The annual All Japan Aikido Demonstration took place like every year at the legendary Nippon Budokan (日本武道館). All the afternoon, a succession of demonstrations were of course performed by many prestigious Sensei, but also, by members of smaller dojo including university clubs, private groups, corporation dojos etc. Thus, the whole Japanese territory was represented. This year was very special for me because it was my first visit at the Budokan. Each time I had been in Japan, I had had to leave shortly before the All Japan Aikido demonstration and I therefore never had the chance to see it, let alone take part in it.
The Budokan was originally built for 1964 Summer Olympics judo competitions. It is located in Kitanomaru Park near the Imperial Palace and Yasukuni Shrine. The Nippon Budokan can accommodate 14,201 spectators and it is modeled after Yumedono (Hall of Dreams) in Hōryū-ji in Nara. Apart from hosting the most prestigious martial art events in Japan it is also very famous for being the venue for many rock concerts with artists like the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and many more having played and often recorded within these walls. I am especially excited because of the fact that I will not only witness this prestigious event, but I will also have the opportunity to set foot on this legendary tatami during the Aikikai Hombu Dojo general demonstration that takes place at the end of the day.
The entrance of the Nippon Budokan
As I get off the station, I see numbers of people carrying sports bags, all are walking towards the entrance of Kitanomaru Park. After passing through the massive wooden doors, I find myself facing the imposing 42 m high, octagonal structure displaying a large banner with the name of the current event. Many people are here already and as I walk, I am greeted by many familiar faces from Honbu Dojo. A bit further down, Miyamoto Tsuruzo Shihan, wearing a suit and an earpiece waves at me despite looking very busy. I am surprised to see that most of the top Aikikai Honbu Dojo Shihan here are actually helping with the organization of the event. Later on, I will even witness a last minute tatami repair performed by none others than the instructors themselves.
Aikikai Sensei repairing the tatami
Each demonstration usually lasts for exactly 3 min except for the ones from current Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba and Hiroshi Tada Shihan, the highest ranked Aikikai Honbu Dojo instructor. Each demonstration begins and ends with a hit on the massive Taiko drum located at one corner of the hall. The dojo consists of 5 large 121 sqm tatami and therefore, 5 demonstrations are actually taking place at one time, which is a good thing considering the great number of practitioners that are going to step on the mat during the afternoon. Some groups from abroad are regularly invited to perform at the All Japan Aikido Demonstration and this year sees delegations from France (FFAB under the direction of Jacques Bonnemaison), Singapore, Holland and Sweden (under the direction of Urban Aldenklint) displaying their skills.
The Budokan during the Japanese national hymn
I am met at the door by Budo Export's Jordy Delage and his lovely wife Eriko. As we enter, we rush through the building in order to find a good spot as they want to record on camera most of the event. Eriko and Jordy are the ones to thank for the fantastic videos displayed in this article. As we sit down, I am greeted by Sébastien Heurteau who is sitting nearby. Sébastien has spent a great deal of time training in Vincennes under Christian Tissier Shihan and he has been living in Japan for over seven years, training daily at the Honbu Dojo. Later on today, I will have the chance to appreciate his impressive ukemi skills as he steps on the tatami as uke for Kobayashi Yukimitsu Shihan.
Yukimitsu Kobayashi Shihan with Sébastien Heurteau
The event starts with the Japanese national anthem "Kimi Ga Yo" (which has the intrinsic quality to be the world's shortest national anthem) and a discourse by several officials sitting at the special guess tables in front of the tatami. Finally, the event is launched and the first set of demonstrations kicks off. All sensibilities of Aikikai Aikido are represented as well as all levels of practice. I really enjoy watching the little kids displaying their skills. Most of them are so excited that they get carried away in spite of their parent's/instructor's instructions, there are really some good moments there. This event really emphasizes the fact that the Aikikai is more like a great family than a political or technical direction. I really like this sort of reunions because even though we are all very different and our practice diverge in many ways, we all feel like we are part of the same lineage, however how divergent it becomes with time. I am of course really looking forward to see the demonstrations of the Honbu Dojo teachers as usual, they don't disappoint and every one of them displays their particular sensitivity.
Endo Seishiro Shihan
The time of the Aikikai Honbu Dojo general demonstration is approaching and excitement starts to build up amongst us. Miguel, Paco, Jordy and I head downstairs in the changing rooms and we can see all our friends from Honbu getting ready. It is quite chaotic there but the atmosphere is fantastic. Once again, these moments really make me feel the Honbu Dojo's family-like aspects. Everybody greets each other, chats and even crack a few jokes. Then, Yokota Shihan, the maestro in charge this year, starts giving his instructions on the proceedings to follow. We have three minutes, he will show a series of moves on the central tatami and we will all practice them in sequence and change technique upon his call (actually, more like a yell really!).
The All Japan Embukai highlights
A bit like on a prom night, most of us have previously paired up in prevision of the demonstration but there are still a few last minute arrangements made downstairs minutes before the start. The time has now come to enter the arena and I am glad to see familiar faces such as that of my friend D.J. Lortie, who is my sempai in both Aikido and Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu. It is a very impressive feeling to enter such a huge place surrounded by so many people. One could think that the presence of so many Shihan could be intimidating but as regular practitioners from the Honbu Dojo, we are quite used to see these teachers watch our every moves and therefore, the pressure as high as I expected. Besides, the great number of practitioners on the tatami makes it easier too. Of course, one might argue that there is little glory, or even point in practicing amongst so many people. However, thinking that the people who are down there take part in the demonstration out of ego would be very mistaken. No, the people down there, regardless of their ranks or experience are there to pay tribute to their home dojo. More importantly than the demonstration itself, it is just great fun to be there amongst fellow students with whom we usually spend so many hours training diligently every week. After a demonstration that feels like just a few seconds, we head back upstairs in order to watch the final demonstrations by Seishiro Endo Shihan, Hiroshi Tada Shihan and finally, the third Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba.
Hombu Dojo members at the end of the general demonstration
More than the time on the tatami or the succession of demonstrations, it was fantastic to be part in such a significant event as the All Japan Aikido Demonstration. Like in all extended families, it does not matter what rank you have or which status you hold, the most important thing is to be there amongst your peers. Whether it is on the tatami or in the audience, all share the same love and commitment for the discipline that was created by Morihei Ueshiba.
Photos and videos by Jordy Delage, Eriko Hoshi and Megumi Fukuda