It was a gamble building a dojo two and a half hours from the nearest city and 15 minutes from the nearest town. A gamble that would have made a real-estate agent with his ‘location, location, location’ rule shake his head.
But I thought there must be others sharing my enthusiasm for the spiritual affinity of aikido and Nature, who would appreciate being able to practice in one of the most beautiful places in the world and who would, therefore, find their way here if we waited patiently.
Three years on, the naivete of this view is all too apparent.
But the dojo is slowly catching on and I have been encouraged by the enthusiasm of those who have come to train with us, like the young man from the Czech Republic, which is about as far from New Zealand as you can get, who stayed for two months, trained every day and explored the region’s unspoiled beaches and bush in between sessions.
We have also had a steady stream (or perhaps I should say a trickle) of aikido practitioners from Europe, Asia, Japan and America, staying for varying lengths of time, from a couple of nights to several months.
Domestic interest has been slow, perhaps because of the relatively small size of the aikido population in this country, or the price of petrol! Some people may erroneously believe they should not visit a dojo outside their particular ‘style’ of aikido, whereas, of course, our independent dojo is available to anyone regardless of their affiliation, just as are the many ‘gasshuku centres’ in Japan. This is a place for people whose love of aikido transcends such narrow considerations.
Having had a fair amount of experience in the main styles, I am quite comfortable training with anyone, or I can step aside and simply make the dojo available to a particular group.
We are beginning to get some enquiries from high-school students interested in doing an “Aikido & Nature” course as part of their ‘gap year’ life experience before they enter university and I am excited about the potential for this.
After 18 years living and training in Tokyo the contrast in lifestyle could hardly be greater (which is why my wife Hisae and I are here) and, even though we have come to realise the dojo will probably never be packed with students training every day, we still love it here and want to share the place with others of like mind.