Saturday, 21 July 2012

Asia Trip 2012: Iaido in Tokyo - Day 3

FRI 20-JUL: Third day of practice in a row.

Since we weren't planning to meet with Hatakenaka Sensei and Tsubaki Sensei until mid-afternoon, we decided to visit the Meiji Shrine for a bit of site-seeing. In 2009, we had the opportunity to watch a Kyudo practice and do a bit of makiwara shooting. Unfortunately, the dojo schedule did not show a class in the morning, so we hoped to at least get a look at the building again.

The Meiji Jingu park was as grand as we remembered. With wide paths were brushed clear of all but the evenly laid gravel, and the foliage trimmed to perfect symmetry.  Massive Torii divided the various sections of the park.

After visiting the main shrine, we made our way up to the Kyudojo. Turns out there were at least a dozen elderly men and women training. They were all decked out in Kimono, and based on the way they moved, it was clear they all had at least 5 Dan. An even older man was watching and giving corrections. We assumed he was the Sensei leading the class.

Hoping to get a closer look, Hanna went to the reception to ask about getting inside. From our last experience, it seemed to be a very exclusive and strict place to go, so we wouldn't be surprised if they denied us entrance.

Luckily, it seems that mentioning we were from abroad helps a bit. Although we still couldn't enter, because a couple of us were not wearing socks, they did allow us to watch the practice from the "side entrance".

Pictures were not allowed past this point, but it was interesting to see that the upkeep was not as we had remembered. In fact, looking at it now, it would seem the Tamano City Kyudojo is kept in much better condition than it's Tokyo counterpart. While the dojo itself was clean and shiny, the grass and shrubbery around the shooting area had many loose strands and spider webs could be seen all over. Perhaps they're going for the natural look? =)

With time running out and the skies clouding in, we made our way to the Shinjuku Cosmic Center for Iaido practice. This venue is also located off the Fukotoshin subway line near Nishi-waseda station. We got there a bit early so waited at the Tully's coffee shop for Tsubaki Sensei, knowing he would have to walk by us.  Walk by he did, but on the other side of the street... We were confused. Why did he cross away from the Cosmic Center?

Our questions were answered as he entered the Uniqlo clothing store, so we waited for him on the other side of the street. A couple minutes later, as he walked by a window and glanced out, we took this opportunity to wave. Boy was he surprised!! "How did we know he was in there and going to look out the window?!" Haha. But enough with the fun, let's start the practice!

The dojos here, while smaller, are much better quality and climate controlled than the Sports Center we trained at yesterday. Located across the hall of the Wood and Tatami dojos was a full sized, indoor Kyudojo.  Wouldn't it be nice to train in there!

The afternoon session is from 3:40pm - 6:40pm and cost 300yen. We got our tickets from the machine and attached it to our Uwagi to be easily visible when the guard comes in to do his security check. As with the other public spaces, we shared the floor with a couple of other martial arts practitioners. A woman doing Taichi and a elderly man doing Karate kept to themselves mostly, but I felt compelled to occasionally stop to watch them. Even with my little experience, I could see that both were of extremely high level in their arts, and it was truly inspirational watching them in action. Their balance, grace, power, and flexibility was simply amazing. Not much different from watching Hatakenaka Sensei in her own practice, which she did much more of today, than in her own class.

Like the last couple of days, we started with a general discussion from Tsubaki Sensei before getting into our own free practice. Hatakenaka Sensei arrived 10 minutes later, and one of her students (Iaido 4 years) from Waseda University also showed up. We each found our own space in the room and worked hard for two and half hours straight. The only speaking consisted of the occasional instruction from Hatakenaka Sensei and Tsubaki Sensei.

Nearing the end of the session, Hatakenaka Sensei requested an embu of all 12 Seitei Kata from the four of us, before wrapping up with closing etiquette. This day was, by far, the best training I've had in a while. Several factors contributed to this:

- Excellent climate control
- Excellent floor
- Sufficient personal space
- Exceptionally high level martial artists practicing in close proximity

My energy, enthusiasm, and motivation is sky high right now! ^_^

The bell tolled and a PA system announced the end of the afternoon session. Tomorrow morning, we get to see swords!

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