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Japan and the Daito Ryu: A trip to the Shimbukan

by Juan Ribot

Published Online

“You’ve been too long in this place. The air is rancid. Your life is stagnant, You do not flow. You must therefore leave in search of new dawns. Your setting no longer brings you new things. Leave the superfluous, take with you only what is essential, the minimum possible. Your heart, your spirit, and your body are enough.”

Katsuyuki Kondo at Shimbukan Dojo

Over and over I remember hearing these words in my mind. For the life of me, I can’t remember where I first viewed them, but they stuck with me as I boarded the plane to Japan. New dawns is exactly what I was after. A chance to immerse myself in the culture and arts I hold in such high regards. I’ve been training in the Japanese bujutsu since I was a young boy of nine. Whether it was Judo, Jujutsu, Kenjutsu, or Iaijutsu, I have always held great respect and admiration towards these outwardly violent, yet inwardly beautiful and peaceful arts. This past summer, I had for the first time the great opportunity to visit Japan and be a guest of Kondo Katsuyuki Sensei and the Daito Ryu. It was with great enthusiasm that I undertook the journey, one that I will never forget and hope to repeat several more times in the future.

Let me digress a bit and list the events that led to my meeting Kondo Sensei and eventually visiting him and the Shimbukan Dojo. For a very long time I was what you could call a Judoka. I trained in Kodokan Judo from a very early age, hence the fascination with the Japanese Bujutsu. After my university years I grew weary of competition and competitive Bujutsu. I began to search for something deeper, this led me to look at several different jujutsu ryus, but none of them seem to fit what I looked for. It was at this point in time that I met Jose Garrido Sensei. Garrido Sensei introduced me to the techniques of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu. At fist I was skeptical. Since I was an old Judo man, it would take more than just explanations and fancy movements to convince me. It didn’t take long at all before I was convinced I had found a new home.

For several years I trained diligently with Garrido Sensei. Many were the times when we spoke of visiting Japan and trying to train at the Shimbukan with Kondo Katsuyuki Sensei. It was in 1997, as luck would have it that we got our chance. Ironically it was not we who journeyed to Japan, but Kondo Sensei who traveled here to the U.S. to give his first of many North American Seminars at the request of John Goss Sensei of Maryland. I was quite enthusiastic about training under the watchful eye of Kondo Sensei and the main line of Daito Ryu. It was through these Seminars that I was given the opportunity to meet Kondo Sensei and speak to him as well as ask questions dealing with the Ryu and its waza. As Seminars continued, I felt very comfortable around Sensei and began to see what a light hearted, genuinely kind man he is. It was my privilege to take ukemi for Sensei from time to time at these seminars. It was at the Second Aiki Expo in Las Vegas Nevada that Sensei invited me to travel to Japan and train at the Shimbukan. It took a little more than a year of scrimping and saving, but finally I made the trip. I did not know what to expect once I would arrive, but I was determined to train hard and learn much. I had no idea just how hard and how much I would learn, but I would find out soon enough.

As I arrived at Narita, Sensei was already there waiting for me. He greeted me with a warm, hearty handshake and a smile. He kindly inquired as to my long flight and offered me some refreshments before we left the airport to take the train to Katsushika-ku. After a quick trip on the train, Sensei checked me in to my hotel , let me settle in and gather my things together before he returned to take me to the Dojo to say hello to Amano Sensei . After surprising Amano Sensei and a quick conversation, Kondo Sensei took me for my initiation to a very Japanese custom, that of the Onsen (hot springs). It was very relaxing to say the least. Sensei was very thorough explaining the customs, the do’s and don’ts and proper etiquette. The rest of the evening was spent in light conversation over dinner.

While in Japan, Kondo Sensei spared no expense to truly show me Japan, its people and its customs. From Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, to fire festivals, antique markets and wonderful, exotic foods in all shapes, taste, and colors. All these things were truly wonderful, but the thing I will cherish most was the opportunity I got to spend time with Sensei and his family. Sensei and his family made this foreigner feel right at home. They were kind, open, and they made me feel as though I were an old friend of the family for many years. I traveled with them on family outings, had dinner with them at Sensei’s home and was invited to stay at Sensei’s home. If that’s not kindness and hospitality, I don’t know what is. It was an honor to spend time with Sensei’s wife, his two sons and their wives and most of all with his grandchildren who never stopped making me smile and laugh.

Training at the Shimbukan was to be as I soon found out a very serious thing. Trainings with Sensei and his students were to be long, very long, 6-8 hours at a clip sometimes, but I felt very fortunate to be allowed such access. The student’s at the Shimbukan were very helpful and enthusiastic. Etiquette and sincerity in their training was obvious. It was quite refreshing to see people who train wholeheartedly, and vigorously with mutual respect, there were no inflated egos here. Many was the night were I felt truly fatigued and would not have made it through, if not for the encouragement of Sensei and his students. I want to take this time to thank Antone and Toma(two of Sensei’s foreign students) for coming in at all hours of the day and night to train with me and to push me when I felt tired and drained. Some evenings I would sweat so much that Sensei would have to give me one of his old dogi in order for me to finish out the night. Sensei would look at my face and giggle as my cheeks would sink back from the loss of water in my body. As days progressed Sensei would always weigh me before and after training. I think it amused him to see just how much water weight I could lose in a day. This was all part of a great training experience. Every day of training was spent on polishing techniques and truly trying to understand every aspect of each waza. Every question asked was immediately answered. Every technique demonstrated was picked apart and thoroughly studied and observed. Sensei was very thorough in his explanations and demonstrations to me. He wanted to make sure that I truly understood the mechanics of every technique and the philosophy behind it.

After training, Sensei would take me to the Onsen to relax and to answer any questions I had on the days practice, or on Daito ryu history. Sensei was very open with me, taking me several times to his personal study to show me historical documents and such on Daito Ryu and its past, present, and future. When asked about future seminars abroad, Sensei always spoke enthusiastically about traveling and spreading Daito Ryu. I asked Sensei about the up and coming Aiki Expo 2005 in Los Angeles and he was very excited about it. He was very happy to visit the Expo again and looked forward to the seminar. It is my wish that Sensei can make it, although I must admit, I have my reservations about that. Sensei at times looked tired and his back and right arm seem to bother him from time to time, but when I asked about it he would just say, “no problem” I hope this is the case. I truly look forward to many more seminars with him.

I wish to thank Kondo Katsuyuki Sensei for the opportunity he has given me. For the many hours he spent with me in the dojo, for his kindness and lightheartedness, for his dedication to the proliferation of Daito Ryu. For his introducing me to Otake Sensei of the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu, for his encouragement and teachings, for the quiet conversations about the Ryu and its history, but most of all for allowing me to spend time with his wonderful family. For all of this, Yoroshku Sensei. Domo Arrigato Gozaimashita.

November, 2004