What Is The Soto-Deshi Program?
Soto = Outside Deshi = Apprentice
One way to intensify your training is to take part in the Toyoda Center’s live-in student program (uchi-deshi) and attend every class. Since this is not practical, or feasible, for the average student who holds a job and has a family, the Soto Deshi Program was developed as a way to closely approximate what it would be like to have this sort of commitment in one’s life.
While most students live at home, outside (“soto”) the dojo, from time to time, a few dedicated students give up the comforts of home and choose to live inside (“uchi”) the dojo. These “uchi deshi” are required to attend every class and be responsible for opening and closing the dojo. Their commitment and responsibilities is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for as long as the live-in period, which could be anywhere from 3 months to several years.
During this time, the students are not only be responsible for taking care of the dojo, but also responsible for taking care of the sensei. Originally, the “uchi” in uchi deshi meant “house” and the uchi deshi lived in the sensei’s house where they would take part in the sensei’s daily routine as part of their training. This could mean anything from taking ukemi during class demonstrations to traveling with the sensei and carrying luggage to weeding the garden or scrubbing the kitchen floor.
The obvious value of this sort of commitment was that it accelerated one’s skills since daily practice was mandatory. The less obvious, but equally important, value was a deepening of the student/teacher relationship. By having this close relationship with the sensei, the student became privy to “inside” information that gave them insights into understanding the practice as well as what it means to be a sensei.
The Soto Deshi Program is built on this same foundation.
This program is not for everyone and not everyone who applies will be accepted. This type of commitment is not to be taken lightly and only students who have already shown initiative in the dojo will be considered. Soto Deshi will be responsible for a “dojo project” during their term in addition to the time required on the mat for Aikido classes.
If you are accepted, you will need to be able to train at least 4 times a week in classes that are taught by a main Yudansha instructor. You will also need to be available as an assistant for the children’s programs as well as the adult classes. The Soto Deshi are typically asked to be involved, to some degree, in leadership decisions with regard to the dojo during the Soto Deshi period in an effort to develop future instructor and leaders within the dojo and the greater community.
The Soto Deshi are overseen by the Chief Instructor and other yudansha but lead by the Uchi Deshi. In addition, students who are accepted will have a monthly meeting with the Chief Instructor outside of the regular class times to discuss progress and to pass on information vital to your success in the program.
Students may choose a six or twelve month commitment.