After a pretty unsatisfying couple of months of training at the ASU dojo, I decided to search for another dojo to train at. The Jiyushinkai Aiki-budo dojo is located just about 30 min from ASU, so I went to check it out. My first impression of it was 'wow', this is the kind of dojo I wanna train at. Old school, traditional, and good serious aikido training. The Jiyushinkan is a small dojo, with less than ten students on a regular day of practice, one or two beginners, the rest are mostly yudanshas. Chuck Clark Sensei (6th dan judo, 8th dan aikido) runs the dojo, but he doesn't teach much anymore. Fortunately, he has competant assistants to take the classes.
The dojo has rather strict procedures for pple who wants to join. One can't just go in and 'try out'. A person wishing to join as a student has to observe four classes first, regardless of who he is. So that's what i did, sitting in patiently for 4 sessions over two weeks.
The system of aikido that the dojo adopts is the Tomiki aikido curriculum, although they are not affiliated to Shodokan. Clark Sensei himself learned under Kenji Tomiki and also his early deshis, so he has plenty of experience. He was already a dan-grade judoka before he begain aikido, and initially started out in the aikikai style of aikido. However, he shared with me that his experience with Aikikai folks wasn't a good one, where there was a lot of rank-pulling and bullying. According to him, the Aikikai folks he trained with were mostly just interested in using pain compliance to make techniques work, and to him that was not true aiki-budo. Tomiki on the other hand, a PhD in both economics and physical education, was very scientific in his approach. Tomiki was a modern educator, and envisioned Aikido training with a systematic curriculum. Tomiki shared much similarity in his vision of aikido to that of what Jigoro Kano had of judo.
Following this approach, the Jiyushinkan has a model of budo training using modern education methods. They have a strict curriculum of solo and partner katas, that students have to learn at each phase. For example, the tandoku-undo was a set of 12 different solo drills, and the musubi-renshu a set of 8 different drills from katate-dori, Junanahon-undo the 17 techniques from shomen-ate. These katas were designed by Tomiki and his students, so they go back a long time. Randori was reserved for i think, at least 4th kyu and above. But the type of randori practiced is not the 'demo' type of randori that we do; rather, techniques set up can be countered and reversed and so on until someone is able to make something happen. Of course, further on there are aiki-buki waza of jo and ken etc. Again, as I observe, the style of movement etc is so different from what we are familiar with. The intent is very strong, the movements are short, precise and sharp. Pulling, yanking, cranking of your uke's limbs are frowned upon in the dojo. The emphasis is really on kuzushi, which acording to Clark sensei, is not just about breaking balance, its about destroying posture.
In terms of credibility, I would certainly say that this dojo is worth the expenses and time. Most of the senior students here are also judokas so they know whether this is the real deal. They also have a judo training before the aikido class, so I'll probably join in next week. Ironically, the folks here are much friendlier, no airs and very encouraging and patient to newbies (like me). After almost three weeks on the mat, I was pleasantly surprised today that Clark Sensei told me I could wear my black obi here; I guess he could sense that I was sincere in trying to learn.
I guess I'd train at this dojo as well as in campus dojo (despite having a not-so-pleasant rub with some of the folks). It is indeed interesting to experience such different flavors of the same art.