This year, from 26 May to 3 June, I visited Japan for the very first time. While the main purpose of my visit was to support Singapore’s kendo national team in the 16th World kendo Championships held at Nippon Budokan, I decided to pay a visit and train at some of MJER’s iai dojos as well. Arrangements for the visits were made prior to my trip.
In total, I visited four different dojos, namely Shokenkai, Shibuya Esaka Dojo, Matsudo Esaka Dojo and Genshinkan, in that order. The following is a recount of my experiences in training at the four dojos (all timings stated are in Japanese time, which is one hour ahead of Singapore time).
28 May 2015 (Thur) - Shokenkai
Shokenkai is located in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, in the quiet coastal town of Katase. After a two-hour train ride from Shibuya where I was walking around, I reached Fujisawa Station where I met Mr Wakabayashi, one of the Shokenkai members. We took another train to Katase-Enoshima Station. As we arrived almost an hour early, Mr Wakabayashi showed me around Katase before bringing me to the dojo.
We were the first to arrive at the dojo at about 1840h, which is located in Katase Kouminkan, a community centre. As I got changed, Shokenkai’s kancho, Asamiya Kyoko-sensei, taught me the proper way to wear the obi and montsuki. Class started with Matsumoto Hideaki-sensei taking me personally. We went through a selected few waza from Seiza no Bu and Battou Hou no Bu. Matsumoto-sensei corrected my mistakes, particularly those in kihon.
Class lasted for close to two hours. I took a group photo with Asamiya-sensei and Wakabayashi-san before we vacated the hall. I ended the day with dinner at a nearby izakaya with Matsumoto-sensei and Mr Wakabayashi before returning to my hostel in Shinjuku
29 May 2015 (Fri) - Shibuya Esaka Dojo
I left Nippon Budokan early to take a train to Shibuya, which did not take as long as Shibuya is relatively close by to Kudanshita (where Nippon Budokan is located) as compared to Katase. I met Miyazawa Yasutomo-sensei and Mr Sekine at around 1710h at the ground floor entrance of Shibuya Hikarie, a shopping centre located right next to Shibuya Station. We took a short walk to the dojo, which is located in Konno Hachiman-gu, a small shrine. There, I had the great honour of personally meeting MJER’s headmaster, Esaka Seigen-sensei.
Training began and I was put under the supervision of Yoshioka-sensei. We went through all of the waza in Seiza no Bu, Battou Hou no Bu and Oku no Kata, with Yoshioka-sensei fine-tuning my techniques along the way. Occasionally, Esaka-sensei would personally come over to correct me as well.
Towards the end of the class, Miyazawa-sensei demonstrated some of the waza and we did it as a class. After class ended, I took a group photo with all who were present. Following that, I went for dinner with Miss Oki Nanami, a new friend that I made at the dojo, who shared with me her own experiences of training at Shibuya Esaka dojo over dinner.
30 May 2015 (Sat) - Matsudo Esaka Dojo
Again, I left Nippon Budokan early to make my way to Kita-Matsudo, which is located in Chiba prefecture outside Tokyo. I met up with Teruoka-sensei at Kita-Matsudo Station. We chatted as we waited for Masumura-sensei to pick us up from the station.
We arrived at the dojo early. The dojo is located in the budokan of Matsudo Sports Park. We had to wait for our turn to use the dojo as there was a karate class before ours. During this time, I was introduced to the other members who arrived later. Training began with Masumura-sensei leading the warm-up and footwork exercises before he demonstrated waza from Seiza no Bu, Battou Hou no Bu and Oku no Kata. A short break followed before the class broke up into groups. Masumura-sensei personally took me and pointed out my mistakes in some of my kihon and my footwork. Due to the lack of time, we managed to only cover the first few seiza waza after finishing all of the waza in Battou Hou no Bu and Oku no Kata.
We left the dojo quickly as there was another martial arts class after ours. Due to lack of time, I did not manage to take a group photograph with the members present at today’s practice. Masumura-sensei dropped me off at Kita-Matsudo Station, where I had a large dinner before returning to my hostel.
2 Jun 2015 (Tues) - Genshinkan
On my second-last day in Japan, I visited Genshinkan, located in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture. I took a two-hour train ride from Akihabara, where I was shopping earlier, to Kisarazu Station. Upon arrival, I managed to establish contact with Daniel-sensei, who made arrangements for me to be picked up from the station. I was picked up promptly by Genshinkan’s kancho, Kobara Kenichi-sensei. I had previously met Kobara-sensei in Taiwan during the 1st Taikai and grading in Jan 2014, and was really delighted to meet him again. As Kobara-sensei drove to the dojo, we chatted and caught up with one another.
We arrived at the dojo early. Genshinkan, being Kobara-sensei’s own dojo, is built next to his house. Located in the serene countryside, it is a cosy, clean and quiet dojo. Definitely a conducive environment to learn and practise iaido!
As more of the members arrived, Kobara-sensei introduced us to each other. I also got to meet Sakuma-sensei, whom I had previously heard of from the Singapore members who went for the 2nd Taikai and grading in Taiwan earlier this year.
Class began with Kobara-sensei leading Seiza no Bu, Battou Hou no Bu and Oku no Kata. As I was the visitor, Kobara-sensei positioned me directly in front of him so that I could have a better view of him demonstrating and he a better view of me executing my waza. He also pointed out my mistakes in my waza and kihon. After that, the class broke up into groups and I was instructed by Sakuma-sensei himself. Again, due to the lack of time, we only managed to cover the first few seiza waza after completing Battou Hou no Bu and Oku no Kata. I did not manage to take a group photograph either as I had to rush to the bus station to take my bus back to Shinjuku.
Overall, my experience of training iaido in Japan has been a fantastic one! Through training in the various MJER dojos there, I learnt that even within a ryuha itself, there may be slight differences in waza and ideas, all of which still make logical sense to the MJER practitioner. I will definitely recommend any MJER iaidokas to train in at least one of the abovementioned dojos should they visit Japan, as the experiences one can get from personally learning from the Japanese senseis there is something relatively hard to come by.
Personally, I have learnt a lot more about MJER iaido and polished my techniques a little more in my visits. I will definitely train in Japan in my future trips there. Till then, ganbatte kudasai to all MJER iaidokas worldwide!