Little House In Ise

Weapons Training at Honbu: The Kinjo Meiwaku Theory
November 24, 2010, 12:27
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In some parts of the Aikikai discussion of weapons training in can sometimes cause almost religious levels of dispute. I have heard very serious Aikidoka tell me that O Sensei “gave” weapons to Iwama but not to Honbu and that, in some way, proves the superiority of Iwama flavored Aikido. Without getting into the “what is better” or even “what is closer to tradition” arguments. I would like to propose a theory as to why weapons are not typically taught at Honbu.

Aikido Honbu Dojo (its official name) was built in Ushigome Wakamatsu-cho (later just Wakamatsu-cho). Despite the name (牛込:”ushi gome” means “crowded with cows”) the area was residential even when the original dojo was built. Now the neighborhood is packed with single-family residences, multi-story condominiums (called “mansions” in Japanese) and apartment buildings.

The residential Tokyo feel of Honbu contrasts strongly with the Iwama dojo which is nestled in a farming area slowly evolving towards being more residential. The neighborhood has many large vegetable patches, flower and traditional gardens as well as the occasional rice paddy and working farm. The area is also relatively thick with trees and the nearest neighbors are more than a stones-throw away.

Compared to Tokyo, Iwama is spacious and open. So much so that outdoor weapons training is not uncommon. The high ceilings and light fixtures at Honbu show that when it was rebuilt in 1967 someone had been thinking about swinging weapons. Even so, there is no space outside for students to do similar outdoor practice. If anyone were to do so the neighbors would be irritated and uchikomi (striking) with bundles of bound sticks or car-tires would certainly draw protests.

At the start of normal classes, which may be the loudest portion, the windows are closed to minimize disturbance to the neighbors. Also, in most flavors of Honbu Aikido there is very little use of kiai or other yelling. In fact, people who grunt or make “Ha” sounds are discouraged from doing so. Quite the opposite is true in Iwama where shouts of “Hap!” and “Ho!” are the norm especially during weapons work!

It is my contention that it was merely a matter of being a good neighbor that caused Honbu to go down a path of not teaching weapons extensively. Later, courtesy likely became custom then finally policy. There are still weapons requirements for testing at Honbu and one can occasionally see Doshu practicing suburi privately, so, it is possible to say that weapons are still an element of Honbu Aikido though certainly much less than in Iwama.

Based on this reasoning, there are clearly elements of modern Aikikai Aikido that are more closely linked with environment than with the philosophy or martial spirit of the founder. This then raises the question, what else? What other aspects of Aikido technique, teaching or logic may have been changed to suit differing environments?


48th All Japan Aikido Demonstration

Day by day for the last two weeks the mats at Aikikai Honbu dojo have grown crowded as Aikidoka from all over the world trickled into Tokyo. They have come to view and participate in the 48th All Japan Aikido Demonstration at the Nippon Budokan.

Unlike previous years, this time I attended only as a proud papa and spectator. My main goals were to watch my daughter perform (my son had a science fair) and meet Ueda Shihan from Ise. Since I went with my daughter we arrived about three hours after the event started and then spent the better part of an hour trying to find her again (I lost the whole group right away) I didn’t actually watch much of the demonstration at all. Once the kids were sorted out, I received a phone call from Sensei and met him in front.

Having seen fewer demonstrations this year than at any event previously, I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I would have liked. The few that I did take I’ve posted below.

After the demonstration, I met Ueda Sensei and the Mie-ken Aikidokai group at the Tokyo Prince Hotel — the one below the Tokyo Tower. After a bit of wandering we found a nice izakaya there in Akasaka. Over dinner, Sensei’s perspective and wisdom flowed with the beer. As usual, when spending time with him I felt as though I should have been taking notes. His ideas about Aikido, life and education are fascinating.

Two younger men sat with us at dinner and sensei quizzed them about the demonstrations. He asked the younger of the two, a new shodan, what he had been watching at the demonstration. The young man replied that he had been watching and trying to learn waza. Sensei responded that that he was crazy to try. Rather than waza, he said, manners and behavior of the uke were paramount. He said to watch how they bow. Remember how the give and receive weapons. He was especially adamant that just observing how the more senior teachers sat and stood should be food for thought.

Later on, when discussing education, sensei mentioned that he was now of an age that no one scolded him anymore and he missed it. His point was that when a teacher or parent scolds their child they are showing that they care. They are providing life lessons and, sadly, once a person reachers a certain age, the mentors in our lives seem to disappear. Becoming an adult capable of self direction and self correction is what growing up is all about but, even so, a friendly slap on the back followed by a “WHAT were you thinking when you did that?” is something that one eventually learns to miss. He told me that he hoped Doshu would scold me more.

The next day we stopped at Tully’s while his students attended Doshu geiko. He very kindly said that though we only meet once a year, it feels far more frequent than that. I agreed but do wish that I could speak with him more often. As always, I appreciated the time sensei gave me and I take his words to heart. I will endeavor to incorporate his wisdom in my life.

2010 Mid-Winter Training at Honbu
February 4, 2010, 17:53
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , , ,

The two coldest weeks of the year seem like an excellent time for some hard training, right? Honbu Doju held its 2010 Kangeiko (寒稽古: mid-winter training) from Monday January 25 to Wednesday February 3rd. Regular and irregular students of all stripes showed up making an effort for kaikin (皆勤 : perfect attendance). After about three days the crowd thinned back to busy normal and stayed that way to near then end when the mat grew crowded again. The day after winter training ended the only people left were a few foreign visitors and some hardcore regulars (OK, I was there too, but I live in the neighborhood).

As per my usual, I attended ichibangeiko — the first morning class — taught by Doshu. The curriculum was as follows with each day devoted to a specific attack.

Monday 正面打ち Shomen uchi (forehead strike)
Tuesday 横面打ち Yokomen uchi (side of head strike)
Wednesday 逆半身片手取り Gyaku hanmi kaktatetori (toe-to-toe wrist grab)
Thursdsay 諸手取り Moretetori (two hands grabbing the wrist)
Friday 両手と売り Ryoutetori (both wrists grabbed)
Saturday 後ろ両手と売り Ushiro ryoutetori (both wrists grabbed from behind)
Sunday 肩面打ち Katamenuchi (grab shoulder punch face)
Monday 交差取り/合い半身片手取り Kosa tori / Aihanmi katatetori (cross hand grab)
Tuesday 突き Tsuki (punch / stab)
Wednesday 肩取り Katatori (shoulder grab)

On the Thursday following Kankeiko, Wakasensei substituted for Doshu and focused on shomenuchi.

All in all, I had a lot of fun but the my biggest revelation from this training was that I still have a pretty big hole in my iriminage (入身投げ: entering throw). When students of Aikido first see iriminage their impression is usually, “OK, I finally understand something — just smash him in the face with your arm, right?” Subtlety can really suck sometimes and this is one of them. Iriminage does NOT mean clothes-lining uke. However, it does mean that you need to be able to maintain the threat of smashing uke in the face throughout the technique so, if uke drops their defense, nage should be in a good position to knock their block off.

All that said, the key to iriminage isn’t the arm. The key is position (caveat eric: this is as I understand it now, if I discover that the key is actually a mystical force I will edit this article appropriately). Nage must enter behind and as close to uke as possible. From this point the tenkan and throw happens. It is also at this point that many of us find that we didn’t quite enter deeply enough or close enough. Entering too deeply is also a problem but, I think, less common. At any rate, if you don’t enter to the sweet spot, uke can very easily disconnect and walk away. Worse yet, a good uke can stay connected, over-rotate to the point where they are lined up perfectly to gut you.

What I have been experiencing recently is the latter. When a certain sempai decides to resist he has shown me that he can over-rotate, re-enter my space and pound me in the stomach. After repeated demonstrations of my lack of prowess, one of my favorite mean-old-men noticed my confusion and took the opportunity to point out a remedy. His claim is that a good way to practice finding the correct position for iriminage is to repeatedly do the “drop-em-on-their-ass” variation.

Uke attacks, nage enters deeply to uke’s rear. Nage is now standing close behind uke, almost touching. Nage puts both hands lightly on uke’s shoulder and then does a reverse tenkan, swinging the foot on the side from which they entered. While swinging their foot, nage lowers their center, dropping uke onto the ground. Repeat until it works without effort — I’m still working on that part.

Shinjuku Cosmic Center / 新宿コスミックセンター
May 9, 2009, 22:30
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , , , ,

A group of Honbu Dojo regulars rent out the #1 Dojo at the Shinjuku-Ku Cosmic center on irregular Saturdays. Usually the training focuses on items required on tests that are rarely or never covered in classes at Honbu itself. The classic example is multiple attacker randori. It is required above black belt but it is simply not taught! So, Cosmic Center is where these extras can be tacked on.

The mat opens at 9:00 though no-one shows up until around 9:30. This gives plenty of time to take both morning classes on the Honbu 3rd floor and then haul ass (10 minutes by bicycle) to the Cosmic Center for additional training. The group has the mat until noon so there is plenty of time to abuse oneself on those Saturdays when it is reserved. Since it is not reserved every Saturday, the problem of “when” is a toughie. Almost all pre-test weekends will be reserved and almost all post-test weekends will not. So, if you are interested in going but are not sure if it is open, ask around, the news is spread mostly by word-of-mouth.

The cost is 1,000 yen but if you are preparing for a test, the additional practice and attention to test related details that sempai (5th dan senpai) provide are extremely helpful. Also, they have a wealth of experience actually taking tests at Honbu so if you are concerned about etiquette or practices that might differ from your home dojo, these are the people to ask.

To everyone testing: Good luck, stay relaxed and try to keep your feet from going numb while waiting for your turn!

Happy rolling!

Recent Stuff at Honbu
December 22, 2008, 18:42
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been busy and so haven’t a single coherent thought to write about. Instead, here is a potpouri of Aikikai Honbu Dojo related “stuff”.

1) Morning Class Bonenkai (忘年会: forget the year party):
The location was the same as the last Morning class party and the format was similar. It was neat to see everyone wearing regular clothing and talk about Aikido with all the old foggies, pros and the occasional wannabe (me). Doshu’s speech seemed to be directed at me (isn’t that always the feeling?). His theme this time was, “If you want to learn from me, just watch what I’m doing and then do the same thing …” Ummm… yeah, I’ve been getting right on that all year and it’s still not quite gelling.

2) Pre-Test Class:

Back falls x 100
Forward rolls across mat x 6
Back rolls across mat x 6
Shiko across mat x 6
Spinning shiko across mat x 6
Shomen uchi ikyo x lots
Yokomen uchi ikyo x lots
Shomen uchi shihonage x lots
Ushiro ryote dori sankyo x lots
Kyokyu dosa x lots

Kids’ class is tough!

3) Kids testing:
No video, no cameras, no parents, OH NO?!?! The doors are closed at the start of class and parents get to hear the dramatic tales of perfect/botched waza from their kids semi frantic perspective. Can we FINALLY watch Narnia now?

4) More on Yonkyo Omote:
Start with a solid ikyo making certain the hand near uke’s wrist is well above the joint so the wrist can’t bend. Sword cut into position, use your forward knee to assist the pressure your yonkyo hand applies to the meaty part of uke’ forearm. Simultaneously lift and pull their wrist. The key point is to make certain that both of nage’s hands do not move in the same direction as though pushing a stick. The slight lift/pull by the hand on uke’s wrist turns their into a lever with the yonkyo finger as the fulcrum. Inakoshi sensei with his Yoda-like presence (and power) managed to cause severe pain but did not leave me with welts. Usually, I end up with enormous welts but experience little pain.

5) Clash of the Titans:
Recently two of the more hard-core members of differing schools-of-thought in the Honbu Dojo Morning class ended up paired off. Both are silver-haired fellows who are around fifth or sixth dan. Both are also very physical with one famous for his athletic ukemi and the other for his aggressive atemi. This was the first time I had seen them training together. One is a left mat kind of guy and the other is pretty strictly right mat (that’s just the way it is). This time, they met in the middle and the thumping was VIGOROUS! It was pretty easy to see that they were giving each other a LOT of resistance and all techniques were hard fought. I’d never seen old bulls training together like this before! Watching them do jiyu waza was pretty amazing and a little frightening — for bystanders!

Walking Targets: Uchi Deshi
December 1, 2008, 19:10
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , ,

It seems as though some new comers to Honbu feel as though they have something to prove. The uchi deshi are the ones who bear the brunt of this testosterone fueled “training”. Hard training is fine. Tough training is fine. However intentionally pushing so hard that people get hurt is not fine — even if that someone is yourself. Mind you, pushing someone else until you hurt yourself is pretty stupid.

So far, the uchi deshi with whom I have trained have been polite, respectful and very skilled martial artists. These are the folks who are not just aspiring to be the next generation of world class Aikidoka but are actively working on becoming so. They train many hours every day with the current generation of giants of the Aikikai. They are young, tough and can dish out hard-hitting, high-speed, Aikido whoop-ass. In other words: they are shithead magnets. Any jerk that walks in the door with a chip on their shoulder will end up asking an uchi deshi to knock it off.

Today, the uchi deshi (a very nice fellow) who was training next to me had a shithead on his hands. It was clear to everyone around them that these two guys were going at it VERY hard. Since they were my neighbors they were frequently landing in my lap. Even my partner, a gentle giant himself, commented on them. He suggested to me, loud enough to be heard by all around, that they were getting scary. I agreed and went back to trying to relax as hard as possible.

Anyway, the new-comer kept on pushing the energy level up bit by bit and the uchi deshi just went along for the ride. Then there was a sickening thud and the new guy was flat on his back, eyes closed and quieter than I had heard him all morning. Shihonage (四方投げ) is a killer technique and this guy had planted the base of his own head into the forehead of another student. The other guy shook it off but the new fellow was pretty well KO’d. There was a doctor present and the newcomer was cleared of concussion and such but Doshu was furious. His anger was aimed at the uchi deshi.

Truth be told, the uchi deshi shared a lot of the blame. He did throw very hard and he did not end the engagement when the guy started to be a jerk. I don’t think it was just testosterone though. The uchi deshi ARE bad-asses (though very nice ones) and they DO attract this sort of goober regularly. I was there, I know the uchi deshi was well within his comfort zone, it was the goober who attacked with such speed that caused the accident. He got as much out of the interaction as he put into it and, in this case, there was no soft mat to cushion his stupidity.

More About Testing at Honbu
November 28, 2008, 19:02
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

If I train for 139 more days and complete an essay, I will be allowed to test in December of 2009. Different to some schools, the testing staff at Honbu do not flex or fudge numbers in order to test a student who they believe “ready”. They check that all minimums have been met and then schedule tests for everyone who meets the minimum requirements. Given the number of students who train here, the judges often don’t have a sense of the students’ ability before seeing their technique. As a result, they tend to be strict and it is common to see people fail for technical reasons.

The Aikikai Honbu requirements for 3rd dan are

“Minimum 2 years since 2nd dan, with 300 days of practice
Same as above plus Tachidori , Jodori and Taninzugake
Same as above (Topics will be assigned)”.

“Same as above”, means all previous test requirements and an essay. The additional requirements beyond 2nd dan are sword and staff disarming and multiple attackers (unspecified number).

Since I tend to be a bit on the wordy side, the essay requirement doesn’t bother me. The others will be challenging. You see, despite the world-class teaching staff and the resulting high quality students they attract, Honbu has neither sword nor staff training in their official curricula. Multiple attacker practice is also rare. So, what to do?

Do it anyway! After class, before class, outside of class, these are the times and places to add the extra tools to the old Aikido bandoleer. After morning class, Mr. Kamitani has been grabbing me to practice sword disarming techniques. His 3rd dan test is in about 6 months and he is very worked up about swords. When Mr. Kamitani is absent or has found another victim (anyone who went to Iwama with the Russians seems to be fair game), I try to join Murai Senseu for jodori. If neither of them is available, Patrice still seems to enjoy very rough tanto tori practice.

For multiple attackers, I haven’t come up with a plan yet but I think getting a list of willing folks together shouldn’t be too hard. After that we just need to commandeer a corner of the mat and go for it. Only 139 training days till Christmas, Woohoo!

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