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Old 08-18-2009, 08:16 PM   #17
Reuben's Avatar
Dojo: Aikido Seishinkan
Location: Kuching
Join Date: Jan 2002
Posts: 111
Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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.


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.

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.
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