Spirit Skills

You may be surprised to know that the original Aikido dojo was founded in Iwama, Ibaraki, in 1945. This is where Ueshiba Morihei settled in the later years of his life, building the Aiki Shrine first and then the dojo which soon became the world headquarters. Though the original dojo was severely damaged and reconstructed after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, the newly renovated dojo still accepts students and is located not far from current Iwama Station.DSCN5055

Aikido, known as a martial art that endeavors to protect both the attacker and the practitioner from harm, not only focuses on the physical aspects of training but also on the spiritual. This is clear from the close connection between the dojo and the Aiki Shrine across the street, where the carefully raked gravel (in familiar zen-like patterns) speaks to the dedication of the students. In fact, during the time when the dojo was uninhabitable the students used the main house of the shrine for practices. The shrine is surrounded by a small wooded area, and also features a commemorative bronze statue of Ueshiba Morihei. DSCN5054

These days the dojo operates on a daily basis, accommodating both regular and live-in students. Live-in students pay a fee for their accommodations and practice three times a day, once at 6am, once at 2pm, and once at 7pm, and in between they are in charge of maintaining the grounds and other small tasks. Regular students are free to come a few times a week in the evenings for practice at a lesser fee, but are not required to take part in maintenance.DSCN5058

The dojo itself looks rather new, but still follows the same design principles as the original. In keeping with the Iwama style of Aikido, which promotes weapons training, there are even wooden swords on the walls for practice. There are several foreign live-in students among the practitioners so there is a good chance you will be able to attend without being a complete master of Japanese. However, even if you are just interested in visiting the birthplace of modern Aikido it is only a few minutes walk from the train station and can be an interesting side trip.DSCN5061

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