Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January Wadokai Camp

This past January 19th and 20th was the third Wadokai Camp, the second being back in September, which I also attended. This time around, however, the camp was split into a kid's and adult's camp, the kid's camp occurring a week earlier.

The camp took place at the Tokyo Nogyo Daigaku (Tokyo Agricultural University) in the south eastern part of Tokyo. It was a 15 minute walk from the nearest train station (Kyodo Station) through rows of quaint houses. Then, almost out of nowhere, the university appears and, though I had to ask a few people along the way, I made it to the dojo just before the 10am start of the camp.

The dojo in a rare moment of quiet.

There were about 30 or so people attending the camp, mainly from different university karate teams. The vast majority were also signed up for the kumite part of the camp, taking place on the matted area as seen in the picture above. Including myself, 6 people were in the kata section.

The camp started a bit after 10am with introductions and some opening comments. I couldn't follow much of it, but they did talk about Vancouver and the World Wadokai Championships to take place there. I can only imagine that it was about being prepared for it.

Afterwards, we went through various kihon exercises led by Toshiaki Maeda Sensei. It ran the gamut of ido kihon, tsuki and uke combinations, kumite drills, and kicks..... lots of kicks. After an hour, we broke off into the kata or kumite portion that we signed up for. In the kata section, we did a bit more ido kihon with Tadashi Miyauchi Sensei as well as going through some basics about relaxing after executing a technique and fixing our naihanchi and seishan stances. As it turned out, all but two people in the group were also at in the kata group at the camp in September, so it was nice to see some familiar faces.

Twelve o'clock was lunch, were most people gravitated to the small squares of sunlight to try and stay warm. The coldness of the dojo meant it was a bit of a struggle to stay warm and limber. Sensing this, we did a second warm up after lunch which was mostly kumite drills.

Around 2pm, we went back to our groups and Koji Okamachi Sensei joined us and, for the next hour, we went through all the intricacies of Niseishi and much discussion ensued about things like hand positions and applications. Towards the end, we finished off with more kihon focused on generating power and then relaxing the body. We particularly spent quite a bit of time in naihanchi dachi, firing a chudan tsuki then letting it drop, like dead weight, to the side of our body.

The camp, though scheduled to end at 5, actually ended at around 4pm. I didn't attend the second day as it was focused entirely on kumite and doubled as a referee's exam. But one day was a lot as well, and it was a great chance to spend lots of time fleshing out the details of a kata and building a sense of how power and relaxation play off each other. It helped too that I quite like niseishi.

I was told the next camp will be held mid-March in Nagoya and will have lots of members of the Japanese Wadokai National Team there, no doubt training for August. I'm not sure if I'm able to go but it will definitely be interesting.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Antonio Oliva Seba Seminar Nov 9th in Tokyo!!!

Through an introduction from the British Columbia Team Coach Kraig Devlin in Canada, I have been in contact with Oliva Sensei and he has agreed to teach a one-day seminar here in Tokyo on Nov 9th when he comes to Japan for the WKF World Championships (Nov 16-19)!

Arakawa Sensei and I still have to work out all the details - probably we will coordinate with a university club in Tokyo that has a very large dojo space - and we plan to ask the local karate magazines if they would like to interview Oliva Sensei before & after he arrives.

I've heard only amazing things about Oliva Sensei's seminars - his effective system of approach to winning kumite matches - that I'm really looking forward to hosting him for what I believe is his first ever seminar in Japan! Any high level competitor I have ever met who has studied from Oliva Sensei raves about him as being the ultimate master coach. Just the simple fact he has attended every single WUKO then WKF World Championships since the first one in 1970, starting out as a competitor and then later as a coach, is pretty amazing by itself!

Below is his CV. As soon as details start to be confirmed I will post them here.

ANTONIO OLIVA SEBA, 8th. Dan WKF - International Coach

Antonio Oliva is one of the pioneers of European Martial Arts and a world leader in the study and teaching of Tactics. Mr. Oliva is a Founding Member of the CICAC (Centre for Scientific Research on Martial Arts and Combat Sports). He is the author of: “Formalisation of Sports Karate”, 1982; “Martial Arts Practical Encyclopedia”, 1985 and “Supreme Combat”, 2002.

He was born on 16 February 1948 in Lloret de Mar, Gerona-Spain. He won the first five Spanish National Karate Championships (1970-1975) and was runner up in the lightweight division of the European Championships held in Cristal Palace, London, in May 1974. His technical and coaching talents took the Spanish National Team from complete anonymity to astonish the Karate world by winning the team event and also 10 individual medals at the World Championships in 1980.

Today, his Sports Karate Coaching System is respected and followed the world over. He has been teaching a total of 57 different countries: 27 in Europe, 8 in Asia, 8 in Africa, 11 in America and 3 in Oceania. In the last two Karate World Championships held in Tampere (Finland) and Istambul (Turkey) most of the medalist countries have competed using his technical and tactical approaches.

Actually his major concern is the "Formation of Formators". Transfering a deep Formation to Karate Instructors we contribute to pass to the new generation a better Karate, Education and World. Antonio Oliva is a deep believer; for him Karate-Do is a Way of Life and Life is a Way of Love.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Kagami Biraki or... Opening the Mirror

The demonstrators. From L to R- kendo, judo, sumo, juukendo, karate, and the samurai demonstrators.

Translated literally, it means the "unveiling of a round-shaped mirror". But it's also the name of a traditional New Year's ceremony. It starts before the New Year with the making of a two layer mochi (glutinous rice) cake offering to the gods. After the New Year (between the 11th and 20th of January), the mochi is shared with their family and clan members, and the event that contains spiritual meanings as well as a simpler communal bonding symbolism.


I learned all this through the pamphlet handed out at the Nippon Budokan this past January 14th. The Nippon Budokan has, for the past 40 years, held a "kagami biraki" at the start of the year and this year they invited 9 different martial arts to provide a demonstration and then one hour practice session where all these martial arts practiced at the same time. I went with Shiramizu which was itself one of three dojos attending on behalf of Takagi Sensei and his Guseikai karate group to represent all of Japanese karate (!) during the practice session.

(ed. This is the 4th year Takagi Sensei has been asked by the umbrella JKF body to repesent all of Japanese karate, and Shiramizu had attended each year with our interns. Previously the honor was rotated annually between the style groups. I am not sure why it has stayed with Takagi Sensei recently, but two reasons could be because it is he who runs the regular karate classes at the Nippon Budokan's training hall and he is also a member of the umbrella JKF technical committee.)

Starting at around 12pm, the ceremony started with the ritual where the shogun (samurai general) is fed a few items of food. Then the mochi and a barrel of sake is rolled out and he uses a large hammer and hits the mochi, breaking it into pieces (see above) which would usually be shared with the clan and family. Others (perhaps his second in command), breaks the round wood cover on top of the sake barrel.

(photo courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog)

(photo courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog. Arakawa Sensei leading the karate practice.)

Following this were demonstrations by the various martial arts seen in the first picture. However, we all got changed and went outside to run through our practice routine which was some standing kihon, all the ido kihon, some simple yakusoku kumite, then all five pinan katas as well as seishan and chinto (time permitting). By the time we returned, the sumo demonstrators were taking their turn.

(ed. there are ten main Japanese martial arts represented at kagami biraki - karate, judo, kendo, sumo, aikido, kyudo, kempo, jujitsu, jukendo and naginata).

The practice started at about 2:15 and went quite smoothly. Well, smoothly but loudly. We were in about the middle of the budokan arena. To our left were the naginata practitioners, behind us was shorinji kempo, and on the right was the juukendo group. Ahead of us was the kendo group which meant it was quite hard work to make our kiai's heard, much to the soreness of our throats. But the hour flew by rather quickly amidst the explosion of martial arts in the budokan ring.

When it was finished, small bowls of mochi in a red bean soup of sorts (if you've had the red bean desserts from Chinese restaurants, it's the same thing) were given to all the people who practiced on the floor. And we all sat around and laughed and talked before leaving at around 3:30.

(photo courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog. Lawrence is kneeling far left. Takagi Sensei is in the center with the (new) beard. Everyone has Guseikai badges on just for today.)

For me personally, it was a great experience, not the least because it was the first time I took part it in. I really enjoyed being in the middle (literally, in our case) of so many different martial arts. I watched some of them practice beforehand and out of the corner of my eye while I was on the floor, and it's really interesting to see what each style's take on martial arts is.

I was particularly intrigued by the juukendo group simply because of propect of a martial art based upon wooden shaped bayonette-fitted rifles.

But what I think was more important was, just as the program where I got the translation of the "kagami biraki" ceremony from, the concept of budo. The short article about the charter of budo discusses "a recent trend towards infatuation just with technical ability compounded by an excessive concern with winning". It went on about the principles of budo, yet simply by being on the budokan floor practicing, there was a sense that budo was there. Everyone was there practicing to the best of their ability and afterwards, we shared mochi and bonded. "Kagami biraki" indeed.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Shiramizu 2008 Start!

( Picture courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog.)

In Japan, as you might have read two posts prior, there's a tradition called hatsumode where one goes to a temple at the start of a new year to cast away bad spirits and to wish good luck upon the people one cares for. At Shiramizu, the hatsumode is a bit more large scale, encorporating the first training of the year.

The day (this year happening on Jan 6th), started at 8:30am at the nearby Shirayuri Kindergarten parking lot. After almost 100 Shiramizu students assembled, we started our walk to a temple in the neighbouring Satte city.

It's a touch unfortunate that suburban city clusters can't offer truly scenic views these kind of walks go well with, but it's still a fun time to chat with friends as we paraded across the Satte city in our dogis (admittedly with a few layers of clothes underneath them). The walk took a bit less than 2 hours and we arrived at a small temple amidst rows of houses.

While we waited our turn (a baesball team was paying their respects before us), it's nice to look around the small temple grounds which had, amongst other things, a small stage for traditional Japanese plays, the temple itself, and a square pile of smoldering wood and other burnable paper offerings put in there by people. I was told the name (which I forgot, sorry! But it was unbelievably long) and it has something to do with the fact that if one believes the crackling wood was (or would turn into) water, thrusting a nukite into it would not result in any burns. That was what I caught from the mix of Japanese and English, though I thought it best to do some more research before I tried.

When it was Shiramizu's turn, we all lined up and the presiding temple priest went through the ritual. It starts with the priest playing a drum briefly, then coming out to wave the bad spirits away as we bowed before him. He then read a poem and presented Arakawa Sensei with a hamaya, the arrow also mentioned two posts prior. Lastly, a small dish of sake was offered to all the (of-age) members.

With that done, Shiramizu did a quick 10 min practice consisting of punches, blocks, and mae geris. After that, each person was able to go up to the temple, ring a bell of sorts, and pay their respects (it's two bows, two claps, one bow). And then we got a lollipop! I'm not sure if there is any traditional meaning behind the candy offered (I wouldn't be surprised if there was), but a lollipop is a lollipop. I should point out that anyone who gets a chance to take part in this fun in the years to come to not do the practice standing next to the smoldering wood. The smoke makes for rather interesting breathing patterns as you practice...... don't ask how I know.

With the hatsumode finished (at around 11am), we set out again for the Asukaru Satte community centre, where Shiramizu held their year-end training session. It took about an hour and after a quick lunch, the official first training of the year kicked off at 1pm.

It was relatively standard with ido kihon exercises, some kumite drills, and finishing off with kata practice. It wasn't standard in that having holidays really put me off my game. It's not like starting at square one, but it took a bit more warming up than usually to get back into the groove. In the end though, it was no problem and the practice wrapped up at 2:45.

For most, it was the end but for me and Arakawa Sensei and his family, it was back home to get ready for Richard Sensei's house warming party! With lots of food, lots of stories, and lots of laughs, it was a very nice way to kick off 2008 by having everyone together.

And so, I wish everyone a very great and properous 2008 and hopefully I'll see some of you at the Wadokai World Championships in August in Vancouver!

Monday, January 7, 2008

2008 Internship applications deadline extended!!!

The 2008 internship position is still up for grabs! The deadline is extended until January 31st.

We've had some very interesting people talk to us about the next internship starting July 1st this year, but it seems several good candidates really won't be able to start until 2009!

Therefore, the 2008 position is still open! If anyone has that strong desire to learn karate in Japan while making money to cover your expenses, then for sure contact us right away!

Click below for main details!

Even if you are curious about the position, but perhaps not sure if you would qualify, email us anyway so we can discuss the position in more detail. A positive character is the first and foremost important thing we are looking for!


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Happy New Years (in Japan!)

Below is a great article from the Japan Times English newspaper about new year's customs here in old Nippon. Pretty much everything written in this article one experiences here for sure.

Future interns take note...

Sights, sounds and tastes of new year in Japan

Don't be surprised if you've noticed an unusual proliferation of rodents lately. Today marks the start of a nezumi-doshi, or Year of the Rat, the first in the order of 12 celestial animals of the Chinese zodiac.

In 2008, toshi-otoko and toshi-onna, men and women who were born in the year of the rat, will be turning age 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 and so on.

When marking the occasion, however, nezumi is never written using the Chinese character for rat, but instead with the same kanji as ko (as in kodomo, child), which in this case is pronounced "ne."

According to the ancient Chinese sexagenary (60-year) cycle, 2008 will be a tsuchi-no-e-ne, (year of the "earth-rat"), superseding hi-no-to-i (year of the fire-boar).

The New Year is a time to celebrate renewal, and you can expect to encounter numerous terms incorporating shin (new), such as shin-nen (new year) and hatsu (first), as in hatsu-mode (visit to a shrine at the New Year).

Of course, preparations have already been under way well before. On Omisoka (December 31) people rush to complete their osoji (big end-of-the-year cleanup). New Year's Day is referred to as ganjitsu or gantan. Gan means "original" or "first." The characters for jitsu (meaning sun and day) and tan are almost the same, except the latter adds one stroke beneath it to represent the sun above the horizon at dawn. Jan. 1 is also a public holiday, and buses and street cars display the Japanese Hinomaru flag.

If you go anywhere aboard public transport, you may see people, many dressed in kimono, returning from hatsu-mode carrying a white arrow, a talisman called a hamaya, which is used to ward off demons and protect households during the year.

Most decorations, while rooted in Shinto traditions, have become a social custom detached from religious overtones. Kadomatsu (gate pine) that flank the entrances of buildings or homes provide a short-term abode for the spirits. Assembled, in the most elaborate cases, using shochiku-bai — the alternate kun readings for matsu, take and ume (pine, bamboo and plum) — these are removed on Jan. 7.

The ornaments affixed to doors and car radiators are called shimekazari. Traditionally sold by tobishoku (scaffolding workers), they incorporate a shimenawa, a straw rope that serves as a Shinto symbol of purity.

From Dec. 28 or 29, two slabs of mochi (cakes of glutinous rice) topped with a small bitter orange, called a daidai, a homonymn for the word that means "generations," are placed on home altars. These kagami mochi, which look something like a headless snowman, are customarily cut up and eaten around the second weekend in January.

If you visit a Japanese home, you might see children receiving otoshidama, monetary gifts from relatives, close friends and neighbors. The colorful small envelopes into which money is inserted are called pochibukuro.

This occasion certainly wouldn't be the same without nengajo New Year's greeting cards, some 400 million of which are sent each year. The postal service hires some 210,000 part-timers to deliver them on Jan. 1.

While "Hotaru no Hikari" (light of the fireflies, as "Auld Lang Syne" is called in Japanese) has been around since the 1880s, Japanese people are more likely to associate New Year's Eve with popular songs on the NHK program "Kohaku Utagassen." The famous Red vs. White Song Competition has been broadcast annually since 1951 (originally via radio, and on TV from 1963).
Then from 11:45 p.m., NHK shifts to the solemn tolling of the "Joya-no-Kane," the bell that marks the passing of the year. This is usually broadcast from the Chion-in temple in Kyoto, where the huge 74-ton tsuri-gane (hanging bell), cast in 1636, is sounded 108 times, symbolically driving out the 108 bonno (evil passions or earthly desires).

New Year's foods, called osechi ryori, a tradition dating back to the Heian Era (794-1185), are served from a three-tiered lacquered box (oju). The various items, all of which have some symbolic meaning, include date-maki (rolled omelet); kohaku kamaboko (red and white fish sausage); kurikinton (a mashed mixture of sweet potatoes and chestnuts); and konbu maki (rolled sea vegetable). Eaten cold and rather sweet to the palate, these are definitely an acquired taste. Other seasonal foods and beverages include toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles consumed on New Year's Eve), ozoni (vegetable soup with rice cakes) and otoso (a special spiced rice wine).

Finally, on this auspicious day, I'd like to say, "Minasama, akemashite omedeto gozaimasu (Happy New Year, everybody)!" and "Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu (please treat me favorably in the year ahead)."