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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

JAPAN TRAINING 2015 -- August 3 -- LAST DAY

August 3, 2015.  1800 Japan time
Japan Airlines 60.  Osaka Kansai to LAX

I’ve had a wonderful visit to Tokushima to visit Masumi and Dave Cooper and the Toyosaki family.  They were awesome hosts and Masumi’s father, Masao, would not let me pay for a single thing – from my hotel to the express bus to Kansai this morning.  He said it was because Terri and I took such good care of Masumi when she came to visit us in Texas about ten years ago, but I suspect he would have done that anyhow.

Yesterday we went shopping at the new mall on their side of the Yoshino River from Tokushima City.  Since it is new and since it is hot as hell right now, the mall was packed, and my true feeling is that if you’ve seen one mall, you’ve  seen most malls and this was no exception.  I found a couple of very cool shirts for Jacob and a summery shirt and breezy trouser set for myself, and then we ate in the food court with the kids.  After we dropped Masumi and the Kids off, Dave and I went for a massage.  Male masseuses work on males and female masseuses on women.  You are fully clothed in a little Jack LaLane style jumpsuit.  No oils.  My guy was very good however and after two weeks of travel and karate, he had me asleep on the table after about twenty minutes.

Dave dropped me off at the hotel while he went to catch up with his Awa Adori dance group at a Shinto shrine where they would perform later.  Masumi and family picked me up later and we also went to the shrine.  Got there right at dusk and the orange full moon was rising over the massive tori gate entrance.  The walkway was lined with glowing lanterns on both sides and I had a feeling something magical was about to happen.

The Awa dance dates back to the 1500’s when Tokushima prefecture was known as Awa and was the fief of a Samurai daimyo.  The dance is very tribal and seems a little like a mating ritual, with the women in their geta and kimonos, very fluid and supple as Se grass, and the men in jembei and colorful headbands and tabis, dancing around the women like dervishes.  The drums are pounding, shamisens and wood flutes droning on, and bells ring constantly.  Like reggae, it is almost impossible not to start moving your body with the beat.  The saying for the Awa Adori matsuri is “You’re a fool if you dance and a fool if you don’t, so you might as well dance.” The dancing lasted about an hour and then there were sparklers for the children.  Afterwards, Dave and I took the other car to the local onsen baths and had a most wonderful soak.  Then a light meal and some good conversation before he dropped me off.

Today Masumi, Dave, and the kids came to my hotel and we walked to the JR station together to have a light brunch at Starbucks and some last minute shopping.  I was terrified that I was not going to find the items Terri had given me for her “shopping list” but at the stores around the station, I scored big time and found everything she had requested.  She likes the small, interesting items like coin purses.  Tokushima is famous for its indigo blue dye and I was able to find the items in that beautiful deep blue with almost tie-dyed patterns.  Very exquisite.  Then we had to say our goodbyes and I boarded the express bus for Kansai, while Dave and Masumi had plans to head for the Oboke Gorge to visit their whitewater rafting pals.  Both of them used to be river guides.  They were such great hosts and are dear friends indeed.

All over Japan I am impressed with their civil and structural engineering fetes, mainly the way they have managed to build amazing roads, tunnels, and railways throughout this mountainous nation.  Today, however, I was awed by the entire area around Kobe and Osaka.  The area is one huge network of ports and bridges that almost defy imagination.  Wow!  Kansai airport itself was created as an island by using cofferdams, pumping the ocean out, and bringing fill in.  Then it was connected to the mainland by a bridge that must be four miles long and allows shipping passage beneath it.  This is one amazing country and a very ambitious people.

 In another eight hours, God willing, I’ll be in Los Angeles.  I always suffer a reverse culture shock upon arrival after the  politeness and orderly manner of Japan.  But it’s my country and I miss it.  I mainly miss Terri and Jacob.  It seems a long time since July 18 when I departed on this journey.  Thank you, love, for supporting my need to go.  Thank you to my senior students who took the dojo classes for me while I was away.  Thank you Dave and Masumi, and also the Aussies who always adopt me.  Thank you to Shihan Fujiwara and his wife and family for being so hospitable at their ryokan, and for him being my teacher.  Shihan, you are the best of the best.  We all know it.  I hope you do also.  I think other ryuha thought Seiwakai would be diminished after Tasaki Hanshi passed, but we have in fact grown and are getting better.  That makes me happy and proud and is a legacy I try to instill in my own students.

Now it is back to our lives.  Being able to attend a gasshuku such as ours is like entering a monastery.  We live and breathe Karatedo and don’t even think about news or politics or the mundane things that typically fill up our existence.  We get to do ONE thing and do it to the best of our ability.  And when it’s over we’ve  grown in ways we don’t even know and have hopefully changed in positive, subtle ways.  I know I have.

So, from somewhere over the Pacific, I’m signing off for now.  Thanks for coming along on this journey, whether actually or vicariously.  I hope you’ve grown some too.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

JAPAN TRAINING 2015 - August 1st, Day ?

August 1, 2015.   1006
Between Kokura and Okayama
En route to Tokushima, Shikoku

I left behind my many karate friends at 0800 to catch my trains.  The people you come to know through this strange and exclusive international organization is what keeps me involved.  I’ve met people of so many countries and occupations through Goju-Ryu Karatedo it is unbelievable, and I don’t see how our paths could have crossed any other way.  Some are merely acquaintances, but many become like brothers and sisters – family – whom even if you don’t cross paths for a few years, when you do, you take up right where you left off and are genuinely joyful to be together again.  And they are trustworthy, honest, and loyal, always willing to go the extra mile and watch your back in any country or situation.  In a word, it is wonderful.  So it was with genuine sorrow to say goodbye.  I almost teared  up when I said goodbye to Fujiwara Shihan because I like him so much and he always brings out the best in us and is an amazing host.

I’m heading to Tokushima to visit my dear friend Masumi Toyosaki Cooper, who I first met in 2004 on a whitewater rafting trip on the Yoshino River after my first Japan training.  Masumi spoke very good English and wanted a native speaker to talk to.  I now know her family, who are now my family too, and her husband Dave, who was a rafting guide from Australia, living in Japan.  They now have three children and live in Brisbane, but are here visiting her family, so I finally get to see their beautiful children.  Tokushima is a gorgeous city on the Pacific side of Shikoku, just across a straight of water from Osaka.  It is the home of one of the biggest matsuri festivals in Japan, the Awa Adori Matsuri, which draws over a million people to dance in the streets and have a great time.  It is the Japanese equivalent of Mardi Gras Festival, and like the Mardi Gras crews, the various Awa Adori dance troops will be practicing in the evenings while I am there.  When you walk along the river downtown, the big drums are slamming out a heartbeat rhythm, and everywhere are dance troops practicing.  Masumi and Dave are both dancers and I think Dave is quite famous as one of the few gaijin who can do it.  Not to mention he’s about 6’3” tall with a shaved head!  Very recognizable amongst the dancers.

My first two trains had no reserved seats left, so I’m using the unreserved cars, which is quite fun and like a land rush to get on, because there are always some folks left standing, kind of like a game of musical chairs.  And there is absolutely no chivalry.  You snooze you lose... and nobody offers a woman a seat.  I dropped my hand bag and already broke a real good bottle of sake (second time in that soft bag.  First time 2006) so my bag reeks of sake and people probably figure I’ve been on a drunk.  Oh well.  Good times!

My body has reached its absolute physical limits from the travel, time changes, different diet, gallons of sweat, and nine straight days of karate in a soaking wet gi.  I really don’t even care to put one on for a few weeks, because I am so sore and exhausted.  The training has been very good and very technical, but I really don’t know how many more times I can do this.  But I always say that, don’t I?

I found out this morning that I did not pass my Rokudan grading.  I thought I did a good job and had a better chance as there were only 13 grading this year (5 passed) as compared to 18 (3 passed) when I graded two years ago.  You never know what the grading panel is looking for and the standards are quite high at this level.  I know I am fighting the battle of age also.  In fact I was surprised to find I was the oldest one grading for Rokudan, which explains why I was number 13 out of 13.

The grading was held in a smaller Kendo room off the main area of the Beppu Budokan and it was so hot, instead of all of us going in at once, they brought us in in three groups of 3,5, and 5.  I was in the last group, which was apparently the eldest of the group.  That’s a good thing really, because you don’t really want to come right after a guys who is 48 or 50 and can stick a kansetsu Geri like a locomotive.  The older guys try to be a little more precise about timing and Kime (focus points) because they have lost some power.  Vassie Naidoo and I were speculating there are probably not many guys in their 60’s who can do what we do.  The grading panel is 6 stone-faced 8th dans, with 3 more observing from the side.  It is a bit intimidating.

I’m of course disappointed, and maybe more disappointed for Fujiwara Shihan and Seiwakai, but I have to look at it like the Japanese do.  For them, it is all about the doing, and failure is a part of the game.  They do not look at failure quite like we do in the west.  To have been there and made the effort is paramount on the path to perfection.  You won’t achieve perfection, but you keep striving.  There are many senior Japanese Sensei who have failed these grading numerous time and they seem totally unfazed and undeterred.  It is an honor to have been qualified to try.

My new friend, Sanny Yap Sensei, from Singapore helped me reframe it yesterday, even before I knew the results.  Sanny asked me how I felt about the  grading and I replied, “I think I did pretty well.”
He said, “No…how do you feel?”
I said that I felt good and he replied, “then hold on to that feeling because that is all you can control.  You never know how they see you and what they see.”
That was good advice.  I feel good about it all.

Vassie Naidoo, Desmond Tuck, John Dean, and I  went out to a Korean barbecue place last night with Jamie Duggan’s group from Brisbane.  This bunch of crazy Aussies are my adopted crew and they are so much fun.  Tough, funny, loud, and really strong karateka.  Definitely crazy as Texans.  Probably more so..  And they live life for today, so every experience is good and life is for living in the moment.  It was a great time and more than a little alcohol was consumed now that the pressure was off.  I can’t wait to see this bunch again.

Almost to Tokushima now.  I need a massage!!!  Over and out.