Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2015 Timetable and Key Information

Dear All,

Please find attached our 2015 timetable and key information.

Key points of note are, in 2015 there will be available:

  • 44 regular Friday classes
  • 9 mini seminar dates
  • 5 tameshigiri sessions
  • 4 bojutsu sessions
  • 10 iaito sessions
  • 6 scheduled meals
  • 2 grading dates
  • 136 hours total training hours

Full details of dates, fees and key information are available in the document listed below:

Please familiarise yourself with this document, the 2015 plans, and please put key dates in your diary now.

Look forward to training with you all in 2015.

Happy New Year!

Jinsei Shinkendo!

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Happy New Year - 2015 message

Another year has passed in the world of Shinkendo.


This year I tried things differently.  In 2013 my primary goal was my club and at its height it was well attended.  2013 culminated in a seminar hosted by Yukishiro Obata Soke and Roland Lajos Sensei on our home soil.  Whilst it was a success, following the birth of my son, the year took its toll on all concerned.  I found that I no longer enjoyed what I did and immediate steps were needed to correct things in order to avoid burn out.


Sunday classes were dropped, which proved highly unpopular.  Another teacher offered to teach Wednesdays to allow parties the ability to train twice a week, though this too remained unpopular.  In the end, attendance on Wednesdays had dwindled to around 2 a week.  The upshot was that at a club level, things suffered.


As for me, my goals shifted from the club to the organisation.  To grow the organisation I travelled the width of the UK teaching seminars.  In the end I found that few took up Shinkendo with a passion and ultimately this led me to feel deflated and disappointed.  By the end of 2014 family bereavements and family commitments once again led me to question what it is that I do.


Now 2015 is upon us and I must once again re-assess the situation.  2015 will mark for me 10 years of Shinkendo.  In that time I have trained with the founder of our martial art significantly, hosting him in the UK 2 times, once of which was at my wedding!  I have also hosted his son, the future successor.  I have trained with the founder aboard, in the USA, France, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and Holland.  I have, I feel, listened and learned my lessons well.


As I have blogged about before, running a club is never easy, running an organisation is horrible.  Ken Robson Sensei (7th Dan Yoshinkan) once said to me, running a club will destroy your hobby.  In many ways the fullness of time has proved him correct.  So here is what I have learnt in 10 years:


Martial arts are meant to be fun.  In general they are often practiced by those who want to be heroes to others (superiority complex) or those with cultural identity issues (those who want to be Buddhist monks in ancient Japan).  Occasionally they are practiced by meat heads who just want to hurt people and sometimes they are practiced by those who just want to keep fit and learn to defend themselves.  Martial arts teachers aren’t always very good at what they do.  Sometimes they over inflate themselves on paper but don’t deliver in person.  Few understand the details of what it is they do and often few understand how to explain them to others.  What I have not come across very often are those who understand this one point, and that is that martial arts are meant to be fun!


A senior student of mine is probably chuckling over this right now as we have had discussions on this point for years.  To put wrongs right I must admit, he was right and I was wrong – martial arts are meant to be fun, not just for the student, but for the teacher also.


So the question then I must ask myself, is what do I want to do in the next 10 years?  The answer is I want to enjoy what I do again.  This means concentrating on our club and developing an atmosphere that is enjoyable to attend.  I aim to readjust the layout of classes, ensure that we run regular seminars, do Tameshigiri more often, do regular grading and have regular meals out with each other.


2014 was a tough year for the club, but a good year to assess priorities.  2015 will be a return to the basics and what makes the club a decent place to attend.  For all those we lost on the way I say, please come back and help us build an enjoyable environment in 2015 (I can think of a few immediately – you know who you are!).  For all of you loyal students I say – thank you for your loyalty.  You are what have kept me going these past years.


On behalf of the Milton Keynes dojo I wish you all a happy an successful New Year.  Training resumes on Friday 9 January 2015.  I look forward to seeing you there.


Jinsei Shinkendo!  

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Teacher Titles

My first post in a couple of months – apologies all, following a recent bereavement in the family my time has been extremely limited.

I recently came across a Linkedin profile that got me thinking.  The individual had called himself “Shihan Renshi” XXX.  I found myself looking at this profile and wondering; why would you do that?  So I thought, why not write about it and see what the rest of you make of it.  Before I begin I’d like to make it clear that my comments relate to Japanese Martial Arts and not Korean or Chinese etc.  Those martial arts have their own designations, which I do not feel I am qualified to comment on given that I am a student of Japanese Budo.

We’re all familiar with the concept that in Japan teachers are called “Sensei”.  In Western Culture we typically think of these people as being “teachers”, like Mr Smith, our fifth grade teacher.  In Western Schools it’s not deemed the done thing if we consider our teachers anything other than the subject matter experts there to educate us; usually on the black board, verbally or through reading.  This interpretation, whilst correct some of the time, is not an all encompassing definition of the word "Sensei".

Another definition of “Sensei” is: “person before another” – or he who came before me.  In this manner a Lawyer, Clergyman or accomplished Sports Professional could all legitimately be called “Sensei” if they began before you and are more accomplished.  Some argue that this concept of “Sensei” owes its origin in Zen Buddhism, specifically in the idea of Dharma Transmission.  Dharma Transmission is the idea that a successor is appointed to a lineage, which traces itself back to the Buddha directly.  In Buddhism, as everyone has an inherent Buddha Nature, with all being capable of reaching enlightenment, the salient point is time spent and therefore anyone with more time than you, and who came before you, is naturally your senior, is more advanced and is therefore your “Sensei”.  Whether or not you buy this explanation is debatable but the logic has merit.

Another title that we’re familiar with in Shinkendo is the honorific “Kaiso”.  This title is reserved for the founder or created of something new.  For example, Morihei Ueshiba was often called a “Kaiso” – or founder, though he was also called “Osensei”, meaning “Great Teacher”.  This is because Ueshiba is often considered the creator of Modern Aikido.  In a similar guise Toshishiro Obata is deemed the founder, or Kaiso, of Shinkendo – given that he created or systematised the martial art as it is now known.  It is however debateable whether Ueshiba Sensei actually created Aikido given that it owes its foundations to Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu as taught by Sokaku Takeda; and likewise it is arguable whether Obata Sensei actually created Shinkendo given that it owes its foundations to Toyama-Ryu as taught by Taizaburo Nakamura.  Nevertheless, this is the logic that applies to this title.

Less common are the following titles (in ascending order):

1.       Kenshuin:  Trainee Instructor
2.       Fuku-Shidoin:  Qualified Assistant Instructor
3.       Shidoin:  Qualified Instructor
4.       Renshi:  Senior Instructor
5.       Kyoshi:  Instructor of Instructors – or “Polished” Instructor
6.       Shihan:  Master Instructor
7.       Hanshi:  Model or Exemplary Instructor – he’s the guy you want to be
8.       Soke:  Blood line successor – or legal rights successor

Apart from the title Soke all these have one key characteristic – they are based on teaching experience, and contribution to what you do, and to your organisation.  They are not like the equivalent Western titles, such as Professor, Assistant Professor, Doctor etc. which are all based on recognition of one’s learning achievements.  

The title of Soke deserves singular consideration.  This title owes its origins to feudalism and is in Western culture the simple idea that your blood line inherits your property.  In the martial arts community, this title represents the idea that the organisation is inherited by a family member for them to own, maintain and hopefully grow.  In this manner it is pointless being a Soke, or inheritor, of a McDojo – what is it exactly that I am inheriting?  Is it famous or publically acclaimed?  If not, who cares!  What this title is not is a recognition that I am the top and best practitioner in that system – though because of family ties and time training this does sometimes occur, but it is not a product or criteria of the title.

All of the above becomes very technical and complicated, all being linked to historical roots.  These ideas are singular to Japanese Culture and as described above are not directly transferrable to Western Culture.  In reality few understand what they actually mean, nor in the initial stages of their martial arts journey do they care.  So I ask you, going back to the point in question, why do people call themselves Shihan Renshi – which in itself just makes no sense.

A few years ago I knew of a Westerner who called himself a Kaiso.  He learnt some sword, created his own Sword School and called himself the “Kaiso”.  In one respect he was entitled to do so, though it was debatable whether what he was doing was actually new in any true sense (he did the same for his Karate School – which he clearly wasn’t the founder of).  His Westerner next called his school an authentic Traditional Japanese Sword School.  So let’s follow this logic; you’re a Westerner who created your own school (given that you’re a Kaiso) and yet its still Traditionally Japanese?  The logic boggles!  And yet, I wonder why bother trying to use the title in the first place.  Who were you trying to impress given that no one actually knows what it means, and nor do they actually care.

A second story of a student of a McDojo known to me who called himself “Fuku-Soke”.  I can only assume he knew this meant something like, Assistant-Inheritor.  Again the logic boggles and again I am left asking; why do people bother even using these titles?  Who are they trying to impress?

And it is hear that I’ll leave you – puzzled – as I often am, thinking, the term Sensei is well established, even if its misunderstood.  To those heavily involved in the martial arts arena the titles Shihan, Hanshi etc. begin to have meaning through in truth their meaning is limited to only those who actually acknowledge the superior experience of others.  To some they may simply do not care as I occasionally find myself guilty thereof.  Just because you're a "Shihan" doesn't actually mean that you're any good (remember it's teaching experience and contribution not learning achievements). 

So in truth, if you’re going to make yourself look like a tool to those who understand what these titles mean, why bother using the titles in the first place, especially if you're going to them wrongly.  The public don’t understand them, they don’t mean you get a pay-rise or get to charge more – so why use them.  I sincerely don’t get it.