Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On Friday and Sunday of the International Budo Seminar, time blocks were set aside for participants to train in their primary martial art. In my case, I used Friday’s session for Judo while joining the Aikido group on Sunday. In addition to these regularly scheduled blocks, the dojos remained open each evening so that people might gather and train with one-another freely. These open-mat sessions are, perhaps, the best part of the budo seminar.



The Friday Judo training was something of a disappointment. Very few Judo players from outside the International Budo University came to the seminar. Perhaps because of this, the Judo sensei neglected to make the training session instructive. Instead, it was thirty minutes of randori (sparring) and little else. The four of us Judo bekkasei were joined by eight or so Judo players from the university and a visiting sensei from Tokyo.
What frustrated me in particular about this “special training” was that the Judo players joining us from the University were regular members of our daily judo club. Despite this, these Judo players had never deigned to train with us bekkasei in the entirety of the previous year. Furthermore, these Japanese students were obviously unenthusiastic and did not train seriously.



Though I had officially signed up with Judo as my primary Budo, the sincere enthusiasm of the Aikido practitioners convinced me to join them for training on Sunday. Throughout the day on Friday and Saturday, whenever someone came up to say hi and introduce themselves to me, it was inevitably an aikidoka. Of special note were two young aikidoka—Senya from Israel and Faik from Sri Lanka—who joined me for some additional training on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Having the opportunity to train with such an international group of people is an extraordinarily valuable experience as each person brings something unique to the dojo. Senya, for example, had trained with many visually impaired people in the past. This was readily apparent in the clear way he demonstrated one variation of kokyuudousa (breath throw). Faik, on the other hand, was very energetic and paid special attention to the taking of balance. This is, of course, fundamental to the practice of Aikido, but one that some people do overlook.



At the Sunday Aikido session, I was lucky enough to spend the entire hour training with Kanazawa Sensei from the Aikikai Hombu Dojo. Kanazawa Sensei is a humble man with incredibly smooth Aikido. He is well known, especially in the international community, for the respect he shows the foreign aikidoka who come to Aikikai’s main dojo in Tokyo. Interestingly, I discovered later that my own Sensei—David Mata—had also trained with Kanazawa Sensei on his trip to Japan several years ago.



The absolute highlight of the Budo Seminar, however, was the opportunity to train with a good friend from my former home in Kitakyushu: Thierry Comont. As I have mentioned in a previous entry, Thierry is an expert on the style of sword-work Miyamoto Musashi developed while living on Kyushu. It was originally Aikido that brought Thierry to Japan, though, and his Aikido is brilliant. As other friends have noted in the past, you have only to watch Thierry walk to know he is a martial artist of the truest sense. His movements are self-assured and controlled; he is humble and polite to a fault.
Thierry and I got together to train on Saturday evening after dinner. Within only a short time, we gathered a small audience of interested spectators. Thierry pays particular attention to small details. AS he has told me in the past, "I want people to see you and be impressed; you must be ready at all times and never let down your guard."



This is precisely how Thierry trains. In every moment he is prepared; when he comes up from a roll, he is immediately in position and ready in case someone might attack. Similarly, Thierry pushes you to be in complete control of your own Aikido at all times. If there is ever a moment when he feels he can escape from a technique, he will fight free. In my opinion, this is exactly how Aikido should be practiced. Because it is a gentle art, people too often underestimate the real power behind the movements of Aikido. Perhaps this is because there are so many people who have lost the real sense of Aikido while training. The moment a partner begins to resist a technique you can start to feel whether you truly have control… or if you are just using muscle.




The International Seminar on Budo Culture is one of the great reasons people travel to Japan to do martial arts. Ironically, it is not the Japanese Sensei themselves who attract participants to the seminar, but rather it is the chance to train with so many people from so many places. As I have stated before; the benefit of living and training in Japan does not come from the Japanese Sensei alone. Of course, Sensei like Kanazawa Sensei are gifted instructors who have devoted their lives to Budo. The real benefit of living and training in Japan comes from the fact that Japan is the international hub for the martial arts. When people think about Karate, Judo, Aikido or Kendo, their minds immediately turn toward the land of the rising sun.

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