Nothing can replicate training in Japan; the immersion in the Japanese culture, the amount of training one squeezes into a trip, the practitioners your surrounded by – a few days changes your movement forever. The most important part of training in Japan is the opportunity to train under the best instructors in the world and Soke Hatsumi himself.
For all of us – Soke is the goal; we are all trying to understand and to grasp how Soke moves. And each of the Sensei in Japan attempt to breakdown his movement into terms the rest of us can understand. At the same time though, each of the Sensei take the principles of Soke and make it their own. It’s a bit like two different painters looking at the same scenery and then painting it to make their own – both paintings can be accurate, and beautiful, but they both can be unique. This is how martial arts work as well; while the principles are the same the movement becomes unique to the practitioner.
Depending on what you’re working on, you may gravitate towards one teacher more than another – just as you may prefer one painter’s style over another. I would caution though not too simply “pick one”; each of the teachers have their strengths and focus that is important – and to not train under one would be to rob yourself of potential insight.
So the question becomes – who to train under? What are the insights each teacher offers? Here is an opinion on the different teachers, and what makes each one unique and valuable. This is only an opinion, and as I learn more and gain understanding, my opinion may change – but at a minimum this can give you a starting point if you never have trained in Japan and may help you find something that the teacher offers.
Let’s start with the Grandmaster himself – Soke Masaaki Hatsumi: