Monday, August 27, 2007

43rd Annual JKF Wadokai National Championships!

The annual 'Zenkoku Wadokai Taikai' (National Wadokai Championships) were held August 25 & 26. At the front is Shiramizu's Takamasa Arakawa Sensei leading the large group warm-up during the opening ceremonies for the finals on Sunday.

The eliminations were held at the Urayasu Park Gymnasium near Tokyo Disneyland, and then bascially the best 16 and up for each division were held at the impressive Nippon Budokan (see picture above), just north of the Emperor's palace.

Lawrence and myself beside the main banner at the door. Lawrence couldn't compete because he came to Japan after the registration deadline, and I had to coach practice at my high school (Seiritsu) on Saturday when the eliminations took place, therefore, we ended up just cheering everyone on.

Shiramizu did very well with 53 members competing. I don't know all the results yet, but many Shiramizu members placed in the medals. Mrs. Yoshiwara, one of the two part-time female instructors in the dojo along with Mrs. Yamazaki, won the women's over 40 kata division. Mrs. Yamazaki has won it twice before as well!

Since the divisions at the Nationals are only divided up by age and sex, normally a dojo sends their best members, but the quality does swing from beginners to regular JKF national team athletes. Due to the Asian Karatedo Championships being held on the same weekend in Malaysia, some national team members who belong to the Wadokai were not present.

Arakawa Sensei's youngest son Masatoshi won the elementary grade 1 kumite division in the most spirited fashion! I think he was on an icy sugar high having taken two huge bites out of my ice cream just prior to going onto victory! Although the Budokan is air-conditioned, it was 35 degrees outside, so gotta keep cool somehow! Below Ma-chan is landing a nice jodan punch!

In the men's kata division, 2005 Wadokai World Cup champion Takuya Furuhashi from Aichi prefecture won for the 6th time! Sometime later this week I will upload his several kata onto my account on YouTube.

The only foreigner competing was Maja from Germany, who's at the International Budo University doing her master's in budo. She made it to best 16 in women's kumite. Seems she needed to hit a little harder for the official's to award her points...

Maya, Lawrence and myself at the main entrance for the Budokan.

Arakawa Sensei and Koji Okumachi Sensei did a yakusoku kumite demo, with Arakawa Sensei attacking, the final few times with a short knife.

This was followed by a 5min performance by the Tokyo Rosy Cheerleaders, an elementary and junior high school student group just back from some competition in the US (cheerleading groups have become very popular in Japan). Lots of leaping and waving big Mickey Mouse glove hands, and surprisingly a big crowd pleaser, everyone clapping along. Japanese just love anything cute...

Meiji University Karate Club's Men's Kumite Team beat Guseikai Takagi Sensei's Dojo Kumite Team 3-1 in the first 4 matches of a best in 5 in the men's team kumite final, so Arakawa Sensei being the anchor for the Guseikai team never got to fight in the final match.

Several moms cheering from above the Shiramizu team cloth banner. Every club brings a banner to hang up at every karate tournament.

End of the day picture with Takagi Sensei. If you're not in the picture, you weren't there! (But I was, cause I was taking the picture!)

Everyone from Shiramizu who placed top 8 or better got a certificate of achievement listing their result, plus a medal for the best 4 and trophy for the division winners.

When I know all the Shiramizu results, I'll post them later.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Natsu Gashuku!

That's Japanese for "Summer Camp". It's also the name of the summer camp that the Shiramizu dojo put on from Aug 8-10. Not the most original name, I had first thought, until I found out that although gashuku directly translates to summer camp, the kanji also implies the meaning that everyone is working together, training together, and otherwise doing the event as one large family. These subtle multiple meanings are rather difficult to learn but I really grow to appreciate them. I was invited to go and although I had to leave half way through for work before the last day, it was a great chance to see another part of Japan and bond with the people of the dojo; "working together as a whole", as it were. About 80 students attended with another 10 support staff on hand.

Day 1 saw us spend the morning driving to Katsuura City in Chiba prefecture. The camp took place at the Nippon Budokan training facility in Katsuura, which has thus far been the most green, beautiful, and natural part of Japan I've seen. The facility is used for all sorts of budo and we shared the space with a kendo club, a judo club, and another karate club. The afternoon started off with a full 3 hr class in the huge gym at the facility and at night there was a big barbeque, a short lesson on the history of Wado-Ryu and the Shiramizu Dojo, a flag making contest, and a paper airplane flying challenge. All in all, a great way to build team spirit as nearly everything was focused on group involvement.

Day 2 started with a morning run up to a scenic outlook where we could see the ocean. After that, we went back to the dorm, grabbed our dogi's and some breakfast, and headed to the International Budo University which Arakawa Sensei had did his studies. We got the chance to train in their amazing dojo with what I can only assume was very traditional flooring. Unfortunately, sweating profusely makes your dogi wet and then lying on the floor to do sit ups means everyone's dogi eventually turns a slight shade of brown from the wood. How brown it turns depends on how wet your dogi is, so I just consider it a measure of hard work. And it washes out, much to my delight.

Day 2 was also to include more afternoon training but one look at the kids during lunch and you could tell they were pooped......... so we went to the beach!! Of course, the kids didn't look at all tired chasing the waves and building sand castles, but kids are kids and camps are supposed to be fun as well, so it was a great day. They even got to play with firecrackers at night!

Sadly, I missed the fireworks because I had to take a rather confusing 4 hour train ride home so I could work the next day. But hey, I made it without a problem (special thanks to Arakawa Sensei for finding the route for me) and even a day and a half of camp is better than none at all.

Tired? Who's tired? We're at the BEACH!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Paul's Good-bye is Lawrence's Hello!

Raising a toast is Lawrence in the brown shirt and Paul in the traditional Japanese jimbei!

On July 25, Shiramizu held the 'Farewell Paul! / Welcome Lawrence!' party. Paul was just finishing up as the second intern to have held the position, leaving 2 days later on July 27th to return to Canada. As per position policy, Lawrence arrived on July 14 to shadow Paul for 2 weeks to get accustomed to everything.

Paul and Lawrence were the evening's entertainment by having a natto (fermented soybeans) eating contest!

Shiramizu folks are the best at throwing family-friendly parties. Get a medal at a tournament? Then let's all go for dinner! New to Japan, well then, let's go to Tokyo Disneyland, then bowling, then dinner with 25 or more new friends!

This party was held at the 'Healthy House', kind of a complex of several buildings on about a 10min walk from the dojo. One building is for yoga, one is an inn, one is a new high-end kennel (more designer dogs then kids in Japan now, hence population decline) and another one is a sort of Japanese style lodge where the party was held.

Paul and myself holding a typical 'guts pose'! The fist-pump, victory pose is very popular in Japan, especially with contact sports like boxing and karate. Some karate tournaments even have an official rule that one is not allowed to do a gut's pose on the mat during a match because it is disrepectful to one's opponent in budo sports. But lot's of people do anyway.

Paul with with full-time Shiramizu assistant instructor, Hachizuka Sensei. Nice hat...

Rie and Lawrence.

Arakawa Sensei's youngest son Masatoshi and Lawrence make monkey faces.

Macho men.

Paul's main style is Shotokan, but really the most important thing about being an intern is having a cheerful character, which his really won us over with when he applied. So while he was in Japan, he trained at the local SKIF branch near Shiramizu as well, called Zenshinkan. The Zenshinkan chief instructor, Masuda Sensei, returned with Paul to Kelowna, BC where Paul is from for a 2 week visit.

Masuda, Paul, Masatoshi, Yusuke (Arakawa Sensei's eldest son who broke his arm falling during a running drill at a training camp afew weeks previously), and myself.

Arakawa Sensei brought everyone to Narita International Airport, the main airport for international flights for Tokyo.

Not the plane Paul and Masuda Sensei flew on! They got bumped to JAL, but I only got an Air Canada shot.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Mini-Dogi's, Maximum-Fun...

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go with Arakawa Sensei to one of his many kindergarten karate classes. This particular one at Shirayuri [White Lily] Kindergarten (conveniently located in between my house and the Shiramizu Dojo) had about 30 five year olds in a vary spacious, well built gym. Apparently the owner is a very wealthy businessman who owns a large number of kindergartens, hospitals, and other buildings so it's understandable that it was very well built.

Aside from the great facility, the class was a blast! All these little kids with their small dogis practicing diligently were so cute, it was hard for me to not grin from ear to ear for the whole class. But beyond that, I noticed they were rather well trained. I paid particular attention to what parts of the movements and stances that Arakawa Sensei placed emphasis on as, I presume, those are the core principles which help the students improve. We spent most of the class doing junzuki and jodan uke, and junzuki dachi was always broken down into 4 main points to help the kids check their position. The 4 points were the striking fist (straight out, aimed at the solar plexus), the resting fist (on the same line as the punching fist and pulled far back), front knee (bent, positioned over the ankle), and the back leg (straight).

More than that, it was very educational to observe how the class was set up to promote a sense of discipline and how small, unspoken challenges and rewards could encourage other kids to improve.

As an example, the class started with all the kids sitting in the back of the gym and as Arakawa Sensei did the roll call, each kid would run up and line up. Of course, they had a little help from the other sempais there (Yoshiwara Sensei, Yamazaki Sensei, and her daughter were there to help), but all in all it went very smoothly and accomplished the task of taking attendance and teaching them the proper way to line up in one go. Sitting in seiza was also broken down into 4 steps: 1. left knee down, ball of foot on floor, toes bent 2. right knee down, same foot position 3. straighten the toes, bridge of foot on floor 4. bottoms down.

Or, during class, Arakawa Sensei would often ask one student who was doing a particular movement well to come and demonstrate at the front of the class. Afterwards, he would give them a little boost on their way as a reward. This little jump in the air quickly became quite sought after and you could tell everyone wanted to do well in order to have a chance at being boosted.

These little things are bits of teaching that I rarely get a chance to see when I train with teenagers and adults. And yet, they really interest me in that my club in Vancouver has more kids than adults, so all these ideas and methods I've never seen before really help me to develop and refine my own ideas and methods on how to approach teaching. I'm hoping I find time and get chances to observe more children's classes because I still have a lot to learn.

In the picture above, the building in the back, on the left is also part of the kindergarten, so it is actually a large group of buildings.

The Internship Explained...

Each year, a new Canadian becomes the Shiramizu intern for 12 months to teach English to the dojo students while becoming absorbed into the world of karate! As well, the intern gets to experience all the ancient to super modern aspects of today's Japan.

The Shiramizu Karate Club is run by Takamasa Arakawa (no relation to Toru Arakawa). Shiramizu teaches the Japan Karate Federation (JKF) Wadokai association's vision of the Wado-Ryu style. The JKF Wadokai is one of the largest karate associations, with thousands of branch clubs in Japan, and several hundred around the globe. It is considered part of the main four JKF associations along with the JKF Gojukai, JKF Shitokai and the JKA.

The intern application process takes place annually with applications being sent to the Shiramizu Agent (me) to be reviewed with Arakawa Sensei. The new intern is chosen about 6 months prior to arrival to allow them to prepare for their trip, save money, etc.

Why Canadians only? Shiramizu has a strong connection with the official Canadian Wadokai group (Canadian Zenkuren Wado Karate Association), however in future Wadokai members from other countries may be invited to apply.

A typical group of karate kids having fun in front of the camera in a Shiramizu English class.

To date, there have been 3 interns. Mark (Aug 2005-2006), Paul (July 2006-2007) and now Lawrence (July 2007-2008).

The simple background on the internship starts in 2001 when I met Arakawa Sensei in Canada when he came to visit for seminars with Hideho Takagi Sensei of the Guseikai club fame. (Actually he remembers meeting me in Tokyo in '93 or '94, but I was so new to Japan then I don't recall). I again saw him that summer in 2001 in Japan during the Kenzen Vancouver club's 3 week trip. I was very impressed with his abilities, his positive nature and his keen desire to promote karate in a responsible manner.

In 2004 when I got married in Japan, I finally visited his dojo and was again very impressed, especially by how he ran a professional club. The enthusiasm of all the members young and old, plus the efficient way the club operated, inspired me to study on a daily basis how Arakawa Sensei puts the whole karate club package togethed.

By the end of the year I gave my Vancouver dojo over to my students and we moved to Japan where I started going to the Shiramizu dojo almost everyday, in addition to several others. From April 2005 I began teaching English classes for the kids after my regular coaching work in Tokyo, and we arranged to have Mark from my Vancouver dojo come to Japan in August to take over most of the classes for me. And that's how the internship took off.

Mark at his August 2006 Wadokai dan test in Chiba prefecture.

Mark at the North Tokyo 39th Annual Karate Championships.

2005 Wadokai World Cup Canada team and supporters, with Head Coach Reza in the middle. Norma took the picture I think, which is why she's not in it.

Paul, Mark and myself with the high school/adults English class in August 2006.

Mark with myself, Arakawa Sensei and Kikuchi Sensei as he leaves Japan at the end of his internship on August 14, 2006.

Paul sweeping an opponent off their feet at the 40th Annual North Tokyo Karate Championships, November 3, 2006.

Paul and myself, relaxing after a good day sometime in the spring of this year.

The current intern Lawrence and myself will try to post things of interest as time rolls along. If someone wants to know more about something related to Shiramizu or karate in Japan, feel free to ask. We'll try to reply to your inquiry or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.