Coming into KCJS I was still undecided about what specific CIP I wanted to pursue, but I was interested in some sort of physical activity. After searching several possibilities, I eventually discovered an Aikido dojo and decided to give it a try. For the first class I was only allowed to observe. Following this session of observation I began practicing and immediately found myself in a situation contrary to what I had expected.
Having no previous experience in Aikido, I began training at a level far below that of all of the other dojo members. Consequently I made mistakes often, and at times was asked by the sensei to sit in seiza and observe the movements more carefully before attempting them again. Thankfully one of the senior members at the dojo took me aside and began teaching me more basic movements and techniques to help me progress, and through his help I was able to improve a great amount. After the first month I began to feel more comfortable in the practices as I was no longer making fundamental mistakes nearly as often. As a result I was able to place a greater focus on the techniques that the sensei would teach to the entire class rather than being isolated for fundamental work.
While communication outside of the dojo was quite limited, I did have opportunities to practice my Japanese during the lessons. Depending on the sensei, they would either speak entirely in Japanese or occasionally use English to explain certain movements. In the lessons we would partner up with other dojo members and take turns performing what the sensei had instructed us to do. In this setting I was able to communicate with my partner in Japanese and ask questions accordingly, although comprehending their responses posed some challenges at times. Nevertheless, I would ask clarifying questions and felt that this setting was a great way to put my Japanese from a classroom setting to use.
About half way through the semester I also began attending morning zazen sessions in the dojo on the weekends. These sessions were an entirely different experience than the usual physical aspects of our lessons as they were mentally intensive. I found these sessions to be extremely beneficial in clearing my mind of any stress inducing thoughts and always left feeling more relaxed.
The aspects of this CIP that I struggled with the most and never quite mastered were the nuances involved in such a formal class structure of martial arts. In nearly every practice I forgot or was not aware of certain practices of respect, such as the correct time to bow, when to sit in seiza, and how to speak with my partner. In my experience with boxing such formalities were not common practices, and holding this mindset when beginning Aikido caused me difficulties. Regardless, my biggest takeaways from this experience have been that Aikido, like many other aspects of life, requires a constant commitment to improve at a gradual pace. I would advise future students to choose an activity that they have previous experience in due to the time constraints of the semester.
It truly seems like participating at an Aikido Dojo as a CIP was a difficult, but extremely rewarding experience. As you say, with Aikido requiring a large amount of effort and constant commitment, it definitely seems like a tough activity to jump into without any prior experience. On that note — did you have any experience in martial arts prior to the beginning of this semester? Also, are you interested in continuing Aikido, or trying another martial art when you return back home? Overall though, Aikido seems very worthwhile! Especially the zazen sessions, which I feel like would help me clear my mind as well.
I definitely underestimated the amount of training and level of perfection involved in Aikido. This realization has given me a much greater appreciation for the art and those who practice it. I had experience boxing and a small amount of Muay Thai training, but Aikido was completely different than either of those two. When I go back to the US I want to continue training a martial art, whether that will be Aikido or not I’m still not sure though. If you ever have the chance to participate in a zazen session, I would definitely recommend it!
I learned a lot by reading this post. It almost wants to make me try zazen.
Trying zazen, even for one session, would be a great way to experience a different aspect of Japanese culture! Definitely give it a try if you have the chance
Although it sounds likes it was tough, it sounds like you enjoyed it as well! The part about morning zazen was particularly interesting–was it especially helpful for you during times of stress if you happened to have any this semester? I think it would be cool if you planned to occasionally do it once you return to America.
Yeah I definitely enjoyed the experience a lot! It was a lot more difficult than I expected at first, but I learned so much from the entire experience. Zazen helped me to clear my mind especially leading up to exams, it was a great way to relax and shift my focus away from academics. I agree, I’m planning on continuing with zazen occasionally after returning!
This sounds like a really cool CIP! It was really brave of you to do Aikido without any experience. It sounds like you learned a lot, and it’s an experience that you can’t really get in the United States, at least not in the same way. I especially like how you compared it with your past experience with boxing, and how the formalities in Aikido are not present in boxing, making it difficult. It seems like that is a big cultural difference in Japanese sports.
Having this experience in Japan was extremely satisfying, especially knowing that it couldn’t be recreated in the same way were the lessons in the US! Japanese martial arts have an entirely different cultural aspect compared to the United States, and I only got a brief glimpse of their immense cultural focus. It’d be interesting to learn how other Japanese martial arts compare in this regard.