PRELIMINARY NOTES on TRAINING at
THE KODOKAN INTERNATIONAL JUDO INSTITUTE
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
Every serious judoka and sensei has either trained at the Kodokan or dreams of training at the Kodokan. Most realize that by going back to the roots of judo, one can experience judo the way it was designed and intended by Professor Kano. It is also a process of “renewal” to confirm that one is staying true to the foundational principles of judo which may have been lost or diluted in many western countries.
Training at the Kodokan begins with planning your itinerary and visit, especially if it is the first time and you are not traveling with a friend or group that are veterans and have trained there before.
Planning a trip to the Kodokan should begin by talking with those who have gone before. Next, access and study the official Kodokan web site at Kodokan.org. Once you know when you want to attend, and if you want to participate in any organized programs, such as Kata or Technical, then you need to email the KDK International Office to begin the reservation and registration process. The email address is email@example.com, or can be accessed through the Kodokan web page.
Special training programs include:
Kan- Geiko, mid-winter training, beginning every morning at 5:30 AM and running for 10 days. Started in 1884, Kan-Geiko is a traditional annual event at the Kodokan that aims to develop a strong spirit and body through training in a harsh winter condition.
Shochu-Geiko, mid-summer training begins every evening at 6:00 PM and also running for 10 consecutive days. Shochu-Geiko is intended for judoka to improve their judo techniques, while developing a strong mind and body through intense training in the hottest time of the year. Judoka participate in these programs as a mental and physical toughening process and for the perfect attendance certificate awarded at the end of each program.
Concurrent with the Shochu-Geiko, but running during the day, is the international Summer Training Program divided into two sessions. Session 1 is the 7-day Kata Camp, followed by Session 2, the 5-day Technical Program. The Kata Camp covers all seven Kodokan kata and is intended for 4th dan and above for men and 2nd dan and above for women.
The 5-day Technical Program is an annual pilgrimage for many who wish to improve their techniques and knowledge under the tutelage of the Kodokan instructors. Participants in the Technical Program are divided in to three groups: high school students, brown belts (mudansha), and dan grades (yudansha). This year’s black belt group was made up of about 60 internationals and 80 Japanese students.
But if you do not wish to enroll in any specific program, you can just turn up for training every evening and pay the 800 yen mat fee ($8). Juniors train from 4:30 to 6:00 PM, and adults from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. Routine training runs six nights a week, except during summer training when the main dojo is also open on a Sunday evening.
When you email the KDK International Office, they will respond promptly to advise you of your reservation dates and costs. All fees are paid on arrival in cash (Japanese yen), no credit cards. There are banks that will change US dollars for yen within one block of the Kodokan, and there are ATM machines in the civic center next door. The exchange rate in both the US and Japan, at the time of writing, was 97 yen to the US dollar, so it was no problem exchanging dollars for yen before traveling.
Some basic costs at the Kodokan were: Kodokan membership, 8,000 yen; bunk room, 1,800 per night, or private room, 3,500 yen per night; 7-day kata program, 8,000 yen; 5-day technical program, 6,000 yen. Regular nightly training is 800 yen per night, paid at the 4th floor registration desk.
The hostel, on the 3rd floor of the Kodokan, has 27 rooms and can accommodate over 100 judoka in four 20-person bunk rooms or private rooms. The accommodations, latrines and showers are clean and the water pressure is good. Clean linen, sheets, pillows and blankets are provided, but you need to bring a towel and your own soap. But anything you forget or need can be purchased in the supermarkets or convenience stores within 50 meters of the Kodokan.
For training you will need to bring two white judogi or, if you are due for new gi, then these can be conveniently purchased at the shop in the Kodokan which stocks high quality KuSakura and Mizuno. You can also purchase from the big Mizuno store, 20 minutes walk from the Kodokan. Smurf alert: do not turn up with a blue judogi. The Kodokan is a traditional judo training center where the white judogi is mandatory and all traditional dojo etiquettes are respected. These can be read on the Kodokan web page and are posted on the wall in the various dojo. That said, the Kodokan instructors are very hospitable and gracious.
It is recommended to wear a clean judogi every day so there are washing machines available in the hostel on the 3rd floor and in the locker rooms on the 4th floor, but there are no driers. Judogi are hung to dry in your room or in a designated area on the roof. With the high humidity in summer, you can quickly soak a judogi with even moderate training, but it can take almost 2 days for a judogi to dry. So for multi-day training camps two judogi are essential.
In addition to judogi, it is recommended to bring a small sweat towel, a water bottle, shin-guards, and white t-shirts for women. Men are not permitted to wear t-shirts or rash-guards under their gi. With the inevitable minor injuries, it is also a good idea to carry a supply of band-aids, Aspirin, Advil, and an assortment of sports tape. In addition to the conventional white athletic tape used for fingers and toes, I also carry Power Flex and Elastikon, which have some stretch and offer good support for ankles, wrists, elbows, and thumb sprains (both available through amazon.com). If you have pre-existing knee, wrist, or ankle issues then you will want to bring soft braces for those as well.
I flew on United Airlines directly from San Francisco to Narita, Japan (10.5 hours), but daily direct flights are also available from Los Angeles, Denver, and Seattle. Immigration and Customs at Narita were very efficient and passengers’ bags were off the carousel before we even got to the baggage claim area and Customs.
In the arrival hall of Terminal 1 (where United lands) you can purchase a ticket to Tokyo’s Ueno train station from the Keisei ticket counter. Their kiosk is directly in front of you as you exit the Customs hall and you can also download information and directions from the internet. It was 2,400 yen (about $25) for the Keisei Skyliner express train from Narita to Ueno and the platform is directly down the elevator under Terminal 1. The first thing you will notice on the Japanese trains is how clean, comfortable and quiet they are. The trains leave Narita every 20 minutes and make the run into Ueno in about 43 minutes.
From Ueno station to the Kodokan is about 10 minutes by taxi and approximately $10 to $15, depending on time of day and traffic. It is well worth avoiding the metro in summer if you are toting heavy bags, but once you are at the Kodokan, the metro becomes the cheapest and best way to get around Tokyo. You can get almost anywhere in the city for 160 to 190 yen (less than $2.00), but sometimes when you have to connect or switch lines you will be required to pay twice.
If you arrive at the Kodokan during normal business hours (9:30 AM to 5:00 PM) you can check in at the International Office, just to the right of the statue of Professor Jigoro Kano. After hours you take the basement entrance to the security office where they will issue you your room key and advise you to go to the International Office at 9:30 AM to pay your bill. All costs are paid in advance in cash, no credit cards.
AT THE KODOKAN
The Kodokan is an 8-level structure with a lunch restaurant in the basement. When you enter through the main entrance on the 1st floor lobby you will find the Kodokan gift shop to the right, the stairs down to the restaurant to the left, and the elevators directly ahead. The 2nd floor is the library and museum; 3rd floor is the hostel; and 4th floor is the dojo entrance and registration desk. All judoka deposit their shoes in the racks on the 4th floor, register at the desk, pay the nightly 800 yen training fee, and then change.
From the 4th floor judoka then take the stairs up to the 7th floor main dojo. From the 4th floor to the 7th floor is a clean area with polished wood floors so you can walk around without shoes, even off the mats. The main dojo consists of over 400 green tatami on a sprung floor, laid out in an 87’ x 87’ square divided into four championship-sized training areas bordered by red tatami. The mats are the smaller 6’ x 3’ size not the newer metric 2m x 1m. In addition to the main dojo on the 7th floor, there are two large dojo on the 6th floor, and three more on the 5th floor.
Spectators are welcome at the Kodokan and can take the elevator directly from the ground floor lobby to the 8th floor viewing gallery which looks down over the 7th floor main dojo. Judoka should not try to go from the main dojo up to the spectator area without their shoes since this is not a clean area. To go to the spectator galleries, judoka must go down to the 4th floor, collect their shoes, and then take the elevator to the 8th floor.
Scheduled kids classes begin around 4:30 PM and adults at 6:00 PM, but you can arrive early to warm up and stretch out. Most seniors arrive around 5:30 PM, and for summer and winter training they strike the taiko drum as a signal for everyone to assemble for roll call.
In the main dojo, in the evening, it is not unusual to see four different classes going on at the same time, with teens in one area, senior kyu-grade beginner in another; international in one corner; and older Japanese veterans in another. At other times there may be 80 to 100 kids on the mat or a similar number of seniors.
Special programs such as the 7-day summer Kata Program can draw almost 200 participants from over 40 countries and runs in the main dojo from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM each day. The 5-day Technical Session draws a similar number, but with a higher percentage of Japanese participants from several high schools, and runs 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM each day.
It is recommended to read the Kodokan guidelines before traveling, and learn to bow correctly in both the standing and kneeling position. Many westerners have got into the habit of doing a perfunctory competition bow by bobbing their head, but at the Kodokan judoka are expected to bow correctly. For example, when doing a standing bow, heels should be together with toes pointing out, and the hands should slide down the front of the thighs until the fingertips just touch the top of the knees. When kneeling, always go down left leg first and come up right leg first, just as in all the kata; and as you always step forward on the left foot first, and back on the right foot first in competition. In the kneeling position, the knees should be two fists apart (for men).
When entering the 7th floor main dojo, judoka are required to be correctly attired (belt tied) and execute a standing bow to Kano’s picture from the door, not from the edge of the tatami. The picture hangs in a specially lit alcove directly opposite the main entrance on the far side of the dojo. In the 5th and 6th floor dojo the picture hangs on the wall at the end of the training hall so you will turn and bow as you step onto the tatami.
Once you have bowed into the dojo, it is not necessary to bow every time you step on and off the tatami. It is quite common to step off the mat when not doing randori or to get a drink. While the etiquette is quite formal, you are free to step on and off the mat at will, or go to the bathroom, without getting permission from the sensei. It is not unusual to have several older or out of shape internationals in the main dojo pacing themselves, especially in the heat of summer, so they will often just sit on the benches around the sides of the training hall.
Bowing to your partner for randori is done from the kneeling position (seiza), not standing. When kneeling to bow to your training partner, you should be lateral to the front of the dojo (Shomen) with the higher grade on the right. Never bow with your back to Shomen. If you need to adjust your jacket or re-tie your belt, this should be done in the kneeling position.
The bowing-in commands at the start of training can vary but, in general, are quite traditional. You will always bow to Shomen, the sensei, and then a third time to each other as a group. Before training the commands may sound something like this:
“Shisei wo tadashi te shimen ni, rei” (bowing to Kano shihan)
“Sensei ni, rei” or “sensei gata ni, rei” (for more than one sensei)
“Otagai doshi rei” (bow to each other)
“Mokuso; yamai” (at the end of training, the meditation command, and the yamai to finish meditation)
Note: this was written out for me by one of the Kodokan instructors.
It is permitted to bring personal valuables, a notebook, camera, a sweat towel, and a water bottle into the dojo, especially in summer. These should be placed in the recess provided around the walls and below the windows. Never place anything on the actual window sills or ledges, since if anything were to fall out the window it could hit a passerby in the street below.
When in doubt, watch what the regulars are doing and feel free to ask questions. There are always other internationals in the main dojo, from a dozen different countries, and there is usually at least one Kodokan instructor who speaks English. Several of the high grades also speak French.
When doing randori, always begin and end with a kneeling bow to your partner. At randori time, if you want a partner you can either go and ask someone, or just walk onto the mat and put your hand up. There is a two meter wooden border around the tatami so you are expected to stay off the mat to make room for others if not actually doing randori.
Randori at the Kodokan is not about winning, even though you should try your hardest to throw your opponent, but about practicing your techniques. The Kodokan instructors are looking for good waza (techniques) not scrappy shiai type fighting. They will instruct you not to fight for the small point (yuko) but to always try for the big Ippon throw.
If you feel yourself about to be thrown, just go with the throw and take the fall. This is safer and benefits your opponent.
Note: Before you email Judo Training Development with questions, go to the Kodokan webpage and read all the information provided there.