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.