By Dylan Gardner, Aikido Renshinkai Senshusei
The rain was falling heavily when we departed Tokyo Sunday morning after our annual Embu the day before. Typhoon 18 was bearing down on Honshu, and we were just beginning to feel its effect. As we headed east, the rain subsided, and by the time we reached the Taiyo Sports Center, in Chiba, the clouds had parted, and we were greeted by blue skies. However, the horizon was littered with dark, ominous clouds, and we could tell that it was only a matter of time before the weather that we had avoided would catch up with us. We did not let the impending force of nature deter us, and began setting up for our fellow participants, who would arrive shortly.
The facilities at Taiyo Sports Center are quite comfortable. Each room sleeps 4 or 5 people with an attached toilet, refrigerator, plugs for charging phones, and an ice cold air conditioner. We were grateful for the last item, as it provided relief from the heat and humidity between classes. The bathing facility is a short walk from the rooms. On the male side, there are two large soaking tubs which were perfect for loosening muscles after a hard training session. I didn’t see the female side, but I assume that it is similar. In addition to the living accommodations, there is a large cafeteria where we were treated to delicious and healthy meals.
On the first day, after everyone was settled into their rooms and fed lunch, we set up the tatami in the training hall for our first class. With everyone helping, we were able to quickly prepare our training surface. The training hall is not air conditioned, however, and by the time the tatami were laid, we had all worked up quite a sweat. All the windows in the hall were opened, and the gentle breeze provided a slight relief, but the first class, lead by Tsuganezawa Sensei, left us all drenched in sweat, exhausted, and ready for the barbeque that evening. We ate dinner at the picnic tables outside. There was a large selection of barbequed meat, fish, noodles, and fruit. All washed down with beer or tea as desired. Half way through the meal, it seemed that rain was eminent, so we made the decision to move the tables under an awning. The rain never materialized, but we figured it was better safe than sorry. Once dinner was finished, we cleared up and got ready for the drinking party that would take place in one of the large activity rooms. The nice thing about this drinking party, as opposed to previous parties that I’ve attended, was that nobody needed to worry about taking trains or taxis to get home once the party was over. Everyone was able to drink what they wanted and just find their way down the hall back to their room when they had had enough. Over the course of the party, we all had the opportunity to stand up in front of the room and give our opinion about the previous day’s Embu. We drank, chatted, laughed, and relaxed until the late hours, and finally retired to our rooms to get some sleep for the next day’s training.
Monday morning, we all woke up and enjoyed breakfast together in the cafeteria. There may have been one or two sore heads that morning, but everyone was in good spirits. After breakfast, several of us decided to venture to the beach. The typhoon had moved closer to our location, and we wanted to go watch the waves. The walk to the beach is less than 1km. We were glad we’d made the walk, as we were treated to an impressive view. The sea was churning, and the wind had whipped the beach into a sand storm. We made our way back to the sport center for the day’s training. The rain arrived shortly after the start of the first class. It rhythmically beat down upon the metal roof of the training hall. Due to the heavy rains, the temperature lowered a bit, and the wind help cooled down the hall. We had two great classes taught by Chida Sensei that day. It was a great pleasure to be able to train with many people that we don’t get to train with on a regular basis. We all worked hard to improve our fundamentals, and better understand the principles of Chida Sensei’s Aikido. As Tuesday was not a day off for many people, a majority of the participants departed on Monday, after class. That night, the dinner table was less crowed, and the drinking party moved from the large activity room, to one of the rooms that had been vacated by departing participants. Once again, we were able to relax and unwind after a busy day of training.
We awoke Tuesday morning to the most beautiful day of the weekend. The typhoon had passed far to the north, and had drawn all the moisture with it. The humidity had subsided, and the temperature was cool and pleasant. After that morning’s breakfast, we once again gathered in the training hall for the final class of the weekend. Due to the small number of remaining participants, we had plenty of space to train. The Aikido Renshinkai instructor to student ratio was almost 1:1. Chida Sensei once again led us through many deeply challenging exercises to allow us to improve on our Aikido. At the conclusion of the final class, we worked together to break down the tatami mats and clean up. Everyone’s transportation back to Tokyo was arranged either by car, or by train, and we departed the Sports Center.
This was my first time attending a Gasshuku. I have been to multi-day intensive training sessions held at sports centers in Tokyo. I have been to drinking parties at Hombu Dojo. I’ve eaten Japanese food before. But, to do all of these things together, while staying in a Japanese style, tatami-floored room, was a unique experience. I had a great time training, eating, drinking, and laughing with my fellow Aikidoka. It was a great way to celebrate all of the training and hard work that went into putting on the annual Embu. I am looking forward to next year.