Wood and stone jinja-- Just an old building but then A kiai echo
In early May, Hoa Sensei, Richard, Maggie and I traveled to Iwama to study Aikido and to learn along the way that there is a correct way to do everything (of which we were painfully unaware).Our lack of knowledge applied to small things such as the direction that your shoes should point when leaving them outside of a room (the toes should always point away from the door) and to larger matters such as don’t put your feet on the foot rest.Fortunately, Jordan was there to act as our cultural ambassador.
Hitohiro yells Aikidoka look quick.. Glad it isn’t me
The key to navigating through these seemingly ever changing shoals of etiquette is to watch what everyone else does and then shamelessly mimic them. Blending is not only a principle of Aikido it appears to be the primary organizing force of Japanese life. To be successful at blending you must not display any initiative when starting a task and then you must disregard any notion of efficiency while completing the task. Because if you finish your task early there won’t’ be anyone to mimic, which means you will be standing around, and if you attempt to start something new you rise unwittingly violating some deeply held custom. In either case, you won’t be blending.
Rain fall so no chores A quick nap before keiko Or shokudo chat
The typical day at Iwama starts at 5:15am when the Japanese Uchi Deshi slide open the shoji panels that enclose the mat upon which everyone sleeps. By 5:30 all of the gaijin uchi-deshis have put away their futons and have begun vacuuming the mat, sweeping the grounds, or rearranging the plums that have fallen to the ground during the night. This usually takes about an hour at which time everyone heads into the kitchen for a nourishing breakfast of peanut butter and jelly toast that has been prepared by the person who has been designated Toban for the day. The Toban is responsible of preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner. This duty rotates among all the uchideshi and results vary as much as one would expect. One day we managed to have scrambled eggs from the previous night for breakfast, scrambled eggs with bits of corn for lunch, and scrambled eggs with rice for dinner.
Toban today means Eight starved uchi deshi and Just 2000 yen
Fortunately, this was followed by Richard’s culinary tour de force.He managed to shop for and prepare a three course lunch and dinner (no small feat when you don’t speak the language and when most of the packaged items at the grocery store have artful, if not cryptic, pictures of the contents.He managed to impress both the French and Japanese uchi deshi with the overall presentation and the taste of the meal.
Dried cuttlefish snacks Hagan daz and asahi A trip to hot spar
The first class of the day is a weapons class that starts at 8:00am and lasts for about an hour. After class the gaijin soto-deshi usually stay to practice and gossip for about half an hour before heading off to work.
The evening class doesn’t start until 7:00pm so the rest of the day can be used for sightseeing. We managed to spend an inordinate amount of time traveling by train to Mito, which Richard accurately described as the Fresno of Japan.
However, the primary objective was to appear busy while Saito Sensei tirelessly worked around the yard with a variety of power tools. No, you shouldn’t ask if you can help, that is also a breach of etiquette. It is far better to ride aimlessly on a train or perhaps nap in the little room next to the dojo among the suitcases and the clutter that ten people living in close quarters generate. Or as Maggie discovered, sit with an open Japanese language text on the sofa outside while the day gently slips past.
Butterflies wind dance-- The limitless Dojo afternoon
The evening class consists of Saito Sensei effortlessly demonstrating a different technique or variation of the previous technique every ten minutes. Everyone then executes these techniques with great force and intensity. As a beginning student, I just tried to work on getting the feel of a technique.However, I often found that my training partners were very willing to clarify the finer points of the technique that I was merely simulating.
Aiki spirit on the mat and within the beams O-sensei looks on
Saito Sensei occasionally provides an opportunity to rest when he selects the student who is making the most irritating mistake and has them perform their version of the technique in front of the class. The he deconstructs it. This can be a great learning experience (technical pointers from a ninth dan are certainly something to remember) and, initially, it can also be an incredibly intimidating experience.
Hazy morning Training under sensei’s eye “Da-me” time again
However, I think I have to agree with Maggie who so eloquently stated, “Iwama. Why it’s more relazing than a day at the beach.” Although, in truth, it wasn’t like any beach that I have ever visited. It was a lot of fun. And, if you ever have the opportunity, you should go.