Way of the Warrior

Gaku Homma found his domo on the range.

All of the extra space at Nippon Kan -- from a trailer in the lot next to the dojo up to the restaurant's coolers -- is filled with refurbished computers donated by the community, all neatly bundled with monitor, mouse and keyboard. AHAN will send them to a school in Mongolia that it sponsors. Austad was responsible for making sure the computers worked. "Our uchideshi are very much a part of Nippon Kan's community-service projects," Busch says.

One of Austad's first tasks as an uchideshi was setting up a friendship-building tournament with another martial-arts dojo. He also assisted in preparing meals for the Denver Rescue Mission -- chopping vegetables, transporting and serving the food -- which Nippon Kan has been doing once a month since 1991.

Learning organization and administrative skills is an important part of uchideshi training. "Lot of organization make lots of money," Homma says. "I don't like that. Must be original to martial art instruction. Dojo not so much business. If a business, like me, another business, not martial art. Then go all over the country. Good model, example to other martial artist."

 Gaku Homma
James Glader
 Gaku Homma
Mat finish: Jason Austad throws a fellow student.
James Glader
Mat finish: Jason Austad throws a fellow student.

Homma describes his dojo as a family-run hamburger stand in a world full of Burger Kings. But that's enough for him. "I have an okay now restaurant," he says. "I can eat."

Jason Austad makes it all the way through his uchideshi training. In three days, he will head back to Bismarck and a job painting houses. But first, he must past one last test.

"At the end of my graduation class," he says, "Sensei made me do a hundred break falls, which is a lot of break falls." Homma selects ten students, who each throw Austad ten times. "By the end, I'm so tired that I don't care what they do to me."

One hundred.

After Austad's last fall, Homma presents him with a certificate of graduation. "It's not like a diploma you get from university," Homma says. "You put on resumé, cannot get job because uchideshi training." The class gives Austad him a warm round of applause -- a stark contrast to the ambience he initially encountered at the dojo.

Then they retire to the restaurant for food and sake. Homma brings out a jo staff, signs his name to it and hands it to Austad. "That's the icing on the cake," the uchideshi says. "I don't think that he does that very often."

"Successful uchideshi lifestyle, very successful people," Homma explains. "I not say because uchideshi experience change their life, no. Already before, they have this kind attitude."

Those who complete the uchideshi program are welcome at the dojo at any time. Nippon Kan will also send them to Higashi Naruse, a village in northern Japan with which it has a cross-cultural exchange, for three months. "They get to see traditional Japanese life. It's very calm, very pure there," Busch says. "People who graduate from the program have the opportunity to do that, which is pretty special."

Austad plans to make the trip next winter, when his painting business slows down.

While most uchideshi leave after three months, some stay on. The longest period any uchideshi spent at Nippon Kan was five years. "Finally I say, better you go out of this dojo. Go back to life," Homma remembers. "Just very simple life, actually. But now, because training means something special, lot of people understand like that. Lot of people employed, lot of headache.

"So once in a while, go back to original ground and have all foot touch the ground, not stand on toe reaching for something new."

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