Aikido isolation: Japanese way?

25 02 2012

This and next Sunday I will be in Shanghai in order to join for one session only two Aikido seminars organized and held at Shanghai International Aikido Club (SIAC). They are not open seminars but they are basically private events to which last year I was permitted to participate without any problem, even if I am not a member of the club, but I used to be an accepted visitor, if never a guest..

So this Sunday I will meet again Nakao sensei from Kobe and, if nothing happens, next Sunday it will be the turn of Irie sensei from Hombu dojo in Tokyo. Of course, I look much more forward to the latter, and I am quite displeased of the limitation in participation, but this is what dōjōchō (道場長) has decided, so I have been told.

with Nakao and Nokura sensei

For the second event, Irie sensei will come with several students (10) from a University in Tokyo, so the event is seen as an Aikido exchange. Wonderful, and my question is: given I am not a beginner, and that in China my level is not low, what is the logic in limiting my visit especially to this event? Especially since Irie sensei‘s Aikido is very similar to Endo sensei’s Aikido, therefore to the Aikido I (try to) practice. Especially since last year Irie sensei‘s seminars had been among the best I had in a very long time, and sensei was also having fun with me. Especially since I put a lot of efforts and time and money just to travel to Shanghai and practice in their dojo so many other times before. And where it is true that I practice for myself, there is no doubt I also give a lot to my partners during every session I take part: it is always give and take in terms of experience, fun, exchange, technique, etc.

Even Endo sensei seminar in Shanghai has been a private event for many years, then opened to traveling yudansha, then the past few years I was also allowed to join together with a few people from Hangzhou in 2011. I fear now the turn of events for 2012: the seminar is already planned for October, but I have actually haven’t got any answer yet if I will be allowed to participate or not. I asked at once after the new politics adopted for these two coming seminars.

I am of course talking from my selfish point of view: I need good Aikido, mixed with some teaching I can do with my friends in Hangzhou. Not having Aikido in Hefei, I had found an acceptable balance traveling most weekends to Hangzhou, Shanghai or Wuhan, when not to Beijing for example for other seminars. It is true that other clubs in China are equally private, or isolated, as SIAC is and especially used to be a few years ago. But this not help Aikido development in China!

The lacking of advertisement about events held by different dojos might be a good combination of unwillingness to open to other people, fear about comparison between students of different schools, excuses about limited space, lack of interest about other Aikido realities in China but also not knowing or thinking there might be people, say in Hefei, willing/happy to travel all the way to Beijing just for an Aikido seminar, just for a weekend mainly spent on the mats with no extra time for doing anything else.

As said, Aikido in China is young and still developing: when we had just started the dojo in Stavanger and we wanted to develop and help Norwegian Aikido to develop we tried everything in our hands to increase our visibility, to open up our club and our minds (Jūshinkan meaning and mission!). Aikido in Norway has less practitioners than Aikido in China (I think) but especially in the past 10 years has been working very hard to develop, reaching good results I think! And one of the most effective steps have been sort of realize and accept that Norwegian Aikido level was quite lower than “our” neighbors, and several clubs have started inviting Swedish instructors. Also the relationship between the 2 Norwegian federations have been improving and more people have been attending seminars independently who was organizing them!

I have learnt that the best way to improve in Aikido, and in life the same, is by exchanging experiences and practicing together with many different people. And especially not be afraid to appear bad or not be afraid about what other could think of my shortcomings in techniques, ukemi, physical condition, etc.

I think in the long term a huge danger for Aikido development in China are a fear in “confrontation” (and in Aikido is never a competition, except for a few wrong minded people) together with maybe the thought that a club is already at its best and doesn’t need any exchange to the outside for improving.

When these decision were brought to me or in other similar occasions, SIAC referred to the “Japanese way” to do things. I had my ups and downs about this so called “Japanese ways”, especially about people behaviors. And most of the time when somebody said it explicit “this is the Japanese way” it was for finding a good excuse to his/her way to behave in that particular situation. On the other hand, the many times I thought “this must be the Japanese way” refer mainly to positive situations and experiences.

Historically there are maybe not many similarities between Japanese and Norwegian isolation from the world. For Norway it has more natural-geographical reasons, for Japan, besides those reasons, there has more been an intention, a willingness toward the isolation, like for the foreign relations policy called Sakoku (鎖国, “locked country”).

From a people mentality point of view I see more similarities: from my experience, I know Norwegian people enjoy their isolation, especially when it means quiet and “protection” from the outside (the borders) world. I think (even if I have much less experience about this) also Japanese people would like maybe to be more isolated from time to time. At least, I have the feeling, in general, Japanese people love to run their stuff in their own way, without external intrusion. The “stuff” being a family, a business or a dojo (but Japanese are not the only one that like this!).

But then from early on Aikikai foundation has tried hard to spread Aikido in the world by sending instructors to different countries, especially during Kisshomaru Ueshiba (植芝 吉祥丸) time. And I think this feeling is still very much alive in every shihan I practiced with. In fact Tanabe 2008 IAF seminar experience has been amazing! Meeting so many people, practice, talking, sharing.. that was my Japanese way!

O`sensei statue O`sensei statue

Anyway, dōjōchō  decisions come always first for me, as I said earlier: Nokura sensei decides to close the doors to me for the seminars, I can only accept it. No point in trying to discuss with him. That does not mean I am happy though.. and the blog is a good exhaust way!! 😉

At the farewell practice and party for Nokura sensei, SIAC organized a wonderful present: all the invited sent a picture of themselves to put in a book together with some thoughts about sensei. This is what I wrote to him:

With your dedication, your motivations, and your positive and inspiring attitude you greatly contributed to create an international and multi-ethnic solid group of people with one love in common: the love for Aikido. Going beyond personal and cultural differences, too often a barrier, you showed us the way based on practice and discipline, without forgetting the bonding great time off the tatami! Doumo airigatou, sensei!

I still think everything I wrote, but in my words, since I am not a member of SIAC, I had also included the feeling of acceptance I did perceive from this dojo at that time. Even if it is true that most of the work done by Nokura sensei was and is only for Shanghai Central dojo. I do hope that the isolation attempts I see now from the dojo will not last too long, I hope sensei will see that this just builds up barriers with the result of stopping the good feelings Aikido usually transmits..

One thing I am certainly happy of is that I will have great Aikido this and next Sunday! And I will give 150% at every session I will be allowed to participate, to make it count for me and for my partners on the mats. I thank Nokura sensei for this, but I won’t beg either..




One response

26 02 2012

Country isolation, well Japan did spend the past 400 years (up until the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s) in isolation so that mentality is hard to get rid of. Norway is kind of out of the ways from the rest of the world and I can see why you will draw the parallels.

It’s funny, in my area my dojo is hosting two seminars as well, so we both will be immersing ourselves in Aikido. Ganbare!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: