For a third straight October, students from the Aikido Institute travelled to Japan to train at the Founder's dojo in Iwama, which is now part of Kasama City, Ibaraki-ken, Japan.This time, the group capped at nine, with two leaving earlier than originally planned; most stayed for a 12-day span from October 16th to October 28th..
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS..
Unlike 2015, this visit was to be mostly spent in Iwama. About half the group got to Tokyo on Saturday 10/14 and set up base at an AirBNB in near Ueno station.
The second half of the group arrived the next day. On Monday morning 10/16, our group of nine got up early to go for a walk around the area before grabbing our bags and getting on the Joban line to Iwama station.. It was mostly cold and rainy during the entire two weeks; more about that below..
OAKLAND IN IWAMA
We arrived in Iwama on Monday afternoon 10/16 to find that a piece of the Oakland dojo was already there! Eytan Ben-Meir Sensei from Israel trained at the Aikido Institute in Oakland in the late 70's and was an uchi deshi at our dojo from about 78' to 82' when he went back to his native Israel. He had been in Iwama for a three-week stay with one student from Israel and another from Russia, and spent his last day there with us. Deborah Sensei got to reminisce with him a little; it was a nice connection to start our stay.
The scenery in and around the Founder's dojo never gets old..
Our first class was on Monday evening and featured koshi-nage. :o Some say the mat in the Founder's Iwama dojo is the hardest mat in Japan. Somehow, it felt even harder than the last time this author felt it in 2015.. #bruisestostartwith However, I am happy to report that none of us bled on the mat; we kept it together!
The locals in Iwama are always friendly and great to train with --such a nice group. Some of us were reacquainted with familiar faces, while others met for the first time.
the gang with Suzuki-san
There is a rotation of instructors throughout the week, but Inagaki Shihan's classes are clearly the highlight, as the mat gets full when he teaches on Thursday evenings and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. Additional rei is done when he enters and leaves the dojo..
Waka Sensei, the Founder's great-grandson, comes to Iwama on Wednesday evenings, so we had two classes with him during our stay. He has a very crisp Hombu-style technique and is fun to watch. Many come to train when he is at the dojo, so the mat gets crowded with moving bodies. The Hombu style is very energetic, and managing/being aware of the space around you is critical.
Waka Sensei's father, Doshu, was out of town during our stay, so the Hombu instructor who filled in for him on Saturday 10/21 was Yukimitsu Kobayashi Sensei. He was very pleasant and led a great class.
On mornings when it wasn't raining, we got to do bukiwaza outside. Inagaki Sensei continues to feature bokken awase, as well as 1st Kumi Tachi with henka. He uses a specific number/order system and likes to do them all at once so that you have to pay close attention to 5-6 different coordinations in a particular order and then repeat (phew!).
Carl Thompson Senpai is very helpful, leading morning M-W-F classes in English and reviewing Sensei's practices. He uses fun mnemonic devices but is careful to remind us that they are his own and not to be repeated as Sensei's. I appreciate Carl's command of the practical aspects of what we're doing, and ability to convey them when he leads.
In the last few days we were treated to some Jo awase practices combined with Ken-tai-Jo. As we followed Inagaki Sensei's lead, I watched him and couldn't help but admire the breadth of his Aikido knowledge/experience. I thought, Nowthere'sa man who's done these a trillion times.. I already miss Sensei's morning chant of shinto prayer --the tone and cadence still echo..
Our last day in Iwama was Saturday 10/28 after a last morning weapons class with Sensei. On Friday the day before, we were lucky enough to have a class with Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan, a legend in Aikido who trained with the Founder in his youth and taught Aikido in the Japanese Self Defense Force. This bonus class was made possible because a group from Brazil arrived the day before, and the sensei, Mauricio Fujimoto Sensei, had trained with Isoyama Shihan in the past and had a relationship with him. Either he asked or was offered the class, and in turn we were offered to join --of course we said yes! I'm pretty sure I can speak for all of us in saying that it was the most intense but rewarding class I've ever taken. You can ask us in person what it was like, but let's just say that his military background was very apparent and our sensei (Kim Peuser)'s teachings in the past about being ready as uke for certain extreme falls came in handy. Thank you Sensei!
Photos of Isoyama Shihan are not allowed unless he offers or okays it. Fujimoto Sensei explained to us that he took this photo in LA sometime in the 90s.
cut to the training montage..
Did I mention there was a typhoon? It was a first for a few of us, but Typhoon Lan turned out to not be that bad --just more rain.. There was, however, the interesting moment where the eye of the storm passed over us during morning class, and everything got calm and sunny and super humid for about an hour, before getting grey and windy and then rainy again.. In the end, it just gave us a bunch of debris to clean up..
a quote heard: "What's the situation on the ground Jim?!!"
Atago-San Obligatory trip to Atago-san. Stocked up on charms and took in the view.
The Onsen with Sensei. On some days it rained during the day, making the cleaning (raking and weeding) hard to do. Sensei said, "it rains, so no cleaning; let's go to onsen." And thus we were treated to a trip to the onsen. After soaking, we ate a delicious meal in a tatami room and got to talk with Sensei. And then, yes, karaoke .. a quote heard: "Beer is baby drink"
Saito Sensei's grave Paying respects and honoring the life of Saito Sensei
Chuugakkou Helping the Senseis teach Aikido in the local schools.
..TRAIN, EAT, CLEAN, REST, REPEAT...
you get the idea..
quotes heard: "I'm going to go and have some deep meditation" "If only we had a thing called the internet"
PARTY IN THE SHOKUDO
As is customary, we had a big party in the shokudo. This year, because of weather conditions, it made more sense to wait and have a party when the group from Brazil arrived; it was both a welcome and good-bye party for everyone since we'd be leaving a couple days later. Beer and Sake flowed. Songs were sung; Kirsten sang a stirring song that impressed everyone. Fujimoto Sensei held court with his boisterous voice. ..Aaaaaand of course the Aikido anthem came out. After those closer to Sensei were chosen to go first, guess who was next. Isoyama Shihan looked on and listened to all of this with amusement. I was relieved when, after declaring those before me 3rd kyu and shodan, he said I was a sandanin singing! (phew).
On Saturday 10/28, after morning class with Sensei, we caught the 9:45am train back to Ueno Station which was near a hotel that many of us had for two nights. The hotel was in the Nezu area, which turned out to be really awesome. A few in our group had further travel plans after Tokyo. 9 people had become 8, and then 7; after Sunday morning, we became 5..
we stayed at the Graphy Nezu - a hotel & hostel, with all the hostel vibes
THE KAMAKURA ADVENTURE
We had made plans earlier in the year to meet up with another Oakland dojo alumni while we were in the Tokyo area, Satoshi Takamori Sensei, who started at the Aikido Institute back in the late 70s and was an uchi deshi. He had come out to the most recent TAA Tahoe Gasshuku and stayed with us at the house we rented. For those of us left in the group, we wanted to stick to that plan, so we chose to ignore the heavy rain (just another typhoon, and not even hitting the land that hard ;-) ), and met with him in Kamakura, a nice little beach town with a big buddha statue and a street with shopping and eats..
Of course it was pouring down for most of the visit, but Kamakura was still awesome, and afterwards we ate at a kaiten sushi place where Satoshi Sensei helped us order and figure it all out.. We had a great time and hope to see him again soon!