Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Calm Within the Storm

On one night, we're surrounded by a large karate class. On the other, it's kendo. Each time, the gym is booming with kiais or crashing sticks; but it is not from our side. Slapping skin on mats and the swishing of rolling aikido practitioners is the common sound. In a gym, it can be hard to hear an explanation with the demons screaming in the back.

Each class two things definately have happened so far: One, I try to ask Hirobe Sensei a complicated question about martial arts in unintelligible Japanese, and two, Hirobe Sensei gladly obliges, yet in equally unintelligible-to-me Japanese. There is frustration here, but there is a long way to go for both of us, and I imagine these two far points will only get closer together.

In class I was able to discern something interesting though in Japanese. I asked a question about a new stance, and it was gladly answered with a comment that goes like, "I thought about that for so long to myself to finally figure it out, but you asked about it within seconds of seeing it ... that's great!" This is not a class to withhold questions, and any one that does, could probably use some.

Today, a third year student approached me and asked me if he could practice speaking English with me, I said of course. He asked if we could "now", and I realized this was going to be different than most other students that approach me at my desk outside of class. This was a student who wanted every day to practice his English with me before he left for Osaka University, and he approached me despite what I assume to be a large amount of nervousness. Questions like this are rarely asked by students, and usually due to its conflicting nature to Japanese education, especially with a barbarian foreigner, and about speaking in English. This student was certainly nervous, but even more brave. After talking about various things, he mentions that he cannot meet with me in English club on Thursday nights because he has Aikido class! He lives and practices Aikido in a different town, but the next hour drips quickly away as we start talking about our experiences in different arts. Here begins a daily dialogue about martial arts, and I can finally understand the selfishness of a teacher sometimes! Here I will be able to ask him about numerous questions I have about Aikido vocabulary, which at this point is invaluable to me and nearly inaccessible, this is my benefit. But this experience will be just as much, if not more to the student who can practice casual English with a native speaker for an hour a day. This is a wonderful thing ... a blessing of sorts.

The 10,000 things have certainly swirled about me today, but now, I feel comfortable within the storm.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Zach, great blog and I sympathize with you, trying to understand everything in aikido class. But my comment is about this one - this may seem cold, but I would recommend insisting that he do language exchange with you - 30 minutes of English conversation, and 30 minutes of Japanese conversation / teaching.

    I did this while living in China. Everybody wanted free English practice and I was immediately overwhelmed. Once I began insisting on equal time for Chinese lessons, many people disappeared. A few took me up on the offer and we all made excellent progress together and had fun. I had one language exchange partner each day, once a week, and it worked out well.

    Also, back to aikido. I recommend that you don't talk about your Chinese martial arts experience much in class at all. Many teachers here are put off by someone doesn't appear to be focused entirely on what they are teaching. Also, when you have those moments where he is trying to explain and you just can't get it, and he can't figure out how to rephrase it, ask him (after practice) to write a short note in Japanese about the motion. Then ask someone at your school to translate it for you.

    Let me know if that works,