Posted by: Eddie deGuzman | April 26, 2009

Aikikai Honbu Dojo

Suwariwaza Souvenir

Suwariwaza Souvenir

I had the chance to visit Aikikai honbu dojo last month and was able to sit in on three classes.  I’ll try to re-count the weekend from my quickly fading memory.

I was at a bit of a loss when I arrived.  It seems that it is very common place for visitors to show up, yet there wasn’t much of an explanation on what to expect or do.  I found the dojo on the third floor.  It wasn’t too much trouble , but it would have been nice to know where the restrooms were(2nd floor).  I’d just flown into Tokyo and only had minutes to spare before class time.  There were lockers in the changing room which were too small for my suitcase and two ways to enter the dojo, a small entrance at the far end of the locker room and a large entrance outside the locker room entrance.  I was about to ask a Japanese man which to enter through when he turned and asked his friend the exact same question.  After a while I noticed the trail from the back end of the locker room.  Ladies bow in from the front.  And just in case you’re going to visit, it’s a kneeling bow to the front.  FYI: I noticed people bowing to an image of the founder downstairs and the 2nd doshu mid-stairway.

The first class was on Saturday morning and a Shihan Osawa was teaching.  People just sit wherever and after the start, stretching begins.  This is no simple feat for the place is packed.  The next day Eric Holcomb said that Osawa Shihan is a bit of a rough character from the old days prone to cause injuries.  He purposefully picked a few of his favorite foreigner aikidoka it seemed to show how much power he had.  But it seemed a little overly dramatic and his technique a bit too forced from what I’m used to.  He came over a couple of times to give pointers.  He was a bit rough in that as well.

My first partner was an older Japanese gentleman.  His aikido was quite good, smooth and gentle.  Our first technique was shihonage.  He was a little bored, I think, because he kept subtly changing his shihonage and I tried to follow suit.  We did a number of techniques together.  I was surprised when after a demo by the teacher he partnered with someone else.  Eric had said that at honbu you keep the same partner throughout the class so I was confused.  I thought maybe he didn’t like my aikido.  But afterwards, I noticed the instructions to switch partners.

After the veteran aikidoka, I met with a string of young guys and one girl.  The best of which was the young lady.  Most of the guys were using too much muscle and weren’t really aware of centers and circles and such.  They were so light to throw around.  They made me look good.

After the workout, a bunch of people started cleaning up blood from the mats.  With the number of people trying to do techniques from standing down to pinning on the mats, people are bound to get hurt.  It’s something I don’t quite get.  With the huge numbers of practitioners, why doesn’t honbu build a bigger dojo?  Certainly they can afford it at this point.  At any rate, it was an enjoyable class.  It was great to be around so many aikido enthusiasts again after years at a small dojo.  After class I went up to the teacher who was hanging around chatting with students and thanked him for the class. He mumbled something and turned away to talk to his favorite foreigner students.  It was a bit cold.  I tried to talk to a couple of foreigners and was met with the same chilly air.    The lack of friendliness was odd for an aikido dojo.  One fellow visiting from Germany, a student of Christian Tissier, was friendly, but he was only there for 10 days, not a regular.

Day two was better.  Fujimaki Shihan was teaching.  He had a friendly air about him.  His technique was very nice and he talked of focusing on the flow of ki through techniques.  My partner was a nidan, Mayumi.(I hope I remember her name right.)  She was very good for a nidan and the teacher used her several times as uke. In this class we stuck with the same partner throughout.  Apparently there is a certain format for techniques at honbu.  And I can’t recall precisely what it was now.  But it was something like doing left and right sides twice and doing a simple version and an advanced version or perhaps omote and ura.  Anyway, after a point it was hard to recall which one we were on.  Or maybe it was just me.  At my dojo we usually only do left and right and switch.  I think I like honbu’s way though for getting a feel for the technique.  It also makes for a better workout.  The teacher took an interest in Mayumi’s performance and came over a few times to give her pointers.  He also gave me a couple of  hints.  It was nice to see the last technique, one that Shihan Kawahara does at my dojo.  I don’t really know a name for it, par for course here, but it starts with a tenkan, then reverse tenkan up and around uke past the ear in a rising spiral. With very few women at my dojo, currently one just occassionally training, it was nice to work out with someone as talented as Mayumi.  And it was nice to “feel” that a woman can effectively use aikido to throw a man.  Not that woman really need aikido to do that! 🙂

I met up with Eric and he showed me where the water fountain was, one floor down at the far end of the corridor and just out of sight.  It’s something I could have used the day before!  Doshu led the next class.  He was quiet, professional and his technique was very clean.  It was nice to see him in person.  It would have been nice to grab his wrists and feel his technique, but he never came over to give us pointers.  Perhaps he was afraid of Eric. 😉  Eric is taller than I am, younger than I am and genkier than I am.  He gave me a great workout.  And he quite scared the two college girls practicing next to us by more than once threatening to squish them with ME!  Hmmm, now that I think about it, that wouldn’t have been so bad!  But those are the pitfalls for throngs of hakama in a sea of ki swashing about in Doshu’s class.  It was the best physical workout I’ve had in quite some time.  Eric made me realize that I might be pushing my aikido to the limits, but I’m certainly not pushing my self aerobically to my limit. That will have to change.

I came away from day two at honbu feeling physically exhausted and high on aikido.  It was great to see people excited about workout and aikido and struggling inside and out to find balance and perfection in motion and self.  It was very cool.

Differences

Most everyone has pride and faith in their teacher and their senpai and favor it and defend it when comparing to another dojo, style or other martial art.  One is bound to come across as biased.  I’ve thought on this a while now and my overall impression of the aikido I was shown by the teachers and the aikido I felt with my partners is that it isn’t as deep as the aikido at my dojo.  As I mentioned above, it was easy-peasy to throw almost everybody.  Most people didn’t feel centered and rooted and technically there wasn’t too much of a challenge.  There were some techniques that were done differently but that is just the form of aikido.

There were also none of the seemingly mysterious techniques that my dojo shihan do every class involving one’s center, immovability, ki no nagare, kokyu, lowering and raising uke effortlessly.  In this regard, I was somewhat disappointed with honbu, although Eric said occassionally you can find some old guys in the corner working ‘magic’ after class.    This visit makes four aikido dojos I’ve trained at, albeit briefly, in 25 years of training which adds perspective to my overall aikido “world” view.  It is good to know that aikido roots in my dojo run deep.  Pride.  Faith.  And bias. 🙂

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Responses

  1. Hey Eddie!

    Welcome back! I assume you are feeling better now?

    I wanted to offer two corrections, if I may. First, Osawa Shihan’s teacher, Arikawa Shihann, was the hard-core type who was famous for knocking uke’s around. The second is that at Honbu you _usually_, stick with the same partner throught a one class but that does vary with the teacher of the moment.

    I had a lot of fun working with you too and hope to get the chance again!

    Take care,
    e.

  2. Thanks for the corrections Eric! It’s really a blur at this point. I guess that’s my age showing. Thanks again for good time. Say hi to the family for me 🙂


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