Little House In Ise

Trip Report: All Japan Enbu & Honbu Practice w/Doshu …



I was in Tokyo over the weekend to see the 45th All Japan Aikido Enbu. I hopped on a train with Ueda Shihan and three other students Saturday morning and we made it to the Budokan by early afternoon. As usual for outings in Japan, I felt underdressed since about half the crowded stadium were wearing gi and hakama.


The floor of the Budukan had five square mats, each more than twice the size of that at PSA (my home dojo in Seattle), laid out like a tic-tac-toe game. Five schools at a time would come out and demonstrate their particular take on Aikido or Aikido training. It was amazing to seeing the stylistic, habitual, attitudinal and philosophical variations that exist all within the Aikikai and all on one floor. The demos lasted a minute and a half, barely enough for a taste, then five more schools would trot out for their turn. The dojo demonstrations were interspersed between Shihan from various schools around Japan who would come out with their favorite uke and do their thing. To be very honest, I was more impressed with the ukemi than anything else. An uke as sensitive and skilled as these could make a rank beginner look like a movie ninja. 🙂

There were crowd favorites. Endo Shihan and Tada Shihan drew the biggest rounds of spontaneous applause. They were both tremendous and quite different! There was another Shihan, whose name I missed, whose very martial presentation, vigor and energy were EXCITING. Almost all of his irimi-nage were finished with the palm of his hand wrapped about his poor uke’s face. Ouch!

After spending the whole time smiling like a fool, thinking to myself, “Wow! You can do X-nage that way!!” I was simply blown away and really didn’t learn a damn thing. The only thing concrete that I came away with was a very nice jo. The vendor said it had only been swung by a little-old-lady during morning practice…

The next morning we went Honbu Dojo to attend practice with Doshu. It seemed as though everyone else in Tokyo had the same idea.


Since this was my first visit to Honbu, I was prepared to be disappointed (live in Japan long enough and you get into that habit). The architecture didn’t let me down. Honbu is a plain, four-story concrete block that is indistinguishable from other offices/apartments. It is in no way the ancient wooden structure with hidden passages that somehow was still my mental image of the place (must stop watching those damn ninja movies!). The first floor is offices and the next three each have mats (again, each about twice as large as that at PSA). Though the men’s locker room did have lockers, they were all full and even the tops were piled high with back-packs. There were luggage piles everywhere.

Dozens of us stood outside the door trying to watch one of the Honbu shihan run his class. It was so crowded that for most techniques he had half the crowd sit out while the other half trained. Hot, humid air poured out of the room blown, perhaps, by the wind from flying bodies. When that class ended and streams of students mostly _didn’t_ file out it became very clear that today’s practice with Doshu would be crowded. Once we finally got onto the mat and lined up there were ranks and ranks of students. I was in the fifth row and was close to the front of the pack.

Just before Doshu came in, a student went around turning off all of the ventilation fans (there were about six). Apparently, students are intended to experience the seasons during class. I thought it was a bit early to be experiencing July in Hell. To say we were cozy doesn’t quite cover the sensation of being in a pre-heated, extra-moist crowd. Doshu did not split the class in half and it is not an exaggeration to say that there were at least two people per tatami (tatami sized cloth quilt pads). Every technique was spent looking for a safe spot to drop your uke or covering your head in fear of falling neighbors. It was thrilling.

We ran through almost the entire basic set of Aikido techniques. We did all of the following in about this order:

suwari waza aihanmi katatetori ikyo
suwari waza shomen uchi nikyo
shomen uchi sankyo <—<<< He set the sankyo while standing w/ no shoulder into the armpit
shomen uchi yonkyo <—<<< The yonkyo was set with the uke down rather than on the fly
aihanmi katatetori kotegaeshi <—<<< The big “slap uke’s ass” variation
yokomen uchi shihonage <—<<< Big round absorption, followed by classic rounded arm extension using both hands
shomen uchi iriminage <—<<< Damned if I know, kotegaeshi clobbered me.
tenchi nage <—<<< Dynamic, I missed his footwork on the entry GRR!!!
kokyu dosa

At which point he ended the class and took off to where famous sensei often go — lunch, I think.

After all was said and done, I enjoyed the Budokan demos a lot but that hour on the mat at Honbu was wonderful. It wasn’t that Doshu was at the front or the crunchy historical location but rather all the amazing talent on the mat. Almost everyone there was shihan of some sort or a senior student hauled along as an uke. There were other just-plain-lucky folks like me in the crowd but I didn’t practice with any. Absolutely everyone that I trained with was a genuine Aikido bad-ass of one sort or another. There were the Ki-oozing-from-their-pores-old-farts; wicked fast, flexible-as-rope college dudes and tough-as-nails soldier/cop types. Whew! Next year I’ll know to bring more Pokari Sweat.

Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu!

PS The current style in Harajuku is to wear clashing haori hakama and/or fake looking traditional clothing.
Jaa naa!



Seiza a Mini-Howto
May 9, 2007, 20:22
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Last night, Ueda Shihan talked about etiquette in a way that I had not heard from him before. I think he may be a bit nervous since he is taking a group of students, including me, to Honbu Dojo and doesn’t want any embarrassments. One of the things that he mentioned was how to sit properly in seiza and WHY it was proper.

It boils down to how to sit or stand when carrying or drawing a sword. As has been pointed out, the correct way to stand when in seiza is from the right foot. This is to make it easier to draw a sword carried on the left. The same is true for sitting. Left leg down first then right so as to make either striking or just plain carrying such an awkward object more natural. BTW, for both standing and sitting, he insisted that the _correct_ way also included, closing your knees and pinching your rectum tight. Not sure of the martial application there but they were interesting details.

He added a few more tidbits — one of which I had heard twenty years before but without explanation. When sitting in seiza, crossing the right toe over the left is considered proper. This is related to doing a fast-draw. If your left toe is over the right that might slow your first step. Similarly, when holding one’s hands politely, the right should be held by the left so as to keep it on the inside and thus closer to the hilt of your sword. This is related to the za-rei (seated bow) in which the left hand is placed first and then right (he said that either left then right or both at the same time were fine). He added that the reason for the hands being held in a dimpled triangle is to support your nose and face a bit in case your head is smashed into the ground from above and behind. Also related to za-rei was that the “polite” angle for the head/neck when bowing was such that the back of your neck should lightly touch the back collar of your gi. This allows you to be observant and polite at the same time.

I get a kick out of cool tidbits like these.

So… You Want to Work or Train in Japan?
May 9, 2007, 14:44
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan, Work | Tags: , , , ,

The best practical advice that I can give you for life in Japan is to not put either it or Japanese Aikido (your martial art goes here) on a pedestal. Life here is frustrating and often disappointing. Keep your eyes open for the good stuff, we all have things that make it worthwhile. It is different enough that you will spend a lot of time saying, “WTF?!?!”, “why would anyone think that?” and “NOT ALL FOREIGNERS ARE ____!!!”, etc … You will also spend quite a bit of time, at least at first, saying “Whoa, cooool!”, “DELICIOUS!”, “It’s really OK to do that in public?”, etc…

Bring a towel, hoopy froods always know where their towel is. Actually, I’m serious here, bring a couple of hand towels/handkerchiefs — you will find almost no paper towels in public toilets. Restaurants provide only the tiniest most useless pieces of scrap instead of real napkins, so a kerchief will go a long way to making you more comfortable!

The job department is a toughie. English teaching is not as lucrative as it once was and it is not as easy as a non-teacher might think, but it is an option. If you go that route, try the larger, relatively reputable schools (GEOS, NOVA, Aeon) before smaller private places. The big schools offer more financial safety and can take you to many cities.

Finally, this is a cash based society. Do not expect credit cards to work in most places and don’t even think about bringing checks. Yen denominated travelers checks may be converted to real money at big hotels and banks in bigger cities but they aren’t as useful as you’d hope. If you must count on ATMs then use the ones in post-offices as they are more likely to work with your bank network.

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