It’s with great sadness that I must announce the passing of Ryuzen Robert (Robby) Pellett. I met Robby in 1999 when I was given his name as a possible sword teacher. I spoke with him briefly on the phone and then went to observe a class the next Saturday. I joined immediately. Robby was one of the kindest people I have ever met. Immediately after describing the intimacy of combat he would pause class to help shepherd a crane fly off the mat before it was accidentally stepped on. Robby’s training history was incredible, studying aikido intensely with Hiroshi Ikeda before his move to Japan where he trained directly under Mochizuki Minoru sensei at the Yoseikan hombu dojo. Years later, in Seattle, when asked to do a demonstration of Yoseikan’s sutemi-waza (sacrifice throws) at a Japanese sword tournament on hardwood floors, he was able to adjust each throw so that he took the majority of the initial impact and was able to place me gently onto the ground next to him. “Trust me and I’ll put you down safely,” he said. While in Japan, in addition to his study of zen and aikido, he studied kyudo, atarashi naginata, chado, ikebana and Shinto Ryu Iai-Battojutsu, coming home with Yudansha (black belt) ranks in each. I was lucky enough to travel to Japan with him several times to begin a relationship with his Shinto Ryu teacher Mochizuki Takashi and saw him slide effortlessly back into the role of humble student rather than teacher.
Anyone who knew Robby knows that he struggled for many years with health issues. We all went through the pain of his kidneys slowly failing and the long wait for a donor. But watching him reawaken from that experience was seeing him at his most joyful. He was literally full of life and lust and embraced the gift of existence as only someone who nearly lost it could. I remember him coming to class one morning with his new girlfriend and quietly, blushing, asking me to throw him around the dojo. In that moment he wasn’t a sword teacher, or a mental health worker, or a zen priest, he was a boy trying to impress a girl. We put on a show and they left early with a twinkle in their eyes.
Robby was special and unique and I’m so glad to have known him.