Little House In Ise

Happy New Year 2010
December 31, 2009, 23:07
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: ,
Eric, Ray, Megumi, Kokoro in kimono

The Kageyama Holcomb Family


Kids Testing
December 29, 2009, 12:22
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , ,

Ray and Kokoro took rank tests on the 20th. Kokoro was testing for 6 kyu jun and Ray for 2 kyu jun. The “jun” ranks are “pre” ranks put in place to make kids take twice as many tests between one full kyu and the next. The kids have colored belts (Aikikai in general sticks to the white belt/black belt plan) that change color in unclear (to me) increments.

Honbu uses white, yellow, orange, blue, purple and brown. After brown, the kids must wait until they turn 15 before they are allowed to test for black belt. For some, I think this may end up being a bit frustrating but it makes good sense since black belt really needs to mean something. Recent tradition holds that it is awarded at the first step or shodan (初段). It has been said that black belts are awarded when a student knows enough to *begin* learning. Based on that idea, it is hard for me to believe that most kids younger than about fifteen, no matter how physically talented or martially gifted, are really ready for shodan. My son, about whom I dearly love to brag (so please bear with me), started training at five. He is now ten and has just tested for a 2nd kyu rank (2nd and a half if you prefer). At his current pace he will hit brown belt and have to wait for promotion for several years. It’s harder to imagine with Kokoro but she may end up in the same boat too.

The most pressing concern however is Ray’s belt. He has had the same purple belt for almost two years and he has grown a lot in that time. He now ties the knot with the tips of the belt and really needs a longer one to hold his jacket closed. 🙂 We hope he passes for his sake but as a fashion forward father I really would like to see him in better fitting clothes. 🙂

The tests themselves are held in private. The doors are closed and parents are not allowed in to watch. There were a few parents who were shocked but I think they got over it. One worried mother whispered in strongly accented English, “But she does not understand the Japanese!” Her daughter probably did fine — Aikido was the common language not Japanese.

My kids described the event completely differently. Kokoro focused on the pain of having to sit and wait her turn. She didn’t care much about the techniques she said she did whatever they asked (shomen uchi iriminage and “something else”). Ray went into wild detail. His test was thorough and included techniques from seiza and hanmihandachi as well standing. There was a katate-tori jiyuwaza (free techniqe from hand grab) portion about which he was very pleased. All in all, the kids reported that the test went well.

Several days later, one of the judges bumped into me in the hall and said that both of the kids “Ganbatta” (頑張った: did their best). I can’t ask for more and am very proud of them both.

Monday Morning Quarterbacking My Own Test
December 7, 2009, 18:20
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , ,

My test for 3 dan was held Monday morning (2009/12/7). The judges were Seki Shihan, Kobayashi Shihan and Ito Shihan. This test was the culmination of several months of planning and additional training focusing on just plain passing. As I write this, I do not know if I have passed as results will not be posted until Wednesday. So, now that the sweat is dry and the adrenaline is gone from my system I wanted to chew on what little I remember before I lose it completely.

Upon discovering that Aikikai Honbu uses 3 dan as a wall of sorts, I realized that if I wanted to pass I would have to focus a lot more intently than I had been previously. So, I scouted tests watching who called what and what stickler details were most frequently pinpointed during the comments. I attended classes taught by one of the senior teachers, who most frequently was the head judge. This was in order to get a feel for what he felt was the “right way” to do Aikido — I even learned a couple variations that are almost unique to his way of demonstrating. In the end, none of the instructors who I was expecting showed up. Fair enough.

So, after several months of nokori geiko (残り稽古: staying after class to practice) the weekend of my test arrived. That Saturday, I attended Doshu’s morning class as usual. Apparently Doshu also had the tests in mind as he taught knife disarming. I had never seen him do that before — excellent! After that I ran to Cosmic Center to train some more. This time it was not for open-mat with the usual suspects but to attend a weapons disarming seminar taught by Inagaki Shihan of Iwama. His focus was sword and staff — again excellent! The training was awesome and I used his demonstration to plan what I would show during my test. The test requirements are actually pretty basic: 3 knife disarms, 3 staff and 3 sword.

Monday morning class lasted half an hour and then we lined up by seniority right to left (facing shomen) and with me on the far left. There was one other fellow testing for 3-dan, a wonderful Aikidoka from France whose attitude and energy I have always appreciated. I wish that I could have seen his test as I am sure it was quite excellent. In fact, the 2 dan test that came before us was wonderful as well and left me wondering if I could perform at that level — last minute jitters.

The following is my abused memory of what was called.

tachi (立ち:standing): Shomen uchi ikyo
tachi: Shomen uchi iriminage
hanmihandachi (半身半立ち: standing vs kneeling): Shomen uchi iriminage
hanmihandachi: katatetori shihonage
hanmihandachi: ryotetori shihonage
zagi (座技: kneeling): Shomen uchi nikyo
zagi: Shomen uchi nikyo
tachi: yokomen uchi jiyuwaza (自由技: free techniques)

Other? Really, I don’t remember for sure. Even the above was vague. The only thing I remember for certain is being cautioned during jiyuwaza to do only throws. I threw.

Weapons were brought out and all of my careful planning went up in smoke. From the first knife strike everything changed. I think the jo (staff) portion was similar to what I had planned but mostly it wasn’t what I had in mind at all. I disarmed the fellow but I did almost nothing that I had planned. Shit. What a waste of stress.

I had hoped to watch the taninzugake (多人数がけ: multiple attackers) portion of my friend’s randori test but I spent it doing deep-breathing exercises and really not being present at all. I don’t think anyone noticed my absence as I was sitting in front of them the whole time but I really have no clue if my buddy did well (I *assume* that he did). Then it was my turn.

During all of my multiple attacker training I have been constantly warned not to use much strength, to focus on moving and lowering my center. That was my mantra when I visualized how I wanted that part of the test to go. In the end, I felt as though I was ripping arms out of sockets rather than the smooth flow from one person to the next that I had aimed for. There was one moment of satisfaction that I remember well: I threw one of my uke straight at another and moved straight into the throat of the third. Other than that this is the fuzziest portion of all.

Afterward there were some very nice atta-boys but I’ll see on Wednesday.

I want to thank the following people for their help and patience:

Antakly-san (Sorry about your wrist!)
and pretty much everyone else in Hombu Dojo morning class.

Happy rolling!

The Heart of Aikido : The Practice Itself
December 6, 2009, 13:33
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: ,

I submitted the following with my application to test for 3 dan. The topic I was given was “The Heart of Aikido”.


The health benefits of hard, physical exercise such as we experience during Aikido practice have been broadly shown to be beneficial to the human body. Exercise strengthens our hearts, muscles, sinews, joints and bones. Recently, there has even been evidence suggesting that regular, hard exercise is beneficial for the brain — possibly even improving cognition and emotional condition. All this together makes it clear that Aikido is good for the body, but what about the spirit?

Avoiding discussion of Kotodama and the historical connection between Aikido and Omotokyo, there is still an element at the heart of Aikido the spiritual nature of which is often overlooked: the practice itself.

Most practitioners of Aikido are not soldiers and so most do not expect to use their art in war. Amongst modern warriors, there is an understanding that if the need to fight with hands arises then something has gone terribly wrong. Police and similar peace-keepers are among the few who might use Aikido as something other than a last resort but they themselves prefer other options. As such, it is clear that for most Aikidoka it is only during practice that we use our art.

It is practice that brings purpose to Aikido. The clothes, weapons and customs are important but if it were not for practice itself there would be no point in all the rest. We go to the dojo to train not to show off our new dogi. We go to the dojo to practice, improve and grow not to enjoy the flowers decorating the tokonoma. We also go to the dojo to help others practice, either by teaching or being their partner.

Aikido practice literally and figuratively brings people together. From “Onegaishimasu” we enter into the heart of Aikido. By asking someone to be our training partner we open ourselves up to another human being. Though we grab, strike and sometimes struggle against the physical strength of this person, it is not a conflict. Quite the contrary! Together, we learn to better blend with each-other’s energy and intent. We learn their strengths and weaknesses while exposing our own.

When a training partner, can sense weakness and yet is still allowed close enough to strike, we are at our most vulnerable. In tactical terms, our partner is also exposed and vulnerable leaving both sides physically at the mercy of the other. Being open to attack we learn that, though the potential to be injured or to inflict injury — even death — is real, another human being is in the same situation. By acknowledging their vulnerability we learn that to use their weakness to destroy them is form of self destruction. We grow together with the realization that the other is the same as the self — open and in danger. The necessity of protecting our partners becomes clearer. During practice we trust one another with our bodies often putting our lives and health in the hands of total strangers. This level of trust yields bonds between people that would otherwise be unlikely to occur.

Beyond “not hurting” our partners, we are also in the position of being nurturers as well. As sempai it is our responsibility to protect our kohai but also we must also help them learn. Though out of balance in some respects, on the mat the relationship between sempai and kohai reflects deep mutuality of purposes. Kohai learns technique from sempai whereas sempai learns to communicate and demonstrate concepts that are intrinsically difficult to grasp. Both sides learn empathy and build bonds with the other. True Aikdo grows from the physical and emotional mutuality of training.

Clearly then, practice is the purpose, meaning and heart of Aikido.

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