4th Dan Grading Diary - 6

Burning off the hot dogs and pizza with some New Years Keiko!

My first practice of the year was after almost 4 weeks break following my trip to New York for the Holidays. 

Sunday 11th: I had my first Keiko of 2015 at Konnoh Dojo on Sunday 11th of January. It was a great practice and I was lucky enough to be there that day to catch a great cultural experience too.

Inari Gates leading up to a small shrine. Beautiful in the morning light. 

Practice started at 8:00 with one hour of kata. I was practicing for the Tokyo Kata Competition, so I paired up with my partner under the watchful eye of sensei. Every step I took was clumsy and stiff as I worked through a three week kendo break to wake up my muscles. I made a lot of mistakes, and both my partner and sensei ruthlessly pointed them out to me.

Small Shrine next to the Dojo

As we were doing kata, the rest of the dojo members, mothers, fathers and kids arrived for the first Sunday class of the year. As it was the first Sunday gathering there was a special event, the local shrine would bless the whole kendo club for success and good health in the new year.  

We crossed the street to Konnoh Hachiman Jingu, a beautiful Shinto shrine located just a few minutes off the beaten track near Shibuya Station.

Some great info and photos here - https://tokyobling.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/konouhachimangu-shibuya-grand-shrine/      

We entered the main building taking off our shoes and lining up by age. This was my first time to enter into the Haiden, oratory (prayer) hall of a Shinto shrine and I would have loved to take some photos!

This is usually as close as you get to the inside of a Shrine

We washed our hands with the water provided and proceeded out a small door to the outer walkway around the main building. We entered one by one and sat in neat rows in seiza.  

After a few moments a drum was struck and the ceremony began...... I had no idea what was going on, as I haven't the first clue about Shinto or its traditions. But it was certainly a spiritual experience. The priests said prayers and blessings to the Kami, asking for good luck and success for the Dojo and it's members. They urged all who practiced at the kendo dojo (especially the kids) to be well behaved and practice hard.

Then the Shihan of the Dojo and the young captains went forward and received blessing on behalf of the rest of the group. The drum was struck again and the ceremony was over. We made our way back into the main building, stopping to accept and drink a small dish of Sake. (Both adults and kids liked this part!)

A coin is tossed into an offering box before bowing twice, clapping your hands twice,
saying a prayer, and bowing a third time. 

Once the ceremony was over, and everyone had had their wee bit of sake, we crossed back to the dojo to resume practice. The sensei spoke and made sure everyone was clear that they had to continue to work hard at their Shugyo, to improve everyday in both kendo and school. After a unanimous, HAI! we put on our men and had a great practice. 

Lining up before Keiko. 

Practice was usual for this dojo on Sundays, a tough warm up involving situps, push ups, squats, more than 250 suburi and ashi-sabaki. We then had 30 mins of Kirikaeshi and Uchikomi practice followed by around 40 minutes of Jigeiko. 

A great start to the year!