I feel like I’ve been away for a month, but the seminar was really only four days, plus a couple of days on either side for transportation. Some 88 practitioners came from all over Japan to train and (mostly) listen to some lectures and panel discussions on the educational value of budo. As I expected, the theme was brought to the fore by the edict from the Ministry of Eduction making study of martial arts compulsory for all 1st and 2nd year junior high school students. I have some comments on that but need to think about the whole thing more.
On the brighter side, the training was very good. They’ve reconstructed the kyudojo so now even people my size have no trouble shooting there, and while it was bitterly cold at times, I learned a lot. The trick, as the Kubota-sensei said, will be making it “mine,” through continued practice now that I’m home. The main technical issues there were keeping my left shoulder down, keeping my arm and chest muscles relaxed, not overdrawing, and not rushing. That last was especially difficult in the cold and rain. I have a bunch of other notes that I’ll have to type in later.
In addition to kyudo I also tried aikido and kendo, which were great experiences. It’s very different, having an opponent other than oneself, and then doubly so in kendo, where you not only have an opponent but are expected to attack him/her. It was something I’m not used to, and one thing I had to overcome was the desire to avoid hurting someone. Of course, I didn’t really want to hurt them regardless, but if you’re going to whack someone decisively with a shinai you have to generate the motivation somehow.
Of course, it was just a taste. I’m sure that in “real life” there would be months of training before students had the chance to do the stuff we did, and because of that, they’d do it much better. In aikido our partners were students at the International Budo University, and they were very kind to the beginners, even though I’m sure we were a challenge to deal with. Many of the moves are like magic. It’s hard to believe how effective they are until you’re on the receiving end of them. The teacher made sure we (or at least I) knew exactly how real they were, though. Five days later I can still feel the spot where he pressed his thumb into my hand.
In kendo, too, our opponents were students from the university, all first-year students, though they could have been studying for years before entering university. Kendo is more aggressive, so it was correspondingly more difficult for me, particularly once you’re laced up in armour. The other challenge was that I had a migraine headache, but as I’ve noticed in kyudo, once you enter the dojo such things tend to recede from consciousness, only to return once practice is finished. It was valuable to see that this remains true even when people are hitting you on the head.
The other thing with both arts is that I felt kind of uncoordinated, no doubt because I was! It would take a lot more practice for these things to become smoother. On the final day we had a big demonstration of kobudo (Owari Kan-ryu), and some hands-on experience with a wide range of weapons, some of them the real thing. Just seeing all the different forms and techniques made it clear that a medieval battlefield would not have been a fun place. Every weapon had countering technologies and methods. The courage required to stand and fight at such close range must have been immense.
I think I will try to go to the seminar again, and if I do, I may well repeat both aikido and kendo. They seem like a good mix. Another interesting observation was that, when it came to trying out a new budo, the most popular — by far — was kyudo. The teachers must have been pleased with that. Alas due to some last minute weirdness one of the things I forgot to take (along with the train tickets!) was my camera, so no pictures unless someone sends me copies. But that’s OK. Sometimes it’s better to be focused on the here and now than on the potential photograph you’ll look at later.
Anyway, lots learned, lots of good people met, and just a few bruises. Well worth going!