Report by Anthony Holt
We started our trip to Okinawa on a cold and snowy Friday 18th January from Birmingham airport. We just managed to take off in time before the heavy snow came and closed a lot of the airports around the UK.
After the long flight we landed in Naha where myself (Anthony Holt) sensei Derek Ridgway, Darron Hicky and Alan Price got picked up from the airport by James Pankiewicz (owner of the dojo bar and someone who can help get you in touch with the top sensei on Okinawa) and taken to the Station hotel in Naha and settled into our rooms before heading off to meet sensei Isamu Arakaki and organise our training at his dojo for the next 2 weeks.
We started our training on Sunday morning with Ryuta Arakaki. After we had done the warm up we worked on our stances and technical aspects of the basics. This was an intricate look at how the stance and overall posture makes the punches and blocks stronger and proves that technique is better than pure strength alone. Today was a lesson on quality rather than quantity. After training was over sensei Ryuta treated us to a lunch of soba (a meal of tasty noodles and pork).
Monday morning and we started training after sensei Arikaki’s daughter, Mika, had a photo shoot in the dojo for a Okinawan magazine on karate for which she would be on the cover and an interview inside. We trained a little more on what we had practiced yesterday and also on a pushing hands technique to try and soften our strength and stop us from using just brute force in way we train. After training today we all decided to go and see Shuri castle which was the former home of the Ryukyu kings since the 14th century. It was completely destroyed in WWII by the Americans as they tried to defeat the Japanese army. It is a very interesting place to visit to learn about the history of Okinawa. Since 1972 they have been restoring the castle to its former glory. As you can see from the picture the weather was a lot better than that back in the UK.
On Tuesday morning sensei Ridgway took us through training, as Ryuta had to go to Tokyo. After covering what we had been taught over the previous days we started work on our katas fyukyu kata ichi and ni and then to pinan nidan and shodan where we made sure that we got our footwork correct. After training today we headed for shureado to order our new gis so that they would be ready for us to collect the following week. Today was a double training day as we were to meet up with James and he would take us to Toshimitsu Arakaki 10th dan in Matsubayashi ryu.
We were taken through some of the drills of the system and also the katas and compared how our kata differed in their performance to those that they do.
Wednesday morning training was working on pinan sandan and yondan and again working on the performance and improving our hip movements so that we could make the uraken more effective in the kata. Another double training day today, as this afternoon we went to the budokan to train with sensie Masaji Taira who is 10th dan goju ryu and a master of bunkai. He showed how fluid yet strong his movements where for the application of his bunkai to various kata which he flowed from one to another and demonstrated on James (which the rest of us were grateful of him being there as the fall guy). It was impressive to see how sensei Taira used his footwork with speed and grace to easily subdue a much bigger attacker.
Thursday and Friday we concentrated on jite and nifanchi kata and put into practice the techniques that we had been practising through the week.
Saturday was our rest day and we had ordered a rental car for the day and decided to go up to the northern part of the island to visit the spectacular aquarium. The drive up there took about 2 hours but was well worth it. The aquarium is home to 3 whale sharks, giant manta rays, sting rays and many other fish. There is also a group of dolphins that perform a show.
Sunday is the start of our second week and today is devoted to both passai sho and passai dai. We start off by practising the kata a few times before we break it down into the intricacies of the movements and refine how it should be done. After training we decided to go to the former Japanese naval underground headquarters and then on to the peace park. This was a very thought provoking afternoon learning about the battle of Okinawa and what happened to the people of Okinawa as well as the service men of both Japan and America. Around 250,000 people were killed in this battle alone and over half of these were civilians. In the evening we went to the dojo bar where James had laid on a special meal of sushi and sashimi and a “delicacy” of fish innards. We were joined by sensei Taira and sensei Toshimitsu Arakaki.
Monday and Tuesday training sessions were to be used for taking apart kushanku sho and kushanku dai and improving our technical ability in these katas. This evening we went out with sensei Isamu Arakaki for a meal at a local favourite of his.
Wednesday was another double training day. We started of the morning with seisan kata and like previous days after performing the kata a few times we then broke it down to analyse it before practising again. This evening James took over to see sensei Kuba who took us through some of his drills and proved how with precise application of locks or pressure someone can be subdued.
Thursday morning, and time to recap on what we have done over the past 2 weeks. Going through all the basics and over all the kata that we have done. In the afternoon we once more head off to the budokan to meet up with sensei Taira. This time he explains some of the drills that he does to expose an opponents weakness and how to feel for the way they move and exploit that movement.
Friday is our last day before we leave in the early hours of Saturday morning. So this is our time to pack up all our things and say goodbye to all the great people that we have met and of cause the new friends we have made. We make time during the afternoon to go and visit the karate museum. This is a private museum incorporated in the dojo of sensei Hokama. Every inch of the place is taken up with photos, historical artefacts and memorabilia, a very interesting place to visit. We meet up in the evening with sensei Arakaki and his family for a farewell dinner. After this we head over to the dojo bar to say goodbye to James and have a final drink with sensei Taira.
And so now it is Saturday morning and we have to leave and drag ourselves to the airport to catch our plane home.
I would like to say a few words of thank you at this point. Firstly to sensei Ridgway for sorting out the trip and the training. Next a big thank you to sensei Isamu Arakaki and sensei Ryuta Arakaki for their instruction and use of the dojo. Next to sensei’s Taira, Kuba and Toshimitsu Arakaki for showing us their ways of training and insight into their bunkai. And now for the people of Okinawa that we met and who made us feel welcome and stopped to talk to us and help us with our Japanese. Last but not least thank you to James (the fixer) Pankiewicz who got us in touch with some of the sensei and took us to the various dojo’s, booked the budokan and was a great dummy for the sensei to throw about and generally beat up.