Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Random Thoughts: Dojo Energy

In our travels, we've had the opportunity and privilege to train in a variety of dojos with practitioners of all ages and backgrounds. Each bring with them experiences, beliefs, and personalities that fill the training space with a distinct energy. Tapping into it has been a challenging yet rewarding experience; giving a sense of connection with the people, the building, and its history.

From hidden treasures like the Shinfukan Dojo in Marseille, France and modern luxuries like the Shinjuku Cosmic Centre in Tokyo, to the lineage significant floors of the Musashi Dojo in Ohara, and our current hombu at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center in Toronto; the art may be the same, but the environment each have their own uniqueness.

An Iaido friend once told me to let my emotions flow into my training.
When you feel happy, do happy Iai. When you feel upset, do angry Iai. Let your Chi/Ki carry these feelings into your movements until you are in balance. This will bring life into your Iai.
When entering an unfamiliar dojo, there is a lot you can learn from basic sensory input (sights, sounds, smells), but don't forget the feelings to come about subconsciously. Let yourself forget about technical differences and styles, and experience the training with an open mind and heart.  There's no telling how much your performance can change.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Asia Trip 2012: Kyudo in Chiba - Kanto 5 Dan Shinsa


It's been over 2 months since we left Japan. Since then we've successfully graded for Kyudo 2 Dan, had an incredibly fun trip in San Francisco, and hosted the largest Iaido tournament in Canadian history. So why has it taken so long to finish up the last entry of our "Asia Trip 2012"?

Perhaps I didn't want the feeling to end. Just like our month long experience, the closing of this blog series meant a return to the realities of doing Budo outside Japan. While inferior in many ways, we must to strive to improve a little each day to reach the level attained by these martial arts' country of origin. Like the training itself, we continue to grow; and with such an amazing group of people in both our Iaido and Kyudo clubs, the experience will definitely be rewarding.

And so, without further ado, our last Budo day in Japan.


Kohama Sensei once again came to pick us up at 8:30am in front of the hotel and we drove 30 minutes to the Chiba Prefecture Kyudojo in Tendai. The Kanto regional Kyudo 5 Dan shinsa was scheduled from 9am to approx. 3pm; and with almost 150 challengers, it was going to be a long day.

As with most city run spaces, the building and surrounding area was not just in good working condition, but also exceptionally maintained. The grass and hedges were trimmed neatly, and the floors looked clean enough to eat off of. No doubt recently waxed, it was going to be a tough time for the participants to hold their dozukuri. =P

We arrived just in time to watch the Yawatashi performed by Ishii Sensei, Hanshi 8 Dan and President of the Chiba Kyudo Association. The participants all lined up in seiza and watched. Their quiet, focused attention and respect was palpable, and added to the awe we felt watching his demonstration. As a leader of the Chiba kokutai team when Mie-Sensei was a member, we hoped to have the chance to meet him in person.

Testing started immediately after with friends and family providing support. Kohama Sensei recognized a lot of the spectators and introduced us to each of them. These middle aged women, in casual summer clothing, were all cheerful and friendly; and with an air of humbleness that belied their 5 Dan+ rank.

At break time, we went to browse the items displayed by the few vendors on-site. A couple of the judges took turns coming out to the yard for a cigarette break. During one of these intermissions, we noticed a rather familiar face. It was Kubota Sensei (Hanshi 8 Dan) of Ibaraki Prefecture! One of the three Sensei to attend the 2011 American Kyudo Renmei Seminar in Northfield, Minnesota, was also on the judging panel at our very first Kyudo grading. When we learned that he would be attending the 2012 AKR seminar in Davis, California as well, we were already very pleased, but it was definitely a huge surprise to see him in Japan.

Although he didn't recall the three of us specifically, he did have positive memories of Canada's performance in last year's seminar. By his side, Ishii Sensei was much more familiar with Kohama Sensei and asked how Mie Sensei was. Their time together on the Chiba team was apparently a fond experience for Ishii Sensei, and this gave us a certain intimacy while in his presence.

The next break was lunch time and with a variety of  restaurants nearby, Kohama Sensei let us make the selection. We naturally chose Kaiten Sushi! Just thinking about it now, even with a full stomach, my mouth is watering. Now I feel sad, for it would be another year before we'd get to taste this quality again...

mmm....Sushi.......er, where was I? Oh yeah, Kyudo!

We arrived back at the dojo and took a look around inside before heading out to the stands. A few participants were already preparing for their turn. On the way out, we noticed a rather familiar posting on the wall. It was the Budo Charter!

The tests rolled on, and continued to be an interesting affair. There are many grading opportunities in Kyudo in Japan, making it common for those who recently passed 4 Dan to immediately try for 5 Dan. The experience level from beginning to end was a huge contrast, but the overall accuracy today was just as surprising. Kohama Sensei's looked disappointed at the poor shooting. With over a hundred challengers, less than five were able to hit both arrows, and only about 15-20 even hit once.We could see a lot of nerves in the way the Tasukigake and Hadanugi were being performed, along with many unexpected releases. Kohama Sensei expected less than 10 out of the 150, would receive their 5 Dan. The final number was: 3

Despite the overall poor quality of shooting today, those few who stood out were excellent examples to follow. They showed composure of spirit and movement from beginning to end. Their presence was calm and confident, and their shooting top notch. Definitely lots to copy and learn from.

Instead of waiting another hour for the judges to make their decisions, Kohama Sensei drove us back to Narita and dropped us off at the Naritasan Temple for some late afternoon site-seeing. We thanked her for all her help in scheduling, introducing, and guiding us around the dojo in Chiba; and for being a wonderful host for our last few days in Japan. We couldn't have thought of a better way to end this trip.


And so ends my recap of our summer journey through Asia. I hope the readers enjoyed this series. I've summarized the links to these posts here: http://sueniaidokyudo.blogspot.ca/p/asia-trip-2012.html

It was truly an experience we would not soon forget, and are especially grateful for all the people that made this possible. I'd like to specifically thank the following individuals who hosted, organized, and generally made our stay in Hong Kong and Japan a blast! (listed in chronological order):

  • Aunt Samantha and Cousin Harvey for letting us stay at their place and taking us around Hong Kong
  • Ms. Agnes Lee for organizing our Iaido training in Hong Kong
  • Sugimura Shojiro-san for organizing our Kyudo training in Okayama
  • Trevor Jones-sensei for hosting us in Ohara
  • Hatakenaka Atsumi-sensei and Tsubaki Fumio-sensei for organizing and instructing us in Iaido in Tokyo
  • Peter Schramek-sensei for being such a flexible companion during our stay in Tokyo
  • Mie-sensei for coordinating our contact with Sugimura-san and Kohama Sumiko-sensei for our Kyudo training in Japan
  • Kohama-sensei for organizing our training and observations in Chiba
Final thanks to all the readers who have personally expressed their appreciation of this blog. It really helps motivate me to continue. ^_^ 

Until next time......*insert witty sign-off here*