A lifetime ago I started training in Martial Arts at a point in time regarded by many as the hey day for Karate and Kung Fu. As children we were unburdened with technology and other distractions and as our parents worked very much left to our own devices. Mischief was always just around the corner. So with the growth of Bruce Lee movies; David Carradine’s TV series Kung Fu and not forgetting Monkey it was inevitable a whole generation was going to take up some form of Martial Arts. For me it was Shotokan Karate and the desire to be able to defend myself should the need arise. But I wasn’t just content in doing karate I wanted to know about its origins and theories to unravel as best I could the mysteries contained in the movements. So I took to reading everything I could get my hands on (we didn’t have Google- no sniggering at the back!). It was at this time in the magazine Fighting Arts International published by Sensei Terry O’ Neill, I was leaning about his trip to train at the Japan Karate Association (JKA) Head Quarters Dojo in Tokyo and the Splendor of the City. It was at this point I made my self a promise to get to Japan and train at the JKA.
Fast-forward forty years and I am sat in the departure lounge of Heathrow with my laptop updating the website with karate News and events waiting for my flight to Tokyo. But lets go back eight months to how this all came about. I have always taken a keen interest in other associations and the courses and competitions they run. A number of students and Instructors have joined me on these journeys to Manchester, Cardiff, Liverpool, Leige and Dublin. Whist searching Google I saw that Sensei Naka from the JKA was to be instructing on the JKA Ireland course at the University of Limerick. Now this was one Sensei I wanted to train with but had always been out of reach teaching all around the world. So looking at flights from Birmingham I could fly out and back in a day, hire a car and get a chance to train with Sensei Naka as it was an open course. So Sensei Dave and I took the opportunity to travel and train and I have to say it was brilliant. On the journey home driving through the beautiful Ireland countryside I remarked that it would be great to go to Japan and train with Sensei Naka. Well that started a chain of events that brings us back to date.
So not only did Sensei Dave and I book to go to Japan but my nephew Kevin and Sensei Jody also booked. It was very well organized as we all booked separate flights arriving at different times and different days but none of that mattered. We were in Tokyo. Staying at an AirB&B was the cheapest option a short walk from the Dojo and all the other amenities.
The short walk was nearer forty minutes and at 30 degrees of heat was a great way of warming up for the session ahead. On entering the building memories of the articles and photos in Fighting Arts International came flooding back and it was instantly recognisable. Our fees paid we removed our shoes before climbing the stairs to the changing rooms. Once ready we climbed the stairs again to the Great Dojo at the top of the building. Anyone who has seen the JKA videos on YouTube will have seen this Great Dojo with it’s polished wood floor and white walls well lit from windows on three walls. It didn’t disappoint.
What I loved about the training was the theme of the day ran through the basics, kumite and kata in that order. So on the first day it was all about grounding your technique and great importance was placed on hikite with exercises to improve the sharpness of your actions. As you would expect there were students attending from around the World and in our class was a group from Moscow, local Japanese and America. The instruction was informative and delivered with respect regardless of grade that provided a fantastic atmosphere in which to train. This was certainly the image of my dreams and fulfilled my promise all those years ago. Wait, what was that! You wanted more information about the training, techniques and secrets we brought back, well you will just have to train with us a bit more to find those out, won’t you!
The City is vast, bigger than anything else I’ve ever seen, flying in from the north of the country with its Mountain ranges giving way to ribbon valleys of agriculture whist timber framed houses cling to the slopes, Tokyo filled my vision for as far as I could see from 2000 feet up. On the ground it was even more impressive if that was possible. What struck me immediately was the cleanliness of everything, even cars and lorries. In fact in the whole eights days I didn’t see one dirty car at all! No bins and no litter! People took their waste home with them, what a great idea. Greenery was very important as every space available was given over to plants, and when that wasn’t possible pot plants neatly trimmed softened the stark concrete. On our walk to the Dojo we passed a building with the corner cut away to leave a pond with Koi Carp swimming happily and undisturbed. All this reminded me of Sensei Terry O’Neill’s article where he said Tokyo was one of the safest places he had visited and being able to walk home bare foot. Well those of you who know Sensei Jody will be aware of his lack of foot ware and whist the streets were clean enough at 40 degrees it was far too hot.
This was the trip of a lifetime but one I wish to repeat next year, so I’ve made myself another promise and now the hard work begins. The only question is Will YOU be joining us?