Cultural differences in preparing an Enbu

Written on 2018-08-25 in 790 words. Part of reflection aikido enbu

An enbu is a martial arts demonstration. It is quite common in Japan as people are interested in Aikidō and therefore enjoy watching the techniques at local events. I participated in an enbu outside the University setting in Nada, a ward/district in Kōbe. In Austria, the situation is quite different. In Graz, "Lange Nacht der Kampfkünste" (roughly "long night of martial arts" in English) was held in 2008 for the last time (to the best of my knowledge), long before I began Aikidō.

In essence, I got involved into Enbus in Japan multiple times compared to a single time in 4 years in Austria. After my return, my teacher asked me to prepare an Enbu and show it to new students in the university course in their first class. So one year after my experiences in Japan, I was in charge to do the same in Austria. The cultural differences were astonishing. As always on the topic of culture, I don't want to judge on what is right or wrong. I only want to describe my observations. First, I describe the setting:

  1. In Japan, an enbu per 2, or 3, people was planned to take 1.5 minutes. This should cover 15 techniques as they are done slowly with more accuracy. In Austria, I was asked for a 5 minutes enbu. 50 techniques should be fine. I chose to do it with 2 Uke (i.e. 2 other people)
  2. I prepared a sheet of paper with a list of techniques in order. I spent some effort to evaluate whether the position of my Uke makes sense. If my second Uke could casually attack my back while I focus on my first Uke, it looks awkward.
  3. In Japan, I handed in the list of techniques to my senpai. He practiced with me and he suggested changes as one technique was too difficult. Then he confirmed my choice. The next time it was more casual. Someone came up with a few techniques and we tried it out. In Austria, I prepared the first 12 techniques and wanted to try them out. I had a difficult time to find a second Uke. One Uke was defined by my teacher, but it was necessary that this person has time to practice in summer and is available in the first week of Oct 2018. Until the last month, this was not settled and I practiced with different people as second Uke.
  4. In Japan, we were notified one month beforehand. As we see each other for about 3 hours 4 times per week and spent a fraction of it on the Enbu, we spent 12-15 hours on practicing it. In Austria, I had 3 months for preparation. 2 of them had only one training per week and one has 4 trainings per week. I expected to skip one month completely (everyone is on vacation) and one month we can practice 2 times per week. As they are part of the usual training (1.5 hours), I can spend 20-30 minutes per session on the Enbu. This makes about 6 hours in total.

These are my observations:

  1. Due to their consistency to assign roles for every situation and preference for delegation in Japan, it was immediate who had to be where when for what. In Austria, it was much more difficult to organize people.
  2. Once the list of techniques was presented, Japanese people focused in their attention on small improvements. They focused their time on trying to understand the thoughts of the designer and deepen them. The Austrian people came up with all kinds of feedbacks like "we usually do it this way" (for some detail) and "it is way too difficult and you should just do it without a formal list/order" (very generic).
  3. The focus of the Japanese people was to improve themselves and be the best Uke/Tori to provide a good presentation. They considered remembering the techniques, movements and feedbacks of their peers as challenge. In Austria, it felt like the selection of techniques was our main topic of discussion and little time was left to practise and refactor. Everything difficult was considered as too difficult IMHO.
  4. If people respond humble with their feedback (as Japanese do), the receiver feels appreciated for their work they have done so far. In the Austrian way (or to the more extreme way, Northern American way) people are direct and it takes quite some effort to distinguish between the emotional and formal component.

Especially the last one is intriguing to me. I think, I tend to be overly formal and communicate very direct. One of the reasons is, of course, my technical educational background and the hatred for lack of information how to progress on certain issues when interpersonal communication is required.