A weekend of martial arts in Kyoto - A look back at the 32nd edition of the annual All Japan Budo Federation festival

After 8 years without returning to Kyoto, I finally had the opportunity in September to come back to the former Japanese capital for an intense weekend of martial arts training. I still barely realize today that my last participation in the Embu of the All Japan Budo Federation / Soburen dates back to 2015, a typhoon having prevented us from participating in 2018 following the partial destruction of the roof of the Butokuden and the flooding of Kansai airport, then followed the birth of my children in 2019 and the Covid years. A long interruption therefore, but which only added excitement to the idea of ​​this new stay.

Excitement all the more present as this year, for the first time, I did not join the Embu alone but I was accompanied by Igor who came specially from Poland, and by Christian who traveled from Tokyo for the weekend. This trip was particularly important since it was an opportunity for Igor to test for Shodan in Nihon Jujutsu.


Preparation in Hong Kong

Before leaving for Kyoto, Igor met me in Hong Kong so that we could finalize the details of his exam together. Although he practices regularly in Warsaw and we often meet online to check his progress, we had not been able to practice together in person since… 2019!

But if I had booked a dojo every single day of the week to make the most of it, the weather decided otherwise with the biggest typhoon ever recorded in the city... So it was partly at my place, without tatami mats, that we had to train. Despite the constraints, I must say that these were excellent training sessions, with a lot of intensity.

Visit to the Chiseikan dojo

When I arrived in Kyoto, I visited the Chiseikan dojo, where Nenshinryu Budo is practiced, an art founded by Toru Kinefuchi sensei, who was uchideshi of Mochizuki sensei in his last years. It is therefore a practice descending directly from Yoseikan Aikido, but which aims to be softer, less rough than what can be found for example in Seifukai, and with in particular less emphasis on sutemi waza, making the practice accessible to everyone.

I was met there by Darren Ball from the Yamagawa Budo dojo in Melbourne, and we were incredibly well welcomed by Yoshie and Philippe Sugai sensei. This exchange was fascinating for me in more than one way. First because we saw certain details on Yoseikan Aikido entries that I had only seen on video and which had until then left me doubtful (not anymore). Then because although I had already met Darren in 2015, I had never had the opportunity to practice with him, and I was struck by his movement quality.


International seminar and gradings

On Saturday morning, we met with the representatives of the 18 international delegations at the Butokuden in Kyoto for an international seminar with the Seibukan's Japanese experts. "Four and a half hours of practice in total, under 35 degrees Celsius and with humidity comparable to that of Hong Kong., starting with a Goju Ryu Karate class, one of Aikido Seibukan and finally one of Toyama Ryu Iaido.

My back, which had been playing tricks on me since the end of July, wasn't quite up to the challenge, and Kote Kitae's hard work in Goju Ryu didn't necessarily help. So I took advantage of the lunch break to go to the pharmacy and buy some back patches to make sure I would be able to survive the grade exams.

As I said, Igor was candidate for first dan in Nihon Jujutsu, as for me I had decided to try my luck for the 6th dan. Why try my luck? Sixth dan is a high rank, at least in my mind, and it was for me a rank with emotional connotations more than anything else, the red/white belt associated with it being for me a somehow a "Proust madeleine". But the opportunity to test in front of Kawano sensei, at Butokuden, with Christian and Igor was too tempting to pass up.

Igor went first, so he could focus on his own test, and also allowing me to go for it a little more without fear of affecting his performance. Those who have had the pleasure of working with me in demonstrations or for gradings know that I tend to put a much higher intensity than that I put into training. It was, I think, a surprise for Igor, who I half-knocked out on an ushiro kiri otoshi that was on the sharper side of things.

The exams are finally over, we are still in one piece but clearly exhausted. It's time to go get ready for dinner. On Sunday morning, participants gathered again at the Butokuden, for the Embu (demonstration) of the All Japan Budo Federation, of which Nippon Seibukan is a part. Embu is an opportunity for participants to showcase their skills and knowledge to instructors and other participants.


The heat and humidity have barely changed compared to the day before, and the opening ceremony seems endless as the various officials make their speeches and the participants are already sweating. A big day is coming.

My back remains borderline as we watch the first demonstrations, all varied and exciting. It's finally our turn in the middle of the afternoon and on a sutemi, my back contracts violently at the sacroiliac level. On the ground, I tell myself that it will be impossible to continue in these conditions, but I remember that we made the trip for this, and that my children are watching. It's one thing to talk about the spirit of the samurai, but it becomes ridiculous if when pain shows up, we just give up. I get up as if nothing happened, and accept the pain. We finish without anyone noticing. However, I leave the tatami folded in two. Fortunately a quick massage by Mounir Ghrawi from the Canadian team and another massage the next day before leaving will limit the damage. But it was only in Hong Kong that I realized the extent of the damage: my torso is shaped like a comma. Big thanks to my osteopath who put me back on my feet, my pelvis was displaced and part of my sacrum blocked in extension.

After the embu, we gathered again on the carpet, in front of the Butokuden shomen for the closing ceremony. As every year, prizes were awarded to participants who gave exceptional performances. And it was to our greatest surprise that we heard the jury call us for the trophy for the best demonstration. It took me a few seconds to realize it wasn't a mistake. In four participations, I had never received more than one of the seven plaques given for “technical excellence” and I hardly thought I would manage to snag one given our level of preparation and my physical state. This weekend couldn't have ended better.


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