In recent years, foreign students who were willing to commit to the grueling 11 month program have been allowed to join. This is recounted in the book, "Angry White Pajamas." The full article may be read here. Enjoy.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
|It was a riot: Carter and classmates pose for a shot with the riot police who joined them on the 11-month Senshusei Aikido course at the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo. ANDREW CARTER|
THE ZEIT GIST
Battered Briton survives aikido ordeal
Punishing course leaves Englishman bruised but hungry for more 'cultivation'
By DAMIEN OKADO-GOUGH
At the end of February, a group of international students graduated from the Tokyo-based Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, one of the most intensive martial arts training centers in the world.
Yoshinkan (meaning "hall for cultivating the spirit") is a style of aikido founded by Gozo Shioda after World War II. Made famous by the controversial book "Angry White Pyjamas" by Robert Twigger, the Senshusei Aikido training course was initially started at the dojo in 1957 to train members of the Tokyo riot police. In 1991 the 11-month program opened its doors to applicants outside the police force, and since then the course has attracted recruits from all over world.
One such recruit, Englishman Andrew Carter, 24, who graduated from the course this year, spoke to The Japan Times about his motivations for starting the program and his experiences over the nearly yearlong course.
"I always wanted to join the British Army's Royal Marines when I was in my teens, but in university I went off the idea of the military — the killing people part — but I still wanted to experience something similar in terms of the training," he recalls. Then he read "Angry White Pyjamas," and after coming to Japan as an English teacher on the JET program, he decided to sign up for the Senshusei course.
The Senshusei course is famous — some might say infamous — for the severity of the training. Injury is not just possible, it's seemingly inevitable. The first training session of the course, says Carter, was "interesting."
"It was an hour of nonstop, difficult exercises. Out of 10 of us, one guy's legs gave out and he collapsed. I collided with another guy and he went to hospital with a cut to his head; I got a black eye out of that clash. One guy's nose started bleeding due to too many press-ups."
And this was only the first training session. For the next 11 months, Carter and his fellow trainees would endure three such sessions a day, five days a week.
"We all had bleeding backs due to hundreds of backward break-falls. The cuts would reopen each day and the backs of our dogi — uniforms — would turn red with blood stains. You're not allowed to start a training session with a dirty dogi, so one of the guys would tape women's sanitary towels to his back to soak up the blood."
Shugyo is a Japanese word that means "commitment to a discipline," and trainees on the Senshusei course must try to get a deep understanding of shugyo.
"Shugyo makes a great impact in the rest of your life; without some form of it, real training is impossible."
Soon after starting the course, Carter came to realize that he did not fully understand this concept.
"Others were studying techniques in their spare time while I was working or resting. It soon became clear that I was the weakest in the group as I was constantly making technical mistakes. I spent many embarrassing training sessions in front of my peers making mistakes. It was during this year that I decided I needed to re-evaluate my way of approaching life if I am to ever to be worthy of my black belt, if ever I'm to fulfill my full potential as a human being."
"I now see myself as a very different person. I used to drink and socialize a lot and leave studying to the last minute, but my year in the dojo has had a profound effect on me. It teaches you that you have to be focused, you have to predict what's coming up and study it and you have to be aware constantly of your own movements as well as being aware of a strict culture and of the teacher's needs."
"At the end of the year I see so many areas that I can improve on, in both aikido and in my life. But this is not a negative thing; it is very possible that without the course I would have never come to realize this. For me the course really unlocked a desire to do my best in all areas of life, not just the physical side of it, as I originally thought this year would develop."