Kazoku Kai trip to Okinawa January 2011

The 2011 Tour of Okinawa once again saw members of Kazoku Kai International travelling to the distant RyuKyu Islands to train with Isamu Arakaki Sensei, 10th Dan Shorin Ryu – President of the Rengukai circle of 10th Dan instructors. Members had gathered from England and Canada for this window of opportunity to sample this unique birth-right of Karate.

For the two week duration, each new day built on previous experience gained from Arakaki Sensei’s UK visit last year and focused on trying to perfect the traditional Okinawan versions of the five Pinan (or Heian) katas he had taught. The individual techniques, taken from these katas, provided a base for fine-tuning the kihon while additional training exercises assisted in the development of the mind and body.

The personal tuition and detail given for each individual technique was astounding. An intense level of attention was required from each Karate-ka to ensure correct performance – everything was analysed – every part of the body from the head down to the toes was utilised in a way which enhanced the overall technique, nothing was left to chance. The results obtained by observing these subtle details were phenomenal – speed, power, balance; in fact all the elements of karate were improved. The difficulty lay in learning to apply all of these tweaks to the techniques, there are so many to keep in mind.

It was quickly learned that often the body doesn’t immediately do what the mind knows it should; dedicated practice was required in order to make changes and apply these many subtle improvements. Although Shorin Ryu differs slightly to the styles found in Kazoku Kai, the feeling and principals can be integrated to each of these styles without causing too much confusion. Many questions were asked and notes were painstakingly taken so that the new information can be passed down in confidence to benefit those who did not attend the tour.

The Country itself and the dojo’s which we visited were exceptionally welcoming – we were really made to feel a part of the whole thing. Higa Minora Sensei, 10th Dan Kyudokan invited us to train in his private dojo and treated us as friends saying that we are “part of his Karate family”. His training differs slightly from Arakaki’s, tending to focus more on developing hard-hitting strength and power through long-term repetition rather than through critical technique. His dojo has produced a several-times World-Kata champion and his sessions are always popular and well-liked by all those who attend them.

Midway through our tour, a hired photographer came to Akakaki’s Dojo especially to capture our efforts on camera and video. For over an hour, our group performed various Kihon exercises and a few of the Kata alongside some of the Senior Okinawan students. This promotional footage is planned to be featured on Arakaki’s new Kodokan website in the near future – details of which will be posted for those who are interested in joining the Kodokan group.

Interspersed with the daily training were many nights out with Arakaki who made sure we were all well fed and watered. His generosity lent to expensive meals, beers, sake and teas, all paid for by the attentive host. We were even treated as VIP’s in a special, beautifully decorated side-room of his own luxury restaurant with a table literally filled with sea-food of all kinds which many said was the best meal they’d ever had. ‘Mochi’ (or Ninja –food as he called it) was also found to be a particularly tasty variant of rice and was so called because legend tells that Ninjas used to hide in the ceilings for up to two weeks by periodically chewing the rice to keep them healthy!

After the 12 training sessions was a short period of sight-seeing where we were granted special permission to be photographed in our Gi’s in front of the famous Shuri Castle. The main castle body can be seen in the background of the photographs which is a rare treat, as Karate-ka are not normally allowed to be photographed inside the castle wearing a Gi! Although we were not permitted to perform any Karate, we had several pictures taken in Shorin Ryu Kata poses which attracted a lot of attention from the locals who insisted on being photographed alongside of us to help record this special event.

Toward the end of the two weeks, we were again taken to Arakaki’s holiday home away from the city, where we walked along the tranquil beaches and laughed (a lot) and joked with his friends and local residents in the bar at night. We learned more of their friendly Okinawan culture, food and humour before returning to the beach-house that night to rest prior to our onward journey home.

The tour culminated in both Sensei Ridgway and Sensei Wilkins being awarded beautifully inscribed, hand-written certificates from Arakaki Sensei, as highly respected members and recognised instructors of Kobiyashi Shorin Ryu for Kodokan in England. Sensei Ridgway was graded to 7th Dan Kyoshi and Sensei Wilkins to 6th Dan Renshi. This rare and great honour indicates Arakaki Sensei’s mutual trust and respect for the continuing support and effort which we have shown over the years. With our knowledge and technical ability improving all the time, we hope to show Arakaki Sensei that we are deserving of the trust he has bestowed upon us.

This short stay has yet again given us many, many devices to develop and play with far into the future. It is hoped that those with a keen interest in Traditional Karate will eventually endeavour to practice Shorin Ryu as well as their own particular style. This is a unique opportunity, which extends only to Kazoku Kai members, to train in an ancient martial art which is rarely taught outside the island of Okinawa itself. Each member can play their part in helping to preserve this historic Martial art which gave birth to the modern versions of Karate which we study today.

Plans are in place for the International Tour of Okinawa 2012 which will be available to all Kazoku Kai members. It is hoped that many world-wide members, including Germany Canada and England, will take advantage of this rare opportunity to train with the Okinawan Masters in their home country. I personally urge every Karate-ka who can, to make the journey and experience this potentially life-changing event. Fate has awarded us the chance to train with this last generation of Living Cultural Heritage, the founders of Karate-do.

Report by Peter Tinsley

Travelling to Okinawa this time

Sensei Derek Ridgway 7th Dan England
Sensei Mike Scales 7th Dan Canada
Sensei Dave Wilkins 6th Dan England
Sensei Lauren Frearson 4th Dan England
Sensei Pete Tinsley 2nd Dan England