Aikido Harugasshuku, Part 1

※ This article discusses the training camp on the first three days; 6th of March to 8th of March 2017.

My Aikido friend asked me at the end of January whether I want to attend their Aikido training camp. I paid 55,000 Yen and my friend informed me that at the end of the week, I have to do an enbu (Aikido performance in front of all other people) with some senpai and prepare a joke for the after event.

On Monday, 6th of March 2017, we met at Himeji station. One Aikido friend is a big fan of Japanese castles and we joked about going to Himeji castle, because it is so close (you can see it from the train station). Together we were about 20 people and took a group bus ticket to 飾磨 (Shikama, which is the port near Himeji). We waited for the next ferry and it took us about 100 minutes from 飾磨 to 福港 フェリーターミナル (Fukuda Harbor Ferry Terminal) located at 小豆島 (Shoudoshima). A bus was waiting for us and lead us to our destination. The destination is a small hotel in Japanese style. We arrived there in the early afternoon.

Our club members are divided in 3 groups. Students study 4 years for their bachelor’s degree and the last year, they are considered busy looking for a job. So the members are divided in 3 groups (where the fourth year stays the third year) corresponding to their year of studies: 一年生 (いちねんせい、ichinensei), 二年生 (にねんせい、ninensei)、 三年生 (さんねんせい、sannensei). I am considered as an 一年生 (first year student). This basically corresponds to my skills, because their Aikido style is different and much more focused on the techniques. They are very good at knowing which techniques exist and which techniques could be applied spontaneously. At this point in time, I can only confirm that it would be better if we do enbu more regularly in our Austrian club. Anything else requires further discussion. In the Japanese style we practice, less attention is paid to relaxed postures and applying the techniques smoothly. Whereas my Japanese friends distinguish 3 variants replying to an attack, in Austria we are only taught the smoothest technique. The first days I was focused on improving my skills to choose an appropriate technique spontaneously (じゆうわざ, jiyuuwaza).

Every day, the schedule looks similar to this:

  • At 6:00, we get up. We meet at 06:30 to run about 2 kilometers. This is not much and a good warm-up exercise.

  • After doing some callisthenics, we mostly practice techniques with 木剣 (ぼっけん、bokken) or じょう (じょう、short staff).

  • At about 8:00 we have breakfast. Still dressed in our Aikidogi, we go to the other house. It contains a tatami room and eating happens very formally. Four students go to the building earlier, because they help to carry things from the kitchen to the dinner room.

  • At about 10:00, the next Aikido practice begins. Especially the first year students, like me, have to be there at about 09:10 in order to clean the tatami with a broom. Mostly, we don’t warm up together and everybody goes to the Dojo earlier. This training follows the usual structure. So our senpai shows a technique, we run to a senpai and together we practice the technique.

  • At about 12:30, it is lunch time. Again four students help with the preparations.

  • At 15:00, the next training begins. Because all eating procedures are very formal, they typically use at least one hour for all of us. We wait together until everybody is seated in seiza (formal sitting posture). Then the captain announces someone’s name. This person will ask " 手 を 合 わせて" (てをあわせて, te-o-awasete, "close your hands") followed by the famous 頂 きます (いただきます, itadakimasu). Then you can start eating. The meal is also terminated by using this procedure. First, everyone has to finish his meal (sometimes people get in a hurry, because all other people are waiting), then the captain announces one’s name. After the meal, ご 馳走 さまでした (ごちそうさまでした, gochisou sama deshita, in the dictionary it is given in the present tense, but it is usually used in the past tense) is used.

  • At about 17:30 or 18:00, it is dinner time.

  • At about 19:30, we typically started with self-practice. There is no formal training, but we all practice on our own and our enbu needs to be practiced with our Uke (partner).

  • At about 21:00, the bathing schedule is announced. Typically, the first-year students have been the first. So we went for a traditional Japanese bath (Ofuro). I remember always the saying that Japanese people are very concerned with saving water. The bathing phase triple is, in my opinion, the exact opposite (you use much water than in Europe). *# First, you take a shower to clean yourself. *# Second, you enter the main bath tube shared by everyone (water is filled up again and again to keep it warm) *# Third, you take a final shower.

  • After the bath, we returned to our room. Our room was apparently also used as entertainment room and so many other people occasionally dropped by. Until midnight, we prepared our gags for the last event and I did some Kanji exercises.

In between, we also had formal duties. Whenever a OB (old boy, ex-student of the Aikido club) arrived or departed, we had to bow in front of him. I learned that we are the 54th generation of this club (one generation per year). So this was scheduled for a specific time and then we had to gather in front of the main building before that time. Often, we had to interrupt training, because of this procedure. We waited for the car to arrive, carried his suitcase from the main building to the car and helped him entering it. We shouted ありがとうございました (arigatou gozaimashita, thank you for what happened) and bowed in front of him. We had to bow until the car disappear in the curvature of the street behind buildings. This is certainly a significant cultural difference to Europe.

A cultural difference, beneficial to me, was gift giving. Japanese gift giving is very omnipresent and I distributed a lot of gifts in Japan already. In case of harugasshuku, we often got sweets as presents by OBs or Shihan.

Overall, the schedule was very tight, because we had to wait a lot until formal procedures can begin. Once the formal procedure ended, the next task was already about to start. During the day, I spent at most 30 minutes in the room to relax.

However, not every day was the same. On Tuesday, Shihan (a very honorific, exclusive title to important Aikidokas) dropped by. I did not know why, but was happy to have another expert available. As it turns out, the second-year students are taking their first Dan exams. Shihan was the examiner. I did not like that the behavior of my colleagues totally changed in the presence of the Shihan. Procedures are turned even more formal and waiting became even more important. In the end, the Shihan certainly knew his techniques (especially his Jo movements looked nice), but he used a lot of force which is contrary to the Aikido style, I am used to from Austria.