and then there were four… Scott Richards’ final exam

Today is a sad day in the kenshusei house.  Scott Richards is gone, already on an airplane on his way back to America.

Due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, Scott was forced to leave the 2014-15 Kenshusei Course early.  This means the kenshusei who began last April are now down to four: Kitamura Ryuji, Saegusa Jotaro, Herve Laruelle, and Alex Gusev.



Scott is a funny and loud guy, and now that he’s gone, the apartment is a little duller and quieter than before.  All is not bad news, though.  Scott did not drop out of the course, and he parts on good terms with the Mugenjuku instructors and his fellow kenshusei.

After learning about his need to return to America, Payet-sensei granted him the unique opportunity to take his final Kenshusei Course Exit Exam early, and the dojo arranged a going-away party for him last Sunday.


The kenshusei final exam contains several elements:

  • kihon dosa (basic movements)
  • kihon waza (basic techniques)
  • ushiro jiyu waza (free techniques against an attack from behind)
  • tanto dori (techniques against a knife attack)
  • shido ho (a demonstration of the accepted Yoshinkan teaching model)

The following two videos show Scott’s exam from yesterday.

Part 1 contains the kihon dosa and kihon waza. (The quality is not good because I could not get the HD version to upload from my phone.  Sorry!)

Part 2 contains the ushiro jiyu waza, tanto dori, and shido ho. (HD quality!)

Now that he has done the exam, Scott will receive a course completion certificate from Mugenjuku, and, if he wishes to register with the Yoshinkan hombu dojo, can start teaching Yoshinkan aikido in Boston, Montreal, Manila, San José, or wherever he wishes to live in the world.


Scott Richards (2014-2015)

Gone but not forgotten…



2014 shodan exam


On Wednesday, the kenshusei gave a great shodan exam, and now they can all wear the kuro obi or “black belt.”  I was lucky enough to be there with my iPhone, so I took some videos and pictures…

After the exam, the kenshusei were very happy (see above).

Then everyone ate bento lunches together, provided by Payet-sensei.   Arigato-gozaimasu, Sensei!


Dai Ni exam

On Friday, the kenshusei had their Dai Ni exam for 3rd, 2nd, or 1st -kyu rank.

A student from Ritsumeikan University came to interview Payet-sensei and watch the test.  She is writing a thesis on foreigners pursuing traditional Japanese arts.  Everyone waited while she conducted interviews.

1 2 3


All the kenshusei passed the exam with 1st kyu.  Here’s their test in three parts–kihon dosa, waza, and finished.

Hey, it’s…

Anybody remember… THIS GUY


Yes, it’s Yannick, appearing as uke for Chris Johnston-sensei in Canada.  As you may know, Johnston-sensei worked with Payet-sensei to produce the books Aikido Shugyo: Harmony in Conflict and Aikido Jinsei: My Life in Aikido, both available from Shindokan Books.  And Yannick was on the first Kenshusei Course in 2012-13.  We haven’t heard much from Yannick recently.  He never calls, he never writes.  Kids these days!

Life in Kyoto: welcome to the kenshusei house

As you know, Herve, Scott, and Alex live together in an apartment with me, old man chris.  We call the apartment the Kenshusei House.

Did you ever wonder what the Mugenjuku Kenshusei House looked like?  You did?  Well, you’re in luck.  Take a gander at these fine photos…

Our building is right next to the LIFE supermarket, so it is easy to get dinner.


Just like everywhere in Japan, there are piles and piles of bicycles.  But our bicycle-parking is across from the Tozando martial arts store, so…


…we get to see samurai armor every day!



We can accept mail from anywhere in the world.  We’re just waiting for letters…




You can see Mt. Hiei from our back door.


We hang our umbrellas out just like our neighbors.  Our neighbors all know who the guys are…


“apartment 309: the Mugenjuku Kenshusei…”




We live, eat, breath aikido: even in the bathroom…



 … where O-sensei and Kancho greet us every day…




Herve uses the dogi storage room for his one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple rain suit.


There’s Wi-Fi, so Scott can listen to music when he’s cooking.


I have a private Japanese-style tatami room.


Alex uses the patio to study Japanese on the weekends.15

…and when he gets bored, he can read something great from the Kenshusei library such Angry White Pyjamas, Aikido Shugyo, Aikido Jinsei, or KansaiScene.16


If you want to practice a little aikido at Mugenjuku, please pay us a visit.  We have room for you and a futon!


2014 Obon holiday

Here is the shirtless kenshusei video you have been waiting for.


The Daimonji festival was yesterday, and so the Obon holiday has come to a close and training re-starts tomorrow.  The kenshusei are nestled all snug in their beds while visions of koho ukemi dance in their heads.

It was a nice holiday week.  At the kenshusei house, we experimented with CouchSurfing–letting strangers sleep in our apartment just out of good will and hospitality.  We had 5 extra people in the house at one point.



On Wednesday of the week, the kenshusei and the part-time kenshusei got together at a beautiful spot on the Takano River called Yase-Hieizanguchi.  You reach it by taking the Eizan Electric Rail Line from Demachiyanagi Station in northern Kyoto.





Just like last year, we had a really great barbecue party, but this year there was a lot more swimming. Kitamura-san was especially enthusiastic, resembling nothing so much as a river otter.




Later, the rest of the kenshusei went for a swim too and we fired up the grill.

15shirtless 16shirtless DSC07456



The week wrapped up with the Daimonji Festival (called Gozan no Okuribi by the local Kyoto people), in which bonfires are lit on the mountains surrounding the city in order to act as signposts for the spirits of the dead to return to the afterlife.



5 minutes of training, uncut

I thought you might be interested to see what the kenshusei training looks like.   Here’s a film I took of last Wednesday’s class.  It’s the last 5 minutes of the class, followed by rei (etiquette/bowing), shinkoku (ceremonial end of daily training), and soji (cleaning the dojo floors).  It is all uncut and uncensored.  It will give you a real feel for what training is like in the dojo.

This day was the first day of sankajo from a back attack.  Sankajo is aikido’s third technique and involves locking the wrist by rotating the pinky-finger side of the hand in toward the body, like this…ushiro-ryote-mochi-sankajo-ichi-day1-16 screencap


At the end of the technique, you pin the attacker’s arm, like this…




Okay, let’s watch the movie!

bonfire Noh

Recently, some graduates of the Mugenjuku Kenshusei Course went out on the town.  Takenaga Naomi (class of ’14), Nick Richardson (class of ’13), and I (class of ’14) went to Heian Shrine to see traditional Japanese drama called Noh lit by bonfires.

Heian Shrine is one of the major shrines in Kyoto.  It is a -jingu shrine, which means it is connected with Japan’s Imperial family.  It was built when Emperor Meiji moved to Tokyo, and it commemorates the 1000 years during which Kyoto was the capital of Japan.  The design of Heian-jingu is based on the ancient imperial government buildings that no longer exist in Kyoto; in fact, it is a scale model of them.  So we can see what the imperial city looked like in medieval times.




Starting in 1950, Heian-jingu started holding firelight Noh events on June 1 & 2 every year.

Noh is a traditional style of Japanese drama.  The actors wear oppulent traditional clothing and carved wooden masks, and they sing and dance, accompanied by the music of flute and drums.  It is performed on a special small square stage with a long walkway.   Noh is not for everyone.  The actors move very slowly and there is almost no action and no sets on the stage.




Usually, Noh is performed indoors, but outdoor Noh performed by firelight is very popular in the summer.  It is called Takigi-Noh, or bonfire Noh.  At Heian-jingu, a Noh stage is built in the courtyard, and the audience sits in the open air.  The performance starts in the daylight.  When the sun goes down, fires are lit around the stage and the shrine’s buidlings are lit up with flood lights.

This year was the 65th annual Kyoto Takigi-Noh.  Here is the poster for the event:



Nick and I arrived a lit early because there was a big line outside the shrine’s front gate.




It was hot but we had folding fans, and I had a hat.  Nick put a washcloth on top of his head.



We got pretty good seats not too far away from the stage.



We saw 4 Noh plays.  The first two were very interesting to watch, although we couldn’t understand what was going on.  The Noh actors move in a special way, and Naomi says it is good study for aikido.

The third play was actually something different from Noh, called kyogen.  It is a type of traditional Japanese slapstick comedy.

The fourth play called Shakkyo (or “stone bridge”) is famous for having a lion dance.  It has a typical plot for a Noh drama.


A monk is on pilgrimage in China, visiting Buddhist holy places.  Traveling in the mountains, he comes to a dangerous stone bridge over a deep gorge.  Before he can cross, a boy appears and tells the monk that on the other side of the bridge is the Buddhist Pure Land of the bodhisattva Monju.  No one can cross the bridge without performing years of ascetic practices.  The boy tells the monk that if he waits Monju will bless him with a special vision.  The monk sits down and the boy disappears.  Lions come from the other side of the bridge and frolic among the peony flowers on the mountainside.  The lions disappear and the monk moves on.

Shakkyo was a lot of fun.  The music for the lion dance is still echoing in my head.  I took a video of the lions leaving the stage, which is posted on YouTube.  There is also news footage of the whole event from Japanese news; the video is only 2 minutes long.  You can see the lion dance starting at 1:15…


The shrine at night has a very mystical atmosphere.  It feels very ancient and elemental, like sitting around a campfire in the mountains.




Nick, Naomi, and I wore Japanese clothes.  We enjoyed wearing yukatas very much, and Naomi looked very nice in high quality clothes and tasteful makeup.




After Noh, we were very hungry, so we went for French fries!





If you come to Kyoto for kenshusei training, please see the Noh drama.

Kenshusei in Kansai Scene


The kenshusei have appeared in a local Kyoto magazine called Kansai Scene.

You may recall the recent post in which I mentioned a photographer and reporter visiting the dojo.  Well, here’s the article they made.  The article is in both English and Japanese, so it is very easy for anyone to read it.  You can see photos of the kenshusei too.