So you want to be an Uchi Deshi?


Just though I would put down some of my thoughts and advice for anyone who was considering coming to Iwama as a long-term uchi deshi or soto deshi. Since I have done both, I feel I might have some valid advice that people might find interesting. First lets talk about being a uchi deshi.

An uchi deshi (live-in student) is the route that most people who come to Japan to train in Aikido take. You have a place to stay and get two training sessions a day, 6 days a week with sensei. Here are some important points to consider.

You are not on holiday. As an uchi deshi you are expected to look after the dojo and assist sensei with any and all jobs that he may need to do. Remeber, sensei has 3 houses, a dojo, a small patch of forest and his own rice field!. Although the work load is nowhere near as much as it was in the old dojo. There is still work that needs to be done. On top of this is the cleaning of the shin-dojo (uchideshi accomodation) cooking and dog walking. There is  a lot to do and you may be kept very busy. As I said, this is not a holiday. There is no “leisure time” scheduled in, and everyone regardless of rank is expected to work.

The Mats in the Tanrenkan are hard. the mats in the dojo are hard and are covered in a course cotton. expect your feet to be covered in mat burns and the skin to be rubbed off your knees. A lot of people end up covering their feet in tape and plasters after a couple of days. This isnt uncommon, so be prepared.

Sensei is very strict. When you come to Iwama you are expected to do techniques as sensei demonstrates them. If how sensei does the technique is different from the way that you do it. Change you technique, or you will be in for a rough night. The is no patience in Iwama for people who cannot adapt. When you are given a correction you are expected to change it instantly. You are also expected to listen to other people’s corrections and if it applies to you, fix it! Sensei has no patience for lazy people. Unless you want to have sensei shouting at you everyday you had better be flexible, diligent and focused.

Training is tough. We don’t talk, we don’t chat, we don’t ask or answer questions and we don’t stop. The training is not done at a fast pace, but it is focused and intense and we do not stop. The only time you will have a break is when sensei is showing the next technique. There is no talking and there is no discussion there is only the constant repetition of techniques and corrections from sempai or sensei.

Sensei does not speak English on the mat. learning a few words of Japanese is a big plus. Usually one of the soto deshi will translate what sensei says into English. But knowing a few words especially the parts of the body will be a big help.

If you are not physically conditioned  you will probably get injured. The days of the bone crunching sempai are gone and none of the soto deshi will try to break you during keiko. However is you are very stiff, physically unfit, have weak joints or existing injuries. It is your responsibility to look after yourself. While the soto deshi don’t go out of their way to break people now. They do train alot and are quite physically strong. This alone can lead to you getting an injury if your body is not used to this kind of training.

You will be getting up very early. usually around 5:15 as I said this is not a holiday.

You will be eating with everyone else. All the uchi deshi pay money into a fund to buy food every day. 1 or 2 people are rostered to be the Toban (cooks) If you are lucky they will be good cooks if not… then just remember you need food. You need energy to do keiko and to recover from keiko. dont complain, just eat it.

Dont plan a long stay trip for your first time. You first time you should come for a short visit around 1 month. this will give you a good feel for uchi deshi life and you can decide if it is for you. It is not easy being an uchi deshi. Living as an uchi deshi requires you to give up your privacy and put sensei`s needs before your own. It doesn’t matter if you have to call your family on skype. If there is work, that must be done first.

If you do 1 month and still want to do a long-term stay then go ahead and do it. At least you will know what you are getting yourself into.

Iwama isn’t really for beginners. If you come to Iwama with only a few months of aikido training under your belt you will be in for a rough ride. make no mistake, you will be constantly corrected and shouted at everyday you will receive numerous corrections and be expected to fix them all. This is an old budo style of martial arts training. A “trail by fire” “in at the deep-end” those with the will to endure and determination will persevere and get better. The weaker people will fall by the way side. Dont expect people to go easy on you because you are a beginner. You will be grabbed, punched and held just as strong as everyone else.

Costs you may not have considered.

Transport to and from the airport

between 3000-5000 yen

Thank money when leaving  the dojo           

between 5000-10000 yen depending on the length of time you  have stayed.

Food money

Im not sure of the price now but I believe it is around 200 yen a day (its actually 400 yen a day +100 a week for sugar salt etc.)

I hope this was interestesting if anyone has any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will add the answer into this post 🙂