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?


Inagaki Sensei Photos
October 12, 2009, 15:11
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , ,

Here are the pics from my trip to Iwama. This is not an attempt to determine the LPU (Lowest Publish Unit) of Aikido related stuff but rather more of my typical sloth. I’ve always been slow developing images, apparently, this is still true even though they don’t need developing anymore.

Weapons Work in Iwama
October 6, 2009, 13:48
Filed under: Aikido | Tags: , , , , ,

Inakoshi Sensei is aware of my recent focus on weapons training. I’ve been spending a lot of after practice mat-time working on disarming techniques (well beyond quips and opening one-liners). When the Japan-Myanmar Aikido Federation organized a weekend of weapons in Iwama, he invited me. So, on Saturday morning I packed my bags (badly — forgot my hakama!) and met up with him and Kamitani-san at the Ueno JR Station.

We took the Joban line (常磐線) bound for Ibaraki prefecture. The express doesn’t stop in Iwama so getting on the regular was important and they don’t run very frequently. Also, there are two Joban lines — the blue line was the one that we wanted but I had to rediscover that too. An hour and a half later, at the other end our ride, the dojo was just a ten minute walk from the station and we passed the Aiki Shrine on the way.

At the Iwama station we met up with several others going to the seminar. Our weapons bags stood out like sign-posts announcing to the locals, “Hello I am an Aikido Geek, I’m here to scare the birds…” Nobody gave us a second glance.

At the dojo, we all signed in and changed into keikogi. A quick blessing at the shrine was followed by two hours with Inagaki Shihan. Training was out in the field behind the dojo and the focus was very basic jo suburi and awase. We squished and slipped now and again in the mud left from the morning’s showers. Our shouts of “Eh!!! and “Hahp!!!” really did scare a few birds.

The first seven or so suburi (素振り: striking practice) came back to my arms and back quite readily. Their names and numbers, however, were a complete mess in my head despite the cramming I did before-hand (thanks Autrelle!). What surprised me the most was the Happo Giri (八方切り: 8 direction cut) had a sort of spinning step with which I was completely unfamiliar. I was left swishing in the wrong direction from around the third cut. It was, however, when we got to awase (合わせ:blending) that I really began to feel completely out of practice. Establishing proper maai (間合い: spacing) just didn’t happen. Strikes and parries didn’t connect much less blend. It was mortifying! Kamitani-san has promised me that he is willing to switch from swords to do more jo work after class.

I was assigned to help with preparing the evening meal so after the first class, I showered and went to the kitchen to chop veggies, grate other veggies, chop more veggies and kill mosquitoes (finally, a real use for suburi!). Around 6:30, I got permission to run off and change for evening class which was not part of the seminar. That class was the regular Saturday evening general training at the dojo. I really wanted to get in a few falls. The folks in the kitchen seemed to think I was being way too serious since class and dinner were scheduled to start at the same time but they told me to have fun so off I went.

Keke, one of the uchi-deshi from Myanmar, lent me a hakama so I didn’t feel naked and I rolled around with the Iwama folks. It felt foreign! It has been about 15 years since I did Iwama flavored Aikido. At that time we did kihon waza (基本技: basic techniques) and almost never kino-nagare (気の流れ: flowing techniques). In fact, I don’t recall hearing the phrase “ki no nagere” until many years later. At any rate, the Sensei (I forgot his name! 😦 ) repeatedly stopped me and told me that I have no sense of the difference between basic and flowing. Clearly! I have no recollection of having techniques broken down quite the way he was demonstrating. The point was clear and I get it on an intellectual level but my body has its habits. I tried very hard to replicate what was being demonstrated but don’t think that I succeeded.

One big technical difference that stands out most in my mind is that the Iwama Sensei stated that for morote-dori kokyunage (諸手取り呼吸投げ: throw done when ones forearm is grabbed by two hands) there is no “martially valid” tenkan variation! Since I practice a tenkan variation of that every day (really) I found that very interesting! It seems that there are some very strong, differing opinions about how things are “supposed to be done” all in the same house.

After practice I didn’t change out of my gi. Even so, I was welcomed into the kitchen with applause and beer. At least the beer was deserved (IMHO). The food was excellent and the conversation fun. There was a trio of Italian guys (they actually sang “O Sole Mio”), a German fellow, a Costariqueno, a woman from Taiwan, two uchi deshi from Myanmar and Erica (an American who I met during her year at Honbu) and the Japanese members of the dojo and organization. Afterward, there was much singing and laughing. I abused “Me and Bobby McGee” right after Erica did a stellar rendition of a Carpenters tune… my timing sucked ALL day!

The next morning started early with a big breakfast followed by swords and more swords! My confidence came back and it was enormous fun. Again the names and numbers of the suburi and awase were long gone but my body remembered how to use a sword. Even the awase were much smoother than the previous day. Once again, Inagaki sensei demonstrated enormous power and subtlety. Simply put: he was brilliant.

Sword class ended and we went almost immediately to the next taijutsu class. Once again, I was out of my comfort zone but this time reveling in it. Ideas new to me regarding foot alignment and hand position will now join the large grab bag of things that I must add to my practice. All in all the even was a great success and I look forward to going back and learning more. Perhaps next time, I will be able be able to absorb more.

November 9, 2008, 22:11
Filed under: Aikido, Expat, Japan | Tags: , , ,


A delegation of Russian Aikidoka are visiting Tokyo this week. They hail from the Kenage Dojo in Moscow. As a part of their visit a special trip to Iwama was arranged.

We met on track ten at Ueno station and boarded the one express train into the Ibaraki countryside.  Both O-Sensei and Saito Sensei used to call Iwama home. Our group walked straight to the dojo from the train station. We were greeted by Inagaki Shihan and three uchi-deshi. The whole group quickly changed clothes and we went to the Aiki Shrine next door for a quick blessing. The Russians brought vodka and the group had brought sake and shochu (Japanese “vodka”) for the ceremony.

On the way out, we bumped into a friendly looking group of folks from the neighboring Iwama Ryu dojo. It was nice to see them but it was a little disappointing to be reminded of yet another barrier within the Aikido world. On the positive side, I have seen organizational barriers in the US fall so have hope that friendly relations between these two Japanese organizations may eventually be restored.

After the ceremony at the shrine, we returned to the dojo for keiko (稽古: training). The focus of the day was to be tachidori (太刀取り: sword disarming). However, Inagaki Shihan made it clear from the start that he felt that training in tachidori alone was a bad idea. He felt that there was a well defined order for weapons training and gave the following explanation. Without suburi (素振り:swinging practice) form could not be learned well enough to perform kumitachi (組太刀:paired sword training) properly. Without kumitachi a correct and sufficient understanding of awase (合わせ:blending) can not be achieved. Finally, without a proper familiarity with awase it is not possible to truly learn sword disarming.  To start at the end yields form without depth.

All that said, he agreed to show us the form, and what impressive form it was! From the super clean irimi-tenkan and powerful atemi to awesome usage of kokyu ryoku, it is clear that there is incredible depth to the Aikido in Iwama.

After practice we changed and went outside for a very friendly lunch. Two fires burned on either side of the long table and bento, beer, sake shochu and the now blessed vodka were set out for us to enjoy. The meal was good and there was much laughter and singing. I was amazed that so many Russian folk songs had been translated into Japanese and that they were so well known. The Americans present (two uchi deshi and two visitors) mostly didn’t sing. There was a fellow from Tokushima who offered to teach everyone Awa Odori so I jumped in (I lived in Tokushima for seven years and danced almost every year) to dance like a fool, as is appropriate for the “fool’s dance”.

It was a memorable day and even the trip back on the train was fun. Two cups of sake each loosened tongues and the stories and jokes got rougher as we got closer to Tokyo!  I hope this group decides to go again!

TECHNOTE : The irimi nage shown by Inagaki Shihan was based on the premise of an armed attacker and was performed the same way even when uke was unarmed. One way that this was expressed was (assume shomen uchi) that nage’s lead hand was used to “lead uke’s hand” at the start of the technique. In other words, it was presented as a target and then quickly taken out of the action. In fact, after sensei did his irimi deeply to the rear of uke, he kept the hand, that had been his lead, hidden behind his leg. He demonstrated that if uke had a sword and the hand was anywhere in front of his own leg then the hand could easily be cut.


Taken from under the persimon tree in front of the Iwama dojo.


The whole group in front of the Aiki Shrine.

russian-delegationRear R-L: Oleg Tkachenko Sensei, Inakoshi Sensei,  Andrey Ivanov Sensei

Front R-L: Tatiana Limonova Sensei, Inagaki Shihan, Andrey Skorikov Sensei


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