5 februari 2011

Visiting the New York Aikikai

This January I was in New York for business and, for the second time in my life, I had the opportunity to practice at the New York Aikikai for a few days. It's a wonderful experience that I recommend to anyone!

The New York Aikikai is located in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. The dojo, which was established almost 50 years ago, is led by Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan and, until his death last year, Seiichi Sugano Shihan. Both were uchi deshi of O-Sensei.

This dojo has an amazing roster of high-ranking instructors that is probably second to only the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. These include six 7th Dan Shihan, four 6th Dan and five 5th Dan. Each instructor teaches one hour and there are up to six classes each day, so the person who was teaching you one hour could end up being your uke the next.

The atmosphere at the dojo is quiet yet dynamic. It's formal and informal at the same time, newcomers are treated warmly and the people are as diverse as New York itself. Classes are focused and physically intense, people practice at a high pace and techniques are generality executed with zest.

The dojo is also home to a changing group of uchi deshi from all over the world. They have their own quarters on the second floor and in addition to taking every class, they are expected to clean and organize the dojo.

The dojo is quite compact. There is a small reception area, a general hallway with an administrator's corner, and there are dressing rooms for men and women. The upside: they have showers and free towels. The downside: there are dozens of dirty gis hanging in the men's room and when the sun's up they smell kind of funky…

Nice detail: alongside the dojo wall there are several long planks of wood with nails hammered in them. From each nail hangs a small strip of wood with a person's name on it. The names are ordered per rank, so you can which person holds what rank.

So, if you are ever in the area, visit the dojo. People from out of town are welcome to join practice: all you need to do is pay a small mat fee each time. It's well worth the time, money and sweat!

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