Little House In Ise

Moving Dojo
October 3, 2007, 16:26
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

Are old grungy training spaces better than new and improved? I keep reading about friends whose schools are moving for various reasons. Whether they grew too large for their original space or their lease expired, there are a lot of painting parties and mat layout planning discussions that have hit my mailbox recently. After a whole lot of sweat, these new schools slowly become ready for the good sweat that the work crews really want, but is it better sweat?

In my case, I’ve been half spoiled. One of the places where I train (小俣町総合体育館 — Obata Sogo Taikan) is part of a publicly funded sports facility. The size of the mat is such that even during well attended seminars there is plenty of room for big rolls. The polished hardwood floor is on springs and there is room enough for both Kendo and Iaido folks to swish their swords without practice turning into a gang-fight. The green and red contest-sized Judo mats make the facilities practical for rolling around arts too. The kamiza has a full suit of aged armor, a pair of swords, longbow and quiver of arrows standing in front of a scroll brushed by Ueshiba O-Sensei. All this adds up to a beautiful and practical dojo.

The other school where I train regularly (猿田彦神社 — Saruta Hiko Jinja) is tiny, old and desperately in need of new mats. The dojo itself is long and narrow with metal lockers along one wall. The “kamiza” is a chalkboard that slides open to show a Japanese flag. The “mats” are real tatami that have gone well beyond their expiration date and are being held together by many meters of brown duct tape. Between the sawdust from the worn tatami and the glue gunk from the tape, Saruta isn’t particularly clean either even though we do sweep and mop after every class.

It should not be too surprising that it is the gorgeous Obata Dojo that was chosen to be renovated. The funding sources are different so no one can really complain too much about inequity. However, while the renovation is going on, training at Obata dojo has been moved into a storage room in the elementary school across the street. The size is perhaps a smidgeon larger than Saruta, there are no lockers and the Judo mats were moved across the street too. The move shoe-horned a large Aikido class into a space almost a third the size of what it had before.

The result? It was some of the best training I have had at that dojo. Both uke and nage had to be more aware of their space, their partners and the other students than they have had to be in the bigger space. The concept of maai suddenly had much more meaning to everyone.

At Saruta, the nasty mats make rolling painful — we aren’t too flashy about it. Ukemi is a very practical art there. The nasty mats also mean that footing isn’t always solid so the students have to be solid instead.

Ascetic training, or at least less-spoiled training, may be a practical way to encourage growth for Aikidoka. That said, I still hate getting tape gunk on my hakama …


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