Thursday, January 20, 2011

What to Expect if you Train in Japan

That last post made me think about some of the weird stuff that has happened to me here, that never used to happen to me in Canada. And so I present a guide to training in Japan, and what you can expect. Take this all with a shaker of salt.

You'll meet some really nice people who will astonish you with their generosity and kindness.
Not that there aren't nice people in other parts of the world ... just that, somehow, Japanese people have a way of surprising you with how nice they can be to someone they hardly know.

You'll meet people who have weird ideas about the world.
Sometimes they are really good at saying crazy stuff with a smile on their face, too. For example:
Crazy Guy: Where are you from?
Me: I'm from Canada.
Crazy Guy: Oh, I thought you were from America! Because you're fat. I went to America and everyone was fat.
Me: Uh...
Crazy Guy: Where is Canada?

You'll meet people who have an amazingly narrow view of their own martial art.
Some Japanese people don't ask any questions or seem to have any awareness of other (even closely related) arts, or any knowledge of their own art. Like the guy I met who had been practicing Muso Shinden Ryu iaido for 5 or 6 years, but told me that I tied my sageo wrong and that my noto was all wrong. When I told him, "I do Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu" he looked at me like I was crazy, and immediately ran to Sensei and said, "What's this guy talking about?"

You'll meet people who know nothing about fighting but confidently lecture you about what is necessary in a real fight.
I think it's safe to say that Japan (with the possible exception of Singapore) is the place on earth where you are physically safest, see the fewest fights, and are least likely to have somebody suckerpunch you or break a bottle over your head. That's one reason why I like it here! So what I'm saying is that 99.9% of people here have never been in a fight, and yet they love telling you how what you're doing is wrong because in a REAL fight... (Wow, just like the internet forums!)

You'll meet people who think you know absolutely nothing, because you're a foreigner.
How could you possibly know anything? They don't do iaido or jodo in other countries! What? They do? Well, they don't do it right, obviously, because look at this guy!
I've been to seminars where we've started off with kihon, for example, doing honte uchi in jodo. And Sensei wearily explains to that 50-year-old 6th dan in the front row, "Yamada-san! You're still dropping your front hand!" and then wearily explains to that 40-year-old 5th dan in the back, "Watanabe-san, your back hand needs to be turned completely around!" and then reacts with shock and horror when the foreigner's back foot is too wide. "What rank are you? Unbelievable! What country are you from? Canada? Well, that explains it..."
Another time, I was asked to do Mae in iaido, and Sensei evidently didn't like how I put my hands on the tsuka, because he launched into a 30-minute explanation of how to hold the sword. And not one of those "The deepest secret of iaido is te-no-uchi" talks, but a "This is a sword. This is the sharp part. This is how we hold it! Left hand back, right hand forward" kind of talks. Ugh.

You'll meet other foreigners who act as if you're ruining their private fantasy by being in the same room.
You'll go to some seminar, walk into the gym, spot some foreign guy (who sticks out like a sore thumb, just like you do) smiling and laughing with his Japanese dojo-mates, and then he'll see you out of the corner of his eye, do a double take, the smile vanishes and is replaced by a scowl... Needless to say, he won't come over and say Hello. And why would he? Just because you're the only two foreigners there (you might even be countrymen) and you share the same rare and unusual hobby. Who needs new friends, anyway?

You'll meet a lot of cool foreigners, who can teach you a ton of interesting and useful stuff, including how to deal with all the aforementioned crazies.


Blogger Antonio C.T. Lima said...

Hey Jeff, im from Brazil, i hope you understand my english.
I like very much of your text, and this is one of my fears, one day maybe be able to train in Japan and one of these appear crazy, or what I think is worse, one of Sensei, who are saying things just because you are a foreigner.
I think this is very sad and disappointing.
Congratulations for the text.

Peace to all.

4:27 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Hi Antonio,

Thank you for writing. Your English is much, much better than my Portuguese! I appreciate your effort and your English is very good.

I hope you will come to Japan someday and train. Don't worry about those strange people. If a Sensei says something bad about foreigners, it is only because he or she doesn't have much experience dealing with us. For example, maybe he had one foreign student who quit after a year, and then he decides, "Foreign people are quitters." It is important to give that kind of Sensei a good example, too.
Most people will appreciate it if you are honest, friendly, hard-working, and so on.

3:25 AM  

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