We practise the Japanese martial art of aikido in Egham. We’re part of the UKA, which is one of the largest national aikido organisations in the UK. We practise the mainstream “aikikai” style of aikido and are affiliated to the Aikikai Foundation in Japan, which is headed by the grandson of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the art. In fact, all of our club’s senior instructors (and quite a few of our other members too) have practised at the Aikikai hombu dojo (that is, the worldwide headquarters) in Tokyo.
Neil Mould, our instructor, opened the club in Staines in 2004 (we've celebrated our tenth and fifteenth anniversaries with special events). The club expanded to more than one venue (currently we have classes in Egham, but we used to train in Staines too). Neil is assisted by other experienced instructors, Masayo, Rob, and Stu, and we have a friendly group of regular members.
The name “Sotenjuku” was given to us by Sugawara shihan 7th dan, one of the senior teachers at the aikikai headquarters dojo in Tokyo (he was also our guest of honour at our tenth anniversary in Egham). We felt we needed a name for our tenth anniversary because prior to this we called our club “Spelthorne Aikido” (the Staines class had always been held in Spelthorne Leisure Centre). This was a little confusing for anyone who knows the area, because we train in Egham now, and Egham isn’t in Spelthorne (it’s in Runnymede). So in 2014 we finally got a proper name: Sotenjuku.
“Sotenjuku” means something poetically close to “blue sky little training place.” But translation is an inexact process; the soten kanji also convey something of the idea of divinity. And Penny (who took the photo of the blue sky above Staines you see behind our website) has suggested it’s really saying, “a place to breath and be yourself.” In fact, as we learnt at our tenth anniversary practice, the true story is that it’s based on Sugawara shihan’s observation of the sky above our nearby major airport, Heathrow, which he teasingly suggested was usually obscured by grey clouds. But sometimes they part, to reveal the beautiful blue sky under which our club is training. He also added a metaphorical interpretation about the nature of aikido, and how in our practice we strive to move aside the clouds to find purity beyond. Unfortunately, while he was explaining this, most of us were still thinking about what he’d said about the sky above Heathrow, so the finer details remain unrecorded.
Our Japanese name also indicates that our relationship with Japan, and Sugawara sensei in particular, isn’t casual — as mentioned above, several of our regular members have spent time training at the hombu dojo in Tokyo. We often attend courses, both in the UK and abroad, with senior hombu instructors. In practical terms, this means our training — both the technical aspects of techniques and the way the classes are run — is directly affected by the example provided by the headquarters in Japan.