An April Fool's joke is no fun when traveling. After a disaster of a delayed flight out of Chicago, a typhoon delay in Narita which bought me a night in a hotel, 12 hours stuck in NaritaAirport, I finally got on the flight to Okinawa(which was delayed)and slept most of the way. The only good thing that happened on the way over was my new found addition to Chicago style hot dogs.
Over the Bering Sea
Kaiten sushi lunch in Narita
I arrived late and Izumi Sensei and Rio were there to pick me up. After a brief conversation, Izumi Sensei drove me through Tomari wharf and the backside of CampKinser to my hotel, the Banana House, where Gibu Sensei was waiting for me. As I arrived, the owner and Gibu Sensei were sitting upstairs in the lobby. After apologizing profusely to my teacher for being so late, Gibu Sensei took us all to a buffet style bento shop a few doors down where we all made our own bento to go.
Gibu Sensei sent Izumi Sensei home, personally drove me to show me the route that I would use to walk to the dojo from the hotel and then took Rio to Shuri Eki so she could go home. He told me that the dojo of his friend Miyagi Takeshi Sensei was near my hotel and that it would be good to meet him. Gibu Sensei dropped me off at the hotel and I ate my bento box, which was wonderful salty snapper, goya champaru, fried shrimp and rice. I talked to the owner, Mr. Xiaoyong for about an hour before going to bed. He was very helpful and although, Chinese, spoke Japanese and was very accommodating.
Monday April 2
After doing some laundry, I decided to take a morning walk around UrasoeCity. As I normally stay in Koza(Okinawa City), I wanted to wander around Urasoe and learn my surroundings as well as get to know the city and it's people. While taking pictures and reading signs, I spotted the kanji of a dojo in an alley three doors down from the hotel. As it turns out, as Gibu Sensei said, I found the dojo of Miyagi Takeshi Sensei, 10th Dan/Hanshi, Shorin-Ryu Karate.
Photo courtesy of James Lilley, Sensei and KobayashiUSA
If you don't pay attention, you can walk right by things.......
As I was taking pictures from the street, Miyagi Sensei came out of his house and after apologizing and introducing myself, he smiled and asked me to come see the dojo. He told me that he and Gibu Sensei were good friends and serve on the same karate committee for Urasoe City. Miyagi Sensei was gracious to let me visit with him and gave me a tour of his dojo. He had two magnificent pair of handmade sai from long ago and said that blacksmiths around this area would personally make them for you based on your hand size. After speaking in Japanese for a while, Miyagi Sensei suddenly started speaking in perfect English! He told me about the history of his dojo and his students in the United States and abroad. It was an honor to meet him and I enjoyed seeing his dojo very much.
After apologizing for staying too long, I walked up the hill to the Hombu dojo and then continued to walk the Iso district.
I am passing this number around...........................
I stopped by Oshiro Nobuko Sensei’s Kyudokan dojo where she teaches masses of children on Gakuin Dori. We pass this dojo every evening after workouts at the hombu dojo.
After returning to my room, I was answering some emails when I heard a voice outside my door. I was surprised to see Gibu Sensei who had walked 5 flights of stairs to invite me to eat lunch with him. He took me to a place on 58 down from my hotel and we both had goya champaru. A wayward pigeon flew into the restaurant and some of the employees were trying to shoo him out of the door before he could deposit anything on the customers. This must have been a regular occurrence because one of the cooks came out with a net and was able to snare and release it. I guess the yaki tori are the ones that are too stubborn to be caught.
We had a great conversation and talked about their travel plans for the upcoming gasshuku. After lunch, he drove me around the area to make sure I knew where the grocery markets and pharmacies were and told me what time they all opened and closed. He then drove me to my hotel and then told me that he would see me later at the dojo. My exchange student Rio and her friend came to see me soon after and I got to catch on her life since I last saw her. She was a little nervous about tomorrow’s orientation at RyukyuUniversity but was excited as well to start life as a college student.
I walked up to the dojo around 6:30 to get some early training before the adult class at 8:30 and got to meet one of the new white belt kids who showed up for class. This week, all of the kids were on break as with year-round schooling as there are breaks before they switch grade levels. Only two kids came to the dojo this evening but that did not deter Gibu Sensei. He still teaches every class. He told me that we could all warm up together and he led us in all of the yobi undo and junbi undo. He then dismissed me to train on my own while he suited the kids up for kumite.
The kids were in first grade and second grade but had no problem going full contact with each other. It is interesting to see them hitting and kicking each other as hard as they can but with no animosity or tears. They smiled at each other the whole time with evil grins as if they were playing some game in the backyard. They loved it and the match was a cute free for all. Gibu Sensei had to keep separating them as they would clinch up and start to try to throw each other. The second grader kept telling Gibu Sensei that he wanted to be the Okinawa full contact champion someday. After the kids were finished, we did a couple of kata together before the kids were bowed out and waited until their parents picked them up.
Between classes, Gibu Sensei reminisced about the days when he, Yamashita Sensei and Shiroma Sensei used to spar in the dojo. It is so refreshing to see his face light up when he talks about his former dojo mates. He complemented each of his contemporaries on their particular fighting style and told me of some of their training methods that were used in and out of the dojo. What I would have given to see the kumite sessions of that time with those gentlemen! Gibu Sensei loves kumite and you can see the excitement on his face when people match up.
Gibu Sensei then asked me to be his training partner which was an incredible honor and learning experience. Humbling is more like it. He started off with the two of us doing closed fist kakie together in shizentai dachi and then using ashi sabaki. At 71 years old, he completely overpowered me physically and then using perfect body positioning, continued to shut me down.
He kept pushing me back to where I had to shuffle slightly back to re-position just so I could do the forward movement. After he had played with me long enough, he pushed forward with the kakie and literally held me in place-I could not push back with my arm. He was too strong and always in the perfect position. We then went right into kotekitai and it was like trying to strike a tree limb on each block. When it was his turn, I could feel my bones shaking as cracked down on my arms and it felt like I was being hit with metal pipes.
After we were finished, I saw an opening to ask about applications and atemi/kyusho. As I have said before, the line of questioning has to be strategic if you want an answer in Okinawa. As Gibu Sensei has said many times before is that the bunkai is meaningless if you don’t have the power to properly execute the technique and the techniques themselves are the answers not always the sequence they are in. He showed me many techniques from the kata but demonstrated that many alternate techniques have to be inserted so that the application works. I then asked him about his personal or tokui waza for different situations and got an incredible lesson on pain and effectiveness.
All of his applications were extremely brutal and did not leave any doubt that he would have put me or anyone else in the hospital. It made me wonder if he was this dangerous now, what was he like in his twenties? Not that he had aged physically, but my sempai at the dojo have told me stories about Gibu Sensei when he was younger and the way he trained them. They said that even though classes are still very hard in the dojo, they used to be extremely difficult and like today, Gibu Sensei was right in front training with his students. He added that in his youth, he had some jobs that sometimes required the use of certain techniques, sometimes against much larger Westerners and so he showed me specifically where and how to hit certain spots. I thanked him for the honor of receiving his techniques and then he told me that he was going to teach similar techniques and applications at our camp in August and that I would have to wait until then for more.
Aragaki san and Senaga san came to the dojo at the end of our session and it was nice to see them both. Tamaki Sensei followed them and we chatted a bit before Gibu Sensei lined us up for kata. Every trip to Okinawa is a gut check and although I THOUGHT I was physically prepared for this one, I was way wrong. Gibu Sensei proceeded to have us do Naihanchi Shodan through Gojushiho with a count that deprived us all of any oxygen. On one of the few breaks, Tamaki Sensei smiled at me and said “Kaicho is trying to kill us tonight.” Any thought that I was going to try to impress my teacher failed this evening as we all were just trying to stay alive and still keep our technique halfway presentable. Don’t get me wrong, it was great and it is always important to feel like a student and be pushed beyond your limits.
Gibu Sensei bowed us out and my seniors took me out to a yakitori izakaiya that was behind the Hombu dojo. We had a great time and ate more than I thought was possible. (Tamaki Sensei told me that I had lost too much weight since last summer and seemed set on being my surrogate parent and catching my weight back up) Despite the horrible experience with the airlines, this trip’s first full day was amazing.
Tuesday April 3
Woke up at 7:00 to the sounds of Highway 58 and the torrential rain storms that blew in sideways against the hotel. There were major storms today with wind gusts at 50-60 mph and I spent a good part of the day at the hotel. Izumi Sensei came to see me and asked me if I wanted to go to Shureido with him to pick up some of his students’ obis. After leaving Shureido, we drove to Ginowan and got to see the waves crashing against the reef. Not a day for swimming or surfing unless you had a helmet and PFD.
I met Gibu Sensei at the dojo where Spring baseball season and spring break had kids absent from the dojo. Togo kun came again and Gibu Sensei and I still worked out with him. Gibu Sensei personally teaches every class including leading all of the stretches and warm ups. It is such an example that he sets. I had to even ask myself if I would have given that much attention if only one 8 year old white belt was the only one who showed up for class. I felt ashamed of the question after watching Gibu Sensei work personally with this student and take him through the paces of techniques and kata.
Tsumisaki no makiwara-Toe kick makiwara
The senior black belts came in for training and Gibu Sensei had us run through sai, tonfa, kama, nunchaku and bo kata. Rio came with Izumi Sensei so that she could assist with translation relating to camp. We went over the class content and it was added that Izumi Sensei would be teaching an iri kumi session as well.(full contact/ knockdown kumite)
Aragaki San presented me with a big bag of groceries for my hotel room and after Gibu Sensei retired for the evening, we all went to the yakitori izakaiya for three hours of food, drink and great conversation.
Wednesday April 4, 2012
I woke up this morning, did laundry and then caught the bus to Naha. My friend Miguel Da Luz and I were going to meet in front of the Budokan to go have lunch so I arrived early to see what classes were going on. Yogi Josei Sensei was teaching a group of kobudoka from Europe and was assisted by Allesandro Febbo from Higaonna Sensei’s dojo.
Upstairs, the Classical Fighting Arts tourist group was being taken through the ringer by Higa Minaru Sensei, Hanshi/10th dan Shorin-Ryu Kyudokan. Higa Sensei was personally leading them through kihon geiko and they showed a lot of spirit considering the 1000 kicks and 1000 punches they executed.
The “karate vacation package” has benefits and downfalls. If someone really wants to come to Okinawa, they don’t need a group package deal. Introductions to an Okinawan sensei can be difficult but not unattainable. With some help from others, affordable arrangements are easy. Buses will take you most places for under $4.00. Unless you require only the best accommodations, hotels are affordable and conveniently located near many dojos.
With that said, everyone needs a guide on their first trip to Okinawa. Doug Perry Sensei took me on my first trip and it gave me a great foundation to build the trips that followed. People need to travel with those who have connections with Okinawan Sensei as well as a knowledge of the island's culture, sites and people. What the CFA's package does do is ensure that their visitors are kept in an environment where they can take a class with famous karate sensei but have others keep protocol intact. On this trip, I saw more people from other countries acting like everything should be handed to them and arriving on Okinawa with no embracing of the culture of the people that they were expecting "service"from.
Karate has really become Okinawa's biggest tourism draw and if people are not careful, despite what you have read in books and popular magazines, there are karate sensei on Okinawa who are going to capitalize on the financial possibilities of people coming to Okinawa looking for the quick fix training and the quick promotion.
There are already so many people that you see making the journey to Okinawa and leave with a new promotion regardless of time in grade, ability or character. Why we should appreciate the acheivements of those who reach certain ranks when the over-saturation of high rank has made it meaningless. If it can be acheived by anyone who stays in long enough or just can afford a trip to Okinawa, what is the point of having belts? It seems that new certificates have become an expensive omiyage that people are buying for themselves.
For those of you who get it and don't care about your "title" or what dan you are compared to others, keep walking the walk. I saw Yogi Sensei teaching a group of kobudoka that always wears white belts-even the sensei. Care only about training.
It is a trend that is quite sad. However, there are many Okinawan Sensei who refuse to have their name or their style become associated with that sort of behavior and work incredibly hard to preserve and pass on their martial heritage for those who are willing to receive it and pass it on to the next generation.
My friend Miguel Da Luz has set up the Okinawa Karate Liason Bureau (www.okkb.org ) that not only helps with introduction to Okinawan karate senseis, it also provides FREE translation services by a team of multi-lingual volunteers. He has the support of about 60 Okinawa karate sensei’s who are open to allowing people to have training opportunities. This however is not a vehicle to gain people membership to a particular association, that is up to the integrity of the individuals. Miguel san and his office simply provide help to those who need it and people should use it. Too many people just show up to Okinawa and think that they are going to be taught because the spent money on a plane ticket. In life, there are levels of etiquette, no matter what country or background you are from.
The Okinawan people, especially the older generation, evaluate you based on the impression you give. Someone’s karate may not be strong but that can be developed through a good sensei however, he cannot change your character. When someone just shows up at a dojo, they are putting that sensei in an awkward position. They most likely are going to get turned away because they have not only not followed proper protocol/manners but they have also put that sensei in a position where they have to be unwelcoming. Visiting other dojos than your association also puts those sensei in positions because they may be either be friends with those teachers or there may be animosity between them. By showing up or visiting without proper introduction, people are being a burden to the lives of these karate masters.
This is why Miguel’s group is so important. He is so well known and respected by the Okinawan sensei and they trust that he will help people make the right connections, and once that is done, they can prove themselves.
Miguel is a rare individual. The greatest testament to someone’s character is what they do when no one is looking. Miguel has dedicated himself to not only karate but Okinawa itself since arriving here almost 20 years ago. His work with the magazine “The Okinawan” and the Okinawa Karate News, as well as serving as liason for many karate organizations, has been invaluable to all of us who visit the island regularly but also to all those that learn about Okinawa karate abroad. His efforts to proliferate Okinawa karate have led to the sacrifice of his personal karate training at the Higaonna Dojo but he is the personification of the saying “jin sei no tame ni” (live your life for others).
Back to the day........
Steve offered to share a cab to the Main Place in Naha to meet Miguel. We finally met up and after we said goodbye to Steve, Miguel and I found a restaurant and got to talk about his efforts with Okinawa Karate Liason Bureau and some of the events and happenings on Okinawa.
After lunch, he contacted Hokama Sensei for me and arranged for me to visit the museum/dojo again. Miguel kindly drew me a map of the Makishi and Asato dojos and I set off to take pictures.
Being the middle of the daytime, they were all closed but it was still a treat to see them and a test of one's nihongo as well as navigational abilities. The Higaonna dojo has a big sign on Himeyuri dori but it is a little difficult to find if you don’t know what you are looking for. I finally found it tucked in on a hill off the main road, took some pictures and then headed off down Kokusai dori to find the Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu Kodokan dojo. It too would have only been found if you were lost. Once you find it, it is easy but you could spend a whole day looking for it and still not see it in the quiet alley two streets back from Kokusai Dori.
I stopped by Shureido for another quick look and then took the bus back to Urasoe.
Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu Hombu Dojo
After returning to the hotel for a quick shower and email check, Sunagawa Sensei met me at my hotel and we took a taxi to pick up Tamaki Sensei on the way to Kentos in Naha. Kentos is always fun and everyone including the waiters and waitresses really get into the oldies. This is Tamaki Sensei's favorite place and the sounds of the 50's is always playing on his van's stereo.
After we were done, I suggested that we go to the new Dojo Bar near Sogenji and we were all excited to see it for the first time. It is a wonderful place and aside from all of the great karate and kobudo memorabilia and pictures, James san has wonderful food as well. He was very busy with a room full of patrons so I regret not being able to chat longer.
My group all had a great time talking about karate and enjoying the scenery. It is definately worth the cab fare from wherever you are staying in Okinawa. If you are there, try James-san's SUCHIKA(salted/peppered pork belly)- I would walk great distances to have that again.
Thursday April 5, 2012
I was able to train with Yogi Sensei today because I left my dojo with everyone else’s hanging in the changing room at the Hombu dojo. I relaxed a bit until Izumi Sensei came and we took off to have lunch together at the ANA hotel in Ginowan. We drove around afterwards, took pictures of the seibukan dojo and chatted like kids about the fun we were going to have this summer when they come to Williamsburg for the gasshuku. Izumi Sensei stopped by a fancy candy store and bought candy as a present for my daughters and some for his employees.
I had an appointment to meet with Hokama Tetsuhiro Sensei at this dojo and museum at 3:00. This was my second trip to see Hokama Sensei and I was looking forward to talking with him about karate and kobudo. Arriving at the museum, he walked out to greet me at the cab with his ever present smile. Before we sat down for tea, we loaded a bunch of wood planks for his deck refurbishment that he got for free from some construction workers next door. This is one of the most amazing gifts (he has many) that Hokama Sensei possesses. He is incredibly creative. He sees life in a lot of things people throw away or waste and this is present in his kigu undo area where his mind has found new uses for things others would discard. Ramen Styrofoam cups serves as molds for barbells, a gymnastic spring board flipped around serves as a kicking and punching, full size makiwara, old rubber car floor mats serves as cushion and slide resistance for the bottom of seats at the low table. Bicycle tires, socks, etc are all used to benefit the karateka.
We sat down in his kigu undo area and talked over tea for about an hour. It was a wonderful experience to hear his thoughts on Okinawa as well as karate.
I took my second tour of the hakabutsukan on the second floor and as I wanted to get another piece his calligraphy, he said that he wanted me to think of something special. I asked him what two things would he like our generation and the next, to always remember in karate. The two that he brushed were "Kyudo Mugen" the way is an endless journey and "Keizoku wa chikara nari" -Perseverance is strengthor for the karateka-powerful karate can only be achieved with continuous powerful practice.
Kyudo mugen-the search of the way is endless
Two karate travelers,who read about the museum on the internet, showed up with no appointment and no money to pay entrance into the museum. I paid for them to help Hokama Sensei and then while they were looking around, he began to give me a private lesson on pain in one of the corners. It was all I could do to not faint from pain or crash into his valuable artifacts and all he kept saying was “watch out for the picture” “watch out for the glass”.
He then said for us to go downstairs so that I wouldn’t break anything and he proceeded to give me a 15 minute exhibition in the most pain I have ever felt except for my hip replacement. Nerves in my fingers, arms, neck, EARS, toes, foot, thigh-you name it, he showed atemi that I had never seen before or felt. It was amazing and yet the pain was so overwhelming and confusing that I would not have been able to strike back at him if we were in a combative situation. His use of his namajume(fingernail) is extremely harsh on certain nerves in joints.(As of this editing of the diary a week later, my ear is still in constant pain)
I thanked him for the honor of receiving these techniques and as Hokama Sensei is always busy, took the visitors with me so that he could get on with his busy schedule.
I dropped them off in Urasoe and headed back to the hotel before the final keiko.
Gibu sensei met me at the door and as we were the only ones at the moment, we did our yobi undo and junbi undo together. The kids came in and each of them did half practice and half fooling around. This drives me crazy. In my dojo, if the kids acted this way, they would be pushing up the floor until they couldn’t move. Gibu Sensei is different. In his younger days, he would have been a lot harsher but he is now older and also a loving grandfather so I think he looks at discipline differently. However, this is common in most Okinawan dojo and kids are allowed to be kids to a certain point. There are some students that are serious but some that are completely nuts. The Okinawans let them be kids knowing that one day they will have to rachet up. The kids practiced kata and did kihon geiko before their practice came to a close and they could go do other things.
Gibu Sensei shared these pictures with me of a demonstration they performed before I arrived.
Aragaki Sensei (2009 Okinawa World Tournament Senior Women's Champion
Musashi Kun(one of the Hombu dojos kata and kumite top competitors
My sempai started to come in at various times from their busy schedules and we concentrated on eku, sai and kama. I found a pair of old shureido sai that had the edges of the monouchi worn down with the most perfect weight and balance. Next to Tamaki Sensei's handmade sai and friend Paul Kline Sensei's sai , they were the best I have ever used.
After training, Izumi Sensei and I had an appointment to meet Kuba Yoshio Sensei ,9th dan/ Goju Ryu in Koza at an izakaya however Tamaki Sensei wanted to make sure I ate.
Izumi Sensei and I left for Koza after a quick bite to eat at Macdonalds with my seniors and met Kuba Sensei on Gate 2 street in front of the izakaya next to his office/home/dojo. Izumi Sensei has tremendous respect and admiration for Kuba Sensei (as anyone that has the opportunity to train with him) and we spent two hours not only talking about karate but getting a very direct lesson in application. Izumi Sensei and I were very often were dragged across the table and bent in my different painful positions as Kuba Sensei passed on many of his ideas of karate. Kuba Sensei is incredibly open and thinks like so many should. Before there were “styles”, there was a collective practice of techniques. Some differed from others but they were all very closely related. Like brothers and sisters are different but from the same mother and father, so is Okinawan karate.
Kuba Sensei rotated not only through bunkai for Goju Ryu karate but also showed us where the same techniques existed in Shorin-Ryu karate. He has such an incredible knowledge of all Okinawan karate that he was able to shift in and out of our kata syllabus as well as Goju Ryu and showed us how to connect the dots. There are no secrets to this, you just have to keep an open mind where others have tunnel vision.
He did, however, echo the same point that Gibu Sensei told me this week regarding bunkai, tuite/torite and kyosho waza. If you cannot execute kata with correct technique and extraordinary power, than none of the techniques matter because you won’t be able to make them work. They both also believe that if you cannot do kumite (not point kumite- contact kumite) than one’s potential could be hindered in combatives. Kuba Sensei believes that anyone can do kata and yakusoku but by themselves, do not make people truly strong.
Kuba Sensei is a truly busy man as an acupuncturist and karateka so we ended our incredible meeting with him so that he could go to bed. He invited Izumi Sensei and I to come to his dojo for a private lesson in the morning and we talked the entire ride back to Urasoe about what we were going to ask him about tomorrow.
Friday April 6, 2012
Izumi Sensei showed up at my hotel around 10 and told me that we were going to run to Shureido again to pick up my dogi and some things he needed. I saw Nabil Noujaim Sensei, 8th dan Shorinkan and his students there and as always, he was very kind. Although I had not seen him since leaving the Shorinkan, I was reminded why Nakazato Sensei likes him so much.
Izumi Sensei had done a sneak attack and already paid for my dogi. I should know better by now and I only hope that someday I can repay all of the kindness that he always shows me.
We drove to Koza to Kuba Sensei’s dojo on Gate 2 street and found him in his “sky dojo” waiting for us. Our private lesson focused on Okinawa iri kumi/full contact kumite with an occasional torite footnote. Kuba Sensei is soon to be 65 years old but looks like he is in his early fifties and hits like he is in his prime. (He still IS in his prime!) His kumite could be described as kyokushinkai by blueprint with the harsh Okinawan “long term” effects of kyosho waza. Kuba Sensei’s techniques bridged a gap between knockdown karate rules and making sure each match didn’t last long. His karate focused on loopholes within full contact rules and causing serious injury under the radar so to speak. Izumi Sensei and I both were on the receiving end of very sudden and unexpected kicks to vital areas and learned so much in our lesson with Kuba Sensei.
Kuba Sensei had to return to work so we thanked him for the amazing training session and I told Izumi Sensei that I was going to treat him to the yaki niku lunch in Chatan. We completely stuffed ourselves and came back to the Koza dojo where I took a hirune(nap) while he went to check appointment schedules at his photo studio.
Izumi Sensei and students' constant work towards recycling and donating the money to Okinawa City's various needs
The kids began to show up at the dojo around 6:30 and after they finished their yobi undo/junbi undo, Izumi Sensei asked me to teach tonight’s class. I focused on blocking mechanics and then had them use these in sandan yakusoku. We finished with Naihanchi shodan and shimi within the kata. I then had a meeting with the parents of the high school students who are coming to Williamsburg this summer for the International Gasshuku. Shuun kun, Ikeda Kun, and Akimori Kun are all “heavy hitters” from Izumi Sensei ‘s dojo and are very accomplished champions in Kyokushinkai/knockdown kumite. I answered the parents’ concerns and we ended the meeting with everyone satisfied with the schedule.
Izumi Sensei and I met Kuba Sensei at our favorite izakaya, the Lemon Grass. Kuba Sensei was so gracious and continued our training from across the table(meaning we occasionally were dragged across it). After two hours of wonderful Okinawan food and a tremendous education in Okinawa karate, Izumi Sensei took Kuba Sensei home while I chatted with the Kyans.
Izumi Sensei's authentic coral ishi sashi
Saturday April 7, 2012
Tamaki Sensei and Sunagawa Sensei picked me up at my hotel at 7:30 a.m. so they could feed me one more time and so we could have a final discussion about this summer’s gasshuku, it’s schedule and the classes that were going to be taught.
After arriving at the airport and waiting through the usual, horribly organized check-in at ANA, Gibu Sensei found us and took us all to a kissaten to have some food and coffee. Izumi Sensei and Kiyuna san came a little later and we got to chat before I had to make my way to the terminal. Rio was always so helpful in translating the more specific things and when everyone was finished, they all escorted me to the security gate where we said our goodbyes. This was another incredible experience as each trip brings new experiences, new knowledge and new bruises.
On this trip, it seemed as if a new door had been opened. Although I only stayed six days, Gibu Sensei showed me so much and I witnessed(and felt) things for the first time ever. I tell my students that this happens every time that I go to Okinawa but this trip was very different. I feel incredibly lucky to have received these techniques and concepts but am most thankful for the time that I spent with my teacher and sempai.
Suggestions for visiting karateka
I am not claiming to be an authority on Okinawa nor Okinawa karate however I have had 11 trips to Okinawa and spent a lot of time with my teacher as well as my sempai immersed in their day to day lives. These conversations have taught me a great deal about the Okinawan people and their way of life but also their unspoken hopes for visitors.
If you are coming to Okinawa, please read the following and take to heart to these suggestions in order to have a good experience and open more doors than closing them. Some things are more obvious to others but it is amazing how many visitors seem to feel they are "ridiculous." . I apologize to most of you who already exemplify these things on your visits but I saw so many incidents on this trip, I have to at least "throw it out there."
1) Make sure to come to Okinawa with your money exchanged to yen. I have seen countless people assume that their currency will be accepted and burdened others with having to “loan them yen.” I saw that this trip as well. A good rule is to do it at Narita or Haneda airports so that you don't wait in line for an hour at the local Okinawan bank.
2) Do your research. I met two people that came all the way across the globe to look for a Shito Ryu school on Okinawa. When I told them that there were most likely none, they told me that Goju Ryu is so close to Shito, that they would then look for one of those schools.
3) NEVER show up at a dojo. You will most likely be turned away as it shows no manners but a complete ignorance to Okinawan cultural protocol. If you want training experiences, this is the last way to receive it. Make a connection through vehicles such as the Okinawa Karate Liason Bureau or people like Steve Lyons at Gateway to Okinawa to help with your arrangements as well as possible formal introductions to certain sensei.
4) Do not ask for training specifics. If you are granted entry to a dojo for training, accept this as a wonderful opportunity and enjoy whatever is pass on to you.
5) If you are having hotel issues, transportation issues or other, never burden the Okinawan sensei or their students with your problems. Hotel staff are usually overly helpful to assist you with the location of specific areas, sightseeing opportunities and will help you find the easiest travel between your hotel and places that you would like to see. The bus is your best friend if you are near highway 58 and can take you long distances for under $5.00 where a taxi would cost you $20.00.
6) Never ask an Okinawa karateka that you have met to introduce you to their Sensei. I don't have to say what incredible personal burden this would put on that person.
7) If you have been invited to visit a school, please have small gift for the teacher and perhaps their spouse as a token of respect and appreciation.
8) There are no small experiences on Okinawa. Every moment or meeting is something that will never be replaced or repeated.