For my CIP I practiced with the Kyoto University Judo Club. In this club many of the members were black belts, meaning I got to practice with incredibly skilled Judoka. This paired with the strictness of a serious Japanese Martial Arts club made participating a little difficult at times. There was a very strict hierarchy within the club, with the older members generally running practice and teaching techniques, and the younger, newer members taking care of cleaning and setting up the clock along with any other menial tasks. In addition, teachers also occasionally came to class and taught techniques as well. At both the beginning and the end of practiced the members sat in line based on rank within the club. There was also a very strict order to the activities during practice. The hierarchical nature along with the strict schedule of the Kyodai Judo Club was much different than my experience with Martial Arts clubs in America, which are generally much more laid back and there is less of a strict member hierarchy. Occasionally, I was either standing in the wrong position, or doing something that would be OK in an American Martial Arts club, that was not OK at Kyodai. However the members were generally nice about telling me where to go and were understanding of my ignorance.
Originally, when I first started attending practices I was very much outside of the hierarchy and no one really bothered to explain things to me. However, as I continued to show up, as well as attempt to speak with members in Japanese I began to be treated more like a member of the club and less like someone who simply attended classes. Towards the end of the semester I was participating in cleaning duties along with the younger members of the closer. This meant I was at the bottom of the hierarchy, however this also meant I was at least part of the hierarchy and meant I was somewhat of a member and less of an outsider.
In addition to learning a large number of new Judo techniques I was able to see how a Japanese Martial Arts Club is run in comparison to an American Club. While difficult at times this was an invaluable experience which allowed me to not only experience the Japanese Language in greater way but a small microcosm of the Japanese community as well.
I really like your keen observations and reflections about the hierarchy structure within a student martial arts club! I too feel the same when I began helping my fellow circle-mates clean up after parties instead of just being left on the side and not expected to do anything like I was a guest. What do you think about the hierarchy structure, however? Do you feel like there’s some kind of benefit to Judo in general by observing a strict order of hierarchy or do you think it doesn’t matter or it negatively impacts your experience?
It sounds like you had a nice time. It must have felt good when you were finally considered a part of the group rather than being the awkward foreigner! Now that you have experience in both a Japanese Martial Arts Club and an American one, do you have a preference in terms of the way the club is run?
The hierarchy system was definitely different than anything I was used to and had its positives and negatives. By having a strict order to practice things ran quite smoothly and quickly and once I got involved I was able to learn a lot. However the strict hierarchical style in which the class was run did make it difficult to actually get involved. As for my preference I probably prefer the American style, because that is something I am more accustomed to, however I am sure as I get better at Japanese and more used to the culture i could learn to appreciate the Japanese style.