Last night I went to the dojo I wrote about to you in the last email,the one which impressed me so much. But before I write what happened there I'll let you know about a third dojo.
Kotomi, my girlfriend, had been trying, unsuccessfully, to contact a certain dojo which was a few minutes by bike from our house. There was only an address and phone number listed in the phone book, and this was never answered. She decided to look up the address on google earth to find out exactly where it is (Japanese addresses are notoriously hard tofigure out). She found it and we went there by bike to see if anyone could tell us more. After asking some people we located it, and looking inside we saw rows of desks on a wooden floor. An old man was sitting outside and we talked to him. He told us that this was something like a community hall, and that he used to teach at the primary school in this area, and now teaches in this hall. We asked him about kendo and he told us that they move the desks to the side and use the hall as a dojo. When he realised that I wanted to start kendo there he got really happy, and started telling us about all the people there. Apparently he was a ni-dan in kendo, but now he is too old to practice, so he just watches. He told us that there were lots of funny people in this dojo, and that it was about 10 adults and 10 children who practised together. He told us the times, which are Saturday night and Sunday morning, and that I should really come back.
After that we went home and got ready to go to the other dojo which we visited last time. I was extremely nervous because of how good all the people were (there were no beginners practising). When we arrived the head sensei told us that we shouldn't wear our coats or gloves inside a dojo, no matter how cold it is. After that he told me to put on my giand hakama, and do some warm up. This was a bit hard to do as the dojo was filling up and everyone was staring at the new foreigner (something I'm still not used to). Then everyone put on their bogu and started practice without any lining up or bowing.
The sensei explained it like this: the dojo is 90 years old, and was given to the community by a company the now owns the land. It was originally built as a dojo, so there are no glass windows, and the flooris really bouncy (the woodwork is amazing). People from all over come to practice here, and there are no fees, and no roll (he said the dojo had been on the cover of the Japan Kendo magazine a few times). Basically,half the people who come are teachers, or were teachers. They line up onone side of the dojo, while everyone else lines up on the other side. Usually there are about an even number of teachers to students, so no one should stand around idle. If you want to practice with someone you line up with them, bow, sankou, and start (like in normal kendo). There is no group warm up or suburi.
As you might guess I was nervous as hell. The sensei said he would practice with me first.
After an hour of practice, having met every teacher there in kendo, I was pretty excused. They said this: that I have very good basic skills,and that I put a lot of importance into doing it properly instead of just hitting whichever way I can. I was told that this is very good because they do not like the 'kendo sport' attitude (many teachers there look 60+). They said that I do very Japanese kendo, which made me laugh ,and surprised them when I told them that my senseis in New Zealand were Taiwanese. I think they were really happy with my style (I mean the way I try to do things).
Kotomi overheard a few of them saying (aparently they were all watching haha) that my shoulders are very relaxed, which means at least some of what you taught got through to me :)
But I know they were just being polite, and what they really mean is'you need lots and lots of practice'. Lots. With one guy I did a few men hits (he was probably gauging me) and then he asked me to do kote, and after one hit he said "maybe we should go back to men" haha. I must have been really bad :(
At the end we all lined up and bowed to each other (can you imagine 10-15 teachers on one side and the same number of students on theother?). And they asked me to give a little speech to introduce myself. After that (with 'if you will have me I will come back' and 'thank you for teaching me') we started packing up. It seems they like me a lot, they all mention how polite I am, and that I can sit seiza, and so on, and that I should come back so they can teach me. Kotomi and me stayed longer, and the sensei (who is the caretaker of the building) showed me how to fold the hakama properly (apparently there are very specificthings I have to do, which I did wrong). I asked about kata, and his eyes lit up. He says they rarely have time to practice kata, and if Iwas interested in them? He then proceeded to go through all of them with a guy who was still there. I think he said he used to teach kata when he was younger, I think he was enjoying himself. After that we talked somemore, and we left as he closed the dojo. He said he was waiting for me to come back (but I think this is just a polite goodbye in Japanese, because the old man from the community dojo, above, said that too). So, although I haven't yet been to the first dojo to practice, I think I will like it too.
Here, then, are my practice times:
Tuesday nights (old dojo)
Thursday nights (old dojo)
Saturday 5-6:30pm (community dojo)
then bike 5 min to old dojo for
7pm practiceSunday 9am (community dojo)
And summer is coming, so it will be warm at night. I think I'm in heaven ^^
Kotomi has also found a calligraphy school, so she's happy about that (she is 4th dan).
Now if only I could get started on these damn essays for uni, I'd have everything sorted ^^
More photos are here: Benji's Japan Experience 2