This is the day we reach the peak of the training week. Today is more than four hours dojo time split between Nishijin dojo in the morning and then the epic journey to the middle of the suburban nowhere that is Hirakata, where the pace of training kicks up a level. We'll get to that later.
Zazen is 6AM again on Wednesdays. By the third day of zazen (keeping in mind I'm only a month into at least three years of training) my legs really have had enough of this pose and it feels like a tremendously long forty minutes. This is just an issue of personal perseverance.
After zazen is a Basics class at 7AM. At this point of the week, Yoko-sensei often has clearly established a theme, it might be for example: a specific technique like irmi-nage or some detail that applies in general such as proper grip as ukemi. Having being aware of that makes it easy for us to take the ukemi and easier to help instruct other as now we've been doing this since Monday. It's part of the rhythm of the week that you get in to and it makes it easier. If you miss a day you really do feel it.
After the basics class there's a brief break while the regular students head off and then we have a forty five minute kenshusei class. This is often a slot where Yoko-sensei will work with us individually on something, or for the more experienced people, be repeatedly milled off the floor. The atmosphere is different to regular classes. In a way it feels like a little reward for all the other things kenshusei have to do, which we'll come to another day. This week for example Yoko-sensei was interested in improving our breathing technique and the core. Here is when everything sort of pulls together, where the breathing control in zazen links in to the training which you do the rest of the day. These are the sort of "hmm" moments you sometimes get left with to mull over and feel a bit pleased by because people like things having meaning and puzzled because you are now deep in this mist of this other world far from normal people and left to fend for yourself. Much like the businessmen practicing their golf swings with umbrellas on train platforms, you might find yourself absently waving your arm in a shomen-uchi while cycling your bike. *cough*Daisaku*cough*
So then we cut to the afternoon when we head make our way out to Hirakata, which is seemingly a suburb of Osaka rather than part of Kyoto. It requires cycling to the train station, then get a thirty minute train, then get a taxi or bus from Hirakata station. It is an ordeal that we go through every Wednesday. There's something terrifically Japanese about the preservation of this ritual in the face of all good sense - more than half of the adult class are kenshusei and other people who came from Kyoto. Why do we do it? Well part of it is that Yoko started in Hirakata when she and Chris came back to Japan. Also, there's the kids class. Each kids class in the three dojo locations is different. The Hirakata kids really have it together. They usually display a good spirit and take instruction well. We have some very enthusiastic new kids in this class at the moment including a kid who looks small enough to fit in my rucksack. Even he, who's only been there a few weeks can roll properly, though if the pace picks up he tends to panic and resorts to just throwing himself sideways or backwards - a class beginner reaction.
Lastly is the adult class. The Hirakata Gymnasium mat space is enormous. This facilitates more dynamic movement, bigger ukemi, generally more bashing around, red faces and sweat. Yoko-sensei is usually on top form for Hirakata and again sempai are often seen, ideally at a safe distance, being mashed around at some side of the room. Basically for Hirakata, everyone is on fire. Unless you actually live in Hirakata and this is just normal training, then poor you having to deal with this swarm of aikido maniacs descending upon you. To summarize: Hirakata is high-energy - the summit of the training week . This gets you ready for Thursday night's higher grade class, and the long Friday and Saturday mornings which both include weapons training. Until tomorrow!