Kohama Sensei picked us up at the hotel at 11:30am to take us to her Sensei's Kyudojo. Watanabe Harumi Sensei is Kyoshi 7 Dan and a former All Japan Women's Champion. Kohama Sensei passed around a Kyudo magazine from 1999, listing out the contestants and showing pictures of all the finalists. There was Watanabe Sensei in full draw, completely focused, spirit eminating through the page into our eyes. She looked to be in her early thirties and was actually quite pretty =)
It was an hour drive to Aoba-ku and another scorcher of a day. Even with the air conditiong at full blast, the heat from the sun beating through the windows could not be contained. As the motion sickness started to creep in and Hanna chatting with our host, I drifted off to sleep with anticipation of the day's training. Members from Kohama Sensei's dojo had warned us about her being strict, and we were soon to find out how much.
We arrived at a large park blanketed with various sporting facilities and outdoor courts. The walk from the car lot to the Aoba dojo couldn't have been more than 100 meters, but on a hot day like that, it felt like miles. Kohama Sensei seemed rather content under her parasol, lightly waving her folding fan. Too bad I'm too manly for those.... =P
We were greeted by several members who were already deep into practice including Tanaka Masakazu Sensei, who will be representing Chiba Prefecture in the next National tournament. He spoke pretty good English and was extremely friendly. Apparently, he will be visiting Canada (West coast) in August with his wife who, like him, is a Special Education Teacher. We hit it off right away, and he was eager to hear about Kyudo's growth in Canada as well as how Mie Sensei has been.
At 44 years old, he has been doing Kyudo for over 28 years, and his technique and presence was astounding!! We must have seen him shoot at least 10 arrows over the course of the day and he never missed. As he will be participating in the Enteki tournament as well, and perhaps to give us space to practice in the regular dojo, Tanaka Sensei moved outside to do some 60m shooting. Again, he doesn't miss!!! Such solid and smooth technique. Such a beautiful hanare.
But enough gushing. Our own practice started in earnest after Watanabe Sensei arrived at 1pm on the dot. Her voice was like a tiny bell, some would consider cute, if her words weren't spoken with such authority. Sensei's appearance hadn't changed much from the photo taken over 20 years ago. Perhaps a few extra grey hairs and laugh lines, but still in tip-top shape. From their casual conversations, it looked like Kohama Sensei and Watanabe Sensei have a very close relationship.
We started with Makiwara practice while they warmed up and Kohama Sensei got some instruction for herself. Tanaka Sensei came over a couple of time to chat and commented on our strong Hanare. When Kohama Sensei was ready, we began with a demonstration of Taihai. As with the other locations on this trip, we didn't get much corrections besides to ensure we're lined up to the target, honza, and shai. Doing it wrong meant going all the way back and trying again. Just like our pop quizzes back in Toronto. =P
Watanabe Sensei had a very hands-on teaching style. Tugging at my hair here, pulling and pushing my shoulders there, and generally rearranging my back and arms to the correct positions. Her words were very deep and informative, and will take a long time just for us to understand, let alone, master in practice. Basics, Posture, Stance, and Strength were all essential. She taught us an old exercise use to strengthen our core and stance. It was very tiring and intense.
I mentioned earlier that Kohama Sensei and Watanabe Sensei seem to have a close relationship. Here's an example:
It was during practice. I was in dozukuri with both Sensei looking on and Michael and Hanna gathered around watching. We were all listening to Watanabe Sensei explain something when all of a sudden she stopped mid-sentence and went "oh" while staring directly at Kohama. Without notice **WHACK!** Open palm slap right to her cheek! We didn't know what had just happened. Did she say something wrong? Were we in trouble? Kohama Sensei's shock gave away to amusement when she grab her face and pulled away a flattened mosquito. Almost immediately and with a victorious smile, Watanabe Sensei turns back to us and continues to teach while Kohama Sensei rubs her face with sheepish grin. Every few minutes we would hear from her direction "itai…itai…."
Following a class with Watanabe Sensei, itai indeed. =)