Herzogenhorn, an extreme Location
Herzogenhorn, an extreme Location
Sept. 21, 2012

A report about 4 decades (Warning: includes humour!)

by Robert Hundshammer, Deggendorf

What Izu means to the Tendokan, the seminar with Shimizu-Sensei at Herzogenhorn means to the German Tendoryu-Aikidoka. During 4 decades I have been sweating, freezing and learning at this extreme location, feeling joy und anger and winning and losing friends. From a rookie I have become a veteran. But why do I have a strong wish to write this article? As an advertisement for this famous seminar? Do I want to thank Sensei for his hard work during more than 30 years with his German deshi? Or does an Aikidoka, who is getting old, want to share his memories with the younger Tendoryu-generation? Well - a little bit of all, I guess.

And I want to keep alive the memory of very special persons, who can´t come to the Horn any longer, because they reached almost eternity. So I dedicate these words – representing many others – to Heidi Hering and Heinz Götz.

h4. An extreme Location

The specialized training-center Herzogenhorn is located very isolated in the southern Blackwood Forest on a high plateau in 1,200 meters above the sea level. Only a very small and bumpy road leads to this place. A sheep farm! “I am the shepherd of Herzogenhorn – and I don´t belong to the world outside”, is a provoking theme of a local postcard. On my first trip to Herzogenhorn in 1980 (what the hell is GPS?) I had to deal with a lot of fog and so I needed the help of pedestrians to get there. Nobody would expect there to be a hostel with 60 beds, dojo, weightlifting-gym, football field, hammer-throw-ring, sauna and a big swimming-pool.

As extreme as the location is the weather: During 24 hours you can go trough bright sunshine at 30 ° C, thunderstorms, heavy rain, hail and find yourself freezing at 3° C. Somebody swore he had seen crystals of ice on the tatami in the morning. You need clothing from shorts to even warm winter coats.

Thin air, hard training and heavy food have strong influence on your stomach. Queuing in front of the few toilets is history now – thanks to modernising the building. Many things have changed. Not changed has the effect of the location to the participants. Even YOU may change at this place!

h4. Now and then

Sensei often likes to tell us about the big differences of the early days of Aikido in Germany compared to nowadays. Well – I can assure that! Training at the Horn always was very hard and intense. The things that changed mostly are the manners and the behaviour. It can not be compared! The students were watching Sensei´s lessons lying on the tatami as if it was a couch, stretching away their feet. A formation was not recognizable. Seiza or agura and sitting in line was a honourable exception.

Today tatami and floor in the dojo are so clean – you could eat sushi from if you wanted to. In the early Eighties the dojo seemed to us to be nothing more than a gym for rent. We didn´t feel responsible for the condition of the dojo – and so it looked like! Spotty windows, dirty floor and dust everywhere. Tobi Ukemi in a cloud of dust!

A translator, who could not speak German very well, told us Sensei’s impressions: “If dojo dirty, then your mind dirty. And then you dirty, too!”

At first we were shocked. “Are we cleaning-women?” But then Sensei´s words hit our hearts and we did a lot of cleaning then. That was the beginning of the dojo-service, as we know it today.

Training in the dojo was very much louder as it is now. The students told each other, how to do the techniques. They had to, because the students’ levels were very different and there were many people from different Aikido-styles. Even ukemi was very loud, for it was very hard. Every kote-gaeshi was followed by a “BANG!”. Over the years ukemi has become more silent and softer. From BANG to ploppplopp and finally to sssst (nowadays thanks to Waka-Sensei).

Unfortunately injuries happened very often in the old days.

Not all participants were Aikidoka. Many older Judoka or Jyu-Jitsuka tried “the unknown art of Aikido”. A very high-graded Jyu-Jitsuka showed self-made Jyu-Jitsu-teaching-films to us in the evening. First we were polite and watched the films with interest. But after watching for hours someone asked to stop this because this was an Aikido-seminar. So the old Jyu-Jitsu-Teacher asked Sensei about his opinion and if he wanted to see more. As a very polite Japanese man Sensei tried not to answer directly. But the Jyu-Jitsuka insisted. Then Sensei answered very directly: “These movements seem to me like a running puppet!” With an astonished and soon getting red face the old Jyu-jitsuka removed his filmrolls and his projector – and was never seen again. From that day on the evenings belonged to Aikido alone.

h4. Let´s talk about the evenings!

The evenings were wilder than they are today. The participants were drinking a lot more (and not only water). Nights were very short. But that was no morally problem, as long as you could participate in the training the day after. But let me tell you: a hangover on tatami is not funny and keeps the injury-rate high. Still three things remain: Red wine (but less of it!), cheese and crisps. The last (party-) evening was legendary: Good and exciting mood, loud and not always only funny … but sometimes too much of a good thing! Once it was really painful: Motivated by too much alcohol a participant wanted to climb up a ladder to his “Dulcinea´s” window at night (that is an old Bavarian custom). Whether the lady let him in, we do not know. But it is known, that the man from northern Germany broke his leg by falling down.

h4. Beginners´ spirit

Maybe we didn´t have the good manners, the elegant ukemi and the highclean Dojo at that time. But we had sho-shin (the spirit of a beginner), because we had to work hard for every progress and even the seminars with Sensei much harder than today. All things were new for us and in a steady flow. There was no strict standard protocol. A shodan was a high rank and a sandan was incredibly high. In the early years the German Tendoryu (even the word was new) had to find its identity.

h4. The three grades of Horn-exhaustion

The old Horn-veteran knows 3 levels of his condition:

Air: At this level you fight with the thin air. You have to learn to breathe right. But not only human beings have such problems. Even insects know them. In euphoria of the wonderful smell of sweat they fly into the dojo and find themselves immediately in some kind of steam-bath with less oxygen. Senseless they fall down on the tatami and often get crushed in an ukemi.

Muscles: After two days you are used to the thin air. However your way of walking gets stiff and you can see that people are in trouble with sore muscles. Sauna and walking to the top of the mountain is the usual therapy.

Bones: The smell of a pharmacy in the dojo or at dinner tells you, that especially the older participants feel pain in their knees, ankles and shoulders. Everywhere you can see tapes. Old injuries are celebrating their great comeback.

h4. Politics

The Horn-seminar is something like an European summit of Tendoryu. Sensei meets his highest representatives, discusses problems and gives orders. Some years are quite exciting and some are calm and focussed on Aikido. I can tell that in some very hard years the time for political meetings was longer than the time on tatami.

h4. “Suitcase-boys”

What is the function of these old and high-ranked dangrades, once despisingly called “Sensei´s suitcase-boys” by an arrogant Aikido-journalist? Well – this question I can answer personally today. I learned this by doing, because after a few years I was called to sit at Sensei´s table.

Today I know: Those people do the necessary work. In Sensei’s eyes they are responsible for nearly everything. They are his “Sempai” (= older deshi/kodansha who keep order in the dojo). On the quality of their work depends the success of the seminar, too. Sensei expects them to tell him the truth. They are personally responsible for their actions and even the things they don’t do. That is not always easy. But they see their duty as an honor and nobody refuses Sensei´s call. Their advantage is their very close contact to Sensei. Only in this close contact you can learn a deeper understanding of Budo and you can hear stories and find answers to your questions directly from the origin. I see these meetings as a lesson in addition to keiko.

h4. Lost in Translation

The quality of a seminar depends on a good translator. Too many important items can be “lost in translation”. I know seminars without translation. So the breaks and lessons are shorter. Keiko is much harder. A deeper understanding is even harder to achieve – despite using dictionaries and the efforts of older deshi. Even the best professional translators fail, if they don’t practise Aikido. Nowadays we are very glad about Birgit´s translation skills and her interpretations. Thank you, Birgit!

h4. Graduations

I decided this to be my last item. For many people the act of graduation is the most important thing in the whole Horn-seminar. Many readers will reject that. Nevertheless I can prove it: How many times have I seen the overwhelming joy of the graduated people? How many times did I see participants who were not graduated with sad faces and empty eyes! How many times did they run to the top of the mountain after the act of graduation and fought with their disappointment before they could go back to the party - with an artificial smile on their lips? How many went away silent after the last keiko without saying goodbye? It is true: Grades are important to people and a characteristic of Japanese Budo! Especially Tendoryu-grades are very precious, because they are hard to get.

But in any case you should not consider grades as that important!

Am I a different person just because I get another signature in my twa-passport? Do I have to quit Aikido in consequence - only if my passport is full? Sensei often says: “First there is keiko. Dangrades follow later.” Budo means eternal efforts, making efforts again and again! It is a way and not an aim.

In my opinion dangrades are only landmarks. They only show, how many miles you have walked on a way. But in Budo the way in front of you is never ending. The few miles we have already walked therefore are not as important as the miles before us.

In Tendokan I heard, that every higher grade is a bigger paddle to row. The bigger the paddle, the more you ought to row. Each higher grade is a higher duty. In addition to that you always have to prove, that you are worthy enough for your grade …

When I wanted to congratulate Heinz Götz (age nearly 80 years) to his yondan in 2002, he only said: “Naturally I am glad. But this high grade I would like to give away, if I could remain healthy enough to participate in the Horn-seminar just one or two times more!” I think that is the right spirit!

h4. The future

In former times the Horn-seminar was organized by the TAD (Federal German Tendoryu Organisation). Since 2011 the seminar has been organised by Tendoryu-clubs. Already Hamburg and Berlin managed it with great success.

In 2013 the Horn-seminar is organized by the Bavarians (Bayern).

The Herzogenhorn-seminar 2013 (2 weeks) is from 16th to 29th of June 2013.

I hope you have liked my article and I could give you the right feeling and motivation for your visit to the Herzogenhorn-seminar in 2013!

Yours Robert Hundshammer Deggendorf