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.

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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.




Shiramine embu 2014

On Monday, May 5, the kenshusei participated in the budo demonstration at Shiramine-jingu Shrine in Kyoto.  Shiramine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of ball sports, a god of brewing/teamaking, two famous samurai, and two Japanese emperors.  It is a “jingu” shrine, which means it is connected to Japan’s imperial family.  That makes it a very important shrine in Japan even though it is rather small and not very well known in Kyoto.


Boys’ Day helmet display made from paper

Because of the samurai and emperors who are enshrined at Shiramine, it holds a martial arts demonstration on Boys’ Day every year.  Nowadays, Boys’ Day is officially “Children’s Day” and for celebrating childish things.  But in the past, Boys’ Day was for celebrating the martial spirit of maleness.  The traditional gift for boys on this day is a helmet.  Even today, people give the hanashobu flower on this day because its shape resembles a helmet.

Mugenjuku trains at Shiramine’s dojo on Sundays, so it participates in the martial arts demonstration every year.

The kenshusei arrived early to clean and set up before the demonstration.  Here they are outside the shrine dojo…



Reg Sakamoto arrived, and he and Nick went to the shrine’s water basin to ritually purify themselves before their Niten-Ichi-ryu demonstration



Meanwhile, Andy-sensei prepared the kids for their demonstration



Unfortunately, it rained, so attendance was low and everyone had to carry umbrellas…




And how about the Kenshusei’s embu?

They performed Yoshinkan’s Kihon dosa renzoku.

Kihon dosa renzoku is all the kihon dosa performed in a row while holding a sword.

They trained very hard.

They trained for a long time.

They were very dedicated and intense.

So you can’t wait to see it, right?

Guess what!

I missed it!!



However, you can always watch them practicing their embu in the dojo the week before Golden Week.  ***** UPDATE: Izzy’s friend got the kenshusei embu on video!! *****

Andy-sensei made a very nice demonstration, and finally Payet-sensei also gave a demonstration…



After the embu, the kenshusei and the dojo members went to a picnic while I went to work.

Kenshusei training starts again Wednesday morning!!

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!