When I arrived in Kyoto last year, Mugenjuku had two main branch dojos at Kojinguchi and near Shijo-Karasuma intersection. The Shijo dojo had sickly green mats, while the Kojinguchi dojo had stark white ones. Both sets were interlocking foam mats about half an inch thick. These are the surfaces that the 2013 Kenshusei class (Nick, Yannick, Yasuda) trained on.
When the dojo moved to its current location at Marutamachi-Kamanza intersection, the green mats went on the bottom and the white ones on top, and we had two layers of mats… on top of concrete. This is the surface that the 2014 Kenshusei class trained on most of the year. You might remember it from such classic blog posts as very clean mats & dojo news and O-soji 2013. It can be seen in that great video AIKIDO IS LIFE.
However, since January, the dojo has gotten new mats. Tatami!
Here’s how the dojo looks now with its new tatami mats…
Tatami is, of course, the sine qua non of dojo flooring. It should be a much better training surface for next year’s kenshusei class.
As you may know, I have had knee troubles all year, but on the new tatami, they have started to improve. I don’t know why this is, but it is so. I think the tatami are constructed to absorb impact better than the mats, which takes some stress off the knees when running around.
I can’t say it is 100% to my liking, though. Although tatami is designed to absorb impact well, the surface is very hard. This is a contradiction, a paradox. If you rap your knuckles on it, it feels like concrete, but if you get thrown onto it repeatedly, it is much nicer on your body. In contrast, the foam mats feel soft, but, getting thrown onto them over and over, you start to get aches in your bones and jiggly feeling insides.
Anyhow, the downside is sitting in seiza and doing suwari waza. “They” say that tatami needs to get broken in and that after a couple years, the top layer doesn’t feel like concrete anymore. It may be true, but until then, knee walking in shikko ho feels a little like someone taking a hammer to your kneecaps. C’est la vie… Maybe I will still be in Kyoto in a few years to feel the wonderfully broken in mats…