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Rainy Evening at the Ken Budo-kan

Brian Hernandez

*Warning, unedited content.  Mistakes ahead.*

Last Sunday I went to the Ehime Prefectural Martial Arts center (愛媛県武道館) to practice ken-jitsu like I usually do on Sunday evenings.  It was quite nice.  You see, since we've entered the rainy season again, it's been raining heavily these past few days.  I'd like to describe a bit of the atmosphere that day and maybe how it differs from other times of the year.

First, I love the building.  the foundation is made out of a bunch of stones cut in various shapes and stacked on one another to resemble the stone foundations of the old feudal castles of Japan.  Their surfaces are rough and haven't been polished down so the facades of each stone are undulating in their imperfections and rough-ness. But they come together at the seems and makes for nice precise lines when you follow the corners of the foundation up.  There are also a few spaces/ openings for emergency exit doors and windows which break up the otherwise solid looking gray sloping wall that flows up - again showing the precision of how the stones come together.  I suppose they could only be cut by finely calibrated instruments - which makes me think how amazing the foundations of other castles were built back in feudal Japan. 

The whole building has a lot of wood energy. On the outside you see lots of wood pillars in the front and huge sheets of glass protecting the inside.  The sides of the building are mainly wood with the glass windows here and there.  The roofs are very steep sloping and black which you can see from various vantage points around Matsuyama and route 56.  It's a beautiful building and I think very worthy of being called the prefectural martial arts complex.  The whole area that it lies in, including the Aqua Palette swimming complex and Bottchan Stadium and tennis courts etc. is a really beautiful public space.  Including how cheap it is to go swimming for a few hours at Aqua Palette or to even use the martial arts building, it reminds me of how I heard Japan sinking lots of money into public works projects.

Anyways, entering the building, the floor is wooden and all black and you have these huge wooden pillars here and there supporting the structure.  The ground floors have the weight room and the judo dojos as well as the greater gymnasium are (usually used for big events or whether it be Disney coming to perform a show, artists or big prefectural matches from karate to basketball.  The second floor of the complex is where the kendo and auxiliary dojos are (as well as the second floor seating for the large gynasium area.  Oh, forgot to mention - I love the entrance of the comlex.  there is a shallow moat around part of the front that is somtimes filled with water.  There are some supporting pillars that come down from a part of the overhanging roof that plunge into the small moat. Behind the moat, there is a sort of wainting room where there is a TV etc. Its all glass though, so as you are walking around into the entrace you can see into the room which is behind these pillars that are driven into the moat.  The whole feel of the building is very clean and modern with that traditional dark inside feeling of old Japanese houses except much spacier. 

On the first floor there is also a court year with nothing but a bunch of jaggedly cut white stones with huge clay faces of some kind of oni (devil) or maybe Fudo-san (immovable Buddhist deity guarding entrances of Buddhist temples) - I'll ask who it is next time.  This whole long court yard is surrounded by glass.  So you can see straight into it when on the first floor in the main hall.  There are also some clay fishes here and there.  I love this oni though.  It sort of expresses that fighting spirit that probably is in many of the patrons that frequent the martial arts center. 

Like I said earlier, it has been raining a lot recently so on this particular day upon bowing and entering the dojo my typical trivial thoughts were silenced by the sound of the rain dripping and falling all around the dojo.  You couldn't really notice it in the main hall but once entering the large open area of the 2nd floor auxiliary dojo - which only one of my fellow ken-jitus classmates was practicing in at the time - it was easy to hear.  It reminded me of how much I love this building and what it represents (I have a nice saying about this at the end).  The side that the auxiliary dojo faces is in the direction of Matsuyama's city center.  On summer evenings when first entering the dojo, the setting sun's rays pierce the huge glass window wall and floods the room with long rectangles of sunlight.  In the dojo areas, since it's surrounded by lots of glass on some sides, there hardly isn't any insulation.  So this dojo in the summer with i'ts orange rays flooding in and the abundant tan/ brown wood energy of the floor and ceiling reflects the humid atmosphere that one feels once stepping into the dojo but also the sweat that one's body produces that minute she starts changing into her martial arts gear.  Obviously, this sweating doesn't relent when one is actually training - it's a beautiful feeling it is! 

In the height of winter when entering this dojo, it is already dark.  We are not supposed to use t-shirts under our dogi's for our practice for some reason, so it's a bit cold when getting started.  This is nice though, it pushes you to quickly get moving and start training to bring your body heat up.  You also tend to not want to take long breaks because after training a bit and you have a bit of sweat built up... if you stop moving the dampness on your body makes you cold quickly. 

So, these dojos on the second floor (either the kendo dojo or the auxiliary dojo) have very high ceilings as indicated from the outside with its sharp black roofs rising up out of a part of Matsuyama city off to the side.  There is a lot of wood beams etc. supporting the room but there is also iron here and there on some of the sides and on some of the internal structure.  The main color scheme of the dojo is black and brown.  In the dojo areas opposite the wooden bleachers, there are tatami changing rooms and or small stages that hold a taiko drum or otherwise where coordinators of a kendo or karate match would be at.  From the changing rooms that we typicaly use, we can see down to the river that runs by the building and the tennis courts and Botchan Stadium on the other side of this sports complex. 

Probably one of my most favorite things about the dojo (at least the auxilary dojo) we often use is how it faces Matsuyama city.  You can see the lights of the ferris wheel on top of the Takashimaya department store.  It's just a nice feeling to be have a busy/ crazy week but then be able to go somewhere, train and sweat and be in a quiet environment.  The windows over look the city but it's too far away and the silence inside the dojo too loud to hear the city.  The dojo is quite usually because there are few groups that use it during the time we use it.  It's really nice to be the only one on hot summer nights there when it's still early in the evening and the sun is filtering through the glass and wooden pillars.  Matsuyama has it's own fireworks display during the summer which I have never seen up close but I can remember once summer where I had viewed the fireworks display in between rests of practice from the open air courtyard/ roof of the dojo.  The angle was so that the fireworks looked as if they were close to the ferris wheel. 

This dojo has been one of those few consistent things that I have been going to and training at throughout my 5 years here.  This building definitely holds a special place in my heart.  There is a guy in his 80's that usually trains iaido by himself in the same dojo our group usues but he usually comes in earlier and we catch him as he is leaving.  He taught me a cool little saying once (along with some other cool samurai/ bushido stuff) and that was 「体育館が体を鍛える所。道場が心を鍛える所。」"The gym is where the body is tempered.  The dojo is where the heart * is tempered."  In such a vast area with not too many people around, it's easy to sort of lose your self in thoughts and not concentrate on what you are doing.  These past 5 years there was something very different about my training here compared to other dojos.  Probably because there were so few students, probably because the group that I train with are all older guys in their 40s 50s or 60s and not kids - but the there has been a lot of training that has been done on my own.  Not like a formally taught class of karate that I'm used to - guided by the sensei.  But, I would be taught a few katas and then practice the rest of my time on my own with my sensei occasionally showing me something or me asking for help.  It was a lot of self time which I had to learn - and still have to learn - on controlling my heart/ mind and staying focused on one's own.

 

*心 - Points to the English meanings of both the heart (as in emotions) and mind (as in intellect).