Tokyo Coffee Festival - Spring

The branches of the cherry blossom trees were speckled with tight little baubles when I headed up to Tokyo last month. For the most part they stayed that way for the duration of my time there. It might have nice to see the fluffy fireworks that broke out all along the Meguro river the following week, but somehow, that tension of being on the verge of a beginning was exactly the right tone for the trip. 

I was kindly asked by the charming Mr. Ralf Rueller of The Barn Coffee Roasters to come and help him at the Tokyo Coffee Festival. Ralf is keen to plant a flag in Japan for The Barn, and this was perhaps the first real push for presence. The Barn was sharing a tent with their collaborator Standart Magazine, who it so happens I have also done work for. The new Japanese edition of Standart was fresh off the press and so it was perfect timing for them to spread the word and reach out to the coffee community in Japan. So in this context of familiar faces on new frontiers my role was basically to be as helpful as possible, whatever that might entail.

I arrived up from Kyoto all rosy on the Shinkansen on the Friday morning, got a taxi to PNB Coffee. The owner Peter and I didn't know each other, but somehow I ended up sort of making base camp in his cafe for the day, so we got to know each other reasonably well. As it happened, PNB, which is a carefully curated cafe of Scandanavian good taste, had already unwittingly become more of an EU outpost as Standart (Slovakia/The Netherlands) and The Barn (Germany) had had all their event stuff sent there in the days prior. 

Peter and I talked Coffee Collective and paper stock while I waited for Ralf who was awol. When Ralf finally shown up, Oronamin C drink in hand - something he bought more out of bemusement than necessity - we got down to business of making sense of all the boxes. Then a bit of lunch with Peter - now it feels like I've known Peter for ages - and then the serious stuff of working out the grinds and pouring technique for all the coffees for the weekend. We did this until we were all over-caffinated and no longer able to tell wood from trees and then Ralf set about grinding the coffee while I finished the shopping. All of these rather humdrum tasks took a surprising amount of time, but by the end of the day, we were reasonably confident we were ready for the festival.

The next morning it was bright, sunny and as warm as you could hope for. I was first to arrive at The Farmer's Market in Shibuya. The market is terrifically well organised. It has great infrastructure for traders in place, just as you would see in established markets across Europe. As such, set-up played out like a symphony. (A stark contrast to the sea of chaos that was the festival at Shimogama Shrine back in January). I was joined by Kouhei Shintani of Sporty Coffee, Osaka. Another friend of The Barn, we basically met Ralf more or less around the same time. Along with Ralf, and the Standart guys, who would basically be running their own corner that was basically to be our team. Peter had warned us several times that we were going to be completely rammed with customers all day. Even knowing that I had taken that sort of lackadaisical Irish attitude that also regularly manifests itself at sporting events and other times of trial of: "Ah sure, it'll be grand. We can only do our best.". In my case, it may also be that once I saw someone cook a venison main course for 70 people in an ancient domestic-use fan oven that's left a lasting impression on me that anything is possible. 

We were indeed drawing visitors before we'd even finished the taste check and the volume of customers quickly ramped up to full capacity. TCF had anticipated this, and implemented a highly effective queing system at a distance from our tent so that we didn't get crowded in front, allowing punters to pass easily and for us to get in and out if necessary. The staff also were great to regularly check our needs. This allowed us to focus on our own tight system and get people served as fast as possible. Ralf was keen to introduce the coffees to the customers and was a bottomless well of interesting information but it was difficult to deliver both this and the actual coffee at a pace satisfactory to everyone. This is where the symbiotic relationship with Standart shone: people waiting for coffee could get drawn into the magazine. People perusing the magazine would also discover the coffee. 

The other thing that made what could have been a long flat-out slog into a pleasantly busy and energising day was the fact that we were not alone: we had a gold-star team of volunteers that helped absolutely every detail fluid and stress-free. Pouring coffee and managing the queue to either mini tasting cup or normal-size coffee, switching in at the bar so that everyone could grab a break. It was really a dream. 

We wrapped up the day on a high note and then there were a few hours to kill before the Standart Japan launch party at Blue Bottle Coffee in Meguro. I had scouted out a clean and modern sento nearby and so I passed a restorative hour or so there before perambulatlng up to Blue Bottle. The Meguro Blue Bottle is a curious building: the initial impression is a big house-y shape of glass and white. You see multiple layers and levels of space at once, and with the industrial aesthetic gives a sense of it as a hive for humans. I was especially amused by the "event pit" in the back. A concrete-cast space below street level with no real furnishings other than a few trees in oversize planters. Un-wishing to be left vulnerable out in the open, people line up neatly along the walls. Given that this was industry-based gathering where most people fit into the same age/lifestyle bracket, attendees were also for the most part, uniform in dress. (While we're on the subject of dress, I notice that the cobalt blue jacket is fashionable amongst men in a big way. I call this the factory foreman coat or the Bill Cunningham look depending on length of jacket. Curious to know if either of those were actually the inspiration for this trend). 

There was beer and coffee and coffee-inspired bossa nova (?). Everyone knew more or less everyone. Lots of nodding of heads. Many people having seen each other several times already that day. Michael and Toshi made their speeches and Standart Japan was officially launched. It's been roughly about a year since I first did work for Standart. They have come on at dazzling speed in that time. It was great to be able to be there at start of something new and special for them. Michael and I met in person for the first time late last year, two Europeans in Kyoto, and bonded over love of Japan and also martial arts. It's bizarre sometimes, how the dots join up. 

Sunday was much the same as Saturday except our teamwork had levelled up and things went so smoothly it was almost relaxed, even though the stall was busy all day long. I really have massive appreciation for how amazing and professional our team was, considering we didn't even know each other before the event. My experience of the specialty coffee world is that it's full of intelligent, charming, friendly people, and I am very happy to be part of it. The breaking down of the stall at the end of the event went smoothly and we all went our separate ways. In the Standart guys' case, back to Europe immediately. Everyone gave positive feedback of their experience and were willing to help again in the future.

On Monday, for the third day in a row, the weather was superlative, and I had a free schedule. I started at Naka-Meguro station, had a pretzel croissant (latest pastry fad?), visited Onibus Coffee and then wandered up along the river in the sun, generally headed towards Yoyogi Park. Ralf had a cupping event at PNB at noon. By sheer coincidence, I was drifting near PNB around this time so I dropped by to see how everything was. It was about ten minutes before starting; Ralf had apparently had some trust issues with the electric grinder and as result, decided to grind all ten coffees on his Commandante hand grinder. When the participants arrived, Ralf, Peter and I were still engaged in some kind of coffee-grinding relay race. Ralf stalled with first a welcome, followed by a stream which then became a torrent of information about coffee processing. There was a glassy silence which was hastily filled in with a translation and the atmosphere warmed up once again. Ralf encouraged the participants to actually get involved in the process of the cupping, not just tasting. I found this interesting and bit seem to make first-timers feel less intimidated. It was a good turn out and lots of people were keen to talk to Ralf. After this I slid off back into the sunshine and had an afternoon of adventure in Tomigaya. 

Tuesday was rainy and I hit a few places I'd been keen to see before rendez-vous with Ralf at The Local. We hung out with the lovely people there brewing coffee and talking a little business also. After that I escorted Ralf on a cafe tour until we admitted that we just wanted to be dry and warm and recover from the weekend. Wednesday we headed back to Kyoto in the morning to continue our coffee adventure tour with Cafe Frosch, Kurasu Kyoto and Weekenders Coffee and then with Elmers Green and Sporty Coffee in Osaka. It was really a singular week, even for me where normally work and fun generally mix into a grey area, I had a good time being a sort of switch board operator linking up people and bringing coffee-centric community fun. 

The Escapist

As a devoted Monocle consumer I awaited my copy of The Escapist with a sense giddy anticipation, ready to bask in the “sunshine on paper” as it was described on Monocle radio, and at the same time with an inward sigh thinking that’s probably as close to a summer holiday as I might get: aspirational window shopping from my utilitarian accommodation of the kenshusei shisetsu, a world away from the Nice Things and Beautiful People usually fill the pages of a Monocle publication.

At that time I had forgotten that, in a sense I was already living The Escapist dream. I escaped the nine to five about two years ago, first getting by somehow while having all sorts of food-centered adventures in Dublin, now, I’m operating even further outside the normal framework. Indeed if I chose to I could phrase my current situation rather grandly: an aikido practitioner living in the traditional, machiya-lined northern part of Kyoto city on a intense training program to become a professional martial artist. I could curate my photo uploads to snaps of the Budo centre’s traditional-style training hall, the Kamo river, leafy temples and tasteful cafe interiors (and in fact for the most part I do). None of this really speaks anything of the financial uncertainty, the utilitarian dojo-owned share house designed by the ergonomically illiterate, or the strict training schedule which makes up the greater part of daily life. It’s living the dream, but the dream is actually tough going. Meanwhile, all that nice cultural stuff just sits in the background out of focus - Kyoto becomes a fishbowl where you just go around and round in the same circles week on week while the heat steadily rises and then remains trapped by the surrounding mountains.

This unseen, unglamorous daily reality is taken to extremes once the summer sets in proper: shedding litres of sweat in a tatami lined box with about twenty other people, throwing and taking falls, trying to aim your landing a few centimetres away from the visible print of someone else’s sweat drenched dogi. Any exotic thrill of living in Kyoto for martial arts is soon lost in that unforgiving heat bog of a city where temperatures sit at 35 degrees Celsius. The mere act of bowing in at the start of training produces visible beads of perspiration and in the time you’re not dragging yourself up from a pool of your own sweat after taking break falls over and over again in the dojo, your main preoccupation is laundry and the efficient rotation of dojo wear.

So when The Escapist arrived I was more than ready to be invited to feel the breeze of Beirut while lying on the floor my room underneath underneath the air conditioner. As it happened however, I got a slice of the real deal - to take my own journey that was very much in the spirit of the magazine. 

A few days after the magazine arrived, due to carelessness on my part, my travel arrangements to an eight hour aikido seminar in Odawara were voided. At first I was furious at myself for losing out on 2000 yen overnight bus hell; due to spending most of our time on unpaid training, we kenshusei are generally in a perpetual state of poverty. This rules out flashy options like the Shinkansen, but, when I talked with the others I was reminded that August is the season to buy a Seishun 18 ticket in Japan. For about 10,000 yen it can be used for five journeys on any local train. A nice feature is that multiple people can use the same ticket (each counting as one of the five journeys) so, with two of my fellow kenshusei, we bought one to take the train from Kyoto to Yugawara, a stop before Odawara, our final destination. This was due to it being cheaper to stay in Yugawara and travel forward on the day of the seminar. 

Last year I Inter-railed solo around Europe, and as such I have Passing Time on Trains down to a fine art, but I was surprised at the how fluidly seven hours passed with two travelling companions, homemade cake and a game of shiratori - though the latter was abandoned between trains after about an hour. There were many changes of trains but while they looked like an awful lot of work as a list on a timetable, in reality were very smooth and easy. 

Once we arrived in Yugawara it was already dark and most places were closed, but so delighted were we to move our legs the fifteen minute walk Google maps lead us on was very agreeable. We found ourselves at a non-descript street near the edge of town where there was a Teishoku-ya - a place to get a set Japanese style set meal for a reasonable price. Having lived in Kyoto about six months now I’d become sort of desensitised to the splendour of all the shrines and temples, though walking through this new environment, I was struck anew by the pleasure of being in a beautiful place, in this small seaside town south Tokyo of all places, somewhere I didn’t know existed until the week before. The small town atmosphere with a hint of the sea - in the air but also in the pointed reminders of the sea level at where ever you looked, the streets lined with paper lanterns for o-bon and the black shape of the mountains - totally different to Kyoto - somehow more open. 

At the Teishoku-ya we had a simple and delicious meal of rice, miso soup, grilled fish, a little salad and chawanmushi to the comfortable backdrop of mindless evening television. From there we contacted our ryokan owner who came and picked us up. What initially seemed like an exemplary gesture of Japanese hospitality was soon evidently more of a necessity as we rode the car up a steep winding hill devoid of any illumination. 

The ryokan was old, it seemed like it might be a converted care home - the layout was strange and the owners were insistent on the use of the elevator for a journey between floors of about ten seconds by stairs. It’s selling point was the ‘mikan bath’ which was literally a big Japanese style bath filled with citrus bobbing about on the surface filling the bathroom with steamy zestiness, was a new and slightly surreal experience. There was also a coveted rotemburo - outdoor bath which we were entitled to use for a half an hour. Being the unlikely trio of an Irish woman, a Japanese man and a French man, it was delicately agreed the fairest way was to divide this time into two fifteen minute slots with me going first. Rotemburo against the clock is not exactly the gently restorative experience Japanese people get dreamy-eyed over, but it wasn’t unsatisfying.  

The room was somewhat more equipped than your average European budget hotel, what’s considered the essentials in hospitality and how it varies from place to place is always interesting. Here, it seems one cannot get by without a hot water dispenser, lacquer box with full Japanese tea set, low table with big plush zabuton, in addition to the tv and hairdryer. Our futons were laid out already on the immaculate tatami. A huge window faced down on the town towards the mountain and though it wasn’t visible at the given hour, in the morning we woke to a spectacular vista, which is just what you want when you wake up in a strange place.

In the morning we had a leisurely stroll along the citrus tree lined mountain road, then took another quick soak in the baths before getting ready for an intense weekend of sweating it out on the tatami. Sitting in the wooden lined bath by myself at seven a.m. facing an unfamiliar mountain range which was vibrant in the August morning sunshine, I perused an article about Perth and felt a deep sense of pleasure at how I had come to be here, a how happy coincidence and lack of both money and expectations opened the door to an overall richer experience than the most obvious travel option. To recall the actual seminar only draws up a hazy blur of people, litres Pocari Sweat and even more actual sweat, it's the memory of the unexpected journey with two unlikely companions that lingers sweetly: sunlight citrus and the sea, and will remain something to treasure.

Aikido Kyoto Tenugui

Recently it was Yoko-sensei's 60th birthday and I got to design the commemorative tenugui for Aikido Kyoto. It's inspired by the choju giga scrolls which are very famous, and much loved in Kyoto. 

I didn't actually see it until the day of the seminar. It was a relief to see it came out pretty much as I designed it. All the members got one, and Yoko-sensei also sent some to all dojos we have a relationship so they've gone to Europe and America too. The remaining tenugui will be on sale for 1000 yen each. 


Aikido Doodles

I can`t remember why but I was doing aikido drawings for some reason. As Aikido consumes more and more of my life these will likely become more frequent, as well short comics about things that amused me. Also hakama are fun to draw. They`re also amazing pieces of clothing if you examine how they`re made. In general Japanese clothing is ingenius imo, It`s generally quite practical, comfortable and looks great. 

Kenshusei Life: Saturday | 研修生ライフ(土)

Finally we get to the last day of the training week. There's a zazen at 8:20 which some people go to, then class with Chris-sensei starts at the agreeable time of 10AM. Saturday is always a good day because, being a day off a lot of sempai are able to come and it's fun to train with them and you learn a lot. With so many people who have been training together for a long time, there's a good atmosphere. The format is for Chris to go through some techniques, basic stuff that people need to know for gradings and end with randori, which is also tested. Randori is where the tori starts at one end of the mat and the uke, usually about three people are at the end of the end. At the call of "hajime!" the uke go to grab the tori who has to throw them. It's a test of timing and judgement, that you go through the attackers and strategically throw them so they stay spaced out and you don't end up crowded. It's a lot harder than it looks.

Last class of the week is another weapons class, this time with Chris-sensei. Like on Friday it can be bokken or jo. Chris and Yoko have different styles of teaching. Chris is more likely to get annoyed at us for not being able to do what he's showing, which manifests itself in jovial insults. I guess it's that Irish blood. 

When that's over kenshusei do our weekly appointed dojo cleaning and then that's it till Monday. So there you have it. One week in kenshusei life. There are other things that kenshusei have to do, such as keeping the inside and outside of the dojo tidy which involve the unexciting tasks of sweeping up leaves and toilet cleaning. On golden week we had to repaint the dojo, Hasegawa has the added task of fielding all e-mail that comes in, with the help of Pierre, if it's in French. Pierre is in charge of dojo maintenance, us newbies are in charge of dealing with guests when Paul isn't there. So far I haven't been as on ball with this I need to be- one moment of hesitation where you wonder if this person is a stranger, or just a member you haven't seen before is the moment you are judged in the eagle eye of one of the more experienced members to be not doing your job at all and at warp speed they appear beside the visitor, pamphlet and newsletter in one hand and zabuton in the other. Just another thing to work on. Three years, people.

I've tried to give a clear account of the week without being exhaustively detailed and boring people but if you have any questions or would otherwise like to express your thoughts having read this series of posts, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

Kenshusei Life: Friday | 研修生ライフ(金)

Friday training is unique in that it's the only day that happens at the Budo Centre. That sounds cool, and in fact there is a really gorgeous old style Japanese building on the grounds that's used as a training space. For our usual weekly visit however we train in basically a generic sports facility. We have to put down the mats before class and take them up afterwards which is a bit of pain but the Budo Centre is only 30 mins by bike which is more than reasonable considering the Hirakata journey on Wednesday. We will get to use the traditional building soon though for our upcoming international seminar so that will be something to look forward to. 

The nice thing is that the space is quite big compared to Nishijin so even if there's a lot of people it's comfortable. 

This class is an hour and a half, then there's a short break and then there's weapons class. This is separate to regular training and you have to apply to be in it because due to the obvious fact that it's a lot of people swinging weapons around, space is limited. This class can be either bokken which is a wooden sword or a jo which is a wooden pole. You've seen them in a martial arts film at some stage surely. 

Weapons class is difficult. There's a certain amount of transferrable knowledge but it really is a different beast. I speak from the point of view of a person who never did weapons until I came to Kyoto. Many dojos don't really go in to them too much.  

So we bash away at that for another hour. Usually some basic movements, some drills then some exercises and then maybe, just maybe we might do something that, well, looks cool I guess. I'm not sure what weapons mean to me yet so I'm quite happy to do the static exercises while I figure out if it, as head of animation in college, Keith Foran used to say; informs some other part of my training. Right now all it does is give my arms a serious workout, though it is getting more fun as I no longer have to think too hard about holding the bloody thing the right way or not drop it or something like that.

And then that's it for Friday. Then I usually get home pumped to do stuff then run out of energy right after I put my dogi in the washing machine and just lie on the floor instead. One more day to go!

Kenshusei Life: Thursday | 研修生ライフ(木)

Once you get home Wednesday night you know you're on a roll to the end of the week. Depending on your personal schedule, Thursday morning class is sort of optional. For those of us who attend every other scheduled class this is the one to take off and recover a bit. People who because of other engagements miss other classes in the week tend to go. Paul teaches it and he has a distinct following of beginners who enjoy his snail-pace classes. 

The other reason to take Thursday morning is because Thursday night is three classes back to back: kids, beginners and advanced. 

There's some mixed levels of both skill and will power in Thursday nights class. You also have your typical few 'old man' kids who are always tired or have a sore knee or elbow or really just find it all too much today of all days. The response to all of which is to just throw them repeatedly until they get genuinely tired and don't have the energy to put on the act.

Next is a basics class so we team up with lower grades and it's all very nice and polite. We don't want to scare anyone. Just do some basics techniques broken down into a series or exercises until everyone can more or less do it.

Then the lower grades go home and the higher grades thrash each other for another hour. The All Nippon embu at Hombu Dojo is coming up. It's a huge Aikido meet basically and each dojo gets to show off their stuff. Yoko-sensei has been working on Aikido Kyoto's demonstration. For this reason golden trio of Manyu-san, Daisaku and Hasegawa have been getting flaked around the place something fierce. Incidentally, Thursday night is the day we tend to get the most visitors, probably of the two-for-one value of the consecutive classes. Depending on where they came from, full power Yoko-sensei can be a bit of a shock to the system. 

As it gets warmer these high-intensity classes are getting tougher. The last twenty minutes are difficult to follow if sensei decides not to slow down the pace when all you can think about is if you'd rather juice or beer. Then we go back home, Thursday night is the night we rotate who makes dinner for everyone in the kenshusei house. Nearly the weekend now. Two days to go.

Kenshusei Life: Wednesday | 研修生ライフ(水)

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!

Kenshusei Life: Tuesday | 研修生ライフ(火)

Tuesday starts with 7:40 zazen, which is nice but can easily lead to being a bit too relaxed about getting up and rushing at the last minute. Tuesday is the day I most often don't have time for coffee and spend zazen just fighting to keep my eyes open.

Class is then at 8AM. It's another general class. It tends to be a pretty mixed bag depending on who comes. Sometimes we do some basic stuff, today it was practising sutemi throws which is one of the more difficult and dynamic ways of taking ukemi (which I talked about a bit yesterday). When done right it looks like the uke's body is a paper shape being effortlessly swung 180 degrees by the tori. My previous dojo didn't do this stuff so this is a steep learning curve and your basic ukemi technique has to be very very good or it's all just a disaster and doesn't look very cool either.

After that there's an open mat which I usually don't go to because it's slightly over my limit of what I can give at the moment. Today I went though because I had things to work on. Often tends to be people practicing for gradings. Yoko-sensei is often still hanging around on side and will occasionally impart some advice by shouting a precise instruction across the room at you.  

Then I come back to the dojo at 5PM for the kids class in English at 5:30. There's a class for kids under before kids sometimes I see the end of that. It's a whole different world to regular kids class. Daisaku teaches these mainly and he's very good at it.

Tuesday evenings are with Chris-sensei, Yoko's husband and friend of my teacher in Dublin. He's a great teacher and I always enjoy his classes. The kids in English class are a mixed bunch and there are days when they really hit a high or a slump. On slump days there's a lot of lying on the ground and taking as long as possible to stand back up again when thrown.

Last thing on Tuesday is Chris' Basics Class. It usually breaking down the moves into several parts and practicing them until it builds up to the actual technique. Like Monday morning, you spend most of your time with beginners, helping them though the actions. It's a good opportunity to sharpen up your technique and build confidence. 

Chris-sensei is very clear in his instructions and understandably occasionally gets frustrated when people automatically do a move Yoko-sensei's way instead. Some people say he's more difficult to follow than Yoko-sensei but I don't think so. Maybe because parts of his style remind me of Jean-sensei's back in Dublin. Maybe.

One week of Kenshusei Life: Monday | 研修生ライフの一週間 (月)

I felt the last post didn't go far enough to give a taste of actual kenshusei life so I've decided to do a week where I explain what the training involves.


First thing bright and early at 6AM on Monday morning: Zazen, seated meditation. My thoughts on zazen are that there are people who are suited to it and those who are not. The people who are into in talk about how it gives them a wonderful sense of centeredness that remains with them the rest of the day and things like that. For me the main point of zazen is to be seen to be making an effort and to use the 40 minutes to think over what I need to do this week, wonder how much the upcoming seminar costs, think about rearranging my website and so on. For zazen you're meant to sit in lotus position on the edge of a round cushion so you're seated on a tripod consisting of your knees and your bum. If you can't do lotus you're basically putting your weight on your legs which results in dead legs. You keep yours hands in the position shown above, and you gaze ahead at a space in front of you and try empty your mind. I still do actually try sometimes but it feels like a bit of a waste of time when I could be thinking about new colouring techniques.


7AM we have a Regular Class on Mondays. It tends to be mainly lower grades that come to this one. In situations like that we the kenshusei help sensei by pairing always with the lower grades and help them through the moves. You get some stuff with these guys that's way off the map and it can be a real challenge. Kenshusei are the ones who be Uke for sensei the most also. The idea being we can glean some insight from being thrown by sensei personally. You can, but feeling it and actually understanding what it was you felt are different things. When taking ukemi, you're trying to help sensei demonstrate the technique clearly which means being able to understand what she's going to do, follow her movement and take ukemi properly - that means 'receiving' the technique properly and taking a fall or a roll in a safe way. This can be nerve-wrecking especially when you're only occasionally called up and trying not to tense up in your desperation to please in front of a room of your fellow students can be the hardest part. 


After class on Mondays we have a kenshusei meeting with Yoko-sensei to discuss upcoming events, things that have happened or were brought to our attention during the week, appoint weekly tasks etc. Today being the week after Golden Week, there were lots of omiyage sweets to be had with our usual green tea. There's this one from Fukuoka called Hataka Toorimon which is absolutely amazing. I wish I'd saved mine because I think it would be amazing with coffee. It's like a western-influenced wagashi with white an paste in the middle with butter and cream, the outside has a wonderfully milky taste and soft cake texture. So good. 

A drawing of a Hakata Toorimon that doesn't convey how absolutely delicious and special it is one bit.

A drawing of a Hakata Toorimon that doesn't convey how absolutely delicious and special it is one bit.

Then we disperse to go about our days. In the evening classes are held in two places: the main dojo in Nishijin and in a Youth Centre in Fushimi. At the moment I'm in the Nishijin team of kenshusei so I help in the Middle Schoolers class. It's mainly for kids who have gotten too big for kids class though some lower grade adults attend too. The teacher tends to change a lot depending on who's free which makes it kind of interesting.

Aaaand that's all for Monday. Tune in tomorrow for Tuesday's schedule.