Ei Mei Kan - June - 2005

Ten-Year Voyage of a Dojo

by Chris Mooney

The development of a Dojo, like any journey in life is a physical, mental and spiritual process. The start of the voyage of Ei Mei Kan, Central Aikikai began at the end of 1994 at Fazeley Street, in the industrial heart-land of Birmingham. The first Ei Mei Kan Dojo was housed in a large factory room with a tin roof and a large pillar right in the middle of the mat. There was a lot of natural daylight, thanks to the large area of single glazed windows, which gave us the delight of practising in an oven in the summer months and a freezer during the winter. For a lot of the time, our practice was accompanied by the sound of rock or reggae music from a band in the recording studio downstairs. This often made the breathing exercises at the beginning of class a truly disciplined practice. Although this was the origin of Ei Mei Kan, those practising owed a debt of gratitude to the students from the Bearwood Methodist Church Hall, who raised the money for the tatami, by paying generously for lessons held without any mats at all. Many students from Bearwood and Fazeley Street have subsequently opened their own Dojos in various parts of Europe.

At Fazeley Street, Ei Mei Kan had a permanent home, with mats that did not have to be tidied away at the end of the night. This meant that students were able to come to the Dojo outside of normal practice times to do their own personal training. The journey of Ei Mei Kan is akin to the creating and voyage of a ship. The time at Fazeley Street was very much the start of construction of the vessel. The materials we needed were largely scavenged from the industrial waste we found nearby; from the light fittings found in skips to old pieces of carpet and wood.

The ship was constructed, and the membership of Ei Mei Kan over the six years at Fazeley street became a team and was well honed and ready for the voyage ahead. Rising rents and the desolate landscape became a spur to move to a location that was more accessible to a wider segment of the population.

New moorings were ground at the YMCA in Northfield, where the grim industrial surroundings were exchanged for the more populous South Birmingham suburbia. At the YMCA, we rented and converted a squash court into a new permanent Dojo, using all the materials brought from Fazeley Street, and a lot of volunteer effort from EI Mei Kan members and supporters. Although the tatami at Northfield was much smaller than at Fazeley Street, we no longer had a pillar in the middle of the mat. The care and effort that has gone into continuing the evolution of the Dojo at Northfield, including the re-cycling of the old Dojo, creates something with both a physical and spiritual presence.

As the dojo became established, several members of the first-generation crew too sail on journeys of their own, as life events moved them on and outward, and they went on to captain their own ships.

At the YMCA, the membership developed and changed. Over the six years we have been at Northfield, we have seen refugees from troubled parts of the world practise alongside young people who have grown up in Birmingham. The Dojo has hosted lessons for adolescents and children and has developed a well-attended children’s class. Having a permanent space for the Dojo is very important to me, and some new members have found their way to Aikido through seeing and experiencing the Dojo space.

A new generation of the Students are growing and learning at Northfield. A cornerstone of the development of both the students and the teacher of the Dojo, is the practice of Zazen. This has been enhanced at Northfield by the construction of a Zendo. Many of the students have attended several sesshins. Zazen training for the Dojo is like the keel to the vessel; the unseen part which allows the ship to hold a true and steady course.

There are some important lessons I have learnt during the development of EI Mei Kan so far. I have learnt how to identify and harness students’ skills and abilities. The smooth running of a ship requires each crew member to carry out his/her duties well. An efficient ship is one where each person’s skills are fully utilised.

Ei Mei Kan is a founder member of the British Aikikai, which subsequently became part of Birankai International (BI). Ove the past ten years, I have visited many BA Dojos and observed how each teacher uses his/her strength to lead students along this same journey. Each Dojo is unique and yet flies the same colour. Each |Dojo is like a ship forming part of a larger fleet.

The challenge ahead is to find a way to combine the skills and knowledge of all the individual teachers of each Dojo, in order to give stronger direction to the group. I believe our mission, as seniors of the BA, is to identify strengths and skills within each other and to allow them to flourish for the good of our community.

Meeting this challenge will strengthen our fleet. Combining our individual strengths into one will reinforcing our direction and our common purpose, that of the transmission of Aikido.

I give thanks for the contributions of all the students, teachers and supporters of Ei Mei Kan, the BA and BI over the last ten years, which have all added to the creation of the ship in which we are sailing. Hank all the people who have trained and taught at Ei Mei Kan over the years. Through my experiences as a teacher, I understand the energy it takes to cultivate the growth of students. This realisation deepens my gratitude to Chiba Sensei for his teaching and that of his master O-Sensei.


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