Monday, April 25, 2011

Thoughts on Training

The first time I visited home after living in Japan, I spoke to some friends at my dojo about my thoughts on the training in Japan. I’d like to reiterate, here, some of the things I said at that time.

It is the dream of so many people who practice budo to one day travel to Japan and train in the culture that gave image to—if not always rise to—the martial arts. I felt this way from the very first moment I walked into a dojo in the United States. For some, it is a genuine interest in the oriental culture and people. I think for the greater majority, however, there is the idea that one will find the best training, the best sensei and the most intense emersion in the martial arts if they make a “pilgrimage” to Japan.

The idea that Japan has the best instructors or holds the secret to a deeper understanding of budo by virtue of its being the origin of many martial arts, though, is highly overrated. Japan is the epicenter of martial arts in the world. AS a result, many of the world’s greatest travel to Japan to meet share their knowledge and hold seminars. But the idea that a sensei, by virtue of being Japanese, will be a better instructor is false.
I have trained at great dojos here in Japan and I have trained at awful dojos. Likewise, I have trained at great dojos in the States and I have trained at awful dojos. What I want to emphasize here is the importance of the attitude you bring with you to the dojo, be it in Japan or the U.K. or Australia… or anywhere. The environment you create is more important than the nationality of the sensei or the address where you train.
If you go to Japan with great excitement and great energy, you will learn much and the experience will have been worth everything. If you bring that same energy and that same attitude to your dojo in the states…. You will have gained just as much without the need of a journey. If every person, then, comes to the dojo with a great attitude the experience will be ten-fold.

This is something I realized after a year of doing Aikido in Kitakyushu. Students were sometimes lethargic or slow moving when the sensei demonstrated a technique and then left us to practice. I found, however, that when I was the first person to jump up and exhibit energy and a positive attitude, suddenly I never had to wait for a training partner. To be honest, the sensei was an arrogant man who preferred to smoke cigarettes and drink tea, but I was still able to get something out of the class by showing a willingness to train.
It is this attitude that you can bring to your home dojo. Bring Japan to you. Bring that energy every day. Even the poorest, most mid-western dojo will become a dojo worthy of attracting people from around the world.

I still encourage people to travel to Japan, if they have the means, because it is an experience that can reaffirm your dedication to the martial arts. Not everyone has that opportunity, however, and that is why I’ve taken the time to write this down.

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