This may read like the brag post that it is but I think it is important when I wax on lyrical about the workings and mindset of Aikido that you get some idea of my background for this.
Firstly – About my introduction to and development in Budo. When around 17 years old I began seeking answers to life and existence and my pursuit lead me, via Karl Jung, to Zen and in particulars Japanese Zen as expressed through the budo ways. Judo, kendo, kyudo, etc. After reading more books on Zen and Asian philosophies I enrolled with the local Judo Club as a means of Zen practice and my Budo life began there at 19 years of age.
After a break away from judo due to time spent with performing in bands I found my way to Shotokan karate in 1984 which came to town just as I retired from performance work. During my time with Shotokan I was introduced to Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go Rin no Hon” and also talk about Aikido. A Sandan aikido instructor came to town in 1989 and started classes at the local Judo dojo and I was right in there. Bill Sensei was 68 years old and I was quite impressed. As student membership grew Bill and I formed Tauranga Aikido Club in 1991 affiliated to NZ Aikikai headed by Nobuo Takase Shihan.
At this time I had my first introduction to Hombu Dojo Shinjuku instructors. Masuda Shihan came to visit Bill so we ran a small seminar and invited other dojo students from other towns and aikido styles. It was also at that event that I met Alan Wade Sensei from Gisborne Dojo.
Alan was a weapons man and had trained under Chiba Sensei in the UK before coming to NZ. On his way to NZ Alan stopped off at Iwama and trained ushideshi with Saito Sesnsei for a while. I formed a close friendship with Alan and trained with him often, attending weekend seminars in Gisborne and also inviting him to Tauranga to teach.
Hence my bokken Aikiken work is based on Chiba Sensei’s style and Aikijo is from Saito Sensei. Although I have trained extensively later with Sawada Shihan from Kimori Dojo, Nagoya, my base styles are still those I learned from Alan.
In 1992 I attended my first national Gasshuku in Auckland with Ichihashi Shihan (RIP) and this followed on with Masuda Shihan, Miyamoto Shihan, Ng, Sawada, Seki, and others over the years, including Doshu.
While attending the 8th International Congress at Yoyogi in Tokyo, September 2000, I managed to fit in classes with Endo, Tissier, Yokota, Yamada and Tamura Shihan, also Doshu. I managed to bring back so much material for my classes over the following years, plus the whole thing was a once in a lifetime experience with many great memories. 28 instructors and senior students of Shinryukan travelled from New Zealand with Takase Shihan to Tokyo and we stayed at the Olympic Village (1974) in Yoyogi Park for the week.
So, hiking back to 1996. Bill for health reasons left Tauranga and resettled on Waiheke Island. I suddenly found that I was Dojo Cho at Nikyu. Takase Shihan became my Sensei and I forged on running the show with help from Hamilton Dojo who invaded the dojo one Sunday each month to check up on progress, offer some mentoring and generally see that we were doing it right. I gained Shodan in 1998 and formally closed Tauranga Aikido Club. Takase had recently launched Aikido Shinryukan as his national school and organisation under the patronship of his sensei, Masuda Shihan, thereby astablishing a direct link to Aikido Hombo Dojo, Shinjuku. Greerton Dojo was formed as a direct branch of Hombu Dojo Auckland and an integral part of Aikido Shinryukan.
After gaining my Sandan, Takase had me registered as an assistant instructor (fukushidoin) with Hombu Shinjuku.
So that is my Aikido lineage: myself –> Takase Shihan –> Masuda Shihan.
And, yes, I did get to train at Hombu Shinjuku in 2000. We all took an afternoon off from the Congress programme and Takase took us in to attend a class with Yokota Shihan and formally meet Doshu. Also, even though I missed the class with Sugano Shihan (RIP) because of that, I did get to spend the evening drinking beer with him, although I think he may have been drinking whisky!
The people in Tokyo don’t raise their voices, talk loudly or shout. It’s the buildings that do that!
What a fabulous jumble of sight and sound is this vibrant haven of visual stimulus of lighting and music. Everything talks at you accompanied by wild flashing and pulsing light. The people meanwhile just go about their daily routine, nod and smile, and sweep the dust off whatever that thing is with the dust on it.
I can see where the electricity comes from though and just how it gets there too.
Creative utilities much! Wires, wires and more wires.
The taxis! Where did they find all those 1975 Toyota Crown sedans? Do they have a secret stash somewhere? They all seem brand new.
Urban Playlists – At most of the cafes and bars you will be listening to 60s jazz and lounge music. Perry Como, Peggy Lee and the Rat Pack crew abound. While in the stores it seems that 70s Haight/Ashbury and the Summer of Love have never left.
Street fashion is ‘edgy’ and Lolita Girls seem to have vanished into the dark corners of Takeshita Street. It’s all very dark, plain colours with some odd vinyl and mesh cut to rather eclectic and quirky lines. All very low key Zen monk with cybergoth undertones. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos as it is frowned upon to use a camera without permission and most people were on a mission and somewhat unstoppable. But … here is a photo from my Italian fashion designer friend that shows the general impression of what I was seeing. Thank you Grendel.
Tokyo is a great city to partake of on foot. The small streets and lanes one or two blocks back from the main roads are a treasure trove of eclectic shopping and wonderful experiences.
Harajuku Jingumae became our ‘hood’ for the two weeks we were there and much exploring was undertaken.
Walking south from our base in Sendagaya, along Meiji-dori, we would be at Takeshita Street in 5 minutes. A short stop at Starbucks for a ham roll and latte then onward to Meiji Jimgumae and a cross road and Metro station. A short stroll east from here and we were into Omote-Sando which is a high-end shopping area, but also the starting point of Cat Street which then runs south to Shibuya and meets up with Meiji-dori again.
It was such a joy being amongst these happy and vibrant people, but we soon learned that you do not venture out on the roads before 10am. Nothing opens until 11am, including most cafes and local restaurants, so breakfast was Starbucks or whatever we had scored at the 7-11 the night before. But, more than that – one morning after leaving Starbucks we ventured through Takeshita Street, with closed shops, and waited at the road crossing at the end. Across the road was the exit from the Harajuku subway station. As the light indicated “cross now” we were subjected to a stampede of morose and grumpy faces bursting across the road. Obviously the happy workers had rushed out of bed and not had their morning allocation of coffee before hitting the Metro and the day ahead. Luckily we avoided being crushed and trampled and lived to shop on.
The first rule of Tokyo – Don’t talk about the morning!
One of our best ‘finds’ in Harajuku Jingumae was on the last day we were there. After another day of tramping around the back streets in 34C we found …
And we found it here …
Only about a three minute walk from the apartment was this … Deus Ex Machina where we had lunch with a motorcycle.
How could you not love this city with the serenity and calm within the chaos of sound and light that is Tokyo. The sound of crows shouting at the rain as flocks of umbrellas glide above the sidewalks.
Feels like home and a validation of personal values.
We decided to have a stay in Tokyo for a few weeks and my wife found us a small AirBnB apartment in Sendagaya at the north end of Harajuku. This looked to us like a choice spot only a 5 minute walk from Harajuku Station. Also it’s proximity to Yoyogi Park which is just behind the station and runs through to Shinjuku.
I was familiar with Yoyogi Park having stayed there in the old Olympic village accommodation in September 2000 while attending the 8th International Aikido Congress. Although my days were occupied with training sessions I did manage to get a day off to spend in Shinjuku so I did basically know my way around.
What a blast! There was still a large amount of pleasant surprises as we mooched out way around the back streets of Harajuku Jingumae, the main road and shopping outlets. The Japanese are so polite and accommodating. Even though there is not a lot of English spoken our rudimentary Japanese soon gave way to hand gestures and smiling to seal a sale or find what we wanted. I did remember some of the hand gestures that I had been shown in 2000, but you can just about ad lib and make them up on the spot.
The two main things that had an impact with us regarding the people were cellphone use and rubbish.
Nobody talks on cellphones in public, in cafes, on trains and on the street. Everything is by text or other chat services. We only heard a phone ring twice the whole time we were there.
There are no rubbish tins or trash cans on the streets and there is also no litter.
We soon figured out that on nearly every second block there is a 7-11 or equivalent and they all have a rack of bins just inside the door. One each for paper, plastic, glass, and food waste. It became almost a ritual to stop off at a 7-11 on the way home to collect some sandwiches, tiramisu, cold drinks and other food items, then drop off the refuse back at the store next morning on the way out.
7-11 have the most awesome club sandwiches and tiramisu. These are absolutely essential when you have bee trudging all around the streets in 34C most of the day. By late afternoon the thought of having to get cleaned up and go out again to a restaurant was not a welcome thought. We had many meals of club sandwiches, tiramisu and Asahi Zero beer. The Japanese make egg sandwiches to die for!
Food – Well traditional Japanese fare did not get much of a look in and the Japanese take on Western food is a totally new animal. Awesome much. Everything is much less sweet and thereby much more enjoyable with the real food flavours coming to the fore. We ate a lot of things that we normally wouldn’t at home, like club sammies and tiramisu for example.
Safety – We already knew about this but it was a joy to behold. There is no petty crime or opportunity theft. People walk into a cafe and drop their bag onto the nearest seat then go off to order food or use the toilet with never a worry. If you walk off an leave your wallet on a seat someone will chase you down the road to return it.
Personal safety is always assured. The general culture is one of respect and caring.
Often when training in Aikido dojos I have heard discussions about what style of Aikido is better, or the best.
I always think that trying to compare aikido styles, or schools, is a rather counter productive exercise.
My Sensei [Takase Shihan] lectured about this at one of his early instructors seminars that I attended and said basically that each dojo and every individual instructor was their own “style” of aikido.
I have found from experience that this topic is fairly prevalent with the lower grades and tends to diminish and eventually vanish as one progresses upward into the Dan grades. I have seen and experienced very marked differences with the basic teaching methods of differing styles as I have often invited instructors from other styles to come and give a class.
Once we organised an afternoon seminar where instructors from three different schools each took a class each teaching the same techniques so that all students could see the differences which were then analysed and discussed.
This generated great respect between the students of the different dojos as well as the instructors involved, particularly when the most senior instructor demonstrated the natural progression of the techniques evolving through the developing skill level of any given student. (Lesson elements heavily borrowed from Doshu’s class at the 8th International Congress in Tokyo, September 2000.)
The main point now is the fact that when Dan grades reach Nidan or Sandan there are very little, or no differences. The techniques have all developed to the same level, regardless of the path, and it is hard to spot who belongs to what school based on execution or delivery.
Often certain aspects of the techniques that may be emphasised by one school or another at basics level will develop naturally as the student progresses.<
Doshu’s lesson mentioned above looked at the evolution of the base technique. He said that one must explore every variation and aspect of the technique, find what fits, then make it your own.
[Nobuo Takase Shihan, 7th Dan, is my Sensei and is head of Aikido Shinryukan the NZ Aikikai school. His Sensei is Seijuro Masuda Shihan of Shinjuku Hombu.]
While visiting the Japanese city of Kyoto I had the great pleasure to walk in the footsteps of my heroes and spiritual mentors, Miyamoto Musashi, Munenori Yagyo and Takuan Soho, across the nightingale floors of the Shogun’s Imperial Palace in Nijo Castle.
This was not a planned visit but happened by accident. We were staying in Tokyo and decided to take the Bullet Train to Kyoto and booked an afternoon walking tour for the following day. On arriving at the hotel we had booked on line we saw an interesting structure across the road and found that it was Nijo Castle.
After breakfast the next day we decided to go and check out this castle while waiting for our walking tour after lunch. Once inside the castle grounds we discovered the Imperial Palace, but it wasn’t until walking in the palace corridors that the penny dropped.
As we walked down the polished planks of the corridor my wife nudged me and said “listen!” I could hear the chirping and said “it must be a recording”, but no, it was a real and active Nightingale Floor. Then I saw the signs on the static displays in the audience rooms and I realised that we were in the Imperial Palace of the Tokugawa Shogun.
For some odd reason I had thought that the Shogun was based in Osaka and had forgotten that Kyoto was the seat of power at that time. Tears came to my eyes as I realised where I was and who had passed in these corridors before me. Not only the corridors but the whole castle grounds.
I never ceases to astound me just how many significant things happen in life purely by accident. Or do they?
Footnote – A Nightingale Floor is formed with close fitting polished boards with the edges not connected so that they move independently when walked on. There are also metal spikes set to the underside in pairs that cross the joins so that they rub together as the boards move, thus emitting a distinctive chirping sound. This will alert anyone sleeping inside the rooms that are surrounded by these corridors to the presence of intruders, Ninjas or assassins.