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Saturday, July 25, 2015


Saturday, July 25, 2015.  1100
Omagari, Japan

Today is supposed to be our rest day, but Fujiwara Shihan informed us that anyone grading for 6th or 7th Dan needs to come to the dojo today at 1300 for more training.  His take on it is that a day of rest is not what we need.  I’m going to trust him on that even though my body is whining and whimpering to do nothing.  I just finished a Kundalini Yoga set called “Awakening Your Ten Bodies”, which is quite difficult but I credit with getting me ready for this grueling training.  Kind of like a cat with nine lives, I figure I’ll need every one of those ten bodies to get me through it!

I’m sitting in my room at the ryokan writing this on a very low table.  I have the window and shoji screen open to air out my room, but to also hear the outside sounds.  It’s raining again, so I’m hearing raindrops, crows cawing, and the incessant sound of the gas station attendants a block away greeting customers in a typically high-pitched chant.  It is Japanese custom to vocally greet their customers and any business you patronize goes out of its way to welcome you.  Coming from the land of self-service, it’s refreshing.  I watched the gas station attendants and they swarm a car like a well-seasoned Formula 1 pit crew, guide you in with hand signals and go to work washing all the windows, checking the engine, tires, etc.  Here’s two photos of my room from where I sit…still damp karate gi from yesterday hanging on the door.  I bring two karategis even though they are heavy and take up too much luggage space, or I would be doing laundry every day.

Yesterday’s training was very hard but over the course of the six hours of training I went from being very pessimistic about grading to at least feeling better.  You have to be careful not to let fatigue start talking bullshit in your ear.  After the usual first 45 minutes of hard moving basics, your gi is soaked, the chafe points are starting to wear on your knees and armpits, your (choose one or more) knees, toes, shoulders, back, hands, fingers, hangover, menstrual cycle, hamstrings are really starting to bother you, and then the realization comes that you aren’t even through the first hour.  THAT’S when you have to not listen to your human operating systems, which are begging to shut down, and create a zone for yourself.  All you have to do is look around you and know that everyone else is feeling the same things.  I always think of Demura Sensei’s classic  advice:  “it’s okay to quit.  You just can’t be first.”  So nobody quits.  You think you can’t do one more of whatever it is you’re doing, but you do.  You do a hundred more if that’s what it takes.  It’s character building 101, the same as boot camp.  The body always tries to get you to stop.  It is the mind that can keep you going.

I won’t try to give you a play-by-play of everything we did, but it was grueling.  Shihan Takehashi has a number of his kids training with us who are going to compete in Oita, and
They were put them on the front row several times so we could observe their timing in kata.  Ha ha.  Nothing makes a middle aged gaijin feel more inept than to try to keep up with 8 to 16 year old Japanese kids who have been training since they were 4 and are so fast you feel like a slug.  But it was really good for us and we picked it up to a degree.  I can really tell the difference in my katas after only three days.

At the very end of the day, when you are so tired your legs are like rusty anchors and seem to weigh about as much, we are organized into our groups by rank to work our prescribed katas.  Two of my dear Aussie friends and sempai, Glenn Stephenson and Jamie Duggan were amazingly helpful to me yesterday in my grading kata Seisan.  So much so that I was able to look fairly adept when our group finally had to demo it.  That’s the kind of camaraderie that exists here.  By the end of the day, I was actually somewhat optimistic.  Two years ago when I graded for JKF Gojukai 6th Dan, only 3 of our group of 18 karateka (3 gaijin and 15 Japanese) passed.  The standards are quite high.

Last night we ate here at the ryokan and it was amazingly good  as always.  Everyone was upbeat because of the rest day.  We always end up in someone’s room lining the walls and drinking.  Usually it is in Sensei Leo’s or Sensei Vassie’s because it seems to be the tradition.  Or maybe it’s just their charisma.  You think?  Anyhow, there were maybe 18 of us in Sensei Leo’s tiny room.  Eight were Australians and can fill up a room with size and craziness faster than even Texans can.  We started a game we called “Sing or Tell a Joke” and since nobody could sing worth a damn, we heard way too many bad jokes last night.  Everyone also received their honorary redneck names from me.  If I remember correctly, Duggan is now Jamie Joe.  We were rolling with laughs.  Of course, after the hard training and a wee dram or two of sake,  I slept very soundly afterwards.

Tonight is our Seiwakai party and I presume we will see much karaoke afterwards.  I hope the training today doesn’t wear me out too badly.  Or maybe that is Mr. Fujiwara’s plan to get us in bed early?  If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay under the porch…

Have to get ready for training.  Over and out.

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