Okinawa Trip 2005

2005 Okinawa Trip Diary

This trip was the first “on our own” in many aspects. I had resigned from the Shorinkan in March of that year and now was without a teacher. One of my goals was to establish a relationship with an Okinawan Sensei, something that is very difficult in large organizations. I wanted to find a home where the line of information was coming from the author, not people who have read the same book more times than I had and were interpreting it own their own.  Nevertheless, I wanted also the opportunity to meet some of the famous masters that I had heard or read stories about-something else that was taboo in my old organization.  My friend Joe Botulinski was half Okinawan, grew up on the island and lived there as a medical chief for the military. Joe had studied with countless Sensei on Okinawa and offered to introduce my students and me to many of them on this trip to Okinawa.

One of the legendary teachers that I had heard of since a teenager was Sokuichi Gibu, Hanshi/9th dan who is considered one of the greatest students of Hanshi Shugoro Nakazato and before resigning from the Shorinkan, was one of the vice presidents of the organization. I knew that that he did not accept foreigners as students and was very “old school” but I asked Joe if he could arrange for me to just meet him and get his autograph or a picture taken with him since Joe had trained with him. A month before we left, Joe emailed me and told me that Hanshi Gibu actually invited Lorie and me to his dojo for a meeting. 

So with a great deal of excitement, we set out for Okinawa for two weeks to experience as much as we could and find a home for our dojo.  We arranged to rent a van and I was going to try to remember as much as I could about the areas of Okinawa from my two trips before and hopefully not get us too lost.

Saturday June 25

We all arrived at Norfolk airport only to find that that the flight that Joe ,Tim, Lorie and I were on was delayed. Dave, Justine, Debbie and Joe's flight left on time and we only prayed that ours would eventually get us to Chicago. So, I watched my four students leave without us knowing that they would have to travel alone, arrive in Okinawa with no Japanese language skills. After a fruitless pleading with the airline, we were put up in an hotel by United and left to spend a restless night on our Okinawa trip.

Sunday June 26

We finally flew out of Norfolk and made it Chicago. After finding our terminal, we headed to a pub do get something to eat before the long flight. The bartender’s name was Genevieve and was fun to talk with. We all had a bloody mary and snuck peeks at the actor from the Rosanne Barr show that was sitting behind us.  We boarded the plane, took and ambien and Lorie and I slept almost the entire way to Osaka.

Monday June 27

We arrived in Osaka and made it though customs and rechecked our bags for Okinawa. The flight for Okinawa was fine and we were met at the airport by my good friend Joe Botulinski, who was in the military and who also grew up on Okinawa. He trained at the dojo of Sensei Shugoro Nakazato as a child (he is half-Okinawan) and has had the honor of training with some of Okinawa’s top masters. Joe and a military friend gave us a lift to our hotel in Koza called the New Century where we met up with the others that arrived the day before.  Dave and the others had done a lot of sight-seeing around Koza and jumped right into the trip with no problems. The guys had a great tatami room and a private patio with lots of local plants. We took off to find a place to eat and first were turned away from a “members only” restaurant. (Maybe they thought we were military). I found a yaki tori restaurant and we all enjoyed every part of the chicken that you can imagine. We headed back to the hotel and fell asleep.

Tuesday June 28

Tim and I woke up at 5:30 a.m., sat at one of the patio tables on our deck and had coffee. It was a beautiful morning with a great breeze snaking it’s way through our patio.  Everyone began to wake up and we went to the second floor to have their buffet breakfast. A great deal (about 7 dollars), you had American and Japanese foods and as much as you could handle.  After breakfast, we walked across the street to the bank to get our money exchanged to yen. This is always a mistake and a complete nightmare as it usually takes the whole group about an hour or more to get taken care of. We picked up the rental cars and then we drove to Shuri Castle, taking a short cut through Futenma. Always a beautiful and breathtaking sight, we took the standard pictures and got to see a Muryo demonstration by three ladies outside the courtyard.

After walking around Shuri gusuku for about an hour and ½, we left to see Shinkenai en only to find that it was closed for construction.  I drove down to Aja and we stopped by Nakazato Sensei’s dojo to take pictures and then ate at a nice soba restaurant around the corner.  We headed down to Shureido and spent about an hour spending our life savings. We continued up the road to Azato, parked and spent the rest of the afternoon on Kokusai dori.

We drove to Mihama to watch the sunset before heading to the hotel. It was a full day, to say the least, so we were glad to find a sushi restaurant, Sushi Yoshi, across the street from the hotel where we could unwind and get our fill of sushi and Orion beer. The chef, Masa-san, was great and had me write everyone’s name in katakana so he could speak to them and remember them the next time we came. 

We headed back to the hotel and Lorie and I called the girls before we all passed out.

Wednesday June 29

I woke up at 3:30 and played a lot of spider solitaire. After a while, I went to our patio and spent the rest of the time catching geckos, drinking coffee and thinking about the days ahead. This was the day that we were to have our meeting with Hanshi Gibu and to say that I was nervous is a large understatement. Everyone eventually woke up and after breakfast, we all got in the van to leave for Nago. It was a beautiful drive up 58 and it was nice to get glimpses of the small towns and tourist areas on the way up the coastline.  After a long drive, we arrived at the aquarium and spent hours looking at the amazing exhibits. The large tank containing the whale sharks was the most amazing sight with countless Manta rays, tuna, jacks and three Whale Sharks.  After spending a large part of the day there, I hurried everyone along so that we got back in time to go to the Butokukan for our meeting. I took the wrong turn off of the expressway and ended up going to the back side of Kadena Air Base.  Joe Wilson finally got us back where we needed to go and we arrived at the hotel with me in a complete panic and not very fun to be around. To top it off, Joe B. had left a message at the front desk that he couldn’t take us tonight because of an emergency and would contact Hanshi Gibu to let him know that we would be there tomorrow.  Disappointed, we all relaxed for a while and headed back to Sushi Yoshi for dinner and lots of Orion.

Friday July 1

Lorie and I slept until about 7:30 and had another great breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We decided to go to San San beach in Azuma on the southern part of the island for a day on the beach. I had been there in 2002 and it is a fun place to relax. We were told not to swim outside of the nets due to jellyfish but we snuck out past the breakwater and dove in while someone kept watch for lifeguards. We saw some beautiful fish and hermit crabs and then decided to play it safe in the netted area. These neat jack-like fish kept swimming around our legs and then coming up to our diving masks to seemingly look at themselves in the reflection. We stayed about as long as one should in the Okinawan sun before heading home around 3:30 to prepare finally for our meeting with Hanshi Gibu. After stopping by the hyaku yen store to get paper, we wrapped our gifts and headed down to Urasoe with Joe to meet the legendary Sokuichi Gibu, Hanshi.

My heart was pounding as we drove up to the Gibu Mansion/housing unit where he resides and has his dojo. I had seen only pictures of Hanshi Gibu and heard countless stories about his fierce abilities, his incredibly kind personality and the experiences that others had with him through various camps and visits to Okinawa when he was in the Shorinkan. I was quite star struck when I saw him open the sliding doors to his dojo and appear briefly to look outside with in his gi and akai obi.

Lorie and I were dressed formally and Joe Botulinski led us up the steps while the others waited for an okay sign to come up.  We bowed deeply as we entered the dojo and were formally introduced to Hanshi Gibu by Joe.  Hanshi Gibu went into the dressing room and carried out three chairs which we scrambled to take from him but he refused. He then went into his home and then appeared again with a tray of tea and cookies, once again we tried very quickly to help him but he again refused. We sat together and after Joe made a formal introduction and personally spoke for us, I began to speak with Hanshi Gibu in Japanese about our dojo and my intentions for this trip. He listened very carefully and he periodically would ask questions to me about Lorie and our family as well.  The children’s class was almost ready to begin and our guys came up from the van to be introduced and then we watched class together.
Hanshi Gibu’s son, Makoto, came in and we were able to meet him briefly before he assisted with teaching the kid’s class. What was amazing was that Hanshi Gibu led every warm-up exercise, every stretch and actively taught the kids. He treated every student as they were just as important as if they were his most senior black belt.  After class, the guys went back to the van and we continued to talk to Hanshi Gibu and his son Makoto about his association.  He told us that he did not accept outsiders into the Butokukan because he had seen what money and politics had done to other organizations and wanted no part of that. He added that he constantly turned visitors away that had looked up his dojo and just showed up wanting to train or to gain acceptance into the Butokukan. He gave Lorie and me a Butokukan patch and a tie clip and asked us to come back Monday. Did this mean we were accepted? Was this what we had read in stories about being asked to come back later? Nevertheless, we had been asked to return and I was smiling from ear to ear. 

Afterwards, Joe wanted to take us to a Motobu-Ryu dojo in Koza to introduce us to the instructors and watch a demonstration of Undundi(Palace Hand)-something that we had not seen before. Everyone has heard of the great Uehara Sensei of Motobu-Ryu but few had seen the training up close. We arrived at the Koza Seidokan and Joe introduced us to Taira Sensei and Takamiyagi Sensei. Taira Sensei was a direct student of Uehara Sensei and Takamiyagi Sensei was an 8th Dan under Shimabukuro Eizo and a 8th dan in Motobu-Ryu. Takamiyagi Sensei spoke perfect English and was a great ambassador of Undundi. They gave us a demonstration and used Joe Orthner as an uke to demonstrate some basic principles of the art.

We all crawled to Sushi Yoshi afterwards after a very emotionally draining day and had plenty of Orion to help us decompress.

Saturday July 2

We had been invited to train at the Koza Seidokan since the Butokukan was closed for the weekend so we all jumped at a chance to try Undundi.  Lorie stayed behind to catch up on sleep and to pack since she was leaving on Sunday. Unfortunately for us, we were invited to train from 11-3(during the hottest time of the day) and the Seidokan is on the second floor of an old concrete building-basically an oven for cooking karate students. Takamiyagi Sensei warmed us up with some relaxation drills and then we began with the Motobu Ryu techniques where everything is delivered on the balls of the feet.  We next went into Tuiti techniques and Taira Sensei would periodically pop up to show some very scary applications. Motobu-Ryu, at first glance, looks like a sort of aikido and has some odd movements, but when you are on the receiving end of the waza, you see how truly devastating it’s tuiti is. What looked very basic in kansetsu waza, was applied in a very direct and maiming fashion.

They next demonstrated some of the kobudo techniques of Motobu-Ryu and we learned a “form” called kashin bo which had some nice techniques that incorporate throwing the opponent. Takamiyagi Sensei demonstrated the throwing waza that was preceded with a strike and then a manipulation of the arms or wrists. The final demonstrations were with live swords and I was on the receiving end of a very frightnening toe kick to the bladder as I was asked to attack with a jodan cut. The timing of the kick by Takamiyagi Sensei was perfect and folded me to my knees.
We all returned to the hotel and had time to relax before Joe and his family took us out to a yaki niku restaurant in Ginowan. The restaurant was all you could eat for an hour, including beer, for only 10 dollars.

Sunday June 3

We had a light breakfast on the porch today and waited for Takamiyagi Sensei and Joe to come to the hotel. Takamiyagi Sensei had arranged a very special opportunity for our group today. For decades, Uehara Sensei would conduct Sunday workouts on the sand at Sunset Beach. After his passing, his son continued the tradition and we were allowed to come participate. This was a “harder” style of the Motobu-Ryu/Undundi that we had seen at the Seidokan in Koza and but still used the ball of the feet for positioning and movement. This was an interesting conditioning exercise for the feet on the crushed coral sand of Sunset Beach.  Uehara Sensei’s wife came with her dog to watch her son conduct her late husband’s tradition and Lorie got the rare treat of sitting with her and talking. 

After training, we took pictures with everyone and then headed back to the hotel by way of the winding streets of Chatan. Takamiyagi Sensei drove us by the dojo’s of Eiko Shimabukuro/Shobayashi Ryu, Zempo Shimabukuro/Shorin-Ryu and of a Kobudo/Shorin-Ryu sensei named Isa.
We ate a quick lunch at McDonalds and then headed for the Peace Park on the southern tip of the island. I had been there in 2002 but it was just as beautiful and just as sad and no matter how many times you visit it, it is a very emotional experience. We walked through the park and then down the long stairway to the beach below, looking at the cave sites on the way down.

After the peace park, we left for Koza and began to get ready for our evening at Miyazato Eiko’s club in Azato at the end of Kokusai dori. We arrived and Miyazato Sensei came out in a beautiful kimono and sat with us for a nice talk. There was no one else in the club tonight so it was nice to have our own private show. Miyazato Sensei first dressed everyone up in his homemade costumes and we were able to take pictures. He then began his show and allowed Lorie and I to attempt drumming with he and his wife. The show, as always, highlighted the traditional culture of Okinawa and how martial arts was woven into different areas of their music and dance. 

The highlight of the show is their demonstration of shi shi mai which is the lion dance where he and his wife work together in one costume.  As  they made their way into the audience and open the mouth over my head, a hand came out of the mouth and Miyazato Sensei handed me a beautiful mounted shi shi! We had a great time and headed home afterwards for a little party on the porch.

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