It's a remarkable event in the world of aikido, which takes years of preparations. The last time we were honoured by Doshu's visit to our part of the world was back in 2009 in Almere (Netherlands). Now Belgium got lucky, and lots of aikidōkas came there from the neighbouring countries such as France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal etc.
Just like the previous time I've invited my first sensei Rudik Manukyan, the president of Tyumen Region Aikido Federation (4th dan aikikai).
We spent Thursday and Friday on rambling through the centre of Amsterdam (Dam square, Red Light district, China-town—all the usual stuff). The Dam square has got a small attraction park again:
Friday afternoon we set off for Brussels, with an intermediate stop in Antwerp. The whole drive is only about two hours.
The main Brussels tourist attraction, Manneken Pis, has been dressed up for the occasion:
We didn't witness this ourselves though. As I understand, it happened on Friday and only lasted for a short while.
A visit of the Doshu has a significant political importance. Yes, aikido, just like any other area that involves human relations, can be very politicised, with its intrigues, struggle for power, offences and strife. Fortunately, I'm left out of all that, so for me his visit was an awesome opportunity to meet like-minded people of different countries, cultures and age ranges, as well as to toss them onto the tatami.
The event was held at the Brussels Tour & Taxis—believe it or not, on the premises of a warehouse. The organisers claimed it was the only venue of the appropriate size. The area was divided into sections: a tatami area, a canteen, changing rooms, showers, embukai stands etc.
I've managed to book a very cheap accommodation just a five-minute walk away from Tour & Taxis (50 euros per night). But its comfort was level with the price: a shared kitchen, a shower and a toilet, whereas the room itself was barely large enough to fit three beds:
All of that was located in a bizarre compound building consisting of numerous passages and staircases. An open-air passage across the roof was decorated with strange flowerbeds made of old bathtubs and toilet bowls:
That said, it wasn't that important as we only slept there.
It was prohibited to photograph on the tatami, so most pictures in this post are borrowed from the event page on Facebook.
There were two trainings on Saturday and two on Sunday, two and a half hours each. A total of five hours per day, with a lunch break of three ours. Mr. Ueshiba participated in three sessions out of four.
Some 1300 people have signed up for the event (out of 1500 available places). For the overall tatami area of 2500 m2 (the largest in Europe, according to the organisers) it wasn't too much, so one could easily find a spot to fall, especially near the edges.
Being 65 years old, the Doshu shows quite an impressive performance—just watch the video further down. All the techniques of tachi-waza (standing), suwari-waza (kneeling) and even the most complex hanmi-handachi-waza (the attacker stands, the tori kneels) were played flawlessly.
Most of the techniques were demonstrated with two Japanese ukes (attackers) from Hombu Dojo, who came with the Doshu. They had to work really hard, joining the training crowd between the demonstrations.
In his turn, the Doshu walked around the dojo during those periods, watching and teaching the practitioners.
The explanations he gave were all in Japanese. There was an interpreter next to him (in a suit on the photo below), who initially tried to translate Doshu's speech into French and English, but with the latter it didn't go very smoothly, so he limited himself to just French. Then another guy translated his French further into English.
The event, of course, was also attended by other aikido stars, the biggest one being the French shihan Christian Tissier, who is the only non-Japanese in possession of the eighth dan aikikai:
At the end of the second day an embukai (public demonstration) was held at the venue. It began with a half-an-hour-long drummer performance, too long in my view. After that an aikido demonstration started.
Shihan Dany Leclerre, 7th dan aikikai:
And, finally, a demonstration by the Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba:
I must say that I'm absolutely content with the trainings, the participants and the organisation. Five hours of aikido per day can energise you, as crazy as it sounds. All in all, time well spent!