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Day 1 – We’ve made it to the Sohonbu

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 3 years since my last visit to Japan. But it’s still like going home. This year I’m accompanying Bailey Keefe who was awarded Japan training scholarship by our local Sunshine Coast association committee and his Mum Nikki. For the 2 years prior the scholarships were awarded to Jodie Marriott & Sensei Helen O’Grady, so Sensei Sandra had the pleasure of accompanying them. But this year it’s my turn. Also joining us on the trip is Luc Jones and his Dad Rod. Rod’s decided not to train this time, so it will be just me and the 2 boys who get to enjoy the training.

Both Luc & Bailey have had the opportunity to train with Soke Sensei when he’s visited Australia, but I still don’t think they really know exactly what they’re in for. Especially morning classes with Soke Sensei. Morning training at the Sohonbu is normally reserved for when there are overseas students visiting, so classes are normally very small and highly targeted towards the needs of the individuals. The training routine doesn’t vary a lot, but it’s amazing how much personalised the training really is.

Over the last few years, morning classes have consisted of overseas visitors and Todd Tournat Sensei. I first met Todd Sensei when in 1997 when I spent nearly a year living and training at the Sohonbu. At that time he was he had come to Japan as an English teacher and was posted in Kagoshima. Kagoshima is a few hours south of Kumamoto, where the Sohonbu is located, so on weekends (and any other chance he’d get) he would catch a train to Kumamoto and train for the weekend. Even back then his commitment to training was amazing and he was really fast. Now, he’s even faster.

Not long after that Todd Sensei moved to Kumamoto and has been living there ever since. While he likes to stay behind the scenes, he plays a very important role at the Sohonbu helping with translation and communication to the English speaking parts of the Chito-Ryu world.

Anyway, back to our adventure… Luc & Rod, left a day before us and spent some time looking around Tokyo & Fukuoka. We left of Sunday about lunch time out for Brisbane. It’s always a bit difficult to leave family behind, so we kept the good-byes short. Sami & Steven helped lighten the mood in a way only they can do. They make me laugh. The flight to Singapore was pretty uneventful. Then a 3 hour stop and then on the plane to Tokyo.

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This was the first time I’d ever flown into Tokyo, so it threw my normal routine out a bit. After landing at the international terminal we cleared immigration, collected bags and passed through collected bags. Then check in again for a domestic flight to Fukuoka, all with a quite quick turn around time. Thankfully we had good connections, so it’s all pretty good so far. Then we landed in Fukuoka. Getting a little excited about being almost there, we saw Rod & Luc, then proceeded through the door to say hello. Then it hit us, we didn’t have our bags. This was an opportunity to practice my Japanese and find a way back into the secure area to collect our bags. Not a major drama, but still pretty funny at the time.

fukuoka

Bags collected, then off to buy some bus tickets or so we thought. Upon getting to the ticket sales booth we were told there had been an accident on the highway causing major delays, so plans changed again. A quick trip on the chikatetsu (subway train) to central station, then a ride on the shinkansen (bullet train). This was a first for me, I’d always caught the bus from Fukuoka airport to Kumamoto. Normally on the bus it takes 90+ minutes, but on the shinkansen it was 37 minutes and that was with 2 stops along the way. I have to say the shinkansen is quite comfortable, lots of leg room, power points built in and USB charging on all seats. But it’s a bit more expensive than the highway bus.

waiting for shinkansen

Once we made it onto the train I thought that was my chance to sit back and start writing this blog post. The only problem was the trip was so short I only really just got started writing and we were arriving at Kumamoto station. A chance to sit down for lunch (ramen) then a taxi to the Sohonbu.

Upon arrival at the Sohonbu, out pops Minowa Sensei from the office, followed by Soke Sensei from the tatami room downstairs then Tamaki Sensei and Nakayama Sensei who’s visiting from Tokyo. After a quick welcome we’re taken upstairs and shown our rooms. I have to say the newly renovated upstairs area looks great.

A quick walk to the shops to stock up on food supplies then rest before training.

Entering into the dojo brings back so many old memories for me. I just love how the whole place has got so much history. Back on the Sunshine Coast I have 2 homes, my family home and the dojo. This is just like that, but the connection goes back a lot longer than either of my current Australian homes. The first session with Soke Sensei is always a bit kind of scary. He has this kind of presence about him that makes him both welcoming and intimidating at the same time.

Over the years I’ve become more comfortable just being myself around Soke Sensei, but having students with me brings a whole different kind of pressure. Are they going to be good ambassadors? Are they training hard and doing their best? Are they showing good manners and respect? All of their actions come back to reflect on me as their teacher. I have faith that they’ll do their best, otherwise I wouldn’t have allowed them to come with me. But still these thoughts sit in the back of my mind.

Once training starts the familiarity of my surrounding come flooding back in. The feel of the wooden floor under my legs as I sit in seiza, the smell of the humid air and the wood panelling, the burning mosquito coils. Not long after training begins, I get that reminder that we all need to stay humble and just enjoy my training. Soke Sensei just seems to have this way of pressing the right buttons and finding the things that you need to do more work on. Never in a condescending way, always just enough to keep you curious and wanting to look for more.

I wouldn’t say it was anywhere near one of the hardest sessions, but it was by no means an easy session either. A good first session, a great way to blow out the cobwebs after the trip here.

Training done, souji (cleaning) finished and I walk out into the foyer and Soke Sensei hands me a small pile of old photos. Talk about a blast from the past, this old pile of photos were of me, mostly from 1997/98 when I was living at the sohonbu. This is what Soke Sensei, Nakayama Sensei and Tamaki Sensei have been doing all day; sorting through over 60 years of old photos. The tatami room is just full of boxes of photos, and they still have a few days to go. Nakayama Sensei is a bit of a karate academic, a history buff. And is sounds like he’s been charged with the duty of making sense of the photographic history that’s being sorted. What a cool job that would be!

old photos

Showers, a quick snack and set Bailey to task to do a video tour of the newly renovated upstairs area where we’re staying. While I’m finishing off this blog post, he’s working now to do a commentary of a short video that I’ve put together from his walk through and a few bits from training in the dojo. Looks like we’ve run into a few small technical issues with the video, so I’ll get this first post out and follow up with Bailey’s video in another post.