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

Saturday, July 20, 2019



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.


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


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 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


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.


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.