pre-Course meeting

This photo was taken at the pre-Course meeting after lunch…


This post originally appeared on my AikiWeb blog…

The kenshusei course starts April 1, which is this coming Monday. So, I guess that’s T-3 days.

In early March, we received this e-mail from the Mugenjuku Gmail account:

Good morning,

The orientation meeting for the upcoming Kenshusei Course will be held on:

Wednesday 27th March at 11am

Please arrive a little early to be ready to start at 11. Business attire is required.

The meeting and the following informal lunch should be finished by 1pm.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Good luck with your physical and mental preparations.


Business attire requisite. Meeting about the course followed by informal lunch.

I had a lot of unanswered questions about the course, so I honestly thought this would be a “meeting” about logistics. I mean, business attire. It is Yoshinkan, so I had a small kernel of doubt that it would be so benign, but really I thought it would be a western-style meeting. I jokingly asked Nick if there would be any surprises at the meeting. “No. Not that I would tell you anyway.”

And of course it was a relaxed informal meeting… conducted entirely in seiza. During the event, the realization of what was going on occurred in stages, but in hindsight I can see that it was a very appropriate and “Yoshinkan” way of doing things–excruciating torture disguised as greetings and friendly advice. If I remember, in Angry White Pyjamas, Twigger says there is even a word in Japanese that expresses this concept, although I can’t think what it is.

Payet-sensei was there, as well as instructors Crampton and Carter and the sewanin (course assists) Nick and Yasuda, all in dogi and hakama, while the students were, as instructed, in suits.

We all lined up and sat down as if to start a normal training session, but instead of inviting us to stand up after bowing, Payet-sensei started giving a short introductory speech. He had read our letters of intent just before the meeting and basically told us–this is my interpretation–that we wanted the wrong things from the course and needed to learn shugyo.

As I described in the forums, my knees are about 40 years older than the rest of me, seiza has been very painful since January, and my knees haven’t adapted yet. So basically whenever we are in seiza, I am in pain right from the get-go. In training, this is a real bother, because techniques are demonstrated while we sit in seiza, but I often find after we get up that I can’t remember the technique because I was completely absorbed in my pain.

Pain was no less during Payet-sensei’s speech. He was describing an ascension toward technical mastery that we all wanted, but pointing out that we didn’t know how to get there. If I may summarize from a hazy memory, he said that we needed to find something inside to motivate ourselves to stick with the course and that at some point all of a sudden we would find our technical proficiency beginning to rise.

There was a lot more in the speech, but this is about all I can remember. There was an analogy to fine wine being appreciated out of a glass with a very specific form. Even through the pain-induced haze, I remember thinking that sounded very cool and apropos when said in Payet-sensei’s French accent.

Needless to say, I thought the speech was going to end several times when it didn’t. Then when Payet-sensei was finished and I thought he was about to invite us to stand up and start the meeting, he said, “Ahhhh, maybe we should translate that for Takenaga-san.” So the whole thing was repeated by Yasuda, and the only thing I understood the second time was the gesticulation indicating the shape of the wine glass.

When you’re already in pain, trying to listen to a speech in a foreign language you don’t understand is the worst, because speechifying distracts you from the pain, but when you don’t understand, there is nothing to grasp at for distraction.

So finally Yasuda finished when Payet-sensei, rather than inviting us to stand, invited Crampton-sensei to give a speech as well…

Well, to cut a long story short, all of the instructors and sewanin gave speeches, which were all translated into either Japanese or English as necessary. I don’t remember these speeches except that Nick and Yasuda talked about learning things last year.

I don’t know how most people deal with pain, or specifically the pain of sitting in seiza. In the beginning I was uncomfortable but mostly concentrating on Payet-sensei’s speech. But after a while, I lose focus and turn inward, where there is an internal dialogue:

Oh, this is the end. I can’t take it anymore. I’ll just have to quit the course now. I wonder if anyone has ever quit in the pre-course meeting before? Well, it’s all for the best anyhow because I’m obviously not cut out for this… No, no, it’s all right. I can go on. It’s only pain. Really, this minute is no different from the last one, and I survived that, didn’t I? etc, etc

A couple other people were red in the face, and although I didn’t cry out or grimace, I could feel the blood and heat rising. One thing I remember is that Carter-sensei kept looking at me during his speech, so I imagine I must have looked quite bad–terrible posture, resting with my hands on my knees, etc.

Luckily, I wasn’t flagrant enough to need reprimanding, although after adjusting my knees a little one time in between speeches, Payet-sensei said to me, “Good seiza training?” “Osu!”

Eventually, the meeting ended. I didn’t notice the clock, but later on Carter-sensei said we were probably in seiza 40 minutes. Only 40, I thought. I’m glad to say I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stand afterwards, and I wasn’t even the last one lying on the floor.

The rest of the meeting time included practicing shinkoku, including a performance of our pathetically weak kiai and a kiai demonstration from Payet-sensei in which his entire body visibly contracted in a quite impressive manner.

Then there was an embarrassing bento lunch in which I just wanted to be alone and stretch out on the ground but had to sit up and make conversation. Then we went over the kenshusei manual briefly and it was off to arbeito.

I made it to evening ippan classes and morning ippan class today, but my knees and hamstrings feel terrible. The hamstrings in particular feel strained. Not sure if I will train tonight or not, but I said the same thing last night and got up this morning for class anyhow.