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Japan Day 3 & 4 (Wednesday/Thursday) – Big Training Days & Catching Up

Early start on Wednesday, this was our first scheduled morning training session with Soke Sensei.  Into the dojo early, windows and doors opened up to let in a bit of air.  Airflow is a really good thing when you do morning classes with Soke Sensei.  But also being mindful to stay quiet, because the dojo is located in the middle of a residential area, so we need to keep the noise down before 7am.

The session started with 30 minutes seiza.  Some Westerners find it excruciatingly painful doing seiza on a wooden floor, especially on the sohonbu floor, because the floorboards expand with the humidity and become a bit corrugated. But over the years, having watched Soke Sensei and from my own experiences, I’ve learned that it’s really important to take your time to get comfortable at the start, make sure your gi pants are not bunched up under your legs and when you’re set, DON’T MOVE!  Even if your feet are going numb, or if you can’t even feel your legs, whatever you do DON’T MOVE!

Now, most of the time, I find the time passes really quickly, and it doesn’t really bother me to sit in seiza for extended periods of time.  By maintaining good posture and focussing on breathing the world starts to melt away and your mind becomes still.  Sometimes the stillness comes quickly, sometimes my mind won’t stop.  But now, rather than trying to hide from the pain I look forward to the opportunity of doing an extended seiza and mokuso (meditation).

I remember once, Soke Sensei told me the goal of mokuso is to completely clear you mind.  He said (and I’m rephrasing a little), “Your thoughts are like waves in the ocean.  When you first start meditation the waves are big, but as you start to focus on your breathing the waves gradually become smaller and smaller.  Eventually they become ripples and finally the surface of the water is like glass.  This is mushin (no mind), this the ultimate mental state we must aim for when meditating.”

Just before the end of mokuso, I heard the sound of someone entering the dojo.  After we bowed in and stood up, I turned around to see Todd Sensei sitting by the door.  I was really hoping that we’d have the opportunity to train with him.  It’s always good to train next to him as he always pushes the pace and lifts the intensity of everyone around him.  Today was no different.

Time seemed to pass really quickly with the class.  Kihons, all kihon dosa, kihon kata and kata up to sanchin.  Then a little time left for some kaishu training before we finished up and did souji.  I had a little bit of a chance to catch up with Todd Sensei after class, but he couldn’t stay for long as he had to get to work.

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As we were finishing up souji, Tanaka Sensei saw us cleaning the front steps of the dojo and came across to say hello.  When I was living in Japan, Tanaka Sensei was secretary of the Japan Chito-Kai, worked in the office of the sohonbu and also taught the kids classes at the sohonbu.  Even before then, I had began to get to know him during his teaching visits to Australia.  Back when I was much younger, Soke Sensei would visit Australia as guest instructor one year and Tanaka Sensei would visit on alternate years.

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When I was living in Japan Tanaka Sensei moved into the apartment across the road and a few years later he and his wife bought the house next door to the apartments, virtually across the road from the Sohonbu.  Back in 1997/98, we’d finish morning training, do souji and then he’d join me in my small room downstairs to watch kids cartoon.  That year there were are a few other Westerners training at the sohonbu at various times and it became a bit of a ritual for everyone to join us.

Anyway… back to the present…

Upstairs for breakfast and short rest before heading back downstairs for some training with Higuchi Sensei to do some more bo for about an hour or so.  Starting with the basics, of course… Followed by learning the sequence of the first part of “Shushi no sho”.  Like most master instructors in Chito-Ryu that I’ve had the opportunity to train with, Higuchi Sensei is very encouraging and giving.  He’s also very skilled takes a very pragmatic approach, explaining why things should be done in a certain way, not just how to do it.

While I was getting a private lesson with Higuchi Sensei the rest of the Aussie crew decided to venture into town and explore the Kumamoto Castle.

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Training finished, a quick shower, some washing and a short sit down.  By the time I sat down for a little while, Marc Waterfield Sensei dropped in after an early finish teaching at Buntoku High School.

Marc Sensei and I have crossed paths quite a lot over the years at various Soke Cups since Toronto, Canada in 1998.  But I really started to get to know him when we both placed in kata at the 2004 Soke Cup in Newcastle, Australia.

Marc Sensei grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and has been living in Japan since 2001.  For the last 8 years he has been assistant coach of the High School Karate Team at Buntoku where he teaches English.  Since 2004, we’ve formed a good friendship as we continued to meet at Soke Cups, and my trips to Japan for training.  It’s always good to catch up.  Although we both lead very different lives we always seem to learn quite a bit from each other.

We went out for a quick lunch and then came back to the sohonbu and he had the opportunity to meet the rest of the Aussie group.  After sharing old stories, we finally sorted out plans for our visit to Buntoku the next day.

By the time all of that was done it was time for a short rest, grab a bite to eat again then hit to dojo for more training with Soke Sensei.  Similar to the morning class, it was us, plus Todd Sensei, plus another local brown belt.

It didn’t take long to get to sleep on Wednesday night….

Thursday morning, no scheduled training, so we get up anyway and do our own session.  I wanted to take a bit of a chance to do some neiseishi kata and bunkai with Luc this morning because I know he’s not very confident with it yet and he’s bound to be doing some of that before the trip is done.

As we were getting ready to finish up training Tanaka Sensei came in to do a little training.  Luc and Bailey were working their way through niseishi bunkai.  I wanted to step back and let Bailey take the lead showing Luc how it’s done, so I was kind of doing my own thing.  Tanaka Sensei took a keen interest in the niseishi bunkai and he ended up joining as my partner as we went through it side by side with Luc & Bailey.  What a great way to finish up morning training.  We ended up doing about an extra half an hour of training than we intended, but you can’t pass up those kind of opportunities.

As we finished up niseishi bunkai and the boys went upstairs, Tanaka Sensei and I continued on and did a little bo, shushi no sho, that I had been learning from Higuchi Sensei.  He too is only just learning it, so I didn’t feel too left behind.  In fact it was quite good that I had filmed Higuchi Sensei the day before, because we both needed that visual reference point as we’re still learning the sequence.  He’s done a little more than me, but we’re still both just beginners.

Upstairs…. about to get some breakfast, in then I get a call from Minoawa Sensei downstair, “Phillips Sensei”….. “Hai” I answer, then head downstairs to see Suzuki Sensei.  Another old friend.  So much for breakfast..

I met Suzuki Sensei in 1997/98.  At that time he was working on the railways, I think doing construction or repair work.  He would come into the dojo during his lunch break to train and if I was around I would join him.  Often doing bo or tonfa training together.  After briefly catching up he told me that he had come to do some training in preparation for his 6th Dan grading which is scheduled for the day we are due to leave.

He asked me to join him with training, upstairs to get changed again.  We trained together for about an hour and a half, kihons, kata, some bo together and he finished up with a cool down routine that he had learned when he trained with O Sensei.

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After Suzuki Sensei left, I went upstairs and seeing as how it was lunch time already, decided to head out to lunch with the rest of the Aussie group for sushi.  Can’t go for a trip to Japan without a visit to the local sushi restaurant.  I love going out for sushi in Japan, all plates of sushi 105 Yen.  In Australia, it seems to cost about 4-5 times as much.

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The layout of the restaurant is really cool, there are 2 tracks.  On one train track, the pre-made sushi goes around and around until someone takes the plate.  But in addition to this each table has an ipad mounted next to the express track, from there you can flick through the menu (there’s pictures, so that helps) order whatever you want and a minute or so later out it comes on a special train stopping at your table.  Talk about service!

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Walk back to the sohonbu, then just a short wait before Marc Sensei arrives to pick us up for a visit to Buntoku for training with his High School Karate Team.  By Japanese standards Marc Sensei has a big car, but still not enough room for all of us, so Nikki elects to stay behind, because she’s not feeling 100% anyway.

It’s about a 10 minute drive to school and we arrive a little early, so we have time to do a short tour of the facility.  This is my 4th or 5th visit to Buntoku, but a lot has changed since my last visit.  A few years ago a brand new gymnasium was built to give all the sports clubs in the school a home worthy of the work that they all put in.  It’s an amazing facility, housing the basketball, volley ball, badminton, karate & kendo clubs (plus probably a few more that I’ve missed).  We watched a little bit of the kendo club warming up and also took a trip down the hill to the sumo dojo and watched for a while.  That was really cool.

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The karate club is not a Chito-Ryu dojo, although a more than half of the current team started their karate journey in various Chito-Ryu dojos from around Kumamoto.  Primarily the training is focussed on sports karate.  Many of the club members are on scholarship, so it’s kind of a semi-professional approach to training.  They compete in WKF style competition, which is very different to the kind of training than either Bailey or  Luc have done before.  Having competed in the WKF at world championship level a few times it’s not completely foreign to me, but that was 20 years ago now…

When we got to the dojo, the team was already into their training under the guidance of the team captain and vice-captain.  Once we got changed and did the introductions, we jumped in.  Marc Sensei invited me to teach a little, doing some flexility work and then into various kicking drills.  I only taught for a while because the team is currently preparing for a big tournament coming up in just over a week.  So after my section, the focus was quickly returned to the preparations for the tournament.

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Bailey and Luc jumped in and did the remainder of the session.  It was interesting to see their facial expressions at times because they had no idea what we being said a lot of the time as most of the instructions were just in Japanese.  But the Buntoku students did a great job at trying to make them feel part of the group and looking after them.

When they got the free sparring part, Marc Sensei pulled them aside and did a little bit with each of the boys, rather than throwing them in the deep end with older kids with much more competition experience in a different system.

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After about 3 hours, training finished at Buntoku and straight back to the sohonbu with Marc Sensei to join the class with Minowa Sensei.  He’d received the hard word from his wife to get home, but he stayed anyway to train.  We did some kihon all together with Minowa Sensei and then Marc Sensei was asked to lead the seniors with some kata.  We joined that group as he lead the way.

As Adam Sensei had pre-warned us, with his trip to the sohonbu just a few weeks before us, we got to meet one of the newest students in this class.  This student has only been training a couple of months and at over 80 years old she’s off to a great start.  It’s wonderful to see students of all ages enjoying the benefits of karate training.  At this point it made think of Debbie Woodhouse back on the Sunshine Coast.

For those who don’t know Debbie, she started training after watching here then teenage children pass through the ranks in our dojo.  She’s been training for just over 10 years now and is one of our older students.  Although at times she probably does feel a few aches and pains, she works hard in the dojo.  Personally  I think she looks younger now than when she started, especially in the way she can use her body.  Currently she’s preparing for her shodan grading along with Klaudia, one of our older teenagers; their grading is scheduled for the weekend after my return to the Sunshine Coast.  I hope they’re training hard… I’m sure they are.

The class was scheduled to finish at 9:00pm.  It ended up going through until about 9:15pm and even then many of the participants continued on for longer with their own self paced training.  But it had been a big day so the boys and I decided to call it a night.

It didn’t take long to fall asleep.  And we needed it.  Training with Soke Sensei again in the morning.