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Saturday, July 20, 2019

TRAINING DAYS 2 AND 3


Ouch!!!

This is when you really start to feel the hurt deep in the body, even though Fujiwara Sensei is pacing us really well this year. It is gratifying to me to see the younger karateka limping around like I am.

As you can see, I am behind on my timely blog posts, but there is a lot going on in addition to the training during the day. There are sweat-wet, blood-stained gis to wash at the laundromat, meals to take, old friends to socialize with, and family to talk with.  Thank goodness for the WhatsApp app to video chat Terri and Jacob back home.

Day 2 always seems to be the hardest to me. You start to feel the aches from Day 1 and the day can seem endless. Maybe we are getting old or soft (or both), but this year we are only going for five hours a day instead of the usual six, but I haven't heard anyone gritching about it. I think we are all getting our money's worth.

Both mornings we started out walking around the hall for 15 minutes as preliminary warm-up.  Sensei says this is a time when we can walk and talk, and get to know our family from around the world -- by talking as we loosen up. There are some very interesting karateka here from all over, so it is an enjoyable start.

The morning "walk"

We are following the formula of Day 1.  On Day 2, Carmen from Hong Kong led us in the next warm-up session with some perfect yoga-like stretches and then Abel Sensei from Portugal led us through  moving basics. We pressed on into Sanchin kata, Tensho, Saifa, and Seyunchin for the remainder of the morning session. No water break, but you learn to hydrate well.

During our lunch break, I opted to stay at the training site. There is a pretty basic little restaurant in the next building, which serves the city employees who office there. Cody Cole and I ate with Jay Padayachee from South Africa.  My ramen with tempura was quite good. Then it was back down to the training space to put our legs up the wall to let some of the lactic acid disipate.

Cody



Drying gi during lunch break

The afternoon session was broken into one hour of bunkai partner work and one of actual kata practice. We worked a lot on Seyunchin, which toasts the legs nicely before moving on to Sanseryu, Shisochin, and then jumped to Sesan. My hip starts going south on me about this time. The final hour we were in groups working on our next grading kata. I opted to go with the Kururunfa group, but presented poor performances as my hip and sciatic nerve were so bad by then, I couldn't hold either of the first two opening moves. It felt as if an ice pick was plunged into my hip and another in my left calf muscle. I was exasperated and Fujiwara Sensei was obviously not happy with my performance either. In Japanese karate, if you put your gi on, you signify that you are ready to put 110% into your training. If you can't, there is no pity for your pain or discomfort.

Start of a bunkai example

At the end of the day, he called us, his senior Seiwakai yudansha together, and admonished us that EVERY time we train, we should be putting in maximum effort, because we are the senior teachers, and that right now, our efforts weren't that impressive. This kind of talk actually motivates, rather than depresses us. He knows all of us well, and like the good sensei he is, he tells it without any sugar coating.

After dinner at the ryokan, I walked next door to watch some of Sensei's junior high students train for the Nationals in Nagasaki next week.  Man they are amazing.


Omagari Juniors at Honbu Dojo

Day 3 was similar to Day 2. Today I felt better. I'm consuming 2 liters of liquid each training day -- water and EmergenC. Today I also brough a couple of bananas, because I think I am sweating out all my potassium, and I believe it helped. But, the last hour still has my number and I was in deep pain in my hip by then. I tried to hang with the Kururunfa group, but Sensei sent me over to the Sesan group, I believe because he thought my lame balance was a distraction.  He was probably correct. Not that Sesan is any easier, but it doesn't start out with two Sagiashi dachi Stances you have to maintain after two knee kicks. I was happy to move. It is embarrassing to not be able to muster a kata that you usually do passably well. You learn humility in this art. Rod Martin Sensei, from Australia, was running the Sesan group and gve me a number of good pointers.

I walked back the 1.5 miles from the training hall to gauge my hip situation.  Not great. Bob Davies from Liverpool, England told me he found an acupuncture/physical therapy (Bonesetter, as they are called in Japan) just a block from the ryokan. I was scheduled for dinner with Bob and Cody Cole, one of my Texas students, but when Bob took me by and introduced me to the therapist, Takuro Sato, he told me he was going to Tokyo tomorrow, but he could trat me in about 30 minutes, so I told my mates to go ahead and eat and I'd catch up with them later.

While waiting, there was a steady stream of high school athletes, male and female, coming in for treatment, so I knew I was in good hands with a guy who knew sports therapy. He spent an hour on me with electric Tinge treatment, needles, and a crushingly deep therapy massage, which almost had me crawling off the table with its intensity. When it was over, I felt stoned from the massive release of endorphins and still sore as could be, but by the time I walked to meet my friends for some drinks and karaoke, I was feeling pretty good again. The treatment was 5000 Yen -- about $46.

Since the morrow was our rest day, many of us ended up at the Riverview club after karaoke for some dance time. Train hard, play hard. A great day! Tomorrow we're off duty.

Stacey Karetsian and me -- Finally we can all relax

Friday, July 19, 2019

DAY ONE TRAINING


Man, I'm feeling like I was run over by a bus this morning! I always think I'm in pretty good shape when I get here, but that first day always takes the starch out of us. Another thing I tell myself is that I'm going to pace myself this year, but that never happens. It is difficult to pace yourself when you are front row center and Fujiwara Sensei is standing right in front of me the entire day. Pace myself? Ha...

We have just under 100 practitioners here.  Good turnout!


The training venue

It was a great morning session of training. We started out by walking around the cavernous training hall for about 15 minutes, then Rod Martin from Brisbane put us through the traditional Goju-Ryu warmup, in which every exercise is meant to increase the strength and flexibility of the muscles and ligaments actually used in Goju techniques.

Afterwards, Stacey Karetsian, from Sydney, led us through a LOT of moving basics, building in intensity until the sweat was freely flowing. It was a very good, very taxing series of punches, blocks, kicks, and multiples thereof.

Sensei Fujiwara led us in katas Sanchin and Tensho, Gekki Sai Ichi and Ni, and Saifa. First slowly then building to true speed and then many repititions. The floor in the training hall is urethane and makes your feet stick, so it isn't long before the skin is coming off. All of this was only the two-hour morning sesssion.

The group with the Mayor of Omagari

After our lunch break, it was back on with the soaked, chilly gi tops and away we go again, pausing only for a brief group photo with the Mayor of Omagari. We started with Saifa again and made our way all the way through Kururunfa kata in the three hour afternoon session, with many rounds of partner work on kata bunkai (applications).  My partner is Glenn Stephenson Sensei from Australia, who is the country head for Seiwakai, who I have known for years. He's a very savvy karateka and therefore a good partner.

By the end of the three hours, my sciatic nerve was lighting me up, so I had to keep "biting the bullet" and keeping on. Walked the mile and a half back from the training hall just to try and loosen my hip and sciatic nerve. I was pretty bushed, but I always am after the first day.

Architect's Rendering of the New Omagari Budokan

Fujiwara Shihan told us he was going to repeat this training every day, because we need work on our basics. I guarantee our basics will be miles better by the end of this week.

Now it is time to gather my gear and get ready for another day of training. It will be another hot one!
Over and out.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

TODAY WE START!


Today we begin the formal training seminar for Goju-Ryu Seiwakai International, and international it is! Yesterday was such a busy day with the majority of karateka arriving, greeting old friends, paying up all the fees for the seminar, the party, the hotels, gradings ... whew!

This little Akita city of Omagari is inundated with a huge international contingent. We spend a lot of money here every year and that is certainly appreciated, but most importantly, it provides a two-way cultural exchange between the citizens and all of us from around the world.  It is a beautiful thing really. The people treat us so well, and we on the other hand, are traditional karate practitioners in our Sensei's home town, so we are always polite and respectful. One of the many beautiful things about Japanese culture is the polite and friendly demeaner of almost everyone.


A walking scene in Omagari.

Yesterday I met up with old and new friends from Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Australia, USA,  England, and Japan, just to name a few. I'm very proud of our Seiwakai International group. It is truly a family.

Yesterday, Fujiwara Shihan took a bunch of us senior members to meet the mayor and present him with some swag. The meeting with him and a few of his aides was brief -- just as any meeting with politicians should be, in my humble opinion. We also visited our training site in the same huge building. There were a number of senior citizens playing cut-throat table tennis.  Probably twenty tables going at once. They were so spry and intent on the competition. No couch potatoes here!

A group of us also walked over to the hospital to visit Takahashi Sensei, the co-vice-president of Seiwakai International, who is recovering from surgery. Takahashi Sensei is a masterful teacher and a darn good man. He is recovering well and his smile and firm handshake show us he will be back teaching soon. It was amusing to see the faces when eight of us big gaijin karateka walked in past the crowded nurses station and into Sensei's room. It was crowded in his room, so Takahashi-san walked us down to the day room, and I'm sure he was very honored by the visit. No doubt also that many people are now aware of his stature. The hospital was amazing, with rooftop gardens and distant views of snow capped mountains to the north, and across the city to other far mountains to the west. The healthcare system, especially for seniors is top notch.


Senior members with Takahashi Sensei -- L-R:
Belgium, India, USA, Japan, Canada, South Africa, USA, South Africa, Australia


View from the hospital Day Room.

I also worked in another hour of yoga and kata yesterday in the honbu dojo. My back seems to be doing well. My mantra this year is "Be mindful!" I'm always such a go-getter and my inclination is to give 110% all the time. Maybe just 100% this year! Ha. Going to be quite warm today and there is an 80% chance of thunderstorms, so it looks like we will have our typical hot and oppressively humid atmosphere. The first day is always hell!

Monday, July 15, 2019

JAPAN TRAINING 2019 - Day 2

Today is Monday, and karateka from around the world are beginning to show up in Omagari.

Yesterday, I ran into Canadians and South Africans.  There are a number of  Seiwakai folks down in Tokyo that also came in early but opted to do some sightseeing in the bigger city first. I find it better for me to get to Omagari first and quietly recharge before the training starts. I sight-see afterwards.

The time is currently 0730 and I've been up since 0500 after a good night's sleep. I was going to go out with a few friends last night, but opted out at the last minute after realizing how tired I still was from the travel.  Glad I did, as I heard them coming in at 0330. Of course, they are still asleep, but I cannot sleep when the sun comes up so early here in the summer.

I'm at my writing table with the window open.  There isn't a cloud in the sky so I know it will be a really warm day.  As usual, the temp starts climbing right about the time we get here for our gasshuku (training), along with the humidity, so the days are a sweat bath. The first day always has me questioning my stamina and my common sense about being here. Always.




The old iconic Omagari Budokan was torn down last year and the new one is not complete, so we will be training in two places this year -- both are large gymnasiums, which means our feet will suffer because of the urethane floor finish.  The feet stick more, so the skin is more easily torn off. Ouch! Prudent to have lots of athletic tape in your dojo bag.

Our training doesn't formally begin until Wednesday, but I will be trying to spend self-practice time trying to work out the stiffness. I've been doing physical therapy for a lumbar problem that is also causing sciatica, and it wasn't until two days before I was scheduled to leave for Japan that the pain subsided enough to give me confidence. But the travel and sleeping on the floor futon and sitting at this table without a chair, has me feeling it again, albeit not as badly, but still concerning. I'm doing a lot of stretching and yoga.

Later...1530.

Had a great breakfast here at the ryokan. The food is terrific! Afterwards, I did manage to get yen from the post office ATM machine and paid for my 12 days of room and board. Although paying for 12 days at once seems like a hit, the cost is reasonable, to say the least. I would actually pay more for the dinner (if I could find as good in Austin) than I do for the entire daily rate, which also includes breakfast and dinner. I tell people that the most expensive thing about Japan is the getting here. After you're here, it is reasonable. . . provided you aren't eating in the best restaurants in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto.






I saw Sensei had the dojo door open and asked if I could self-practice -- do a shake-down test for my back. There's a real power to the place, which, although small, has a lot of energy -- shakti, as we call it in yoga practice. I did over 1.5 hours of kata and stretching and I'm happy to report I feel good. Yay! So I celebrated by buying a beer at the Grand Mart and doing laundry at the corner coin-op. Success is measured differently by different people, right?

Tonight, we are going back to Mariko's new restaurant for dinner. All of us gaijin (literally "Barbarians") from around the world have signed Good Luck envelopes for dear Mariko for her business success, and placed a bill of our own country's currency inside for luck.

I hope you are getting a feel for the place. You'll also get a feel for the training when we start.

Over and out from Omagari, Akita, Japan.


Saturday, July 13, 2019

GROUNDHOG DAY - TEXAS TO JAPAN


Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day?  Egocentric weatherman, Bill Murray, is sent to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA only to find himself living the same day over and over again. That's pretty much how the two-day sojourn from Johnson City, Texas to Omagari, Japan felt. Trains, planes, and automobiles . . . Southwest, American, and JAL.  All flights were good, just long!

Haneda International Airport - Tokyo

I traveled from Santa Monica with my Sensei and dear friend, Vassie Naidoo, who is one of two Vice-Presidents, along with Satoru Takahashi, of Seiwakai International. He asked me to teach his Thursday night class at USA Honbu, which is always an honor. His students are always open to new instruction and we had a great class.



I focused the teaching mainly on the more circular and flowing JU aspects of Goju-Ryu, since these karateka are mainly big strong fighters who can smash you with only the harder, more linear GO side of our art. In my belief, it is the blending of Go and Ju that truly makes our karatedo both effective and beautiful. I was very happy to be asked to teach. Afterward, we had dinner and drinks at the Mediterranean Grill on Pico Blvd., and of course I stayed up too late before a long travel date.

This morning I am in my tiny room at the Ohara Ryokan, enjoying the quiet of this Sunday morning, happy that training does not start for a couple of days so I can get acclimated and lose the jet lag. Shihan Fujiwara's family owns and runs this ryokan, which is most well-known for the amazing food and I always feel like it's a homecoming to be here again. Sunday is the Fujiwara family rest day, so no meals will be served.

The only furniture in my room is one low-slung wooden table and a couple of cushions on the tatami. This table becomes my office work space, writing desk, snack space, conference room, and general clutter-catcher over the course of my time here. I like that the tiny room makes me so much more aware of space usage and storage, and the importance of finding, and keeping my belongings in order. I have a single futon on the floor with one small pillow, but it's my home for the next 11 days, and I like that it transports me out of my usual reality. The Ohara is a favorite of many working men who are on assignment to jobs in Omagari, good hard-working truckers and tradesmen, many of whom are smokers, so I leave the room window open the first couple of days to air out the residual cigarette smell.



Ohara Ryokan is so much better than I am probably making it sound. They have delightful sento baths for both men and women, and the food is absolutely to die for. There's a grocery store just across the street and a Family Mart (similar to Lawson's or 7-11's) where you can find espressos and snacks of all kinds. I don't have any yen on me so I went to the ATM machine at Lawson's, which declined both my debit and credit card,despite the fact I notified my bank of my travel dates. Grrrrr...
I managed to rustle up some Nescafe in the kitchen and begged some cream and sugar packets from the Family Mart, so I am caffeine fortified -- a necessity after 4 hours sleep last night.  It gets light at 4 am and only rice paper window covers, so that's when you wake up. My days and nights are now reversed and that takes time to adjust.

Omagari, Daisen in Akita Prefecture is in the wild and mountainous Tohoku region of northern Honshu (the largest of the islands that make up Japan.)  It is a land of cold winters and warm people 
and has a reputation for having the best rice, and therefore the best sake in Japan , and also has a reputation for having the most beautiful women. All of us in Seiwakai count ourselves lucky that our Honbu Dojo is far off the tourist track and we get to experience Japan without all the bling. This is country where the winter snow is as deep as the roof eaves and the inhabitants are strong and uncomplaining. Like Texans, there is a certain pride in being from this region of high mountain passes, deep lakes, and fertile valley farms. The people are survivors and take pride in that fact.

Last night, Vassie Sensei and I arrived Akita from Tokyo Haneda Airport around 8:00 pm and were met by Fujiwara Shihan who was accompanied by Paul Penasse Sensei, our dear friend from Belgium, which was a nice surprise. An even nicer surprise was when we arrived at the ryokan and Shihan told us to leave our bags in the lobby, that we were going to have dinner at his daughter Mariko's new restaurant.  From the photos, you can see what a delightful gastronomical experience that was. The dinner was a treat from Fujiwara Shihan, along with some of that famously delectable Akita sake. If Mariko had her restaurant in Austin, Texas, I guarantee she would be a millionaire within two years! We were also joined for dinner by Rob Crawford Sensei from South Africa. Thank you Shihan!  Thank you, Mariko!

Oh, Yum!!!



Mariko-san

Today we will be taking it easy and get our bodies on Japan time.  I am about to ask Shihan if I can use the dojo to do my yoga and stretching this morning, and later we are going to observe his students who are training for the All Japan Goju-Ryu competition in Nagasaki in two weeks. I'm always amazed at the perseverance and quality of Shihan's youth in particular.  I learn so much from them despite 47 years of karate.

Glad to be here!