What’s it like to train at Shobukan?

This offers yet one perspective of a resident, having lived, practiced, studied, and served in Shobukan Dojo for nearly a decade. That said, I hope to offer insights to individuals looking to begin practice here at the dojo, and it is our culture, our mission as a community to aim toward the reconciliation of the world as exemplified by 聖武 (shobu) through the practice of 合氣道 (aikido). – Roy Hodges

Training at Aikido Shobukan Dojo is beyond peer.

It is a diverse, changing, and challenging experience. Not only does each session throughout the day carry different perspectives and activities, each individual brings their life to the mat to practice together in Aikido. Some sessions are dynamic and intense while some are gentle and judicious in energy spent. There are times of study and there are times courage is worked on in the face of adversity. Personally, Aikido has been a journey through many fields, many cultures, and many people, and it is tremendously valuable not only in martial arts, but in the world, it truly does reconcile the world and it is here, that O’Sensei’s wish is expressed.

Reconciliation’s etymology, taken from Etymonline.com is “to restore to union and friendship after estrangement or variance,” and it is right in the heat of it, in that moment of estrangement, when competitive behavior fights over resources, space, or time… on the mat or off the mat that reconciliation offers a way out. Aikido is a way to this restoration of friendship, with everyone in life. Sounds like a pie in the sky idea, however, it’s true, and having lived in the dojo and at first training in nearly every class, then paring it down to balance with spiritual studies and meditation, focusing on a life of service, I can say that it can, and indeed reconciles the world.

Morning Keiko

What a great way to start the day! It is mornings like this that Sensei says, “it’s a beautiful day today!” The morning sessions are not only welcoming, but a moment where the dojo itself awakens. The dojo really opens around 3AM, when the birds start chirping, knowing this space through meditation on the rear veranda over a period of many years. Then the sun starts its ascent and the first practitioners arrive, the dojo is opened, the heat may be turned on, the doors may be opened and the sounds of the waking city, the moving bamboo leaves and the wood expanding wakes the space up.

Depending on the avenue of study, again, there can be study of principles, and the principles vary. Sometimes the principles are fudoshin, sometimes kamae, sometimes kikubari, sometimes as simple as a grip of a bokken and jo, or how to fall. Maybe the techniques, like ikkyo, nikkyo… we work together and search for and find martial meaning through aiki just the way Saotome Shihan has professed at Shobukan for many years. Misogi training in morning class seemed appropriate, and often, we practiced these.

After morning keiko, sometimes individuals will change for their work day, and share in a small breakfast and coffee, though not always. It however doesn’t take much to inspire this activity, many have some time to spare and enjoy conversation.

Mid-Morning Keiko

This by far, had been a favorite time to train. It was the bridge between morning and evening, and the sounds of commuting had dimmed. Our dojo hosts many professors and professionals near the area. The clarity of language bridging waking for the day, leaning into it and returning from work in the evening is an interesting transitional space to practice.

These were the classes that Patty Saotome and Saotome Sensei occasionally partook in while they visited the dojo. Many at this time are inspired heavily by Patty, and it is evident in the movement and emphasis on clarity of motion. There is a lot of room on the mat during mid-morning keiko, and it offers space to practice large movement, and sweeping break falls and rolls.

Many individuals in these professional spaces share significant time after classes, or before to supplement training. Sometimes even lasting three or more hours, during the week! This is also a good time to sharpen and simplify the language to communicate about aiki. Sometimes, when the moment is right, we leave together to lunch up in Takoma.

Youth Program

This is a busy session, parents dropping children and teens off, they come in and get prepared to practice. The discipline to be on time is key, though some, dearly get caught up in some tardiness on occasion (cough). The sincerity is profound, and they practice with sincerity and diligence. It is a site to see so many young people take up the practice of aikido, on the journey of self discovery. Teens from this program may join in other classes on occasion, and perhaps seminars too.

Evening Keiko

Now this is where fire and water combine, and the opening of the day, through the transition invites those who having worked come together in a large gathering to practice. Many people from all walks of life come to evening sessions, and it is an honor to train with so many people at Shobukan.

This time was and still is Saotome Sensei’s favorite time to share in the practice of aikido, he very rarely missed an opportunity to join evening sessions, being deft in the management of keiko (the practice of ancient ways). People at this time exhibit large amounts of energy, and sometimes the tension of the workday or work itself come out in practice. Everyone means well, and occasionally there is a tussle, a take-down, or a small scrap, however it is well managed for safety and allows some to blow off some youthful energy and return to study and practice.

After Evening Keiko, that sounds like trademark, many practitioners work together around individuals folding hakama and catching up. Many out of town visitors make it a point if they are site seeing, to make it to evening sessions, and there is the promise of a beer night or for some wine.

Saturday Keiko

There is a morning weapons class, and some even arrive earlier than this to discuss and explore finer points on occasion. What another great way to start a Saturday, rather than sleeping in, though mostly I would sleep in and it fit with Sensei’s schedule as he too would stay up to the wee hours of the morning. There’s something nice about meditating into the first, second, and as far into the third watch of the night as possible.

The children and teen class on Saturday is most busy, and many come, it’s quite profound. Clack clack! Weapons go, bang bang, breakfalls at 9AM in synchronicity.

Then the chance for all members from all keiko sessions to come together for the final keiko session for adults on Saturday at 10:30. Members from morning, mid-morning, and evening keiko sessions come together, including visitors from other dojo in the region to practice aikido. These sessions are often vigorous, and were very packed when I lived there.

Sunday Keiko

Another morning weapons session, and these were favorites in the early days living at the dojo. Then the later sessions too, and for years it was a pleasure to train with beginners in the beginner’s orientation, and staying after to practice with folks giving tips and advice on rolling, falling, and movement. Some of the closest friends were made at this time, and most of the ones who received advice, still train today!


Seminars are a glorious time to be a member of the dojo, as hosts, we get to take care of guests, show them around, and be sure to anticipate needs. Many people from all over the world come to visit the dojo, and some stay on site to sleep on the mat, in the guest quarters, in the tea room, or as VIP guests of the Saotome family and Shobukan, stay within the home. These are precious opportunities for new perspectives, new training partners, rekindling relationships, and discovering how others are progressing, changing and discovering themselves.

Work Parties

Maintaining the dojo is a community responsibility and it is an expression of love for each other’s experience of the space, practice and gratitude for those who have built and also maintained the space. Sweeping, vacuuming, oiling wood, dusting, garden maintenance, watering, ikebana, kitchen duties, showers, and many other aspects are required on a day to day basis. Do not hesitate to pitch in; we did not keep formal chore lists, though try our best to contribute each and every day.


Between keiko sessions is a good time to practice one on one with a fellow practitioner, investigate principles, practice suburi, or partake in studies among the amenities and facilities offered. Having been a resident, no stone was upturned for meditation, study, happo undo, happo giri, and on and on the list went. Please do share in the space to support the practice, that’s what it is here for, and if there are any questions on appropriateness, please do not hesitate to ask.

In Summary

This is a community in and of its own, integrating with the deep spirit of aikido. Every session is part of a whole, as our name implies Shobu. Uniting 聖 (sho) and 武 (bu) is the challenge that O’Sensei inspired Sensei to undertake. This is our connection to O’Sensei. It is now this dojo, our instructors, visitors, members, and practitioners that offers us the same challenge. It’s a journey, and the destination of that journey, a foreign destination that feels so strange, uncertain, and unreal, yet is the heart of our practice… tada-ima, and maybe just a little, this is a tiny glimpse into what it’s like to train at Shobukan.

Gambatte! Let’s train together!

Roy Hodges

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