, men and women, in the dojo, each with his or her own style, who have left their mark on me. A Sensei, a teacher, an assistant in a department, sometimes acts like an aunt or uncle to you, guiding you to reach your potential and become the one you want to be. Because a mother and father can’t do everything. Because it takes a whole village, for a human being, to grow up. Because no one can do it alone. Because when you are eighteen years old and you are far from your country, far from your father, far from your mother, well, all this is even more true.

Then comes a Sunday when I don’t get on the bus. The following Tuesday, I’m not on the tatami either. Nor on Thursday. So he calls me. He can’t get me to laugh. I explain. I am in mourning. He is sorry and sad. He buys a nice card where the friends of the dojo put, each one, a small word, to comfort me. He rings my doorbell, sits with me for a while, checks up on me, then gives me the card and makes me promise, before leaving, not to hesitate to call if I need anything.

The years go by. He is present at my wedding, at the release of my novel, he starts to feel like a grandfather at the birth of Little Girl. I can already see in his eyes that, if he becomes a grandpa, he will be a grandpa cake. So,” he says, “are we going to finish this thesis now?”, which makes me burst out laughing! Yes, he managed to make me laugh again.

I don’t go to the dojo anymore since I knew I was expecting Little Girl. But we talk on the phone. And I called him about the thesis. “Congratulations! How was the defense?” I describe it to him. He’s happy for me. “When are you coming back to the dojo?” I tell him it’s going to be hard, between work, Little Girl… and the upcoming arrival of Little Boy! He is happy with the news. There have been changes on his side too. He has become a grandpa, a grandpa cake, as I expected. I ask him questions about how he lives this new role. He talks, explains. I listen. I tease him, which makes him burst out laughing! I realize that I like to make him laugh.

I tell you all this in the present tense because all this will always be in me in the present tense. He who loved to read me so much will not read this text. At least, not like us. But I already know what he would have said if he did read it. Because, in my chatter, I already told him all this once. I told him how he was, like others who will recognize themselves, like a father in Montreal to me. To which he replied, “I know my Ndack, don’t worry. I know.”

Goodbye my friend, my Sensei.

Ndack, July 13, 2022