Let’s get introductions out of the way. Tell us your name and where you’re from.
Michiko Tenno. Actually, my friends call me Emily, or Em for short. My dad’s name was Kane, so a lot of people know me as Emily Kane, and that name goes with some very happy memories for me. I was born in
Japan, on a military base. We lived for awhile in US Hawaii when I was just a baby, but I mainly grew up here in . Virginia
Can you tell us about some of those happy memories?
I loved my dad very much. He was amazing. It’s kinda hard for me to get past losing him that way. But I suppose remembering happier times is a way of honoring him. We used to go camping in the woods behind the estate where we lived. We would pretend to be survivalists, you know, try to live off the land. It was only for two days at a time, so it was just for fun. You know, just an imaginary challenge. Though I did eat a bug once to prove to my dad that I could do it. We had so much fun in the woods. He taught me how to use all sorts of improvised weapons, like slings, arrows, spears, or just throwing rocks. It’s like we would do target practice when we were out camping, only more fun, you know, like a game. He was so good at stuff like that. I got to be pretty good at throwing and slinging. I think I can hit a small target with a sling at a hundred feet pretty regularly. But he could hit just about anything, even moving targets, with just about anything. He was so confident about stuff like that. Confidence is really important when you’re trying to hit something. It gives you a stable foundation, so to speak.
I notice your happy memories sound a bit like “basic training.” What’s that about?
I dunno. I guess that’s just how I’ve always been. Kind of a tomboy, I suppose. But, you know, it’s not about the fighting. You learn all these things, like kung fu, or survival training, but the point is to prepare yourself for something else.
What exactly are you preparing yourself for?
Well, I’d say meditation, but it’s not as simple as that. Sensei used to say that kung fu goes back to Bodhidharma, who supposedly first taught martial arts to the Shaolin monks, and that the whole point of learning to fight is to learn how to breathe. If I say it’s about meditation, you might think it’s really mysterious, you know, some kind of mystical experience. But it’s much more down to earth. If you listen really carefully to your breath, and you do exercises to improve your breathing, you begin to experience who you are in a new way. It’s not about thinking some great new thought, but about connecting to your body more deeply. The stuff about Bodhidharma is probably just a myth, but the point is to remind us that we study fighting in order to achieve something more important. I don’t know, does that make any sense?
Yes it does, sort of. But have you experienced this yourself?
Yeah, I suppose I have. Well, what I mean is that a few years ago, in sparring, I began to see, or hear, or just feel my own decisions before I actually made them. And after a while I began to feel the decisions of the people I was sparring against before they made them. I mean, it’s not like I read their minds or anything. But I just get this really strong feeling about what’s going on inside them, in their breathing. I used to tell the other kids, whenever they would ask, that I listened for their decisions, that I could hear them. Of course, I don’t think they really knew what I was talking about. This is the sort of thing each person has to discover for himself.
Does this actually help in a fight?
I guess so. I mean, I’ve been in a few scraps over the last few months. Actually, a lot more than I ever expected, and some really nasty ones. But that same feeling is always there. Sometimes it feels like I’m just reading them, you know, my opponents, but that’s just because they make themselves so obvious. Most people, well, practically everyone fights out of fear, or overconfidence. They let the fight control them, instead of the other way around. Every fight is decided by whoever truly takes the initiative.
What do you mean by taking the initiative?
It’s really important, maybe even the most important thing. Initiative is not the same as aggression. Most people mistake it for aggression, and think that by charging in they take the initiative. But really they give it up.
That sounds too strange. How exactly does that work?
You know, this is one of those things that you can’t explain in so many words. Each person has to experience it directly, like with meditation and breathing. If you're in a fight, and you can keep your wits about you, you might become aware of the flow of the action. It's sort of like the tide, or something. Once you start looking at fights like that, you also begin to notice how the flow of the action creates openings for you. It's sort of like the difference between fighting the undertow at the beach and just letting the current carry you where you want to go. You have to get a feel for the action of the waves. Well, initiative is sort of like the tide in a fight. It's not just about you, but if you become aware of it, you can use it to control the fight. But the really important thing is that becoming aware of the flow of initiative is also how the possibility for meditation first shows up. I mean, maybe there’s another path that leads there besides martial arts, I don’t know, but this is the one I’ve found. I’m really only at the beginning with this stuff. I don’t know where it all leads, but wherever it is, it is beyond fighting. I mean, I’m pretty good at the fighting part, and I know that’s not an end.
Has anything good come out of your experience of the last few months?
That’s easy… absolutely. I mean, they killed my dad and all, burned down the estate, scattered my family. That was pretty terrible. But I finally found my mom as a result, and that was incredible. I never really knew her before. It’s like she wasn’t there for my whole life, and then suddenly she was. And she’s the most amazing person. Also afterwards, when I was on my own, it’s like I found a different kind of initiative. You know, I’ve always been a bit of a loner. Where we lived, out on the estate, was sort of isolated, so growing up I never really had any friends. But when I made it back to
, it’s like I felt free to open up to the kids in school. And before I knew it I had a bunch of friends, and lots of kids turned out to be kinda cool. I mean, some of ‘em are kinda jerks, but most turn out to be cool. I’d say that’s the best thing to come out of all this. Losing my dad, that’s like devastating. But finding my mom and making some friends has made it much easier to bear. I really love my friends. They're great. And my mom, she's like a sunrise for me, everyday. Virginia
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