NextGen Japan Visit - Great success at all levels!

24 - 29 April

NextGen Delegation went to Hombu Dojo, Tokyo 24-29 April, 2017

This is the first full report of the visit!

Aiki Kai Australia and The Sugano Foundation have recognised the need to plan for the future to insure continued support and cultivation of Aikido in Australia that began more than fifty years ago. NextGen initiatives are a way to support generational progression, to provide opportunities and training for a rising generation so Aikido in Australia may continue to prosper into the future.

The concept of generational progression seems to have been built in into Aiki Kai Headquarters in Tokyo (‘Hombu’) for some time. This still gives focus to more experienced instructors but also allows for younger teachers to come through and thereby maintaining a high level of energy in the classes. One of the important goals of the recent NextGen trip to Hombu was to grow and cultivate new connections with Hombu dojo as well as to strengthen our connection to Hombu and the Ueshiba family, a connection that has been built up over decades.

The recent delegation to Hombu was a great success. Fourteen Aiki Kai Australia students spent five full days training at the dojo as well as attending a celebratory dinner on the anniversary of O Sensei’s death and a private dinner with Hombu Dojo-cho, Mitsuteru Ueshiba. It was the week leading up to the Aiki Festival at Iwama, with spring sunshine and showers and even some late blooming cherry blossoms in Tokyo's parks. For many, it was the first time they'd been to Hombu dojo, indeed, the first time they'd been to Japan. Our expectations and spirits were high and we were not disappointed.

We trained at every class we could, which meant up to five one hour classes per day for the week. We kicked off the week with Doshu's 6:30am Monday class. Morning classes with Doshu and with Dojo-cho were jam-packed with students from their teens to their eighties and there were barely two mats per pair to train on. Ukemi and waza were necessarily restrained and conservative, which made for physically and mentally draining classes: It took a lot of energy to avoid throwing or rolling into other people. As it turns out, getting up from vertical ukemi is much harder than rolling to your feet. The traditional tatami mats were much harder than we were used to training on in Australia, which took the toll on us most during the week. It also must be said that this type of training regime would be hard enough on late teenage students but some of us were considerably older and those people should be really congratulated for maintaining their training throughout the week!

The level of focus was very high, with all students silent and lined up three or four minutes before any class began. The training effort was sustained for the whole hour by everyone, even if someone's physical capability meant they had to train slowly: few people took a rest and no one stopped to chat. Teachers tended to focus on basic waza: attacks were almost exclusively katate dori. Kokyu ho, ikkyo, shiho nage and irimi nage were practiced in almost every class. Explanations were rare and the demonstrations were very physical, despite the lack of space for the students to try it themselves.

Unfortunately, the policy at Hombu is that no photographs are allowed during training but we were sweating! By day three, the daily five hours of training began to show and many were having afternoon sleeps to recharge. Washing gi’s and finding food and coffee were all we had time for during the day but we did manage to find some great places to gather together in the evenings: After one spectacular day of training with Dojo-cho, Yasuno, Sakurai and Suzuki Senseis we found an izakaya close to Hombu and proceeded to eat them out of rice and drink them out of beer!

One of the goals of the trip was to reaffirm our relationship Hombu dojo - not only with Doshu and Dojo-cho but also with those Hombu instructors who've visited Australia recently. During the week we trained with and caught up with Hino, Suzuki, Uchida and Umetsu Senseis. On the Thursday night, Dojo-cho kindly took us out to dinner at his favourite Italian restaurant, along with Umetsu and Suzuki Senseis. With a lot of help from Felicity's translation skills and with a lot of laughter, he patiently addressed our questions about Aikido, Hombu, the places he's visited around the world for Aikido, movies, manga, religion and even his take on Japanese mythology.

One of the highlights of the trip was the festival at the Aiki Shrine in Iwama. Held every year on the anniversary of the death of O'Sensei, the festival draws more than a thousand people to watch the dignified and captivating Shinto ceremony, to watch polished Aikido demonstrations by Doshu and Hombu Dojo-cho and to hear a speech by Doshu. Afterwards, sharing a picnic lunch sitting under trees on the old Iwama farm, eating our lunch bento and drinking sake in the spring sunshine with hundreds of Aikido students we were feeling privileged and grateful to have experienced something very special.

At the end of the day we gathered together in the grounds of the Iwama Dojo where we said our final farewells to Doshu and Dojo-cho. Despite it being a long day for both of them Doshu was cheerful and keen to know that everyone had had an enjoyable time, which we certainly had. Dojo Cho was in good spirits too, we said thank you and look forward to see you again, to which he added “Soon, neh!”.

Delegates for this stage of the NextGen initiative were:
Jikou Sugano, (Foundation representative)
Tristan Derham (AKA representative)
Felicity Peters (Group leader)
Bruce Roberts (WA)
Bernard Dowd (WA)
Monica Tschochner (WA)
Mark McLaughlin (NT)
Annalise Bennett (Tas)
Alex Rojas (Vic)
Alex Raytsin (Vic)
Josh Taaffe (Vic)


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