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…



Kenji’s exam video teasers

As I mentioned in my last post, our favourite filmmaker, Kenji, was at the exam taking video to make a very short film of it.

When the video is done, we will post it of course.  In the meantime, here are some stills from the video as teasers…


(Man! My rei is still hunch-backed!  Oh well, there is always next year…)


Nick as assistant tester watches Yasuda be uke for Takenaga during the kihon portion of the exam.


Izzy and I try to make our kamae right while Payet-sensei examines us.

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!


weekend warriors no more

February has arrived, and the Kenshusei Course is coming to an end.

The Part-Time Kenshusei, or weekend kenshusei as we like to call them, are meeting for the last time this weekend.  The weekend kenshusei are the silent majority of the Mugenjuku Kenshusei program.  There were about 14 of them this year, and they met every Saturday night and Sunday morning for 3.5 hours of training each time.

Last night, I went to see Aoi-san take her exam for nidan, or 2nd degree black belt.  This morning, Steve and Sato-san took their exams, but I had to work.  This evening, we are having a big party in the dojo–the part-time and full-time kenshusei together.  We will say goodbye to Steve, who is returning to England, and Akiko, who must have to go back to work!

2014part-time-kenshusei-aoi-exam1Goodbye, Akiko.

2014part-time-kenshusei-aoi-exam2Congrats, Aoi.

Aoi was very happy at the end of her exam.  For nidan, she had to do regular jiyu waza, ushiro-hiji-mochi-jiyu-waza (grabbing the elbows from behind freestyle), and futari jiyu waza (freestyle against two attackers).  She did very well and gave some good koshi-nage throws to Andy-sensei.  But all that jiyu waza is very tiring.  I don’t know if she was happier to get her nidan or to be finished with the test!

2014part-time-kenshusei-aoi-exam3Goodbye, Steve.

Many of the weekend kenshusei are injured.  Okatani-san has a broken hand, Steve has broken ribs, and Nakaema-san has a broken foot.  It’s all part of the kenshusei fun!

2014part-time-kenshusei-aoi-exam5the survivors


The black belt.  In Japanese, kuro obi.

Although any martial artist will tell you that getting a black belt is pretty meaningless, is over-hyped in media, and is only the beginning of a long journey of study, it retains a certain mystique.  It is the transition from a completely unknowledgeable beginner to a beginner who has demonstrated a complete, albeit shallow, knowledge of basics.  It is a gateway to being taken seriously by the other, senior members of the dojo.  It is an honor, as indicated by the visual change in the training uniform.

Yesterday, December 23, 2013, there were three kenshusei who were very happy to pass their kuro obi exam at Mugenjuku dojo.

The day started with just the three of us, Nick, and Chris- and Andy- senseis.  Then the spectators started rolling in around 9:45.  This was our first exam that in front of an audience.  We had a very nice selection of people from the dojo, including two of Mugenjuku’s first black belt students and an entire family of husband, wife, and 3 children among others.  Close to 10:00, Payet-sensei arrived and things got started quickly.  There’s not a lot of formal ceremonies in a Yoshinkan test–just do the daily shinkoku ceremony, sit in seize, and start performing.

The test starts from the initial seiza line-up. Each person’s name is called, and he has to quickly bow from seiza while bellowing “OSU!”, stand up, and run to the front of the dojo. When everyone is standing in a line, we bow to Payet-sensei, then run to pre-arranged positions in the dojo across from our partners.

At this point, we were all standing in kamae and the nerves were awful.  The first aspect of the test is standing in kamae so the instructors can examine your stance for correct balance and tension.  I had taken Toradol earlier in the morning to help loosen and anaesthetise my knees, and I was feeling jittery and unbalanced.

Worse, someone had turned up the heat in the dojo.  Although we normally train without any heat in winter (just as we didn’t get air-conditioning in the summer), the heat was on because of the spectators.  We hadn’t even starting yet, and the sweat was already beading on my freshly shaven head.

The first techniques are the Yoshinkan basic forms called “sotai dosa”, shown in the following video at 2:00.  There are four of them.

After the basic forms, we demonstrate the basic techniques.  I’m not actually sure how many of them we did.  At this point in the test, my higher brain functions were entirely engaged in damage control on the rest of my brain, which was in panic mode.  My mind was like an engine room in an old submarine warfare movie, with blown gaskets, steam everywhere, and people frantically running around trying to keep the parts together long enough to get to safety… Foot’s light… keep it heavy, shoulders back, hips… Oh, crap, sensei’s talking!!  What’s he saying?  Something Japanese!  Okay, everyone quiet, we need to translate… Oh, the heat! Who turned on the f—ing heat!!  Wait, “ryote mochi shomen iriminage”???  What’s that?  Think, think!!–OH, SHIT, HERE COMES NICK!!…

And then Nick was pulling on my hands, and all I could do was try to react and hope I was doing the right technique.

At some point, the sweat was running down my arms, and Nick lost his grip on me.  Or I lost my grip on him.  I’m not sure which!

Anyhow, I don’t remember if I had a good test or not.  I didn’t make any errors, but error-free is the goal for regular students; for kenshusei, the goal is not only to be free of technical errors but to do the techniques with good balance and body position–to move from the centre of the body–and with spirit.  I don’t even remember which techniques I did, but here are two of them I know for sure…

ryote-mochi-kote-gaeshi-2  (two-hand-grasping-attack-countered-by-small-wrist-throw-from-outside-pivot):

suwari-waza-ryote-mochi-kokyu-ho-4  (seated-version-of-two-hand-grasping-attack-countered-by-the-4th-tricky-breathing-technique):

Yes, we have something called “the-4th-tricky-breathing-technique”!  And, yes, it is tricky!!!  The above video is deceptive because when it works, it looks effortless, but 90% of the time, it doesn’t work.  I remember doing this technique, because usually I can’t throw Nick with it and, as we were getting into seiza, I was thinking to myself, Shit! Shit!  Nick, just fall over this time!  Just fall over!!  And he did.  Thanks, buddy.  I owe you one!

After demonstrating basic techniques, we demonstrate shumatsu rosa, the “ending stretching exercises,” as shown


The final part of the test is jiyu-waza, or free-techniques, which is basically demonstrating how to apply the basic techniques in a fast, free-flowing context. First, I did shomen-zuki-jiyu-waza (front-punch-free-technique), shown here:

First, I was the “throwing partner” as Nick attacked me maybe 10-15 times.  I’ not sure how many times, but it wasn’t long compared to what we’ve done in practice.  Then we switched roles, and I attacked Nick with a punch and got thrown.

We normally did only one round of jiyu-waza in rehearsal exams. It looks easy in the video but is actually extremely tiring, especially if you are old (check), stressed out (check), hung over, sleep deprived (check) or, in this case, heat intolerant (big check).   But after I was done with one round, a second round was called!

After the first round, I was breathing hard, but in the second, I was completely out of breath because of the heat, which was smothering.  Anyhow, in the second round, we did yokomen-uchi-jiyu-waza (side-chop-free-technique), shown here:

Jiyu-waza is the part of the test everyone pays attention to. This is partly because all the test-takers do the basic techniques at the same time, but the jiyu-waza is only one attacker-thrower pair at a time.  So one gets the whole stage to himself. But it is also because the kuro obi exam is the first time you do jiyu-waza in a test. For the previous tests, it is only basic techniques.

I was afraid I had done very badly, but afterwards, the spectators said my jiyu-waza looked good. One  took a video of it.  To me, it looks very slow and plodding with throws that come from my arms instead of my centre, but the form doesn’t look as bad as it might have.  When that video gets uploaded to YouTube, I will post it here.  Maybe.

After jiyu-waza, there was nothing left except to line, bow out, thank everyone, and retire to the kitchen while the examiners compared notes.  Thankfully, we all passed!!

Payet-sensei was very kind to buy all the kenshusei and the spectators lunch after the test.  I admit I felt more like taking a nap than eating lunch, but it was very nice of people to come watch us, and lunch felt celebratory.

I wish our Internet readers could have been there.  Thank you for your support so far.

Now we have 1-1/2 weeks break and then a big push to the final instructor’s exam.  Gambatte, Izzy and Naomi!