2014-15 part-time Kenshusei, first weekend

On Saturday night after work, I went to the dojo to find the part-time kenshusei training with Payet-sensei.  The Mugenjuku Part-Time Kenshusei Course is for students unable or unwilling to take the regular Kenshusei Course.  The part-timers meet for 3.5 hours on Saturday night and then 3.5 hours on Sunday morning as well.  The course is taught entirely by Payet-sensei.  When I arrived last night, they were working on seiza ho, not unlike the regular kenshusei during the week.

This year, Akiko has returned to take the PT course a second time.  Sato-san and Andy-sensei are also repeating…



2014-15 Kenshusei first week



The first week of the Kenshusei Course has come to end and no one has quit, although everyone is bruised and battered.


Wednesday, April 2

I arrived Wednesday morning to find practice already in progress, with Andy-sensei taking it out of the kenshusei as Chris-sensei looked on approvingly.  Andy-sensei is a great encourager and a great motivator.  He uses carrot and stick techniques to build up the students.


This year, they look fit, but they aren’t Kenshusei Fit yet, so Andy-sensei has to make sure they don’t cut corners like putting their feet down.


Kenshusei have to learn to reply with a big “Osu!” when they are given commands.


Then the First Keiko–the conditioning class–finished, and it was time for me to put down my camera and started getting worn out with seiza ho, shako ho, shikko ho, and the many ways of kenshusei suffering.  But after the Second Keiko comes lunch.  The kenshusei all eat lunch together with Sensei or whoever is instructing that day.  Train together, rest together, eat together.




Thursday, April 3

By the time I arrived Thursday morning, the kenshusei were taping up all their exposed skin and bleeding through their dogis.  And they hadn’t even done any suwari waza yet!!


On Thursday afternoon, I went to the D2 homestore to buy some supplies for the kenshusei apartment.  Herve, Scott, Alex, and I are all living together in a quite large apartment with tatami floors.  The building is even closer to the dojo than the apartment Nick and I shared last year.  So it is a real luxury.  On the way back from D2, I stopped to admire the cherry blossoms by Kyoto’s Kamo River.  The place where the Kamo and Takano rivers meet is very close to D2, and from the bridge, you can see the cherry trees lining the banks of the Takano, heading up toward Chris-sensei’s house in the mountains.



Friday, April 4

Friday morning started with the weapons class (bokken and jo) as usual.  Unfortunately, I then had to head to work, so I don’t have any good footage of the relief the kenshusei must have felt over making it through the first week.

Later on Friday night, I met Andy-sensei, sewanin Izzy, and Kitamura and Takenaga for a trip to Funaoka Onsen followed by beer and hot sake at a nearby guesthouse.  Funaoka is perhaps Kyoto’s best onset, and the kenshusei are very lucky to live close enough to it to take advantage of it easily.

morning announcements; time is important

In the Kenshusei Course, many things are important.  Cleanliness is important.  Time is important.  In general, attention to detail is important.  Attention to detail is an important trait for mastering a martial art.  The kenshusei will eventually leave Mugenjuku to go out to other dojos, or dojos of their own, and leave the intense training environment they have here.  Then their training will be a matter of their own motivation and ability at self-assessment and self-reform.  Without attention to detail, they are likely to just get sloppy.  In this video, Alex still hasn’t had time to catch his breath, and Izzy is already on them to avoid being late for the daily morning announcements.  (Chris-sensei does not sit in seiza because of his injured knee.)

2014-15 Kenshusei Course begins

Just like last year, April 1st is no joke at Mugenjuku.  I showed up early for the Tuesday morning ippan class and then participated in the first day’s training.  Also present were:

  • shihan Jacques Payet-sensei
  • instructor Chris Crampton-sensei
  • instructor Andy Carter-sensei
  • assistant instructor Nick Richardson
  • assistant instructor Yasuda Atsushi
  • sewanin Izzy Arkin
  • kenshusei graduate Takenaga Naomi
  • kenshusei Saegusa Jotaro
  • kenshusei Herve Laurelle
  • kenshusei Scott Richards
  • kenshusei Alex Gusev
  • kenshusei Kitamura (mitori geiko)

So as you can imagine, it was a very full dojo.

For me, the day started with the First Keiko’s taiso (warm-ups), but for the kenshusei the day started with learning how to do proper morning soji (cleaning).  The kenshusei arrived a little after 7am to change and then waited for sewanin Izzy to tell them what to do.  I think my camera did a good job of capturing Scott, Herve, and Jotaro’s first day jitters.  Everyone hears about the rigours of the course and wonders if they have what it takes.  Or maybe is just afraid.



Much of the first day involves simply learning what you are supposed to do and how you are supposed to act in the dojo.

Izzy took the kenshusei outside to show them where they have to leave the trash and recycling, sweep the dirt and leaves, pick up the mail, etc.  Here they are outside that Waraku entryway that leads down to the dojo.  I entered there every day last year.  Oh what memories!



Since the kenshusei cannot disturb the morning ippan (regular student) classes, Izzy had to conduct a lot of his instruction in the dojo hallway.  He had a lot to tell them.  I hope they can remember everything, for their own sakes.


During First Keiko on day 1, the kenshusei get only some foretaste of what the coming weeks will be like–following commands, learning to act in unison with others, exercises, static position training, etc.  On day 1, they are pretty clueless about the general pattern of classes–bowing in, lining up in kamae after bowing, etc, so there is a lot of work on that in Second Keiko and Third Keiko, too.  There’s also some practice on shuri-ashi, posture, attitude, kiai (“osu!”), etc.

Of course, after each class, the dojo mats have to be cleaned with wet rags (zokin) in the traditional manner.  By the end of the day, the kenshusei still hadn’t gotten it, so Naomi-san helped instruct them how to do it properly.

2014-15 pre-course meeting

Today the pre-course meeting for the 2014-2015 class of Mugenjuku Kenshusei took place at 11am.  As with last year’s meeting, the kenshusei sat in seiza through several speeches.  Naomi, Izzy, and I received our certificates of course completion for the 2013-14 course–in effect, it was our graduation ceremony–then Payet-sensei spoke about what the kenshusei could expect from this year.  The kenshusei introduced themselves individually, Izzy, Naomi and I gave them some words of wisdom from last year, and all the instructors and assistant instructors gave speeches.

Following the speeches, we had group photos and then lunch.  But!!  But between the speeches and group photos, everyone hobbled around recovering from the seiza and trying to get feeling back into their legs.  Ah, the course has begun!

I thought that Izzy, Naomi, and I looked a little silly in our group photo last year, but this year’s group looks outright intimidating, don’t you think?


L-R: Richards (USA), Kitamura (Japan), Saegusa (Japan), Laurelle (France), Gusev (Russia).

Nick and Andy-sensei will stay on from England, and of course Izzy and Chris-sensei are from California, which is almost like a different country from the rest of the USA, so it’s a truly international course this year.

Chris-sensei has injured his knee preparing for his 4th-dan exam.  We were all looking forward to seeing him get a much-deserved advancement, but instead it looks like we will be visiting him in the hospital after his knee surgery.  So, he had to pose in the old-samurai-style instead of seiza:


Following lunch, Payet-sensei went home, and Andy-sensei got down to the nitty gritty of reviewing the Kenshusei Manual.


So far, so good.  But of course they haven’t done any real training yet!!

Happy White Pyjamas

The exam is finished.  There were some unexpected changes, but we rolled with the punches and finished successfully.  Thursday was supposed to be the final exam, but Payet-sensei wanted to eat lunch with us after the physical portion of the test, so the written portion of the exam was moved to this morning (Friday).



Thursday physical exam

Thursday’s test was a real trial.  Andy-sensei was out sick with influenza.  (He watched a live video feed of the exam via a Skype call to Nick’s iPhone.  Technology is amazing!)  So, Nick was moved from being my uke to be an assistant tester in place of Andy-sensei.  Then I thought Yasuda would be my uke, but it was changed again to Izzy.  With Yasuda as uke for Takenaga, they stood stock still through every other technique, which was unnerving.  To top it off, our favourite filmmaker, Kenji, was there taking stills and video of the test, so he was walking around with a camera while we were doing the test.  So many distractions.  The whole thing is kind of a blur, but we performed all the parts of the test I described in the last post.  My teaching technique for shido ho was karate mochi nikajo osae 2.  I think I did okay.

After the test, Payet-sensei bought us all bento boxes from the cafe at the hospital across the street.  It sounds humble, but actually the hospital cafe has quite good food… which you can eat every day for lunch if you come to Kyoto and do the Kenshusei Course.  We toasted with some sake (“kampai!”), listened to Payet-sensei’s stories about his recent trip to Russia, and talked about next year.

The legend of dead monkey pizza

After the test, I was so wiped out, I went back to the apartment and napped on the floor in front of the electric space heater with Three Outlaw Samurai playing on the Tube.  But Nick managed to get me out of the apartment.  It was an extremely mild spring-like day, so we went to Dai’s Pizza Kitchen.shop_img05

Real pizza, but no tables!  So we brought our pizzas to Kitano Tenmangu shrine, just down the street.  Since it was night, the shrine was closed and we ate our pizza in front of the giant stone torii.  I put Nick’s pizza box down on some rocks in front, and he said, “please don’t put my pizza on a dead animal.”  Sure enough, there was a decapitated monkey carcass lying under the pizza box–a strange finish to the day!


Friday written exam

This morning, we showed up for the Friday morning ken (sword) class as usual.  Then Payet-sensei went home, and Nick administered our written exams.  We sat around a table in the dojo with pencil and paper and had one hour to answer the following questions:

  1. Describe the history of Yoshinkan aikido.
  2. What is “maai”?
  3. What is “kokyuryoku”?
  4. What are some important points to keep in mind when teaching?
  5. Describe shomen uchi ikkajo osae 2.
  6. What is the difference between training and keiko?

At the end of it all, we were very happy.  Happy to be finished, but happy to be doing aikido too.

Tomorrow Izzy will return to California for one month before coming back to Kyoto to be sewanin for next year’s kenshusei class.

Takenaga will go to Hokkaido to visit her previous aikido teacher and home to Saitama to visit her family before returning to Kyoto.

And I will stay in Kyoto, resting my knees and teaching English until next year’s class arrives to move into their new home.

Thank you for reading.  Please check back for more posts later in March and then, starting in April, next year’s kenshusei as well!

test preparations : final exam Thursday

Today is Tuesday.  Tomorrow is Wednesday, the last day of training before the exam.   The next day is Thursday, the day of our final course exam.

So we have been preparing for everything we have to do.  This includes:

  1. kihon : demonstrating any aikido technique that we have been taught all year
  2. regular jiyu waza (free techniques, or a kind of aikido sparring)
  3. ushiro jiyu waza (free techniques against an attack from the back)
  4. tanto jiyu waza (free techniques against a knife attack)
  5. shido ho : teaching any aikido technique from the Dai Ichi portion of the course

Last Friday, our favourite filmmaker, Kenji, came to do a photo shoot at the dojo, so he recorded some of our training for posterity.

aikido basic techniques…

Practicing kihon waza (basic techniques)
Practicing kihon waza (basic techniques)
Takenaga performs sankajo on Izzy
Takenaga performs sankajo on Izzy


jiyu waza…

Takenaga throws Izzy
Takenaga throws Izzy


knife defense…

Chris performs knife take-away
Chris performs knife take-away



Chris-sensei critiques Izzy's teaching
Chris-sensei critiques Izzy’s teaching


Please wish us luck.  All of our preparation and hard work comes down to this test!


dojo renovations : new tatami mats

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…