I was never lucky enough to be next door to an iai or jo dojo, the best I ever got was a couple hours trip once a week which was better than most at that time.
I did have my various “empty hand” things at the University, including three times a week at Aikido where we had a pretty good grounding in weapons so I wasn’t too deprived.
But even today there are many folks in Canada who are working on the distance ed. model I suppose you would call it. They have various backgrounds in karate, aikido, judo or what have you and they are working on the weapons arts through occasional visits to their sensei.
In most cases they have started classes in order to get space to train and they are helping the arts grow in a vast country.
To a person I find these remote instructors (and I count myself as one of them) hard-working and conscientious, people who try hard to keep up with the latest fads in the major centers with regard to the grading systems. Yes I said fads and I meant it, every year I see some new twist, some new “rule” that suddenly shows up without announcement which two or three dojo know about due to proximity to the organizers of the gradings, but which ambushes everyone else. Like I said, fads, and the distance instructors really do try to figure them out but will always be doomed to miss several.
But more importantly, they work doubly hard to understand the arts they are teaching. They read, they pay attention at seminars, they think. Oh do they think, and they rarely get it wrong, even if they are convinced in themselves that they do.
This stuff (budo) isn’t really rocket science, if you are in a Japanese martial art and you have a thorough grounding in another Japanese budo you are going to “get” iaido or jodo or even a koryu like Niten Ichiryu. You will get it because the Japanese arts aren’t disconnected, they are all of the same cloth, and why not? The giants of the old days were not single-art wonders, they studied lots of different arts, the giants of pre-war kendo studied judo and aikido and lamented the loss of the kata-based sword arts, just like we do today. Of course the concepts transferred around the arts. Take a look at the history of the famous quotations used in your art, trace them back and you’re as likely to find they came from Noh theater or the schools of tea as they are from your particular sword art.
Then there’s the sneaking suspicion that your sensei hasn’t got to the point where he has told you the deepest secrets. We all have those, it’s part of being that life-form on the planet that can see further ahead than the next meal. We see so far ahead that we see into places that don’t exist, supernatural realms of demons and gods and depths of knowledge that would make your sensei red in the cheeks to know you think he’s that amazing. No, I’m afraid that in my experience your sensei has given you everything he has to give in the time you had together. You may not have understood it all at the time but you were taking notes weren’t you? Filming everything on your smart-phone or at least using it as a voice recorder right after class? I have a video somewhere of my taped notes after a seminar in Vancouver with a senior instructor in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and you wouldn’t believe what I get out of that when I pull it out and watch it. I’m saying stuff then that blows my ears off now.
Your sensei didn’t hold anything back, you just couldn’t hear it. So it’s no wonder when you go back to visit you hear brand new stuff.
You also have to understand that your sensei is where you are, by himself, thinking, reading, experimenting. He’s going to learn stuff between your visits that he will pass along, convincing you that he knew it all along. If he’s a smart sensei he may just “let” you teach a class so that he can steal the stuff you’ve learned since your last visit… but shhh, don’t let that get any further than your ears only.
I’ve been teaching for 25 plus years and you’d figure I would have it all under control but you’d be wrong. I still greedily listen to my sensei when I can. In fact I sometimes lose my train of thought when I’m teaching a section of a seminar next to my sensei. If that happens when you’re in the class you can rest easy, I’m not going senile, I’m listening to my sensei in the class next to yours.
The Kids are Alright, you distance instructors are doing as well as any others out there from what I can see.