When we landed in Japan, our first impressions were quite intimidating, having to have our fingerprints taken at the border with police dogs running around the airport. Despite this all the smartly dressed staff seemed very friendly. I had expected Osaka to look like a different planet. The outskirts did look very foreign with Japanese style buildings but as we got further in, Osaka had an American style to it, with tall buildings and a few baseball pitches scattered around.
We arrived at our hotel at about 9.30am. We were told check in was at 3pm and so decided to have a walk around. After a while we sat down in a park for some shade, where a Japanese man who looked like he was in his early 20s started talking to us, asking where we were from, where we were staying. Luke mentioned we were entering an aikido competition. He seemed quite impressed. He asked us how many of us there were, and we replied 8 (Me, Robert, my Mum, my Dad, Luke, Luke’s dad Graham, Paul, and David Findlay). He then cycled off, only to return 10 minutes later with a bag full of drinks for all of us! I was very impressed at just how friendly all the Japanese people were, they made us all feel very welcome. By then it was time to check in so we headed back to the hotel.
In the evening at 5pm, Robert, Paul, Luke, David and I went to honbu training in Showacho where we were welcomed by Tetsuya Nariyama sensei. We got on the mat at 6.30pm; after the taiso and kihon kozo Sakai sensei said that tonight’s class would be free practice. The dojo had no air conditioning; it was so hot that we could only do about 10 techniques at a time before having to rest.
On the day of the competition we realised just how skilled everyone was. My brother and I had entered the Tanto Randori no Kata, and watching everyone perform we saw how sharp the Japanese were in their movement, with small pauses between some of techniques. We managed to get through the first round, but were knocked out in the second. Unfortunately Luke and Sara were knocked out in the first round of the Goshin no Kata. In the afternoon it was the mixed team event. Our mixed team was Me, Paul, Sara, Robert, Luke with Louise Saul, and Spike Nisbet from the Shodokan UK team) We were up against Shodokan Honbu ‘A’ team in the first round! Although we were beaten in all 5 events (Goshin no Kata kneeling, Standing, Tanto tai sabaki, Toshu Randori, and Tanto Randori) I was impressed that it was very close between us, only losing by one or two points in the randori and tai sabaki. The rest of the afternoon and the next day was the randori. I was very impressed watching the incredibly fast movement of some of the Japanese players I was watching. Their tanto strikes were so quick that they looked almost unavoidable. I was pleasantly surprised watching Sara’s bouts, in the first of which she scored a kaeshi waza waza-ari and ippon! She was knocked out in the second round but fought very well.
On Monday it was the International Junior Aikido Festival which my brother and I were also able to compete in. We had entered Under 19s Open Kata and Under 19s Tanto Randori. We had some time to practice our Open Kata before the event started, and managed to get some very helpful advice from Mike McCavish sensei. By this time it was time to get on the mat. We won the first two rounds, but were knocked out in the third by the pair that went on to win gold. I was pleased with our kata though, and how much it had improved for the competition. That afternoon we had been entered into the randori. It was much harder than I had expected. My brother won his first round but was knocked out in the second. Unfortunately I was knocked out in my first round, but was pleased with my performance as I felt I had improved since my last randori competition and felt that I had also learnt a lot at this competition. My opponent went on to win bronze. I was very excited for the next two days, as they were seminars taken by Nariyama Shihan.
Nariyama Shihan emphasised the importance of the kihon kozo. He told us the basics were the most important part of our aikido. This was something I understood as my sensei, Paul often mentions this in class, and it was the same message that Fumika Yamasaki gave us at her seminars in March. Nariyama Shihan also told us that Tomiki Shihan did not like it when his system was called ‘Tomiki Aikido’. He preferred it to be called ‘Shodokan Aikido’ or better yet just ‘Aikido’. I found this very interesting, being something I had not heard before. The seminars focused on the first day on the junanahon from kihon and applications, some of which were quite technical and complicated.
The second day focused on Dan grade syllabus from Shodan to Godan (5th Dan). I found all the techniques highly technical, although I had practiced them before in Brighton and felt I had a relatively good understanding. I particularly enjoyed practicing the Kumitachi from the yondan (4th Dan) syllabus. Overall our experience in Japan was a very enjoyable one. We learnt a lot about aikido and managed to see some of the amazing sights in Japan such as the bamboo forests in Kyoto and Osaka castle. I would highly recommend anyone to go to Osaka and look forward to returning myself in the future.