October 26th, 2011

San.
Three.

“Everything in this dōjō has rank”

… An interesting concept for a westerner to wrap his mind around.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, on my first night Brad Sensei had me put my shoes in the shoe rack before class. What I didn’t mention was that when I came back at the end of class, I could have sworn my shoes were on a different shelf than I had left them on.

Odd.

The next class, I was positive my shoes had been moved to a lower shelf when I went back at the end of class. Our classes are small, four students has been the biggest so far, so I was of course slightly curious as to who was moving my shoes. It wasn’t a big deal, they’re just shoes; I just found it odd.

Finally on another night, as I left the dōjō, I turned and bowed as I began to back off the dōjō floor, and the brown belt in class stopped me and corrected me: “Sensei goes out this door, we go out the one to the left.” Brad Sensei replies,

“you will come to learn, everything in this dōjō has rank; even my sandals have rank.”

It clicked. I must have been putting my shoes on the same or a higher shelf than Sensei. One of the students must have been rearranging them out of respect for Sensei, or perhaps to spare me some embarrassment.

I like this respect thing. First, it’s good for me (or anyone, for that matter) to keep his relative “importance” in check. Constantly keeping in mind, “I’m the most junior person or thing in the room, I belong over here in this spot” is a sure way to keep one from getting an inflated, prideful, attitude.

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” - Proverbs 16:18

Always humble, Sensei even pointed out to me that when he leaves his dori (sandals) at the edge of the dōjō floor, he always leaves a space to the right, in case a more senior visitor should pop in during class.

Learning to internalize this humility will be good for me… Very good indeed.

October 19th, 2011

Ni
Two.

Seiza kinda sucks.

Seiza, the kneeling position of choice in Japanese dōjō all over the place, is… Well… Painful to a middle-aged American with limited flexibility.

As for why we sit in seiza, I’ll leave the explanation to someone more eloquent and knowledgeable than me.

In spite of the limited discomfort… I like it. I’m big on “transitional” points in my life as I move from one role to another. I wear street clothes in to work, change into a uniform, then change back before I go home. This gives me a few moments to transition from one role to another. Uniform on; Business time. Uniform off; just a dude.

Likewise, I find that the seiza and mokuso (meditation) we do for a few minutes at the beginning and end of class gives me a moment to transition from “Eric, just a dude” to “Eric, Aikijutsu student.” In those few moments at the beginning of class, I can clear my mind of all the days happenings or all the things I need to think about later, and just concentrate on one thing: my training.

Now, my insteps are getting sore; I’ve been sitting in seiza as I wrote this.

October 11th, 2011

Ichi.
One.

Day one. As I walk up to the locked dōjō doors, I realize that I probably should have called ahead, but instead I just popped in before the beginning of class to introduce myself and tell the sensei I’m interested in observing a class, if possible. There’s one other person, a lady, standing around who I correctly assume is a student. Within minutes, a man walks up the street with a strange case slung over his back and walks up to unlock the dōjō doors.

“Hi, what can I help you with?” in a disarmingly friendly voice. He introduces himself as “Mr. Adams.”
These Aiki teachers don’t call themselves “Sensei?” He quickly welcomes me into the dōjō and tells me to take my shoes off if I want to do something better than watching.

I pop my shoes and socks off and put them in the shoe rack, then come back to the tiny waiting area. Mr. Adams and the other student are in the back changing into their gis, and I’m trying to run through all the bits of etiquette I picked up from watching my son over the previous months. No shoes on the floor. Check. Bow and say “ous!” when entering and leaving the dōjō floor… and at seemingly random intervals in between. Junior students sit in seiza to the left of senior students by rank. Got it. I think.

Mr. Adams returns and he and the other student quickly pull giant mats from the ceiling and begin rolling them out. Once the mats are set up, everyone files into place, Mr. Adams at the front… ahhh I recognize this from my son’s class. Seiza and bowing. I’m quite certain I did both horribly.

Mr. Adams jumps right in with me, showing me how to fall down. At this point I’m assuming that I’ll be doing a lot of falling down. I learn to fall backwards without killing myself. And start to learn how to fall to the front.

The others look so graceful. I feel and move like an ox. And not the skinny, graceful kind of ox, either.

There are lots of Japanese words being tossed about. I recognize only a few. I think.

Mr. Adams is a very friendly, unassuming teacher, making it easy to learn from him. Clearly this is a formidable man who could undoubtedly destroy my body in hundreds of ways, but there isn’t the slightest hint of arrogance.

Just before we bow out for the end of the day, he shows me some punching, which I learn is called tsuki. I think. I’ll have to look at my notes again.

I can’t wait for the next class…

Decisions

October 9th, 2011

We had selected my son’s dōjō, Ohio Budōkan because it was a well-established non-profit budō & Japanese cultural arts center that had been in Dayton for 30 years, and based on the endorsement of an old high school friend of mine. In all honesty, Ohio Budōkan’s comparably lower membership dues when compared to the local for-profit dōjō’s also figured into our decision.

After watching him for only a couple days, I decided I needed to learn, too. My son takes their karate class there, in a style called Nippon Karate-do Genwakai. This looked pretty exciting to me, with all the punching and kicking and loud “Kia!” and whatnot, so I asked my son, “How about if I sign up and start taking lessons with you?”

“No!”

I suppose when I was 14 years old the idea of taking karate with my dad would have been less than exciting. Plus, it was good for Nathan to have something he was doing that was his “own thing.”

I started looking at the two other martial arts taught at the dōjō: kenjutsu and aikijutsu. Kenjutsu looked pretty cool, with the shiny swords and all, but seemed of limited practical use (as much as I love the idea a slicing a would-be mugger in half with a sword.) Plus, those razor-sharp swords looked expensive… And dangerous in the hands of a clumsy gaijin.

So, after googling a bit about Aikijutsu, reading & watching a few YouTube videos, I decided Aikijutsu was right for me, even though I really knew nothing about it.

From what I could tell, aikijutsu would serve my purposes of allowing me to become more physically fit, learn a martial art, and learn a little bit about Japanese culture.

Beginnings

October 5th, 2011

I’m not quite sure when I first wanted to study the martial arts. I suppose, just as every little American boy at some point wants to grow up to be a soldier, so too does every American boy want to grow up to be Chuck Norris. I remember buying Blackbelt magazine in grade school, reading the articles, looking at the pictures, and thinking, “I want to learn to do that.” I remember Chuck, & Bruce, & being hypnotized the first time I watched Segal. I wanted to learn.

For some reason, I never did. I suppose, in retrospect, my pre-teen & teen years were filled to the brim with Soccer, Boy Scouts, Youth Group, rock climbing, girls, and all the usual trappings of junior high & high school.

I’ve also always had an interest in Japanese culture & language; Perhaps because it is so very different than my own American culture. To this day, if I could pick one country to visit and immerse myself in, it would be Japan.

I grew up, got a job, a wife & some kids. “Karate” was barely even a thought. Several times through my adult life I would hear about a dōjō somewhere or an acquaintance who studied a martial art, and I would briefly think, “I should try that.”

Never the time; never the money.

This last summer my youngest son expressed an interest in taking karate lessons. He was to be taking his high school classes through an online high school, and he needed some phys ed time anyway, so we went about finding lessons for him. He went to his first class in August, and seemed immediately hooked.

After watching his classes for a couple weeks… So was I.

I had the bug. Now I just had to take the first step and figure out how to get myself to a class.