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Friday, August 23, 2019

DAY 6. IT'S OVER. . .?

July 23rd, and we're back in Omagari. The funny thing about this kind of training is that on the first day or two you sometimes wonder how you're going to make it through an entire week of heat, sweat, blistered feet, and spent bodies. Then a miraculous transformation occurs, invariably without you knowing it, and by the end of the week you're feeling strong and confident and actually feeling sad that this is the last day for another year.

Quite a few will be going on to Sasebo to the JKF Gojukai seminar, shinsa (grading), and the All-Japan Goju-Ryu Championships. But many won't and I'm sure they always feel like they're leaving prematurely. The last day always seems to enhance the feeling of camaraderie that has been building between all of us through the sweat, the fun, the beers. The last day is also the day of the Seiwakai shinsa and a fast and furious day of review, a microcosm of all we've been focused on during this year's training.

Canada, USA, Australia, S.Africa, USA, India

I won't give a blow-by-blow of the training day, because the pattern has held pretty true all week.  It was plenty hot, I'll say that. We ended near 3:00 pm because there were 29 karateka scheduled to grade, but of course, before we bowed out, we started at Sanchin kata and worked the entire Goju-Ryu kata syllabus through Suparinpei. Always when you think it is finished, it isn't! We were pretty soaked by then. See the above photo!

I was on the grading panel, all of us 7th dan except Vassie Naidoo Sensei and Seiichi Fujiwara Hanshi, who are 8th dans.  The 29 candidates were grading from 1st to 8th dan, so we observed all levels of experience and most were very impressive. In the lower yudansha ranks, some who were not as impressive in kata, were very impressive in kumite, or vice-versa. Of all of them, my unscientific observation was that the 5th and 6th dan candidates were most impressive, but the shodans were the happiest by far.  It pleases me to know there is an entire new guard of karateka who are moving up the Seiwakai ladder and who will no doubt assume future leadership roles. Kudos to their instructors! I know we are in good hands in the future.

And congratulations to all of you who passed!

Then it was back to the ryokan to soak our aching bodies in the sento bath and enjoy another fine dinner. There was a wee bit of toasting to Fujiwara Hanshi and our Seiwakai family. Some were leaving early tomorrow morning to all points of the globe, or heading for Sasebo. The professionals among us decided it was a good night for one last get-together downtown. Tomorrow is a travel day, which means you can sleep on the train or plane.

HOT, clear sento water

Kampai, Vassie Sensei!

Jay and me

Last night! And that's a wrap!

Thursday, August 15, 2019


On Sunday, the 21st, we resumed our training in Jinguji, a quaint but growing town one train stop from Omagari on the local train. The civic center where we trained the first three days is being readied to be a polling place for local elections tomorrow, so we'll train here. I remember training here a few summers back, and the area has grown since then.

We all took the local train at 0940 and arrived Jinguji six minutes later. From Jinguji Station, it is a twenty-minute walk to the large gym in which we will be training.  The walk is beautiful -- first past rural homes and well-tended gardens, then alongside taro and rice fields. We saw numerous eagles hunting in the rice fields.

The gym is part of a large recreational complex with tennis courts, indoor pools, a school, and even an onsen (natural spring water baths). We were advised to pack our lunches as there is not any store close by. On day 5, I would discover there is a small restaurant at the onsen complex, that was very good. The onsen also had a number of excellent massage chairs and flat tables that, for 100 yen (approx. $ .95 US) would give you an amazing mechanical massage for about fifteen minutes!

This gym was actually better than the civic center gym in Omagari.  The floor is kinder on the feet, and the gym has excellent cross-ventilation because it is surrounded by fields rather than other buildings.

Both days, we began with walking, then stretching, and into moving basics until we were warmed up. From there, the morning session was spent on Sanchin, Tensho, kihonkata (the Gekkisai katas and Saifa), and Seiunchin. Then lunch break.

On Day 4, I ate the sandwich I brought from the Family Mart and sat outside with friends, thankful for the breeze and the beautiful vistas across the rice paddies toward the mountains beyond.  Akita-ken has some beautiful vistas, and this was no exception.

View from the training gym.

After eating, I worked on massaging my left calf and my hip, which, because of a pinched nerve in my back, have been lighting me up for the past three months. It has been a bit of a balancing act trying to keep the pain on a manageable level by stretching and massage. Good thing I have a high pain tolerance level -- the result of many years of karate, distance running, and construction. Nonetheless, I can feel age starting to exact a toll on me. The reward is that I don't see many people my age capable of doing this. For that I am thankful.

 My new vibrating roller!

On Day 5, after I ate my sandwich lunch, Glenn Stephenson Shihan, the head of Seiwakai Australia and a long-time friend, asked if I wanted to go to the onsen cafe and get a coffee. That's when I discovered (too late) that I could have had tempura or curry or ramen instead of my Family Mart sandwich. Grrrr... But the coffee was good. Then we found the massage chairs and that was like heaven for my tired and aching body. I think I need one of those chairs for my living room!

Both afternoons, we started back with Sanseiru and went through Seipai as a group, with periods of bunkai oyo (applications of sections of the kata), which were a nice break. Glenn Stephenson was my partner. What I love about Goju-Ryu kata is that everything in them is usable in combat and effective! This is not sport karate.

Bunkai practice.
Thanks to Richard Hang Hong Sensei for some of these shots.

Shihan Fujiwara shared with us his standardized training regimen for kyu ranks and asked us to record them (not for public use) so we could begin to assimilate the progression into our regimen when we returned to our home dojos. Two of his students demonstrated the syllabus. Good stuff, which I've already started to incorporate.

We were also fortunate that Fujiwara Shihan had Kazuhisa Saito Sensei demonstrate each kata before we worked on them. Saito is one of Sensei's senior students and a remarkable kata performer. I watch his kata and think, "well mine looks kind of like that..."

The final hour and a half, we were separated into groups based upon our next grading kata. Since I am still ranked Godan (5th dan) in the JKF Gojukai, although Nanadan (7th dan) in Seiwakai, Fujiwara Shihan sent me to work on Seisan kata -- the grading kata for Rokudan (6th dan) and my old nemesis. There are some one-leg balance points necessary for the kensetsu geri kicks that, due to past knee issues and my current hip and back issue, give me hell. I am either right on or far off on my balance, with no consistency. It is maddening.

This year, Fujiwara Sensei had Rod Martin from Australia, teach the Seisan group. I've known Rod for a long time, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to have him instruct me. Rod is a healing arts professional and I was very pleased that his instructional style is more from an internal rather than an external approach and perspective. Much of his instruction focused on aspects of internal application and I have to say, it really resonated with me, and immediately gave me a new perspective. Really remarkable how you can be doing something for so many years and then someone with a little different focus, approach, and vantage point can switch your light bulb on. Not to mention he was tasked with the thankless position of trying to teach a group of primadona yudansha who already think they are doing it right! Good job, Rod Sensei!

After the train ride back to Omagari and walk to the ryokan, it was time for a bath, a beer, dinner, and laundry. You can always count of an entertaining time at the laundromat with such an interesting and diverse international crowd as we have in Seiwakai.

The wonderful Seiwakai laundromat crowd. 

Monday, August 12, 2019


We receive a rest day on the fourth day of training, and believe me, you're ready for it!

There is a caveat, however...if you're grading, you may be assigned for extra morning training in the Honbu Dojo, next door to Sensei's ryokan. Or, typically, there is a trip to the nearby mountains to do waterfall training, a practice developed by Gogen Yamaguchi to eliminate distractions by outside influences. The idea is to meditate beneath a tall waterfall -- the colder, the better -- until one is impervious to the distraction and discomfort of icy water beating down on your head and shoulders. Rather like shimae (body testing) by water. In a good snow melt year, it is fun, but downright brutal. Not to mention you are trying to maintain balance in a jumbled pool of boulders beneath the falls.

Scenes from a waterfall training in Akita.

This year I opted out of the Waterfall training in order to really try to rest my back and feet.

The group that went reported the falls were pretty gentle this year.
I washed my gis and napped a little, because our annual Seiwakai banquet and party is the evening of rest day. I've always felt we might be better served if we held the party the night before rest day, so we would actually have a day to recuperate from drinking. If you've ever been to a Japanese karate celebration, you'll know what I mean.

The party is a great way to let your hair down and socialize with your fellow karateka from around the world. The food is terrific and the sake and beer flow freely. True to his word, Takahashi Sensei was there -- out of the hospital, and flashing that great smile of his. The most fun is possibly the karaoke the last hour of the event.

Afterward, there are a number of after-parties at The Old Friends Club, The Bowling Alley, or The Riverside Club.

 Fujiwara Sensei

 What a great couple!

 Let's hear it for karaoke!!!

Pal Gila (Hungary), Craig Vokey (Canada), and me