Yoshinkan Aikido is bigger than most people realize. There are branches of Yoshinkan in more than 22 countries worldwide, and thousands upon thousands of students practicing.
One of the key reasons for this is the senshusei program. This 11-month intensive given at the Yoshinkan HQ dojo in Shinjuku, Tokyo, put students in a live-in immersion where they train every day for nearly a year. This course is also taught to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Riot Squad, who join with the students for much of the training.
The famous book, Angry White Pyjamas, chronicles the author's experience in this course and mentions many famous teachers who are part of the Yonshikan leadership. Students typically come in with little or no aikido experience, and graduate the course with a testing for shodan (first degree black belt). It normally takes about 3 years of training two or three times per week to reach that level, so one could argue that it is about 3 times as intensive as normal practice. I think it is even more than that. Upon completion, some stay on to teach other groups of senshusei, some go into the three-month intensive teacher program directly after senshusei, and some go home to teach in their own countries. This has led to the great diaspora of Yoshinkan worldwide.
Why does it work?
The 11 month course is about the same length of time as a typical master's degree.
I don't think it can be longer, but should not be shorter.
The course is run on average 6 hours a day. That is a lot of practice.
During the course, students train with and are coached by all of the senior masters in the HQ dojo. These veterans all have slightly different teaching styles, emphasize slightly different aspects of Yoshinkan, and their combined decades of experience are formidable in combination.
Training with many masters in the same style gives a great sense of perspective.
I do not think the Senshusei course would work as well if it were done in London, Sydney, or LA.
The fact that the students are all in Japan, and exposed to the background history and culture directly, helps form a deeper understanding of the framework of Yoshinkan, and Japanese martial arts in general.
The friendships people make in that course last a lifetime.
Both of my Yoshinkan teachers in Tokyo, Michael "Stumpy" Steumpel and Roland "Terminator" Thompson, are graduates of this program, and it shows.
Overall, this has been a great way for Yoshinkan to control the quality of teachers, develop cadres of teachers to go to every place in the world, and create a framwrk for expanding the style globally.
A lot can be learned from this. And for those of you with the guts to take a year off and make the most of it, here you go: