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Life in Japan
Taken from
Barry Cardinal
Occupation: Renshi aikido instructor
Time in Japan: 7 years

My first exposure to aikido was when I was thirteen, while studying Chinese kung fu in Canada. I picked up a book about "the way of harmony," and was mystified by the pictures of people flying through the air. The movements looked like choreographed stunts or illusions. I couldn't understand the technique and frankly, I thought it was all a hoax. For a long time it remained a enigmatic and mythical art.

I studied martial arts throughout high school and college, primarily kendo and competitive kickboxing. When I was twenty-one, I saw a TV documentary about aikido with footage of its founder, Ueshiba-sensei. I was so impressed by the fluidity of the moves in the film, I was inspired to take a closer look. I decided to visit an aikido dojo (martial arts studio).

They had me all over the mat. I quickly (and painfully) discovered how subtle yet effective the techniques were. I limped home with a new respect for aikido. I was still studying kendo at that point, and came to Japan for a year to teach English and study the martial arts. I went back to Canada to finish college, then returned to the aikido school to study for about nine months before settling in Japan for intensive study.

I became a shodan (first degree black belt) within one year. I would have been satisfied with that until I discovered that getting a black belt was rather easy in Japan. Also, you don't really start learning aikido until you become a shodan. Now I am a renshi (fourth degree) and just started teaching at my school in Tsurumi. My days are spent at the dojo, and in the evenings I teach English to make ends meet. I live in Yokohama, where I am just close enough to Tokyo to enjoy the excitement of this multicultural city. Life is an adventure and every day is a learning experience.

Aikido has made me more aware of my surroundings and the moods of people around me. It has also helped me deal with difficult people, because you can apply aikido to any situation. You can even use the techniques verbally to get yourself out of an altercation. Studying in Japan has enriched my life in every way, and I look forward to what I have yet to learn. This art has become my life and passion. I plan to stay here for three or four more years, when I will go back to Canada to open my own dojo.

Barry spoke with Anne Bouyssounouse

INFO: Aikido Shohokai Dojo in Ikegami 3751-5812, in Tsurumi 045-504-7723.

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