For my CIP, I practiced aikido at aikidokyoto located a few blocks away from Senbon dori and Imadegawa. From learning how to fall and do shikko to having instructions taught to me in a strange blend of Japanese and English, the experience for me was a fun and interesting one. Although I’ve only been able to practice for a short amount of time, I felt like I’ve learned a lot from both of the sensei, and of course was always looking forward to eating McDonald’s after practice on Tuesday. But in all seriousness, I have very little regrets about my decision to try out aikido. The 45 minute walk to and from the dojo may have felt long some days and the lack of interaction between the other students and me outside of lessons were probably not ideal but that did not take away from my experience at all.
Taking aikido at an actual dojo, in Japan, made me get a better glimpse at what practicing martial arts in a more official setting, and not a college setting, is like. For example, when I did karate back at Amherst, we had to use the gymnasium and did not have an official dojo so we never had to do anything like bowing to the dojo when entering or getting on the mats. We also rarely had to sit in seiza, the only times were when we were late and had to wait for the sensei’s permission to join the class or during promotion, however at this aikido dojo we it felt as if half of our time was spent in this position. When we are waiting for the sensei to start class, when we are bowing to the sensei, when we are observing a new technique before practicing it ourselves, and even for when we do certain techniques, we are required to sit in seiza. At the beginning of the class, my foot would usually feel an unbearable pain but as the class goes on sitting in seiza became a little bit easier. Of course when I walk the 2 miles back to my apartment, I am still able to feel the pain in my ankles but after a certain amount of classes even that became enjoyable and part of the aikido experience.
One main thing I noticed in my aikido class is that when there is a new student that has only been there for about 2 months or so, they’d always pair them up with a much more experience senpai wearing a hakama. For the first few classes, I was rotated among the same senpai until they were certain that I could do the majority of the basic moves before having me actually allowing me to learn techniques. When I did practice techniques it was usually with the same people until recently and I noticed that each senpai have their own way of showing techniques. Some are a lot stricter and forceful while others go through it slowly and walk me through every move. It’s interesting practicing with different people because some of them are fluent in English, some are native French speaker who sometimes try to talk to me in English and Japanese and others only speak Japanese. However the chance to speak in Japanese for me is very limited because I rarely get to speak to anyone after class and when I have it was for asking how to get my gi or a receipt and the person I asked always responded in English.
I’m very grateful for my time at the dojo however I feel as if I have not really been able to fully integrate into the dojo community. I walk there, practice, and then walk like many other people do. On Thursday, there’s always another class following mine and on Tuesday, after we clean, everyone is quick to zoom out of there. I may not be able to talk much with anyone there but at least I’ve learned a lot about aikido and some vocabulary for the parts of the body that I never actually remembered before.