My way to Kimusubi Dojo Villach
or how to become human
Jackson, tell a little bit about yourself
I’m Jackson Partridge, 22 years old. I was born in the village called Gunthorpe in Norfolk, UK. I’ve loved samurai since I was a child when my father gave me Miyamoto Musashi’s ‘The Book of Five Rings’. I didn’t do anything about it though, but after graduation from university, I decided finally to go to Japan. I wanted, maybe needed, to know if the old Japan that I had always so loved still existed. Initially I stayed with an old couple in the mountains near Chino in Nagano Prefecture. They had me chopping wood and gardening all day for my meals.
One day, I went to an aikido class in town. I met Ariga Sensei there. It’s cheesey to say, but that changed my life. He drove me home after the training, because the bus from the retirement business went into town only once a day and I would otherwise have needed to walk about 8 miles. I went to the class again and again. On the 4th or 5th journey home he said: “I think you like aikido. Why don’t you come to Saku for a week and stay in my house with me and train every day?”
After the first week was over, and I was supposed to go off and do some sightseeing like a normal person in the rest of Japan, I instead asked Ariga Sensei if I could pay to stay in the dojo for another four weeks until my flight home. “No,” he said, “please stay in my house!”
Why did you decide to come to Villach to practise aikido?
I stayed in Saku Dojo for another 3 months this year (2015) and while I was there, I met this pretty cool guy. His name was Matti Joensuu.
There was this moment. We were sitting outside the dojo, a tree blossoming beside us. He was puffing away at a cigarette. He said to me: “Jackson, don’t worry too much about future, you’ll just get an ulcer.”
My experience in Saku was that living in a dojo only maybe 20% of what one learns is the actual, physical aikido. I figured that this man could teach me some things, both about how to live and about aikido, in that order (although really I am beginning to realise that you can’t really separate the two).
So I basically informed him that I was going to come to Villach and stay with him for three month!
What have you done and learned so far?
Matti Sensei told me on my first day here that “aikido is for human beings, and it is useless for me to teach aikido to somebody who is not yet human”. He had this kind of twinkle in his eye when he said it. I wondered at that moment just what I had let myself in for.
One of my first lessons was of humility, or as Matti put it “Fantastic! Total humiliation!” I went rock climbing with one of his friends and the friend’s daughter. What I only learned the day before was that she was one of the top climbers in Austria. I thought they were joking when they told me. So I stood there at the bottom of the cliff face watching this lady glide up the side of the cliff face, and I said to myself: “It can’t be that hard.”
It was. “Total humiliation” pretty much says it, actually. Fingers throbbing, legs cramping, I climbed the metre back down to the ground. I didn’t feel great at that moment, but it only got worse when I spied through the sweat dripping down into my eyes a tiny woman about my age clambering up the hill towards us. “Oh good,” I thought, “at least I won’t be the only beginner”. Then she took her hoodie off, and I got to read what it said on her t-shirt. ‘Austrian Women’s Climbing Team’.
The next lesson was to learn to relax and enjoy myself, something that I’ve always been bad at (Quite frankly I occasionally wonder whether I am just an open book to Matti Sensei, because these lessons seem remarkably accurate a lot of the time). I took part in the European Bike week, with 70,000 Harleys. It was my first time on a bike, let alone a Harley. On the first trip I burned right through my trousers on the exhaust pipes of a Soft tail. And then that evening, when we were planning on heading home, we were forced to stay and share a few beers in a bar at Faaker See when the clutch of a friend’s bike burnt in the bike jam there.
When I came to Villach, I hated even the idea of playing an instrument. But Sensei told me one condition of my staying was that I needed to start learning piano. That’s because one needs to learn an art, any art, and Villach dojo actually has 3 pianos! “Aikido is about softness and sensitivity”, he said: “You can’t just hammer the piano keys.” He practised what he preached, too. When I watched him play piano I got the exact same feeling as when I watched him do aikido. So I bought into it. Similarly, when the windows needed washing, he told me to do that in the same way. “It’s aikido’, he said. “Soft wrists, continuous movement, using your centre… Just relax!”
He couldn’t think of a good aikido reason for me cut the grass, but he gets me to do that too. I have to pay my way somehow!
Another thing was foot massage. “When you do things for people, when you give them your energy, it creates a vacuum inside you, and it all comes right back to you.” My practice victim has been his son, Miro.
There are lots of other things, too. Reading the philosophy and martial arts books that he sets me (“Karate, my Way of Life” by Funakoshi, “Transparent Power” about Yukiyoshi Sagawa written by Tatsuo Kimura, etc), learning German, cooking.
So my adventure in Villach is kind of like the movie ‘Karate Kid’, in that I have a fantastic teacher who somehow manages to teach me aikido without actually teaching me aikido. At the start, of course, this was very confusing and even a little worrying (during my first four weeks here, Matti was teaching abroad most of the time, so about 95% of my time was engaged in “Human Being Creation”, his favourite phrase), but by spending time with him I’ve come to see the truth of it.
Or maybe I’m wrong and it’s all complete rubbish and Matti just wanted the windows cleaned and the house heated (forgot to mention that part) for free!
Well, there’s something that Sensei demanded I put in this interview, but I’m not so sure about it. He says that I’m far too preoccupied with food. Even when I’m eating, he says, I’m thinking about food. “Far out,” he said, when Greg Angus (a 6th Dan aikido teacher from Toronto) and I were chatting about the next meal (Okay, admittedly we were eating at the time), “it’s like living with hobbits.”
Anyway, the other day I was sitting there thinking about the delicious Bolognese sauce I was going to make, when suddenly he hit me with this big, thick book – Healing with Whole Foods – on the head and said “read this!”
‘The preoccupation with food per se creates an illusion of mind/food separation and shows a lack of faith that we are ultimately provided for according to our needs.’”
I still don’t understand it. Maybe it’s just because I’m not quite fully human yet.