Giorgio Veneri was born on 25 February 1937. He began practicing judo at the age of fourteen and continued this through university.
After completing his education he became a teacher of mathematics, but still continued judo. In 1964 Veneri met an aikido teacher, Motokage Kawamukai, and began to practice. With the arrival of Hiroshi Tada in Italy in 1965, Veneri abandoned judo and devoted his whole attention to aikido. He was one of the founder members of the Aikikai of Italy and became one of its earliest yudansha in 1968. He was promoted to 6th dan in 1994.
Giorgio Veneri represented the Aikikai of Italy at the inaugural congress of the IAF in Madrid and Tokyo in 1976 and was appointed a member of the IAF Superior Council. The original model of the IAF was a federation of continental aikido groupings and the EAF (European Aikido Federation) comprised most of the IAF member federations in Europe . Mr Veneri represented the Aikikai of Italy at EAF meetings also and became Chairman of this federation in 1980, after it split into two groups.
Nevertheless the EAF was very active in promoting aikido in Europe and with this aim Veneri went to Czechoslovakia , Poland , Hungary, Bulgaria , Romania , Turkey and Russia . Outside Europe, he taught in Jordan and became the Technical Director of the Aikido Federation of South Africa (AFSA).
My own friendship with Giorgio Veneri began in 1978. I was living in the UK at the time and was training at the Ryushinkan Dojo in London , run by Kanetsuka Minoru Shihan, and was also active in the BAF. In 1978 I was the delegate for the BAF at an EAF Congress held in Cannes , France . I checked into the hotel and went down to the bar for a drink and there was Giorgio from Italy , Kai Perttula from Finland and a few others who became good friends henceforward. The congress was quite lively, to say the least, and was the first of several meetings up until my departure for Japan in 1980.
After coming to live in Japan , I became active in the IAF, becoming Assistant General Secretary at the 4 th Congress held in Tokyo in 1984, which was also when Giorgio Veneri was elected IAF Chairman. Though living in Japan , I was still involved with aikido in Europe and had occasion to visit Italy several times. These visits sometimes involved attending the Italian Summer School, which was usually held at this time at the Coverciano stadium in Florence . The visiting shihans would stay at the Bencista in Fiesole and I stayed there, too, with Giorgio. I fondly remember breakfasts taken outside in the hotel gardens overlooking Florence . At these summer schools I also discovered how good Tada Sensei's Italian was: and how non-existent mine was. The explanations for complex jo kata were given in Japanese for my benefit, to the amusement of the Italian aikidoka. For these summer schools Giorgio would travel from Mantova on his motorcycle, which was a large Kawasaki , complete with saddlebags. It had a comfortable pillion seat, which, I was told, was occupied by his wife Anna on their trips around Italy .
One of the high points of my friendship with Giorgio were the visits to Mantova. I stayed with Giorgio and Anna in the Veneri house in cs. Vittorio Emanuele 103 and made friends with Walter, their beloved Alsatian dog. On these occasions we spent a few days traveling in Giorgio's elderly Fiat station wagon around Tuscany, visiting Siena, Pisa, Volterra and once staying overnight in San Giminiano. In addition, to the Chanti wine country, we managed to get to Florence , Venice , the Italian Alps, and Lake Garda . Giorgio was determined that nothing remotely interesting would be left out and so we also traveled to many local places of interest, always including interesting restaurants and sometimes the occasional battlefield (for he had a lively interest in recent Italian history). After seeing a particularly good view, tasting a particularly good wine, there was nothing left to say but, “Ah! L'Italia!” We often laughed about this.
By this time Giorgio had retired from his job as a teacher and followed a more leisurely schedule. The Veneris were always perfect hosts. When I was there, Anna made a light breakfast, which I usually shared with Walter. Afterwards there were e-mail messages to see to, then discussions in his study, always followed by a mid-morning walk through the town with the dog. We arrived home in time for a light lunch served outside under the wisteria trees. After the obligatory siesta, there was the serious business of dinner and the wine to choose. Dinner was a leisurely affair with much conversation. Guests sometimes included his son Giulio & his wife or old Italian friends, after which there was another obligatory walk with Walter. At some point Anna discovered that I had a fondness for Italian ice cream. In Japan it is considered highly unseemly for men to be seen eating in public, especially something so fickle as ice cream. Thus we would always visit an ice cream shop and, to Anna's delight, wander back home licking huge cornets overflowing with splendid flavours.
In 2003 I was suddenly hospitalized with a heavily swollen prostate gland, which the doctor suspected was due to prostate cancer. When Giorgio found out he immediately sent me a succession of e-mail messages. He told me that he himself had been diagnosed with prostate cancer several years before: in fact he had had the disease all the time he was IAF Chairman. He had fought the disease with medication and had kept it under control. In particular, I was not to worry: the disease was treatable and was in no way a death sentence.
Alas, perhaps Giorgio tempted providence by this last remark. Not long before the 9 th Congress in 2004, he confided to me that the cancer had returned and was spreading to his spine. He doubted whether he would be able to practice aikido for much longer and apologized for his absence at the Congress. After the Congress, Giorgio was delighted that he had been reappointed to the IAF Superior Council and was quite upbeat about his illness. The contacts became progressively less, but it was with great shock that I received a brief message from Giulio and Anna, telling me that Giorgio had passed away in the afternoon of March 31.
I think Giorgio would have wished us to celebrate the wonderful life he led, rather than grieve at his death and this is what I have attempted to do in this brief obituary. Nevertheless, the IAF has lost a strong pillar of support and a very good friend to many individual aikidoka throughout the federation.
May he rest in peace.
Peter A Goldsbury
April 2, 2005