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Reuben
08-18-2009, 04:17 AM
Hey, I was wondering for those of you who trained at hombu dojo, how was your experience like?

I personally was quite disappointed as it didn't seem very 'gaijin' friendly and the atmosphere was tense and serious.

First of all, I asked the reception counter if there were any particular rules I should be aware of...I was told there were none.

But during the session, after the completion of a technique, I found that you aren't allowed to switch partners. Once you're with a partner, you're stuck with that person the entire session. The way I was told this was quite rude more of a 'shoo shoo' gesture rather than a polite nope that cannot be done.

The whole class was basically silent with everyone focusing on their technique and it seemed deadly serious. As no one near me nor the Shihan instructing spoke English, I felt rather excluded especially when the Shihan showed the technique to my Japanese partner and not much to me...I also could have sworn him saying something about 'gaijin'...and 'gomen' which I am sure has some meaning which is harmless but the proximity of those words made me feel unwelcome especially when he was talking to the guy as if I was not there.

The canvas tatami mats were very slippery and damp with sweat. Not something I was accustomed to.

But perhaps the worst part was after the training...in the locker room...no one spoke a word. It all seemed really tense.

What ever happened to training in a joyful manner as advocated by O-Sensei?

When I brought this up to my Sensei's daughter, she mentioned that 'if they don't really know you, they're like that.' 'If you went with me, it would have been different'. 'Yes i agree the locker room situation can be quite tense'. 'Even some of the Japanese are shocked when they come to train at Hombu for the first time'.

In addition to her, I have read on blogs, heard from friends and other Aikido people who have had similar experiences to myself with Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Granted they're all not Japanese.

Not to mention Hombu being a real pain in the bum to find even with the map!!!! I had to whip up my GPS and incur heavy charges from my operator after totally getting lost.

So am I alone in this? Is this just a simple case of culture shock or is Hombu really such a xenophobic, unfriendly place? I guess part of it was the language barrier but still....considering you're the HQ...there should be at least some accommodation to us gaijins :D

rob_liberti
08-18-2009, 05:10 AM
Most of the people I have trained with in Japan disliked their experience in hombu dojo as well. They generally liked one of two of the teachers but often found it just as tedious and pretentious as you are describing.

However, not switching partners for the whole class is normal to them; so I can see why it was not considered a special rule to them that they would know to make you aware of. I'd say make peace with that one and let it go.

But, to your point, there is something about the old saying about form in absence of substance. I think they are going for more of a zen experience. But, in my opinion, that much "form" basically screams insecurities about what you are teaching.

Personally, I wouldn't particularly care if someone left the mat, took a big bite of their sandwich, and came back onto the mat chewing as long as they don't get food on the mat. But, to some of the new people who want a bit more of the mystique-type of experience it would ruin it for them a bit - so I can see both sides a bit.

There is something about the mythological journey, of going off to a strange place, having an experience, and coming back a changed person. It's not terrible to have the dojo be that mythological strange place - as long as you don't come back "strange" yourself.

Rob

Reuben
08-18-2009, 07:23 AM
But I do think there's a difference between mysterious and mystique-like and just plain coldness :(

What I felt wasn't inner peace but a false sense of tension. I mean I didn't see people really enjoying their practice...

But I'm glad I wasn't alone in my feelings...Thanks :D

dps
08-18-2009, 09:13 AM
Hi Rueben,

I have never been there but, I am wondering if you had talked to anyone before you went about what to expect and what were your expectations before you went?

David

raul rodrigo
08-18-2009, 09:37 AM
Whose class were you attending?

raul rodrigo
08-18-2009, 09:58 AM
I ask about whose class you attended because my own experience there was quite positive, particularly in the classes of Endo and Miyamoto. I saw none of the tension you spoke of, and I was treated quite well, even as a gaijin. There was byplay and banter in the locker room, with Endo taking part. So YMMV.

ninjaqutie
08-18-2009, 10:39 AM
I have never been, but my sensei and I believe some of his family have been and they all speak highly of their experience. As far as the rules go, if it is normal to them, it probably didn't occur to them that you aren't used to the same. I'm sorry your session didn't go well.

John Matsushima
08-18-2009, 10:45 AM
I think you forgot to bow.

Instead, you walk in with your own expectations, with your head held high and became offended because you hit your head on the door.
First of all I don't understand why foreigners get so offended to hear the word "gaijin" in their presence. If you are not Japanese, then no matter how much sushi you eat, or J-pop you listen to, you ARE a foreigner, so get used to it.
Secondly, it blows my mind that people come to Japan and are offended when Japanese people don't speak English. Why don't you speak Japanese???? So even if Mr. Shihan spoke to you instead of your Japanese uke, would you even understand?

I think it's funny how there is so much talk about Aikido not being enough like a real budo, but then people complain about training seriously in a tense atmosphere. Was this just a stop on your sightseeing tour? Did you come to socialize or find a Japanese girlfriend?

So, you visited someone else's dojo, you should be grateful that they even let you on the mat and took any time at all to attempt to teach you anything. Learn to have some gratitude and respect, especially when you are in someone else's house.

odudog
08-18-2009, 11:05 AM
I visited Honbu 8 years ago for three weeks and practiced everyday except for the first day or two on my trip, waiting for my bags to arrive and jetlag.

I found tons of gaijins there and it is their home dojo. All the people seemed friendly and I got some real good advice from the fellow gaijins. I constantly switched partners at the main and beginners room. I didnt' actively looked to switch, I just stayed in the back right hand corner and waited for someone to ask me. Doshu even came and looked at me practice and made some comments. One instructor did yell about me, but he yelled at the older gentlemen working with me for not correcting my mistakes. It's only logical for him to speak to the person that he could fully convey his teaching correction to. Luckily, my aweful Japanese was still able to understand the instructor. They don't talk on the mat. Doshu didn't even talk. O'Sensei didn't talk either. If they do then it is quiet, quick, and to the point. I think that it is possible that you did bring some notion with you and was disappointed that what actually happened didn't meet your expectation. I had a fabulous time and can't wait to go again. While I was there, there was another guy visiting from Lebanon. He practiced Iado there as well. He left a few days before me and one instructor took pictures with him and gave the guy paintings that he made as a going away gift. I think you some how transmitted your disappointment.

Russ Q
08-18-2009, 01:02 PM
Hey,

I would echo John M's general tone....sounds like you went in with your own expectations....nothing wrong with that but don't expect others to live up to them. I guess the lesson (Zen wise:-) is that your desire for the experience to live up to what you were thinking, or hoped it would be, led to your suffering/dissappointment about what it actually turned out to be....that one time you went. If you're still there, go again. If you're back home be happy you can go train at your home dojo tonight.

Cheers,

Russ

Kevin Karr
08-18-2009, 03:23 PM
I am sorry you did not have an enjoyable experience, but I have to agree with what John Matsushima said above. I have known several people who have trained at Hombu and each and every one had an acceptable experience.

I often hear complaints regarding this "joyful" training thing and how some people or places lack in this respect. What is this expectation? I know O-Sensei said something about this but training is supposed to be serious; no laughing, joking, talking, kibbutzing...this is training! O-Sensei said the study of his budo is austere and serious. Therefore, expect things to be intense! Pay attention or you may get smacked upside the head. The Aikido mat is not some play-date or a place to commence in "water-cooler" chit chat. When one is on the mat, they are expected to stay there until class is finished. If one really needs water, they can get it but one is expected to do this post-haste and get back on that mat!

Marc Abrams
08-18-2009, 04:25 PM
Reuben:

I am curious as to what your reasons and expectations were for going to the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. I personally do not feel any particular desire or reason to go there when I am in Japan. It was much more meaningful for me to visit O'Sensei's grave site in Tanabe. The main reason for that was that my teacher accompanied his son to take his father's ashes to that final resting place. For me, it was my tangible link to my teacher back to the founder. As far as training goes, I would agree with Ledyard Sensei when he talks about the wonderful opportunities that we have within the US to train with some really great instructors and some who were students of the founder (as is my teacher).

Many times, our reasons and expectations do not jive with the reality of the experience, leaving us disappointed and jaded. I am sorry that the experience did not live up to what you expected it to be. I hope that your training at your dojo allows that memory to fade into oblivion.

Marc Abrams

Jorge Garcia
08-18-2009, 04:29 PM
Hey, I was wondering for those of you who trained at hombu dojo, how was your experience like?

I personally was quite disappointed as it didn't seem very 'gaijin' friendly and the atmosphere was tense and serious.

First of all, I asked the reception counter if there were any particular rules I should be aware of...I was told there were none.

But during the session, after the completion of a technique, I found that you aren't allowed to switch partners. Once you're with a partner, you're stuck with that person the entire session. The way I was told this was quite rude more of a 'shoo shoo' gesture rather than a polite nope that cannot be done.

The whole class was basically silent with everyone focusing on their technique and it seemed deadly serious. As no one near me nor the Shihan instructing spoke English, I felt rather excluded especially when the Shihan showed the technique to my Japanese partner and not much to me...I also could have sworn him saying something about 'gaijin'...and 'gomen' which I am sure has some meaning which is harmless but the proximity of those words made me feel unwelcome especially when he was talking to the guy as if I was not there.

The canvas tatami mats were very slippery and damp with sweat. Not something I was accustomed to.

But perhaps the worst part was after the training...in the locker room...no one spoke a word. It all seemed really tense.

What ever happened to training in a joyful manner as advocated by O-Sensei?

When I brought this up to my Sensei's daughter, she mentioned that 'if they don't really know you, they're like that.' 'If you went with me, it would have been different'. 'Yes i agree the locker room situation can be quite tense'. 'Even some of the Japanese are shocked when they come to train at Hombu for the first time'.

In addition to her, I have read on blogs, heard from friends and other Aikido people who have had similar experiences to myself with Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Granted they're all not Japanese.

Not to mention Hombu being a real pain in the bum to find even with the map!!!! I had to whip up my GPS and incur heavy charges from my operator after totally getting lost.

So am I alone in this? Is this just a simple case of culture shock or is Hombu really such a xenophobic, unfriendly place? I guess part of it was the language barrier but still....considering you're the HQ...there should be at least some accommodation to us gaijins :D

Sounds like a place I would like to train. I don't go to class to make friends. I go to train. Setting up expectations of how others should act is a mistake.They can act any way they want. Sorry but you sound a little like someone who is used to being catered to. You didn't like the mats, the training procedures, the way the teacher did a correction, the way the shihan didn't speak to you. The locker room atmosphere, etc. You even didn't like the difficulty of finding the dojo (as if that was something they could have planned for so many years ago!) Maybe a more commercially oriented martial art would be something you would like more. You're sounding more like a customer than a student of Japanese budo. How can you expect them to have known all the things you wanted before you arrived? You should have sent them a note years ago.

Don't take what I said too hard. Maybe though, you should have some humility and rethink your post.
Best wishes,
Jorge

Tinyboy344
08-18-2009, 07:44 PM
Lol!!!

Reuben
08-18-2009, 08:20 PM
Hi Rueben,

I have never been there but, I am wondering if you had talked to anyone before you went about what to expect and what were your expectations before you went?

David

Yes I did in fact. My sensei's daughter (they're a complete Japanese family) told me several things to expect but that they varied widely from instructor to instructor. Endo and Miyamato's classes came highly recommended but my schedule didn't permit.

I can see the other posts asking me the same thing on what my expectations were :P so I'll answer that in my next post!

Reuben
08-18-2009, 08:22 PM
I ask about whose class you attended because my own experience there was quite positive, particularly in the classes of Endo and Miyamoto. I saw none of the tension you spoke of, and I was treated quite well, even as a gaijin. There was byplay and banter in the locker room, with Endo taking part. So YMMV.

Nope not Endo or Miyamoto whose classes were highly recommended by my contacts.

I rather not mention any names here for fear of offending anyone :D

Reuben
08-18-2009, 09:16 PM
In response to what my expectations were as it seems that many people are jumping to negative conclusions.

I didn't quite go in with much expectations to be honest. All I thought was to train and feel the atmosphere and be able to experience other people's techniques. I guess perhaps if there was one expectation it was that last one where I would be able to have a variety of partners which yes I admit I was sorely disappointed.

The guy I partnered with was also rather new and he was definitely a friendly guy but it felt like everyone had their own pre-set partner they wanted to train with already. In fact, he seemed also confused as well when we could not switch partners. He was most definitely Japanese.

Yes I did bow, I am no stranger to dojo etiquette.

I've trained under many hombu instructors albeit as visiting instructors in my home country. Some of them were serious, some of them were really fun (for example Fujita Shihan) but almost all of it I came off it feeling positive.

Despite these shihans seldom speaking much English, they showed genuine care and tried to articulate in movements and gestures what they were getting at.

The class on the other hand had a completely different vibe. I would expect if you smiled at someone, they should smile back or at least acknowledge you especially from other students. I don't enjoy being gestured at when the person is totally avoiding eye contact.

I'm not western, in fact I'm completely asian. I don't think the fact that I am in someone else's dojo should curtail basic courtesy and etiquette though these primarily came from the students not the shihan.

As for the shihan himself, I don't want to comment too much. But I can say that I of course did not expect for him to speak English to me. Of course I did not expect him to give me his undivided personal attention. Extrapolating from my first post and coming to the conclusion that I'm an ungrateful whiner...well....perhaps that was a misunderstanding to the tone of my post.

What basically happened was he took my Japanese partner aside and talked to him at quite some length. As the discussion seemed to be for him only, I sat down on the side and waited patiently but keeping my eye out. The Shihan then gestured for me to come up, I bowed and he threw me a few times totally talking only to my Japanese partner. Eye contact, body gesture, everything.

So I thought ok, perhaps the Shihan wanted to address some issues that only the Japanese partner had.

Now this would be fine as well, if not for the fact that I had some difficulty in some of the techniques that were new to me myself. For those techniques and it was blatantly obvious that we were having issues, the Shihan will come around and explain to the Japanese partner again and throw me around a few times. Of course during these times I'm not sitting out but trying to grasp what he's trying to say but it being all words...Again the body gesture and speech was all directed at the Japanese partner even when I too didn't fully grasp the technique.

It just felt like, 'hey i need help too! here here!'. Yes being an uke for a technique does teach you part of the technique but I think as all aikidoka would know, it's a different thing to also watch it real close being performed on another person.

Now perhaps I totally misread this but this combined with the other student's reactions...made it feel that I was unwelcome. Now perhaps some of you might think that the feeling of 'welcome' is absent in a dojo and that I should be honored that I actually am allowed to train there...but for a HQ that represents the world's Aikido, I think a little bit more hospitality would be nice. In all the dojos I've been to (and there's been many and many frowned on talking in class as well), this was the very first one where I felt this.

This was what I meant when I mentioned a tense atmosphere. It wasn't just the silence. When it carried on to the locker room which is no more a training environment...I can say that I was shocked.

When my Japanese sensei's daughter confirmed this to be the case for certain classes especially if you are new and she's trained there for extended periods of time being a shihan's daughter, I kinda wondered was this all really necessary?

I really wondered if I had performed some sort of unwritten faux paus. I actually asked one of the other foreigners there who was near me if I had missed anything in my etiquette, and he said nope it's usually like this for this particular shihan's classes.

Map

The difficulty of finding the dojo was unnecessary. It is not something that I am saying was a fault of the dojo's location. But perhaps better signage or a more elaborate map would have helped. The map provided on the Aikikai foundation website is misleading. I doubt anyone could find it with that map especially if you don't read Japanese. In fact when I showed it to several people who have went to hombu (some of them Japanese), they're like 'this map is oversimplified'.

When I was trying to ask locals for directions, they too could not follow the map. If I had known it was so complex, of course I would have used Google Maps and been more prepared.

As it was, the map was just, walk straight down this road...and there it is! It gave the false impression that it was really easy. I got off at Shinjiku and was walking to Shokuan Street to cut straight across. The lane to Hombu Dojo was not marked and there are MANY lanes before reaching Hombu. Sure I understand if city regulations prevented some sort of signage but if that's the case, a better map is necessary.

http://www.aikikai.or.jp/eng/hombu/image/map.gif

I'm not making a big deal of it, but it just 'capped off' my experience.

Yes I'm sorry that I had a bad experience at Hombu. What is more displeasing is being accused of being ungrateful and chided. Perhaps I should have elaborated more in my first post.

Reuben
08-18-2009, 10:24 PM
Just compare with this:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=aikikai&sll=35.689488,139.691706&sspn=0.85214,2.113495&g=tokyo&ie=UTF8&ll=35.698946,139.706762&spn=0.006439,0.016512&z=17

Where A is the Hombu Dojo.

Here is another view with Shinjiku station in sight:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=aikikai&sll=35.689488,139.691706&sspn=0.85214,2.113495&g=tokyo&ie=UTF8&ll=35.696489,139.706354&spn=0.006439,0.016512&z=17

And a street view of how the lane looks like:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=aikikai&sll=35.689488,139.691706&sspn=0.85214,2.113495&g=tokyo&ie=UTF8&ll=35.697883,139.714293&spn=0,359.983488&z=17&layer=c&cbll=35.697799,139.714281&panoid=RI9u04Stcn40IA9MaDzv-w&cbp=12,17.05,,0,5

Anyway all a minor point but just wanted to illustrate how there should be a better map to the area. This is off-topic.

raul rodrigo
08-19-2009, 12:12 AM
Yes, the map is oversimplified, and I prefer coming from the Wakamatsu kawada side (instead of the Shinjuku station side) where it's harder to lose your way. There is a sign at the intersection saying "Aikikai Hombu Dojo," but it's in Japanese, so if you don't know the kanji there will be problems.

Reuben
08-19-2009, 12:32 AM
On which side was this sign? The last link I gave showed exactly what I saw coming from the main road of Shokuan Street. Are those words on the road Aikikai Hombu Dojo or was it on that yellow sign on the side?

raul rodrigo
08-19-2009, 12:50 AM
On which side was this sign? The last link I gave showed exactly what I saw coming from the main road of Shokuan Street. Are those words on the road Aikikai Hombu Dojo or was it on that yellow sign on the side?

In the link you posted, the sign is on the pillar of the building at the intersection, on the left side of the street. The black on white vertical sign near the parked cars.

akiy
08-19-2009, 12:57 AM
Here's a picture, I believe, of the sign that Raul is talking about (courtesy of Google Street View):

http://tinyurl.com/p3kfdn

And, here is the rather bland facade of Aikikai hombu dojo (also courtesy of Google Street View):

http://tinyurl.com/nps7mq

The Ueshiba family lives next door (fuzzy nameplate picture, also courtesy of Google Street View):

http://tinyurl.com/pktefs

-- Jun

raul rodrigo
08-19-2009, 01:41 AM
Yes, Jun, that is the sign I meant. Thanks.

Reuben
08-19-2009, 01:55 AM
Ah totally missed that :P Thanks Jun and Raul.

Google Streetview rocks :D

Peter Ralls
08-19-2009, 01:59 AM
Hi Reuben

I spent a year training at hombu dojo a long time ago, and I go back to Japan every year or so for a couple weeks.I always train at hombu when I am in Tokyo, as well as at my teacher's dojo.

My experience with hombu dojo is that it is very different from other aikido dojos because it is such a big place with so many people and so many classes going on. The last I heard they had over a thousand students training there. My experience is that hombu dojo is mainly focused on providing training for it's practitioners, and does not expend very much energy on visitors. Generally, people talk very little during training, and in almost all of the classes you keep the same partner for the whole hour. In addition, its Japan, which means most of the Japanese are not going to speak English.

Hombu dojo gets a huge number of visitors passing through, so what happens is that the people that train there every day tend to train with people they know, especially since they are going to have the same partner for the whole class.It takes being there for a while before people start to take an interest in you. Hombu has so many people training, and each time slot tends to have different people, that you could just train every day for years with the daily practitioners there and never get to know everybody.

So you have to put it in perspective. If your home dojo had multiple visitors coming to class every day, many of whom didn't speak the same language as you, how much time and energy would you invest in training with or teaching them, especially if you knew a whole new batch would be coming through tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after. Hombu dojo practitioners tend to come in, train with the people they know, and head out after class afterwards. It's never been a very social or immediately friendly place, in my experience. And it definitely takes some adjusting to, when you are used to the regular, normal sized dojo where everyone knows each other and you change partners every technique.

Could they make it more visitor friendly? Probably, but with the amount of visitors they get, it would take a large investment in human resources that they don't seem to have. Changing the one partner per class system would probably help, but that is a different discussion.

Now, I like training at hombu dojo. I like the quiet, intense, focused training. It's rare that I don't leave the hour long class pretty tired. Of course it's going to depend on who you get as a partner, but where else are you going to get a high level six or seventh dan partner training with you for an hour. Each trip I usually get to train a couple of times with partners who have very high level aikido. Even when I get someone as a partner who I don't know, which is probably about half the time, I usually find that the majority of my training partners are pretty good and fun to train with. Needless to say, the teachers are very good. I do find it less relaxed than training at my teacher's dojo, or my home dojo, because at hombu I never can be sure what I am going to get, partner wise, for an hour, and training can be very intense. But I get almost always get a lot out of it. Oh, and when I lived in Japan and was a practitioner at hombu dojo, I didn't train with visitors I didn't know either.

Peter

jss
08-19-2009, 03:07 AM
Instead, you walk in with your own expectations, with your head held high and became offended because you hit your head on the door.
He was disappointed, not offended.

First of all I don't understand why foreigners get so offended to hear the word "gaijin" in their presence.
Because it has a negative connotation?

Why don't you speak Japanese????
Do you speak the language of every country you visit? If I visit the main dojo of the international organization that is the Aikikai, why would I need to speak Japanese?

So, you visited someone else's dojo, you should be grateful that they even let you on the mat and took any time at all to attempt to teach you anything. Learn to have some gratitude and respect, especially when you are in someone else's house.
As far as I know he did not go to Doshu to complain about the crappy atmosphere in his dojo. He made a post on Aikiweb, described his experience and asked how visiting Hombu Dojo was for other people. You seem to confuse having gratitude and respect with abandoning critical thought and information gathering.

Reuben
08-19-2009, 03:59 AM
Hi Reuben

I spent a year training at hombu dojo a long time ago, and I go back to Japan every year or so for a couple weeks.I always train at hombu when I am in Tokyo, as well as at my teacher's dojo.

My experience with hombu dojo is that it is very different from other aikido dojos because it is such a big place with so many people and so many classes going on. The last I heard they had over a thousand students training there. My experience is that hombu dojo is mainly focused on providing training for it's practitioners, and does not expend very much energy on visitors. Generally, people talk very little during training, and in almost all of the classes you keep the same partner for the whole hour. In addition, its Japan, which means most of the Japanese are not going to speak English.

Hombu dojo gets a huge number of visitors passing through, so what happens is that the people that train there every day tend to train with people they know, especially since they are going to have the same partner for the whole class.It takes being there for a while before people start to take an interest in you. Hombu has so many people training, and each time slot tends to have different people, that you could just train every day for years with the daily practitioners there and never get to know everybody.

So you have to put it in perspective. If your home dojo had multiple visitors coming to class every day, many of whom didn't speak the same language as you, how much time and energy would you invest in training with or teaching them, especially if you knew a whole new batch would be coming through tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after. Hombu dojo practitioners tend to come in, train with the people they know, and head out after class afterwards. It's never been a very social or immediately friendly place, in my experience. And it definitely takes some adjusting to, when you are used to the regular, normal sized dojo where everyone knows each other and you change partners every technique.

Could they make it more visitor friendly? Probably, but with the amount of visitors they get, it would take a large investment in human resources that they don't seem to have. Changing the one partner per class system would probably help, but that is a different discussion.

Now, I like training at hombu dojo. I like the quiet, intense, focused training. It's rare that I don't leave the hour long class pretty tired. Of course it's going to depend on who you get as a partner, but where else are you going to get a high level six or seventh dan partner training with you for an hour. Each trip I usually get to train a couple of times with partners who have very high level aikido. Even when I get someone as a partner who I don't know, which is probably about half the time, I usually find that the majority of my training partners are pretty good and fun to train with. Needless to say, the teachers are very good. I do find it less relaxed than training at my teacher's dojo, or my home dojo, because at hombu I never can be sure what I am going to get, partner wise, for an hour, and training can be very intense. But I get almost always get a lot out of it. Oh, and when I lived in Japan and was a practitioner at hombu dojo, I didn't train with visitors I didn't know either.

Peter

Thanks for this :D I'll prolly give it another go when I next drop by Tokyo.

Just for clarification, the guy I partnered with was not a yudansha though he was not bad at all. He stood out as most of the others were black belt holders and it was quite funny how everyone immediately assumed their partners leaving the white belts to find whoever is left.

The one partner training thing I feel enforces the schoolyard mentality of 'last to get picked'. I don't have a problem with practicing with lower grades at all but it would have been nice to experience some high level Aikido as well which probably added to my disappointment though hey he was probably disappointed as well when he got some blur black belt holder who didn't quite comprehend his surroundings :D.

But as you said, that's a different discussion altogether.

Thank you for your insight.

Reuben
08-19-2009, 04:05 AM
He was disappointed, not offended.

Because it has a negative connotation?

Do you speak the language of every country you visit? If I visit the main dojo of the international organization that is the Aikikai, why would I need to speak Japanese?

As far as I know he did not go to Doshu to complain about the crappy atmosphere in his dojo. He made a post on Aikiweb, described his experience and asked how visiting Hombu Dojo was for other people. You seem to confuse having gratitude and respect with abandoning critical thought and information gathering.

Thanks Joep :) I'm glad someone understood the purpose of my post.

I wasn't expecting to be taught in English but of course I would appreciate some attempt to be made to communicate to me what he was trying to get at which was what visiting hombu instructors do when they go abroad.

Peter's explanation in that they only focus on the regulars in a way makes sense. After all visitors come and go...and on a practical side it makes sense to focus on YOUR dojo's regulars.

It still is unfortunate though considering that although Hombu dojo has its own dedicated hombu students, it is also the dojo of the world. In a way it might be a clash of these two roles that resulted in this.

That being said, in its current setup, most visitors will end up training with other visitors. The one partner per session rules makes it difficult for visitors to experience what they go expecting to which is to train with at least some Hombu students/instructors. After all, many of us where Aikido is a relatively small scene and don't always have access to high level Shihans would love to feel the differences of an Aikidoka practicing at the very heart of Aikido. That being said, of course they aren't just 'dummies' for us to experience Aikido, but promoting some mingling would be great where you get to feel visitors from around the world and their interpretation of Aikido and also Hombu's own interpretation.

I feel a lot better about this now.

Josh Reyer
08-19-2009, 04:35 AM
Do you speak the language of every country you visit? If I visit the main dojo of the international organization that is the Aikikai, why would I need to speak Japanese?The thing is, you're really dealing with two different entities here. There's the Hombu Dojo, and there's the Aikido World Headquarters. The dojo is a self-contained dojo, just like any other in Japan. If you go to any dojo in Japan, it's a good idea to speak Japanese, and that includes Hombu Dojo. The international organization of which you speak merely happens to be located in the same building.

This is clear from the Aikikai homepage. Visiting Aikikai members are welcome to train in Beginner and Regular classes, but to participate in the Aikido Gakko, Women's, and Children's classes, you have to be a member of Hombu Dojo.

The Aikikai is happy to have visitors from all over the world make pilgrimages to its historical main dojo, but that doesn't mean Hombu Dojo is inherently structured for an international visitors. In the end, it's just a Japanese dojo, catering to people living in Japan, specifically Tokyo.

Edit: And yes, I personally try to learn to speak a little of the language of every country I visit.

Walter Martindale
08-19-2009, 05:56 AM
Well, I first went to Hombu as part of a 2003 tour led by the shihan for Canada, Kawahara Yukio. He took about 15 of us over on a tour that started in Osaka, included participating in a big demo in Osaka, practicing at the Hiroshima police dojo (sensei there one of Kawahara's former students, I think), and a lot of tourism. (Kyoto, Beppu, Himeji, some samurai villages, a Sumo Basho at Kanazawa.. lots of food, sake, beer...). The trip ended with a few days in Tokyo, staying at a cheap hotel in Shinjuku and walking 20 min to Hombu. We practiced a couple of times at Hombu, in Doshu's class, and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant with Doshu.

Training at the morning practice with Dohsu teaching was quite like others have remarked. One partner for the whole session, lots of sweat (well, for me), lots of people, compact ukemi because of the crowds. Because we were a group, introduced by Kawahara, I think we were made welcome. (group photo with Doshu, but that was the session I missed because my ankle was not being happy at all.)

A year later I went on my own, for a few morning practices and then a couple of evening sessions on the same day (at my age, that was pretty hard - maybe when I was in my 20s, but at 50 that hurt) The Doshu sessions were exactly as before. One session I made the mistake of mopping my brow while Doshu was instructing, and (after the instruction was over) was very quickly told not to do that. However, practice was lively, it was lots of business people getting a session before they went to work, and you could tell they were regulars.
The evening sessions - I went for the purpose of attending Masuda's instruction because I'd had his instruction as part of seminars in New Zealand in the late 90s and again in 02 during a short visit to NZ. I was nikyu (but with 11 years of aikido and few opportunities to grade) at the time, and was practicing with a relative beginner, and Masuda separated us and told a couple of senior trainers to practice with each of us. He then asked where he'd seen me before. I again found Masuda's sessions to be entertaining, even in Japanese - his instruction was clear, but - since my Japanese is very rudimentary and not being translated, I was going by the "monkey see monkey do" method of learning.
The roughest treatment I got was by a Canadian guy I ended up practicing with on my third session of the day. I grew up in the city he was from, and let him know I was pretty tired, but I felt like I was getting thumped around pretty firmly - more so than the Japanese had been thumping me around. Odd.
But - When I went to the dojo, I went with the attitude that I would watch, how do they start, where should I line up, ask a gaijin, watch people, listen, and try to do it "like they do". It wasn't my dojo, so I wanted to do it however it was done there.
The showers, afterwards - I don't know what they have against hot water, but....
Wasn't made welcome, wasn't made unwelcome. More like "ok, here's another gaijin tourist. Yeah, here, pay this, go upstairs, change, train, see ya." I'd have to stay there for a while and train lots to be a familiar face, before the locals would open up. That, and spend quite a while studying Japanese.
Walter

jss
08-19-2009, 07:24 AM
This is clear from the Aikikai homepage. Visiting Aikikai members are welcome to train in Beginner and Regular classes, but to participate in the Aikido Gakko, Women's, and Children's classes, you have to be a member of Hombu Dojo.
Thanks. That's good to know.

Edit: And yes, I personally try to learn to speak a little of the language of every country I visit.
I do too (and think all people should), but that rarely goes much beyond "yes", "no", "hello", "goodbye", "please", "thank you", "sorry / excuse me" and the numbers from one to ten. And that's not enough to understand an explanation on an aikido technique. :)

NagaBaba
08-19-2009, 09:23 AM
In the end, it's just a Japanese dojo, catering to people living in Japan, specifically Tokyo.
..snip....
Edit: And yes, I personally try to learn to speak a little of the language of every country I visit.
I have mixed feelings on this issue. Of course it is always good to speak local language. But Hombu dojo is not an 'average' dojo in Japan, it has a very special status - International status. Doshu is a head of this dojo. Me and many hundred thousands aikidoka have his endorsement on diploma, and he is very happy to receive a lot of money from all over the World for that. And not only from the students of Hombu dojo. It seems to me that some kind of balance should be created as we are also supporting him.

If ppl feel ignored during their visits in Hombu dojo, already very thin link to Doshu can be very easy broken. They may stop asking diploma from Japan. In this case Hombu dojo may really become an 'average' dojo in Japan. But I'm not sure if it will be a good solution....

Nick P.
08-19-2009, 11:39 AM
Oh, and when I lived in Japan and was a practitioner at hombu dojo, I didn't train with visitors I didn't know either.

Peter

Hello Peter,

Care to elaborate as to how you came to this decision? Not a loaded question, just curious.

Thanks.

Reuben
08-19-2009, 08:52 PM
Thanks. That's good to know.

I do too (and think all people should), but that rarely goes much beyond "yes", "no", "hello", "goodbye", "please", "thank you", "sorry / excuse me" and the numbers from one to ten. And that's not enough to understand an explanation on an aikido technique. :)

Too true :D I myself am a big anime fan and know a little Japanese, but hardly enough to begin to comprehend what they're going on about when explaining an Aikido technique.

Peter Ralls
08-19-2009, 10:19 PM
Hi Reuben

I do think visiting hombu dojo gets easier after you get a little used to the program there. It gets a lot easier if you go a lot and get to know people, though that takes a lot of time. Also, different instructor's classes have very different feels to them, so it's good to check out a few of the different instructors. I definitely have my likes and dislikes as far as some of the different teacher's classes, and would encourage you to check out a few different instructor's. Doshu's early morning class tends to be a pretty happy crowd, I don't think you would feel that people aren't enjoying the practice there.

Nick

My reasons were pretty simple. To learn the aikido there I felt I had to train with the people that were familiar with it, not be a tour guide all the time. Plus, since I was living there, I think it was pretty natural that I would want to train with the people that I had become friends with. On top of that, I was nineteen years old, so we're not talking about a lot of maturity here.

Now, if someone was visiting who was a friend of one of my friends, that was different. If it was someone who had trained at hombu who was back visiting, that was different. As things were very nationalistic back a long time ago when I was there, (Americans and English hung out together, French stuck to themselves, etc, which happily does not seem to be so much the case nowadays.) I would even train with someone I didn't know visiting from America if they were there for a few classes, and I got curious about them, but I just didn't feel I could spend the majority of my time there training and showing the ropes to a constant parade of visitors who weren't familiar with the practice or the dojo. That was reserved for someone who had moved to Japan and was going to be at hombu for a while, as the Americans who were there when I got there did for me.

Now, at any other dojo where you have the normal membership of say fifty people that train together all the time, with visitors coming in now and again, I think it would be very bad not to train with visitors. I make it a point to train with visitors that come to our dojo in San Francisco, and strongly encourage all the membership to do so. But like I said, at hombu the situation is different.

Peter

Josh Reyer
08-19-2009, 11:43 PM
I do too (and think all people should), but that rarely goes much beyond "yes", "no", "hello", "goodbye", "please", "thank you", "sorry / excuse me" and the numbers from one to ten. And that's not enough to understand an explanation on an aikido technique. :)The Japanese required to understand an explanation of an aikido technique is exceedingly easy, especially since many of the key words are in the techniques themselves. If one is going to Japan to study aikido there, I think it would behoove them to learn the basic body parts: te, ude, hiji, ashi, tsumasaki, koshi, kata, mune. As well as directions: ue, shita, migi, hidari. If one was feeling really industrious, one could learn some basic verbs of movement: hairu, sagaru, kimeru, hineru, nageru, ageru. With this basic lexicon, combined with a little broken English that almost any Japanese person can do, one could get a lot out of an all Japanese class.

Previous to a trip to Zurich, I bought some teach-yourself German books and went through them in the months before my trip, paying special attention to German I was likely to use: shopping and getting directions. Of course, this did backfire, as when I bought a box of Swiss chocolate. I said, "Ich möchte diese Schokolade kaufen" in what must have been rather passable German, as the Verkäuferin responded in a string of rapid-fire German that left me weeping on my knees.

jaime exley
08-20-2009, 12:08 AM
I went to Japan 3 times with the purpose of doing Aikido and stayed each time for about a month. While I was not there to there to train at Hombu Dojo, I found myself there on a number of occasions. My experiences were mostly positive, especially this one.

My friend, who is a member of Hombu, coerced me into meeting her for Doshu's early morning class. I met her and we sat next to each other as everyone was lining up. Then, an older man came sort of swaggering over and asked if my friend and I were going to practice together. I could tell by my my friends speech and body language that this was someone important. The next thing I knew, she was getting up and this guy sat down next to me. I had heard stories about people at Hombu who took it upon themselves to knock visiting young Gaijin yudansha down a couple of notches. (I fit that demographic precisely)

My heart was racing as class began and I just said to myself "no matter what happens, just take your take your best ukemi and under no circumstances try to resist this guy". As we started to practice together, he gradually got faster and stronger with his technique. All I did was my best. I attacked hard and straight and then received his technique as best as I could. At some point my partner's gruff demeanor changed and he started to smile a little.

Doshu came over and said something that I didn't catch, but it must have been funny, because everyone around us chuckled. Then he threw me a few times and walked away.

After class, my partner was very friendly and asked if I'd like to have my picture taken with him in front of the shomen. As we walked to Shinjuku station after class, my friend told me that my unexpected partner was a 7th Dan that ran several Dojos just to the north of Tokyo.

I'm absolutely convinced that if I had tried to prove a point or if I had wilted and shown fear, that class would have been one of my worst Aikido experiences ever. Instead it is a very good memory.

Walter Martindale
08-20-2009, 03:04 AM
(snip)
Of course, this did backfire, as when I bought a box of Swiss chocolate. I said, "Ich möchte diese Schokolade kaufen" in what must have been rather passable German, as the Verkäuferin responded in a string of rapid-fire German that left me weeping on my knees.

"I speak enough ______ to get into trouble, but not enough to get out of trouble..."

W

jss
08-20-2009, 04:02 AM
I said, "Ich möchte diese Schokolade kaufen" in what must have been rather passable German, as the Verkäuferin responded in a string of rapid-fire German that left me weeping on my knees.
That reminds me of this German beer commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epRhCFauHaI.
"Ich möchte diesen Teppich nicht kaufen." means "I do not wish to buy this carpet."

Tambreet
08-20-2009, 01:55 PM
I had the same feeling about Hombu, where I only went to the morning classes taught by Doshu (and one taught by someone else). Yes, it was hot and crowded and training with one uke for the whole class was limited, but the teaching style was what I found most off-putting. Doshu only demonstrated each technique twice, and I usually missed the first time because everybody was still running to sit. And not once did Doshu or anyone else come over to help or correct me. I could definitely see the potential of Hombu and the teaching style for people who stay to train for longer times, but as a relative Aikido newbie and brief visitor, I had trouble getting much out of it.

I also trained several dojos and camps from Aikido Kobayashi Dojo (http://www.cup.com/kobayashi-dojo/english/index.html) and I can't speak highly enough of them. Yasuo Kobayashi and his son are amazing instructors, particularly with beginners and guests. And they couldn't have been more friendly and welcoming.

Of course it's not really fair to compare the two, since Hombu gets a number of guests every day, while the Kobayashi dojos are more typical dojos (and my instructor has a close connection with them.) But I found the contrast interesting on my trips to Japan.

Ewan Wilson
08-20-2009, 03:07 PM
I think you forgot to bow.

Instead, you walk in with your own expectations, with your head held high and became offended because you hit your head on the door.
First of all I don't understand why foreigners get so offended to hear the word "gaijin" in their presence. If you are not Japanese, then no matter how much sushi you eat, or J-pop you listen to, you ARE a foreigner, so get used to it.
Secondly, it blows my mind that people come to Japan and are offended when Japanese people don't speak English. Why don't you speak Japanese???? So even if Mr. Shihan spoke to you instead of your Japanese uke, would you even understand?

I think it's funny how there is so much talk about Aikido not being enough like a real budo, but then people complain about training seriously in a tense atmosphere. Was this just a stop on your sightseeing tour? Did you come to socialize or find a Japanese girlfriend?

So, you visited someone else's dojo, you should be grateful that they even let you on the mat and took any time at all to attempt to teach you anything. Learn to have some gratitude and respect, especially when you are in someone else's house.

Spot on. I have not been to Japan but there's no chance you'd catch me moaning about not being spoken to in english in the Hombo dojo!

So the experience wasn't what you'd dreamed of? What did you expect? They'd all speak perfect english, crack jokes and invite you out for a beer afterwards?

Nick P.
08-21-2009, 10:43 AM
Of course, this did backfire, as when I bought a box of Swiss chocolate. I said, "Ich möchte diese Schokolade kaufen" in what must have been rather passable German, as the Verkäuferin responded in a string of rapid-fire German that left me weeping on my knees.

You aren't alone; I have always maintained that there is little purpose in knowing how to ask a question without being able to understand the answer.

sisley
08-21-2009, 10:59 AM
It's good to remember as well that Hombu Dojo gets a large amount of visitors all throughout the year from various dojos throughout Japan and throughout the world. Some visitors stay for a class or two, some may stay longer, but the core students must find this a bit tedious and wearisome. Certainly, I've been to other dojos in the US where the core members have not welcomed me with open arms. And not speaking the language confidently, I think, makes that situation even more difficult because they (the core students) don't know if you can speak the language.

My experience training at Hombu was fine. I enjoyed chatting with some of the guys in the locker room and hearing stories from one elderly gentleman from the days when he trained under O-Sensei. Of course, this was all done in Japanese.

Yes, it is a formal place. Yes, perhaps a little more pretentious than other dojos. But I think that's what we would/should expect from the Hombu Dojo.

just my thoughts

--jimbo