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Old 08-18-2009, 03:17 AM   #1
Reuben
 
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Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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
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Old 08-18-2009, 04:10 AM   #2
rob_liberti
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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

old mcdojo had a form, aiki aiki do...
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Old 08-18-2009, 06:23 AM   #3
Reuben
 
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:13 AM   #4
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:37 AM   #5
raul rodrigo
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Whose class were you attending?
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:58 AM   #6
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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.
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Old 08-18-2009, 09:39 AM   #7
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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.

~Look into the eyes of your opponent & steal his spirit.
~To be a good martial artist is to be good thief; if you want my knowledge, you must take it from me.
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Old 08-18-2009, 09:45 AM   #8
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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.

-John Matsushima

My blog on Japanese culture
http://onecorneroftheplanetinjapan.blogspot.jp/
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Old 08-18-2009, 10:05 AM   #9
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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.
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Old 08-18-2009, 12:02 PM   #10
Russ Q
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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
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Old 08-18-2009, 02:23 PM   #11
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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!
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Old 08-18-2009, 03:25 PM   #12
Marc Abrams
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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
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Old 08-18-2009, 03:29 PM   #13
Jorge Garcia
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Quote:
Reuben Yap wrote: View Post
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
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

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Old 08-18-2009, 06:44 PM   #14
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Lol!!!
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Old 08-18-2009, 07:20 PM   #15
Reuben
 
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Quote:
David Skaggs wrote: View Post
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!
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Old 08-18-2009, 07:22 PM   #16
Reuben
 
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Quote:
Raul Rodrigo wrote: View Post
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
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Old 08-18-2009, 08:16 PM   #17
Reuben
 
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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.

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.



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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Old 08-18-2009, 09:24 PM   #18
Reuben
 
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Just compare with this:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sour...,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&sour...,0.016512&z=17

And a street view of how the lane looks like:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sour...=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.

Last edited by Reuben : 08-18-2009 at 09:26 PM.
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Old 08-18-2009, 11:12 PM   #19
raul rodrigo
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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.
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Old 08-18-2009, 11:32 PM   #20
Reuben
 
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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?
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Old 08-18-2009, 11:50 PM   #21
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Quote:
Reuben Yap wrote: View Post
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.
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Old 08-18-2009, 11:57 PM   #22
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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

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Old 08-19-2009, 12:41 AM   #23
raul rodrigo
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Yes, Jun, that is the sign I meant. Thanks.
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Old 08-19-2009, 12:55 AM   #24
Reuben
 
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

Ah totally missed that :P Thanks Jun and Raul.

Google Streetview rocks
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Old 08-19-2009, 12:59 AM   #25
Peter Ralls
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Re: Training at Aikikai Hombu Dojo - Experiences

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

Last edited by Peter Ralls : 08-19-2009 at 01:03 AM.
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