Quite literally this means cold training and is more synonymous in Japan with the first lesson in the New Year rather than the literal meaning of austere training outside in the cold. Its purpose is to set the agenda for the year and once again bond the student to the teacher whereby the student is ostensibly asking for the teacher’s tuition and commitment for the year ahead.
Traditional Japanese dojo do not have the luxury of heating and January 1st usually has temperatures that very much mean training is in the cold (below zero degrees). The concept of subjecting oneself to training in austere environments to strengthen the spirit and character is influenced by Buddhism in Japan. Monks would choose the coldest days of the year to show their resolve and piety and this approach has been much adopted in the study of Bujutsu. Training outside of one’s comfort zone is seen as an integral part of O Keiko.
My first experience is well remembered in having to firstly clean the dojo floor with cold water and small cloths running up and down in effectively a mobile Shikodachi racing other students to each end. Numb hands and fingers that tingled as the blood tried to circulate. The seniors looked on with some amusement! This outcome was a good warm up which was followed by sweeping the floor in readiness for training. All Japanese undertake a large clean of their houses (O Soji) at year end and the dojo is no exception, especially as it is used by students who traditionally should look after the dojo! There are no cleaners doing this!
O’Sensei would usually have the windows open, which ensured you did not stand around too long. My feet would slip much in the training and my knees would stiffen as we greeted O’Sensei’s arrival in Seiza, a position we had sat in for some minutes before he entered.
After Junbi Taiso the lesson focused mainly on Kihon and for those who celebrated New Year’s Eve too heavily the session required fortitude and resolve. Moicihido was much in use and quickly you could see who was suffering more! Kata was then drilled and as we worked through the Pinan and Naihanchi it did cross my mind more than once that I was one of those suffering and a warm futon would have been a better place. Some pair work ensued and the contact feeling magnified as a result of the temperature.
The session was not as long as usual classes but the meaning was significantly more important in linking culture with relationships.
Early morning training also provides the opportunity to see the first sun rise of the New Year (Hatsu Hinode). This is significant and symbolic connecting the cleansing of the spirit with the ringing of the bells 108 times by Buddhist priests at midnight on 31st December, ridding all of the 108 sins and worldly desires.
Before and at the end of the lesson students would greet you with the New Year greeting “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu”. All students said this to O’Sensei with great humility and also did not forget to also say this subsequently to the Sempai.
Students would disperse quickly to head home and prepare traditional dress of Kimono or western suits and return to visit O’Sensei’s house bringing a gift as part of saying thank you for the year gone and asking of tuition for the New Year. O’Sensei would provide some small traditional snacks and the celebratory Sake. This was to be drunk sparingly as many students would visit and the next 4 days from 1st of January are usually national holidays spent visiting friends and family repeating the eating and drinking and exchanging gifts.
I got this wrong my first year in Japan and stayed in the dojo training on my own whereupon O’Sensei entered and invited me to his house which was connected via his garden to share the New Year tradition. I found the seniors there all immaculately dress and formal and there I was in a sweaty Gi looking somewhat dishevelled and unclean. O’Sensei told all seated there that I was dressed the right way, causing some serious embarrassment on my part and the seniors, which I paid for over the coming months in the dojo!