Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tokyo! Oita!

So I've gotten more or less settled in down here in Beppu city, Oita. It's a great place ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, I said goodbye to the good folks up in Fukushima. I was really getting used to it there ... despite the freezing cold dojos, it was a great place to practice. Tanaka Sensei was very "old school" somehow - his style was very graceful, yet powerful. As a high rank-holder in kendo, he understood the importance of jo-ha-kyu, seme, ma-ai ... his iaido never seemed rushed at all, downright relaxed in places ... but he always gave me crap for being too slow. I now understand that this is because I was slow in the wrong places. It's not a question of being quick-quick-quick, but fast and sharp when you have to be. I am trying to remember the feeling of his iai.

And on the other hand, there was Inoue Sensei, whose iai is very geared towards competitions. He is consistently 2nd or 3rd in the 6th-dan All Japan category (he has yet to win the championship, but I am increasingly thinking this is political). His iai is super-precise, super-sharp, very powerful, energetic, quick - you almost expect his sword to leave a vapour trail after each cut. He looks a lot like Kaneda Sensei; I presume he studies his videos.

And then there was Tanno Sensei, who I only got to see once, but who is probably the best all-around iaidoka I have seen since Haruna Sensei, which is saying a lot. I have a lot to try and remember from all three of them.

After leaving Fukushima, I was in Tokyo for about a week. My company put me up in a hotel in Itabashi, which is near Ikebukuro. I was very lucky to get to the right place; there is also a station called Iidabashi, but since I couldn't read either station's kanji with complete confidence, I gambled and got lucky by going to the right place. The cherry blossoms outside my hotel were in full bloom, and it was really beautiful all across the city.

The location of my hotel was the first fun coincidence: right beside the grave of Kondo Isami, head of the Shinsengumi. (One could argue that you can't swing a cat in Tokyo without hitting some historical spot, but I was quite pleased just the same.) I took some pictures, but for some reason, Blogger isn't letting me post them today. Maybe next time.

Then, the second weird coincidence. I was on the train heading for the airport, carrying some luggage and of course, my sword. An older, caucasian man with a really remarkable beard and mustache approached me on the train and asked me if I did kendo. I told him that I had done some kendo but now I mostly stick to iaido and jodo. Well, as it turns out, he was Alain Ducarme, president of the European Kendo Federation, and (along with Roy Asa) vice-president of the International Kendo Federation. Cool, huh? He was in Japan for some meetings and practice sessions.

So, finally, I arrived in Oita. After inquiring via the internet, I found out that there is an iaido practice on Sundays in the City Gym, which is close to my apartment, on the opposite side of an absolutely stunning park which is now full of blooming cherry trees and azaleas. Somehow, walking through a beautiful park settles your mind just perfectly before practice... so much so that I got completely turned around and couldn't figure out where I was! Luckily, I spotted a woman wearing hakama and carrying a sword case (perhaps my third lucky coincidence) who kindly led me to the dojo.

I met 8th-dan Azuma Sensei (he's only 58 or so, but started 40 years ago!) and we started practicing in a small-ish dojo inside the city gym. After about half an hour of keiko, we all picked up our stuff and moved to the cavernous main gym, which looks more like an aircraft hanger. Azuma Sensei took our group, while a group of other 8th dans divided up the other practitioners. It was a very good practice; Azuma sensei had a lot to tell me about my footwork. His three main "themes", he told me, are paying attention to turning, to balance, and to the centre line. As I am poor at all three of these things, he told me to practice extra hard paying attention to those points.

After practice, I met a bunch of other 8th-dan teachers, and one of the few surviving 9th-dans in Japan. Wow. If only I could remember his name ... but as Ms. Ikenaga (the woman who escorted me to the dojo - she turned out to be a 7th-dan kyoshi herself!) told me, "Just calling them 'Sensei! Sensei' is okay."

It might turn out that I have only one iai practice a week, which would be too bad, but my apartment has very high ceilings, so I can do a bit of practice in my apartment, believe it or not. I also found out that there is a group doing jodo in Oita city, 15 minutes away.

But somehow, the best part of the whole situation is that park ... walking through it on the way to and from practice is more satisfying than I can explain. I would post photos, but ...

2 Comments:

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