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!!

introducing Saegusa-sensei

Follow kenshusei Takenaga started aikido in the dojo of a man named Saegusa Ryusei.  Saegusa-sensei used to be around Tokyo and then moved to Hokkaido.  Takenaga never says much about him, but she traveled to Hokkaido for his blessing before the Kenshusei Course started and then went back there this month after it ended.  I guess that says a lot.

The other day, I had reason to go to Payet-sensei’s apartment before he left for Russia.  We were talking about aikido and somehow I mentioned Saegusa-sensei.  He said, “You know, he used to be my sempai at hombu.  He was very charismatic.”

Andy-sensei had also said he was charismatic and that his seminars, which Andy-sensei had attended once, were very interesting.

So, I was poking around the Internet the other day and found Saegusa-sensei’s website, when what did I see?  Is it?  Could it be?


Can you see?


It’s a very younthful-looking Andy-sensei!!

Somehow, Andy-sensei is always finding his way in front of the camera.  Or maybe the camera is following him.  It’s a kind of aikido!

Anyhow, here is Saegusa-sensei’s website.  You can buy an aikido Bible.  Someday, I would be interested in going to one of the seminars.


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!


why you need to come to Kyoto

I want to tell you about something that happened on Friday in the Kenshusei course.  I think I did aikido!


Last week, I was reading Aikido Shugyo again as research for the paper we have to write at the end of the Kenshusei course.  I read the book years ago–maybe 2006–but I haven’t read it again since coming to Kyoto.

Re-reading it now after doing Kenshusei, however… whew!!  Shioda is so straightforward, open, and transparent about aikido.  It’s pretty amazing, but it’s still difficult material.  Center line… focus… breathing… simple in theory, but to understand them with the body is another thing.

And then there’s the chapter called “Ki is the Concentration of Balance.”  The concentration of balance?  What does that even mean?

I was thinking about these things on Friday during class when Payet-sensei had us simply work on sotai dosa.  As Izzy and I were doing Tai no Henko Ni, sensei came over to us and did that thing he does.

That thing is where he physically repositions your body for you so you can feel what a technique is supposed to be.  As I was standing in kamae, he Payet-seizaextended my arm and told me to relax, then had Izzy put all his force into pushing.  And when I say relax, I really mean relax–no power, no tension, just shape.

Voila!  I was immovable and all of a sudden could feel so many things Shioda writes about in Aikido Shugyo… getting rid of your strength, maintaining body alignment without tension, power surging through the big toe…  My mind was blown!

All of a sudden, I understood “Ki is the concentration of balance.”  This is a phrase that you can grasp only through experience.  I never could have reasoned it out, but once Payet-sensei aligned my body and arm correctly, I had direct access to the experience.  How can you have a feeling of dynamic energy flowing through your body to defy your opponent when you are weak?  How can it get stronger when you get weaker?  Perfect alignment.  When balance becomes perfect, it transcends itself and makes your uke struggle with the earth underneath you.

Of course, as soon as I moved, I lost the feeling and couldn’t get it back on my own.  But for a moment, I was experiencing aikido!

I wonder… without training under Payet-sensei at Mugenjuku, how long would it have taken me to realise this feeling?  Would I have ever done it?  Will I ever find it again without Payet-sensei?


This is why people train under masters.  It’s why Shioda spent eight years with Ueshiba, two training from 5:00AM to 9:00PM.  It’s why Payet-sensei spent years with Shioda.  It’s why Crampton-sensei and Carter-sensei moved to Kyoto.  You could spend years training pointlessly on your own.  Transmission is directly from teacher to pupil, not through scrolls, books, or videos.



Moreover, you don’t know when the transmission is going to happen.  You have to have the right mindset and be practicing just the right technique and have sensei there to show you something at just this time.

You can train in California or Canada or Russia or anywhere, and Payet-sensei can be your shihan.  But if you see him only for an occasional seminar, you aren’t letting the right confluence of circumstances take place for you to receive the transmission.  In a seminar, the only thing you can be sure to find out is whether you are performing the outward form of techniques correctly.  If you get some insight, it’s luck, but you can’t count on it.  You need to see sensei in the dojo as much as possible and come with your ears open and your body and heart prepared to train.  Then you can be ready for lightning to strike.


Dai Yon in The Course

Now that we are in the Dai Yon portion of the Kenshusei course, we are supposed to go to the classes for regular students and act as Payet-sensei’s uke.

Apparently, when Payet-sensei was at Yoshinkan hombu, all the uchi-deshi used to scramble to try to be Shioda’s uke.  We are to do the same.  If Izzy and Naomi and I are all at the same class, we have to compete with each other and with Andy-sensei and with Nick to take uke for Payet-sensei.

When I was first told this, I thought it was a bit over the top.  But like everything in Yoshinkan, the form comes first.  I think I understand now that the uchi-deshi compete to be uke because you never know when you are going to get some transmission.  You have to create the opportunities for it to happen.

This is why you need to come to Kyoto.  If you are studying Yoshinkan two times a week in between watching episodes of Duck Dynasty, you should stop wasting your time and money.

Do the Kenshusei Course.  If you don’t have time, come visit for a month or two in the summer when you are ready to focus and can go do misogi at Nanzenji with the Kenshusei.  If you are serious about Yoshinkan, you need to come to Kyoto.


forerunners of kihon dosa

I would like to draw your attention to some interesting aikido films on YouTube that I think shed light on the origins of the kihon dosa we practice in Yoshinkan aikido.

The first is an 8mm film from 1957 of the Aikikai training under Koichi Tohei.  This was filmed by Andre Nocquet, the first western uchi-deshi of Ueshiba, and uploaded by Guillaume Erard… Demonstration at the Japanese Self-Defense Ministry (1957)

The second is a film of the original Yoshinkan dojo that has extensive footage of the early training there.  I can’t find what year it’s from, but based on the apparent youth of Shioda-sensei and the quality of the footage, I would guess it is also 8mm film from the 1950s… Aikido Yoshinkan 1/4  2/4  3/4  4/4.

The thing that interests me about these films is that the early Aikikai film shows exercises that look like the elements of kihon dosa while the early Yoshinkan film shows students practicing funakogi undo and doing kihon dosa that appears half-way in between modern kihon dosa and the exercises Koichi Tohei was teaching.  This suggests to me that something similar to kihon dosa exercises were being done when Shioda studied under Ueshiba.

Starting at 4:00 in the Koichi Tohei film, you can see elements that look like Tai no Henko Ichi and also spinning exercises that look like the ending portions of Shumatsu Dosa.  Here’s a screen capture of Tai-no-Henko-Ichi-ish exercise…


At the early stage of development in Yoshinkan aikido, Tai no Henko Ichi looked substantially similar, as can be seen in the Yoshinkan video at 0:30


Of course, in the Yoshinkan film, we can already see the characteristic image of Yoshinkan, which is missing in the broken posture in the Aikikai video.  However, the Yoshinkan film shows the shitte entering much more to the side than what we practice today–a side entrance that looks like the Aikikai practice.  This is more obvious by watching the entire movement in the films rather than the simple stills.

Finally, we can see in the next two stills the early Yoshinkan students practicing funakogi undo, in this clip at 3:45



According to Nick, Payet-sensei has taught funakogi undo to the Part-Time Kenshusei (weekend course).  However, the Full-Time Kenshusei have never done it, and, to me, it has a distinctly non-Yoshinkan kinaesthetic.

What I hear about Kihon Dosa is that it was something created after WWII by the Yoshinkan for teaching large groups of people.  But if the early Yoshinkan students and the early Aikikai students were doing exercises that were more similar than the exercises done in these schools do today, then maybe the Kihon Dosa are actually representative of pre-war aikido.

Well, anyhow, I hope you enjoy these videos.  Don’t miss Shioda-sensei’s tanto dori!!