Dojo Open

Dear All,

A blanket message to you all to say thank you for helping in open Heijoshin Dojo.

Back in the early part of 2010, I started thinking more about the possibility of running a dojo out of a small industrial unit, perhaps 100.sq.m or so, which is maybe 6-8 people practicing at once. Not ideal considering we have about 12 practicing on any one night, but was still do-able – after all, mittorigeiko is as important as actual practice!

In July 2010, we found a possible location just outside of Brownhills – which we promptly visited. On paper it sounded great – first floor (i.e. no use to anyone else so might get it for a good rate), high ceilings, secluded (so no-one will disturb us) and for the first time – a decent size! We saw it, liked it, haggled over the price and got frustrated over the ‘extra costs’ – but eventually signed a lease and managed to start building on April 3rd, 2011.

On July 23rd – less than four months later – the dojo opened.

Between these dates was a healthy mix of laughter, surprise, frustration and stress. With a background in archtectural design, I had the theory for the build, but with absolutely zero ability in the skills required for actual building, we were the proverbial blind men in a dark room looking for black cat – which was never there in the first place. In true Heijoshin manner, we couldn’t see when we were beat and we grabbed what tools we had at home (not a great deal) and went looking for the nonexistent feline. Heads were scratched, phones were called, Google was consulted, mistakes got made – and I went grey in three months – but the dojo slowly took shape. We laughed at the stupidity of our actions, abused each other mercilessly over minor mistakes, patted each other on the back as we signed tasks off. However, time was ticking away and training became less as DIY took over. As exhaustion set in, a few probs occured and I almost lost my mind more than once over silly mistakes that set us back – but we walked away, calmed down and found solutions. While we all have suffered from the build and the hours it took from our lives, we bonded both as a team with a goal, and also as friends.

A week prior to the dojo opening, doubts set in. The floor was barely started, and what little was done took aeons. There were still no lights in. The place looked like Chernobyl, every surface coated in a film of thick (and due to this being Walsall, maybe even radioactive) dust. If you took a step back and squinted, you could just about see a dojo. The fact we were all dead tired by then and maybe hallucinating due to exhaustion helped do this. I was happy to cancel the opening, put it back by a month or so – but was encouraged by John, my invaluable sempai to wait until the end of the upcoming weekend and make a decision then. Against my better judgement I agreed with him – and glad I did – as within two days, the floor was 90% down. As the area got cleaned up, it became more and more like a dojo with every passing hour. The last two days were the worst, with lots of jobs being forced to be put aside until after the opening, rushing to finish the more essential stuff – and generally losing our minds. Yep, we even slept in there on Friday night to maximise the available hours to paint/break/build.

On Saturday I had to run around getting little things from shops when I wanted to spend time finishing little details, electricial Peter (and his mrs Jodie) from Ojika dojo in Newcastle was running on empty, completely worn out, the guys were dashing about, prepping for the opening – and even at this time, the place was still a building site while people were arriving! PANIC is too short a word to sum up the atmosphere. In the end, I would’ve been quite happy to just sit in the corner in a catatonic state and watch the carnage.

By 7pm, the demonstrators were there and kitted up, spectators seated, food and drink had arrived (thanks to H for sorting that) and shortly after, a cracking series of embu followed:

Dojo Opening (Fay Goodman)
Seitei iaido (Paul Fox, Kirst Elton, Chris Gell, Francis Nielsen, Matt Wilson, Neil Kirby, Nigel Ryder, Stuart Turner and Ilona Masterova)
Sosuishi-ryu Koshi no Mawari and Kumiuchi (Steve Delaney, Gary Needham, Daniel Ibrahim and Richard Upcott)
HNIR Itto Seiho (Kirst Elton, Chris Gell, Nigel Ryder, Stuart Turner, George Sachl and Richard Upcott)
Kendo (Derek Raybould, Sean Starr, Wayne Sellers and Jenny Wilder)
HNIR Kodachi Seiho (Scott Halls, John Ranford, Alexander Farley and Peter Schuster)
Koryu Jodo (Jock Hopson and Alan Lee-Nash)
Seitei and Koryu Iaido (Scott Halls, John Ranford, Alexander Farley, Bill Davison, Graham Turner and Sam Gerlach)
Araki-ryu Iai and Sojutsu (Steve Delaney)
Kyudo (Aaron Chetwynd + gentleman I cannot remember the name of, sorry!)
Wado-ryu Karate (Gary Needham and Daniel Ibrahim)
Seitei Jodo (Patrick Breheny and Matt Smith)
HNIR Nito Seiho (Scott Halls, Peter Schuster, Alexander Farley and John Ranford)
Koryu Iaido (Fay Goodman and Peter West)

Thank you to Fay Goodman for opening our dojo – Fay was my original iai teacher, and I was happy that she could attend and formally open the dojo for us. I haven’t seen her perform Shiho Barai for years so it was a delight to experience it again.

Thank you to all the visiting teachers who travelled hundreds of miles to support the opening of our dojo. Not bad at all when you consider the last 10 years or so has consisted of them barking at me at seminars and rolling their eyes at my feeble attempts at martial arts! :-) Thanks for supporting us, guys.

Thank you to Roger Payne (representing Mid-Sussex MA) and Alun David (representing Tenchi-ryu Aikido West Midlands in memory of Shihan Graham Batchelor) for their kind contributions to the building fund! Please pass on my thanks to your organisations.

Thank you to Peter West and Terry Bayliss for their impromptu speeches at the end. Your kind words were appreciated, gents.

Lastly, and most importantly, thanks to all the Heijoshin guys and girls for the efforts and sacrifices made to get the dojo built in record time. Thanks to those who put in every waking hour in the time when we were under the cosh. Thanks to those who filled the place with hysterical laughter at times. Thanks to all those who picked up the baton when it got dropped and chased around looking for solutions. My biggest thanks goes to John who had to spend most days helping to solve problems, act as a sounding board for my ideas and listening to me rant but keeping me calm. If it wasn’t for him I would probably have gone mad halfway through the project. Cheers fella.

Right, Oscar-speech over!

Was there a downside to this project? The only sad thing about the last few months was that due to circumstance, we became a group of builders reminiscing about when we were a group of martial artists! Fortunately, we are now (as of last Saturday) back to being a martial arts group – that still have some DIY that needs doing. Lots of details are still outstanding, large elements of the dojo are still under construction (the toilets and showers are next) – but for now, we will get back into trying to learn what it is that our peers have taught us, and hopefully to continue the tradition and pass it on to the next generation of budding sword loonies!

Looking back at the dojo build, I can honestly say that it has been a defining point in my life, both as the dojo leader and as a person. I have a bunch of skirt-wearing-and-armed-to-the-teeth mentalists to thank for that. Cheers, guys. Dead proud of you all.

I think I’ll leave you with pics of the opening night. Enjoy, fellow sword-nuts.

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