Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Asia Trip 2012: Kyudo in Chiba - Day 2


Our second day in Chiba was a special setup by Kohama Sensei. Inviting several of the retired members of the dojo, we met for lunch at a restaurant not too far from our hotel to celebrate Doyo Ushinohi.  This "Eel Day" occurs every year in the middle of the summer, typically the hottest day of the year. The nutritional value of eel is believed to help one through the long hot days. The other side of the story involves a superstition where eating food that begins with "u", like umeboshi, udon, or unagi, will make you healthy on this ushi-no-hi, Day of the Ox. Considering what we've gone through so far, we could've used this much earlier =P

The meal was delicious! Sweet, succulent meat, barbequed to smoky, crispy perfection. The seasoning was flavourful without the heaviness and overly sweetness we get at typical sushi restaurants. We leisurely chowed down on a couple of boxes of unagi-don before heading to the sports centre for afternoon practice.

The drop-in fee was only 200 yen for four hours. A convenience we made full use of over the course of the afternoon, as we took turns shooting, resting, shooting some more, receiving instruction, and doing lots of yatori. ;)  The climate inside the dojo was downright muggy. With an internal dial reaching 35.9 degrees Celcius, sweat was beading from all over, including on my forearms. Never experienced that before. On the bright side, the heat and humidity allowed our bodies to move with strength and flexibility that is uncommon in an air conditioned room.

Perhaps it was due to our inexperience with kinteki practice, as Kohama Sensei (as were the Okayama Sensei) focused on improving our shaho/shagi, while not mentioning anything about taihai. Unlike the Mitsui and Tamano Sensei, who gave us pointers on Yunde, Kohama Sensei noticed more errors with our Mete and put her attention there.  A few pointers later, and we were getting much more consistent and relaxed draws and releases.

A little more than half way through the session, a table was brought out with drinks and refreshments including some egg rolls we brought from Hong Kong. Over the snacks, we got to know a few of the members including Matsumoto-san, an old highschool classmate of Reiko Blackwell-san (5 Dan) of the American Kyudo Renmei. Reiko-san recently visited Toronto with her husband, Aaron Blackwell Sensei (Kyoshi 6 Dan) for the 3rd Seikyu Kai - Toronto Kyudo Seminar. Her and Matsumoto-san had lost touch until a few years ago. Reiko told Matsumoto about how Kyudo has become such a big part of her life and recommended to find a dojo. What a coincidence that it would here!

The cold tea and sweet mochi and cookies really hit the spot, and it wasn't long before our attention was back on the training. A couple of questions lead Kohama Sensei to bring out her notebook to review some finer points of Walking, Kihontai, and Recovery from Shitsu. She demonstrated a few things then we went back for a few last shots.

The class was called to an end by the PA system and we helped close up the dojo before saying our goodbyes. It was another fun experience training with friendly members who are passionate about the art. We expect tomorrow to be a much stricter environment in Amano City with Kohama Sensei' teacher; winner of the 1999 All Japan Women's Division National Tournament, Watanabe Harumi, Kyoshi 7 Dan.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

What A Summer!

And we're back!

After 4 weeks in Japan, then another week in California, our summer of Iaido and Kyudo has finally come to an end.

Last week, we spent time in Davis, California, at the 17th American Kyudo Seminar. Our KAC president, Motomasa Mori, has a writeup on the KAC website: My post will be coming after I've completed write-ups of our last couple days in Japan.

The training has been absolutely amazing these past two months. We practiced with, and received instruction from, so many high-level, Japan-trained, Sensei, and it has opened our eyes to immeasurable possibilities. The experience will not soon be forgotten.

Instructors list:
Satoh Tadashi - Kyudo Kyoshi 6 Dan - Tamano, Okayama
Tanaka Chotaro - Kyudo Kyoshi 6 Dan - Tamano, Okayama
Satoh Kaoru - Kyudo Hanshi 8 Dan - Tamano, Okayama
Hatakenaka Atsumi - Iaido Kyoshi 8 Dan - Tokyo
Tsubaki Fumio - Iaido Kyoshi 7 dan - Tokyo
Kohama Sumiko - Kyudo Kyoshi 6 Dan - Narita, Chiba
Watanabe Harumi - Kyudo Kyoshi 7 Dan - Chiba
Akiyama Terumi - Kyudo Hanshi 8 Dan - American Kyudo Seminar
Kubota Kiyoshi - Kyudo Hanshi 8 Dan - American Kyudo Seminar
Sakuma Tsuyoshi - Kyudo Hanshi 8 Dan - American Kyudo Seminar

Only two major events remain for this year:

1) The 1st Mu Mon Kai Iaido Championships: We are already looking at a record number of attendees. For the first time (that I'm aware of) we will have participants from south of the border, including Tom Hooper-Sensei (Renshi 6 Dan) and Pam Parker-Sensei (Renshi 6 Dan) as guest judges. If you are in the area on the weekend of September 15, please drop by to visit. Or better yet, participate! ^_^ It's open to all members of the International Kendo Federation. Details and registration can be found here:

2) The Eastern Canada Iaido Shinsa: Occurring on the first weekend of December, Michael and I should be challenging for 4 Dan. It's been three years since our last grading so we're looking forward to the experience once again.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Asia Trip 2012: Kyudo in Chiba - Day 1

THU 26-JUL: The two hour ride from Shinjuku to Narita finally gave us some time to reflect on an incredibly successful trip, our very own "shugyo", with only a one more leg to go.

The day began like every other. The clouds and forecasted thundershowers burned away early by an untiring sun. The 30+C/65+% humidity, a staple of this trip, gave us more satisfaction as we persevered through the worst the season had to offer.

Heat, Training, and Food. Characterizations of our stay in Tokyo. While the training has come to an end, our flexible train schedule allowed us to pay one last visit to Numazukou for some Kaiten Sushi followed by dessert.

To recap so far, that's 2 days of Kyudo, 8 days of Iaido, 4 days with Kaiten Sushi, 4 days with Ramen, 30+ desserts, and now we're off to a city known for its Unagi.

By the end of the two local train segments to Narita, most of it standing with our luggage, we were pretty exhausted. An easy check-in to our hotel gave us a chance to rest and find some food before our 6:30pm appointment with Kohama Sumiko Sensei, Kyoshi 6 Dan, a friend and former prefectural team-mate of our Kyudo Sensei.  Thankfully, it was not a busy time of year, and due to her close relationship with Takahashi Sensei, was gracious enough to organize our training in Chiba.

We were invited to join her regular evening class at the Nakadai Sports Complex, a three-story building complete with gym courts and martial arts dojos (Wood, Tatami, and Kyudojo). The surrounding park also included a large athletics track and even a Sumo dojo. Kohama Sensei greeted us warmly in the lobby, recognizing us immediately, and seemed to know quite a lot about us and our experiences so far. As with every new Sensei we've met, she still wanted to confirm who understood Japanese (only Hanna), and how to tell Michael and I apart (Michael wears glasses). She made small talk with Hanna as we made our way up one level followed by a long, narrow staircase to the third floor Kyudojo. As we stepped into the practice area, the fatigue of the last week was quickly forgotten, and our excitement to get back into the Kyudo practice gave us strength and motivation to perform.

We quietly made our way to the back of the room, doing our best not to interrupt the beginner class currently in session. Six young students of varying levels were learning the basics of Taihai and Shaho-Shagi. We were directed to change and be ready to join them for a couple of Taihai rounds while Kohama Sensei assumed control of the class. At 7:30, the beginners took their leave and the rest of us got ready for free shooting. Following Takahashi Sensei's direction, we waited a couple of rounds for the 3 and 4 Dans to practice, taking care to note their timing before joining in. After observing their use of Taikai timing, we quickly settled into the rotation, loosing at least 10 arrows and seamlessly (I hope) joining with the seniors. Breaks and Yatori were taken at varying intervals, and we resolved to perform the latter much more often than the former.

As the night progressed, we received several corrections, many different from those received in Okayama. Kohama Sensei has a quite hands-on approach to instruction, similar to Satoh Kaoru Sensei from the Tamano-shi Kyudojo, while contrary to that of Satoh Tadashi Sensei and Tanaka Chotaro Sensei from the Mitsui Kyudojo. Each location has also focused on very different parts of our technique, and we couldn't be more happy. Large variances in instruction, while frustrating and confusing in the short term, is perfect for this type of trip. Regular training in foreign countries are based on these bursts of senior instruction, and we made sure to record and bring these back to Canada for further study.

At ~9pm, the PA system announced the close of all evening sessions. We did our best to help cleanup while not getting in the way of others, then Kohama Sensei gave us a ride back to the hotel and confirmed our meet up for the next day. Unagi lunch followed by an afternoon of Kyudo!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Asia Trip 2012: Iaido in Tokyo - Day 8

WED 25-JUL: Final Iaido training day in Japan.

Our 10th day in Tokyo, and 8th straight day of Iaido training was bitter sweet. While it was a shame to say goodbye, I felt we made the most of this experience. In the end, my mind was telling me to keep going, but my body was already starting to give. Chronic ankle and shoulder injuries were making it difficult to sustain the intensity of training that seems to be expected at Hatakenaka Sensei's dojo.

By the fifth day, I was finding it a little weird that the three of us were actually holding up pretty well. We had started noticing a difference in our physical performance level when we first arrived in Japan. No need to warm-up, no need to stretch, and yet able pull a stronger bow and practice for a longer period of time. I would assume it's due to the warm temperatures (30C+) and high humidity (55%+) everyday or perhaps there's something in the water? ;) Friends that have trained in Japan and Canada have noted the same thing. If anyone has a guess, let us know down in the comments!

This Wednesday evening's class would be at the Yotsuya #3 Elementary School. It seems like their schedule rotates between this location and the Hiroba using some complex algorithm that not even Sensei herself remembers. We arrived early as usual and started our practice while other members trickled in. It was mostly the younger group today. Future representatives of Shinjuku and Tokyo in the regional taikai?

Around 8 pm, Hatakenaka Sensei called for an embu to send us off.

Group #1 - 2 Dan and below included the female student from Day 3, a former captain of the Waseda University Iaido club. In fact, several of Hatakenaka Sensei's continuing students were former captains of the University club

Group #2 - 3 Dan and up including Hanna, Peter, Kei (Hatakenaka Sensei's youngest son) and Momoko Ono (Tokushi Kai club president)

As the class ended, we said our final thanks for this trip and left a parting gift in the way of treats. Iaido and Food. Our Tokyo stay in a nutshell! :)


While Peter would be attending another three practices before joining us in our flight back to Toronto, Michael, Hanna, and I are off to Chiba to start the final leg of our martial arts journey through Japan.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Asia Trip 2012: More coming!

Hi All,

Just wanted to let you know that I still have write-ups and pictures prepared for the last few days of training, including Day 8 of Iaido in Tokyo and 4 days of Kyudo in Chiba. Just need the energy and time to finalize them.

Also, some of you may have noticed a new page tab at the top. I've summarized the links to the Asia Trip 2012 posts to make it easier to reference.

Anyways, while I've been recovering from jet lag and unable to post, I've still be reading (or re-reading) other blogs including this one from Andy Watson of the UK:

During our trip from Okayama to Tokyo to Narita, we trained or visited over 6 different dojos. The Sensei and training environments all have an unique feel that is very hard to explain.

Differences include:

  • Sensei Teaching Style
  • Sensei Presence and Attitude towards students
  • Dojo environment: Attitude of the students
  • Dojo environment: Physical training space

Personally, I don't have the literary talents to write a blog entry on this, but perhaps we can convince Michael to write something on his blog.