Lauren In Tokyo

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Aikido Burnaby Week 1: You don't have to impress them

I showed up to the dojo on the corner of Edmonds and Canada Way and found myself about an hour early. I parked on the street and knocked on the dojo door and stepped in. Mustard-sensei was there with his uchi-deshi Farshad. Mustard-sensei formed an imposing figure standing in the doorway to his office chatting with a handful of people in the foyer.

The Burnaby Yoshinkai Dojo is an unassuming shop in a tiny strip mall. It's mats are a bit old and flat, and the space is a bit cramped considering how many students show up to work with Mustard-sensei. The dojo is spartan, to say the least, but it provides the basic essentials that are necessary to practice Aikido.

At the start of the class, all students line up in seiza and wait for Mustard-sensei to make his greetings. During the wait, I performed mokusou, which is a simplified meditation where one sits in seiza and sits quietly with eyes closed and focused on proper posture. As such, I didn't really notice if anyone had their eyes open during the wait. After what seemed like several minutes of silent meditation, Farshad barked out the order to bow. As in my own dojo, first to an image of Shioda-kancho, then to the teacher.

One of the first things that struck me was how lively the class was with 'Osu!' shouted by students to punctuate Mustard-sensei's monologue. My class in Japan is downright silent compared to the atmosphere in this dojo. I am making it a point to interject my own 'Osu!' into the atmosphere, if to at least blend in with this raucous culture.

Another thing done differently is the warmup exercises. A good 15 minutes are spent warming up. A whole range of stretches and warmup movements are done, some I've never seen before. Truth be told, it's nice to have a proper warmup routine like this. Our warmup routine at the Aikidoryu hombu dojo consists of seiza, knee-crawling, and taking the kamae stance. The warmup sequence at the Burnaby dojo descends from the Yoshinkan hombu dojo, and it works. I may bring it back to Japan with me, even if just to perform by myself before practice.

After introductions and warmup, Mustard-sensei introduced the first lesson of the day. Shomen-uchi ikkajo osae ni. I was paired with a lady who was also a white belt and we went to work. Unfortunately, for me that meant driving my shomen-uchi deep, and I learned very quickly that the white belts under Mustard-sensei are focusing on form first, so strong attacks such as I am used to throwing and taking in Japan are neither necessary nor desired.

But sensing my mindset, Mustard-sensei paired me with one of his top black belts Girad. I took this as a signal to hack away to my heart's content, and Mustard-sensei did seem pleased to see me diving in with gusto. But after a while, he asked me to slow down and focus on my form. He knows where I am from and who I train with, so there's no need to try to impress him by trying too hard. For the rest of the day I tried but failed to get my strength under control.

At one point, Mustard-sensei asked if I would like to feel his performance of the waza. I jumped at the chance and threw a chop at his head as hard as I could. In a blink of an eye I found myself facedown on the dojo floor with my arm being pinned to the mats. It was great, and there was no pain at all.

Class wrapped up and we lined up to bow out. Mustard-sensei thanked me for making the long trip from Seattle, and I thanked him and all the students for letting me train with them. It was well worth the 3 hour drive up. I changed and headed out to the car looking forward to the next class two weeks away.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Summer in Seattle

It's been such a long time since I last wrote. After the March 11 earthquake I've just not felt the desire to blog too much or even do any gardening since then. But I can't mope around forever, you know?

In the past year Julian joined Aikido and to motivate him I joined up also. In Urayasu we have the luxury of having the top Yoshinkan Aikido teacher living just down the street. Ando shihan runs his dojo just a short 10-minute bike ride away from our house, so instead of joining a karate or jujutsu class with a barely-qualified instructor, we chose to go with aikido. Getting over my prejudice against Aikido was probably the hardest part of that decision.

Julian will be taking his 8th kyu test next weekend and I'm going to sit out my 5th kyu test this summer because I'm actually out of the country. He'll be able to pass the test without any problem, I am confident. His aikido has gotten very good over the past year, especially since we put him in the class 3 days a week.

For work, I am actually in Seattle for a few months. Unfortunately there are no Yoshinkan dojos in the immediate area. There are a few aikido dojos around, notably George Ledyard sensei's AikiEast Dojo which is actually pretty close by where I am on the Eastside. However, the aikido he practices is called Aikikai. Aikikai is to Yoshinkan what Catholicism is to Eastern Orthodox. As a relative beginner I would prefer not to mix styles.

The remaining choice is a dojo almost 150 miles away in Burnaby, Canada. Led by Robert Mustard shihan, Burnaby Yoshinkai is a sort of mecca for aikidoists in North America. He is the infamous hard-assed teacher at the center of Robert Twigger's Angry White Pyjamas. A student under Yoshinkan kancho Gozo Shioda sensei and the fearsome Takafumi Takeno sensei, Mustard-sensei is a 7th dan aikido master. His teaching credentials go way back to the Yoshinkan hombu dojo where he was an instructor of the Tokyo riot police aikido program.

This is a trip I am looking forward to make to visit his dojo and train with him this summer. I have received the necessary warnings that he is a tough, strong teacher and to be careful not to get injured.

Warnings acknowledged, I'm on my summer journey.