Monday, March 31, 2008

Kita-Katsushika-Gun Taikai

Lawrence again, just finishing up a whirlwind week and a half of events with the Kita-Katsushika-Gun Tournament being the last at the Asukaru Community Centre in Satte City on March 30th. Kita-Katsushika-Gun is an area within the Saitama Prefecture that includes the towns of Kurihashi, Matsubushi, Washimiya, and, of course, Sugito.

Unlike last week's Wadokai Kanto Tournament, this was open to any dojo of any style and it was a great chance to see some old faces as well as meet some new ones. Like many tournaments, it opened at 9am, the competition started at 10 and, despite being a local tournament, lots of competitors showed up to take part.

My morning started with kata, which didn't see me advance past my Goju opponent. After a quick lunch, I was in the warm-up area stretching when, I'm sorry to say, I witnessed quite an unfortunate scene...

I was watching an instructor (who was also competing that day) practice some kumite drills with two students of his. I realise that, by nature, kumite can be rough and there are certain conditions of power and control that need to be met to score a point in competition. I realise too that training within the realm of those conditions is important because what happens in the ring should be instinctive. But when one of the two students was crying in her helmet because every jodan kizame the instructor threw at her had enough force to snap her head all the way back, I think some sort of line has been crossed. That she looked about 10 or 12 years old and was subjected to rather demoralising words from the instructor doesn't help.

I really think even an older student strong and motivated enough to take a shot like that from their instructor shouldn't have to continuously be subjected to it while bearing the brunt of those harsh words. I don't even particularly mind someone who is strong if they have a sense of what is required at the moment and the control to do so. Most unfortunate, though, is that these things do happen. Which made me wonder what keeps those students returning. I can't imagine being that young and wanting to train at one specific dojo so badly that I'd be happy to return. Or being a parent and being ok with that. Being strong enough to win shouldn't overshadow the fact that this should also be something fun, especially for kids.

I don't want to come across as thinking I'm high and mighty, but I have my beliefs about how things should be done and I thought this was one example of how it shouldn't be. As a bit of poetic justice, said instructor lost his match against the lone white belt (in the black belt division because there weren't any other kyu-ranked adult male competitors) because he piled on the warnings for lack of control.

(Richard here... I have also seen this abusive behaviour, not just in Japan, but in other places as well. At the Kanto High School Championships in January I saw a father wildy hit his son for losing the finals for his team kumite division. Arakawa Sensei and I have discussed this in detail, and he is absolutely against any abusive style of disciplining/coaching/motivating. Which is why I support Arakawa Sensei's positive way of teaching karate, and it obviously pays off for him with so many students staying with him. For sure nowadays karate in Japan is seen as safe and for the most part it is. Maeda Sensei, the former national coach, said the confusion between proper discipline and corporeal violence was blurred in the past, but this is pretty much gone from karate and it only lingers now in some parts of sumo. Arakawa Sensei also confronts other instructors when they're out of line even if it has nothing to do with Shiramizu because he hates the unnecessary macho aspects of budo.)

That aside though, it was a fun day which, especially in a local tournament, should be the focus. I didn't do very well, but at least I had a good time and I am motivated to do better the next time out.

Shiramizu kids geared up and ready to go.

Warming up in the holding area.

Shiramizu after the tournament (Picture courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

27th Wadokai Kanto Taikai

The 'Intern Lawrence' here again, and fresh off the Shiramizu Tournament was the Kanto area Wadokai tournament on March 23rd. Within the Kanto region are the prefectures of Gunma, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa. As might be expected with such a large turn-out from so many different places (some divisions had over 100 competitors), the level was quite high.

The day started with 6:30am bus ride taking all the Shiramizu competitors (about 60 of them) to Komazaya, just west of Shibuya in the SW corner of Tokyo. The tournament took place at the Tokyo Komazawa Olympic Park in the Komazawa Gymanasium which was built as part of the 1964 Summer Olympics. The doors opened at 9am and the first matches started at 10.

With 13 rings, there was lots of activity all day long. My men's individual kumite division started right at 10am and the competition was tougher than any other I've been in. Or seen, even, since the Wadokai Nationals last August. I didn't make it past my first round match, but there was a lot to learn from just watching as well, even if it was just from the sheer number of matches available to watch (116 competitors in the division, single elimination, no repecharge).

After taking an early lunch, I headed back to prepare for my kata division. In the men's individual kata division (41 competitors, seperated into two courts), the first two kata rounds were pre-determined to be Pinan Godan (or first kata, if one was seeded through the first round), with any kata available as a choice from there on afterwards, as long as no performer did the same kata twice. Unfortunately, I didn't make it past that first round either, but I did feel, and get some feedback that, the gap between my abilities is closing with some of the competitors. I do realize there's a ways to go, but I'm also happy that at least I feel I've made some progress.

With my matches finished though, I could focus on taking in the sights and sounds of the tournament. There were lots of competitors and lots of Shiramizu competitors who did quite well.

Richard Sensei also competed in individual men's kata and in team kumite under Toshiaki Maeda Sensei's Meiku-giijuku Dojo. He made Best 8 in the kata division, but in the second team kumite round, the team was pitted against the eventual winners from Tokyo Nogyo University Karate Club (Tokyo Agricultural University, which is were the January Wadokai Camp was held). Picture above is Richard Sensei midst-Chinto.

After that, it was over to another ring to watch Arakawa Sensei and the Guseikai Takagi Dojo team in their matches. The team made it to their third round with some very exciting matches. Below is Arakawa Sensei and Team Guseikai in their second match up against the Meiji University Team B. Guseikai won this round, but then lost to Tokyo Nogyo as well.

Most nail-bitingly, however, was the junior high school boys individual kumite division. With a huge division and only one ring running, it was still going strong at 5pm while pretty much the rest of the arena was cleaned up. Of course, we all stayed to watch because there were quite a few Shiramizu boys in the division, particularly one Okamura Sunao who went on to take first place amongst some very very strong competitors.

All in all, it was an excellent day out with a great turn out. Regardless of result, there's a lot to learn from being in the ring and doing competing as well as simply watching. Obviously the concept of a large tournament is exciting being able to bring out so many strong athletes from different areas, as the Kanto tournament proved, but I think smaller tournaments are equally important for developing competition ability, especially for someone like me with little sport karate experience.

Final Shiramizu Team Picture with Takagi Sensei, from Arakawa Sensei's blog.

And, lo and behold, next week is the Kita-Katsushika-Gun tournament, which houses many different smaller towns, such as Sugito where Shiramizu is. We'll see if I'm right about feeling like I've closed the gap...

Richard here! Here's some statistics for the Wadokai Kanto Taikai ;
- first held October 12th, 1980, with 238 competitors
- at last year's 26th annual event on March 23rd, 2007, there were 1615 competitors
- at this year's event, over 1500 competitors were expected

Arakawa Sensei switched from Gojukai to Wadokai around 1990.
From 1997, all the top 8 winners in this Kanto tournament had their names printed in this year's thick tournament program so here are Arakawa Sensei's past results (although before 1997 he had more in this event as well);

1997 1st individual men's kata division (he was 30yrs old then)
1997 1st Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai Takagi Dojo Team)
1997 Best 8 individual men's kumite & his last year of individual kumite
1998 1st individual men's kata
1998 2nd Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai)
1999 1st individual men's kata
1999 1st Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai)
2000 2nd Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai)
2000 1st individual men's kata
2001 1st individual men's kata
2002 best 8 Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai)
2003 1st individual men's kata
2003 3rd Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai)
2004 2nd individual men's kata (beaten by Mas Takagi, Takagi Sensei's son) & his last year for kata competition, from here he only competes in team kumite
2005 best 8 Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai)
2006 best 8 Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai)
2008 3rd Men's Team Kumite (Guseikai) (age 40)

Arakawa Sensei says he doesn't enjoy individual kumite anymore ('kind of lonely just on your own'), but he loves team kumite, the energized atmosphere of it, so he said he won't stop yet. Also with Shiramizu growing so much he has to cut back on his own competition to take care of his many competing students.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

9th Shiramizu Taikai! - Take two...

I suppose it's now for the "Lawrence-take" on things.......

In the background you can see Takagi Sensei and Arakawa Sensei laughing at our demo...

The post prior pretty much sums up how the tournament went so I'll just throw in my two cents about what I saw and learned.

The one aspect about the tournament I particularly liked was that it almost felt like a showcase of everyone's abilities, as opposed to a competition of who was better. Obviously some of the older kids were really motivated to win (in a healthy way), and those who excelled should be acknowledged, but as Richard Sensei mentioned, everyone got a certificate for participating because that's equally important. And because the competition portion was only half the day, the later demo's meant that every single member got a chance to do more than just compete.

I can't recall a single kid being upset at a loss in a match because, soon after, they had another chance to show their wares in the demo with all their friends.

I also did like that, being a dojo tournament, the format was kumite for the finals (and semi-finals if there were lots of kids in one category), with kata for the matches prior. It really requires that those who want to do well make sure they're doing well in both areas.

But I do feel that grouping the kids by age only does make it difficult for the lower belts when they're pitched against black belts, but I'll be the first to concede that it was inevitable as doing it any other way would result in lots and lots of 3-person categories to run through. I will say, however, that there were some upsets in terms of lower belts winning over higher ranking belts, so it does offer a new twist to things. Regardless, the first point about the competitive spirit never overpowering the spirit of friendship still holds true.

With the tournament portion running extremely smoothly and without injury, we moved to the demos, which was the highlight for me.

Everything from individual kata demos to acrobatic "save the damsel in distress" skits to self defense demos to group kata demos, was just great fun. Every single person from the youngest to the oldest had a chance to be on the floor to take part, and everyone had a big smile on their face.

I'm also quite glad to say the demo I did with Richard Sensei went over quite well. To make a long story short, it starts like this.......

and ends like this......
..... 6 times. Even harder than being thrown around was keeping the grin off my face, as I was supposed to be angry......... oh well =)......

But such was the variety of the demos, the good mix of seriousness and fun, that really made the tournament fun no matter how one was involved.

Which I think brings me to my last point, that though this particular tournament had 450-odd participants, there's no doubt in my mind that something half, quarter, or even a fifth of the size wouldn't be just as fun. So long as the right atmosphere and dedication, from students and volunteering parents alike, is present, the rest of the aspects will follow.

All I can say is I'm very glad to be around for the 10th anniversary of the Shiramizu Taikai. Til then......

Richard here! Below are pictures of 'Lawrence The Intern' in action mixing it up!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

9th Shiramizu Taikai!

Richard here!

The 9th Annual Shiramizu Karate Club Championships took place today at the Kuki City Comprehensive P.E. Gymnasium (Kuki-machi Sogo Taikukan). This was a dojo-only event for the 450 members, of which pretty much everyone from kindergarten to junior high school competed - there were no high school or adults divisions this year because Sensei wanted these two groups to help the kids out since there are so many of them!

Tournament time plan:
-8am gym opened
-9am official's meeting and volunteer's meeting
-10am walk-in opening ceremony (athletes lined up just off to the side and walked past the main table in groups based on their school year, like elementary 2nd grade, etc, with one person holding a placard for each group with their grade name on it)
-Some speeches
a) Suzuki Sensei (in charge of the tournament) announced the opening of the tournament
b) Arakawa Sensei spoke about it being the 9th year
c) Kikuchi Sensei (chief official) spoke about the rules
d) one junior high school student who made it onto the all-styles Saitama team gave the Sensei address, when they do a Roman salute and shout out before the front table how everyone will do their best with honour
-10:15am start
-1pm finish
-'karate man demo'
-1hr lunch
-ending speeches, including a politician, a kindergarten principal, the Saitama Karate Association president, Arakawa Sensei and Takagi Sensei
-many demos (60mins)
-award ceremony (40mins)
-done by 4pm!!!

Competition was by school grade only, with the elementary grades being co-ed, and the junior high school kids being male-only and female-only.

Everyone did one round of kata, with the winners of that round going on to finish the division with only kumite right to the final match. For kata, red and blue went at the same time, and 3 officials judged who was better. This format made the tournament go lightening fast. Of course those who like to fight knew they had to do kata well enough to get through the first round, since it was single round elimination.

For the kindergarten kids, separated in their 3 groups by age (3 year olds, 4 year olds and 5 year olds), 2 kids would go onto the mat at the same time being red and blue, then an instructor would call out basic ido kihon commands. 5 times forward jun zuki, turn with a block, 5 times back jun zuki, turn with a block, then finish. The officials would wave their flags who was better and then the next two would come up. I thought this was a great way to run kindergarten kids through the kata portion without them having to worry about remembering even a few moves.

All kumite saw the kids wearing a face helmet (meiho), kumite mitts (ken-sapo, short for fist-supporter) and a torso protector. The alloted time was 1:30min and the first person with a 4 point lead won. While some matches were over in 10 seconds, a few went up to 12-10 in pts in the junior high divisions.

Intern Lawrence preparing to ref for the first time.

Here I am successfully staying awake as a corner ref. I say this because the last time I officiated my daughter was born only days before, so I was quite sleep deprived while helping out at the Tobu City Tournament, during which I nodded off once!

There were 5 rings, with the center ring using the dojo mats. With more rings and only 3-4 officials per ring, the tournament went quickly.

This group I think is the elementary 2nd graders in the holding area just off to the side of the gym.
Some very happy kids! Several are in our intern's English conversation classes.

Kindergarten kids going through a warm-up on the side in the holding area. They did some light jumping around, then stretching, then they all practiced their ido kihon as a group so they'd be all rehearsed for their division. They have a different badge on their dogi jacket, I think it is a cute little bear kicking with Shiramizu Kid's Karate in English written on it, or something like that.

Myself, Takagi Sensei and Arakawa Sensei at the head table. Takagi Sensei's smart looking grey beard, being slightly pointy at the end, had everyone saying that he had aged. But he was still cracking jokes. and he watched everything with his steely-eyed gaze right until the very end.
During the second round of speeches when the competition was over just before lunch, Arakawa Sensei was kind enough to talk about the internship, how I had set it up, how Lawrence was the 3rd person and how soon there will be a British Wadokai couple (Carl and Amy) coming this summer. He also introduced my mom Bonita who is visiting from Canada right now, plus he pointed out my wife Rie and my daughter Ema, who he said is the new club mascot!
Takagi Sensei then went up and spoke about Arakawa Sensei being appointed to the Nippon Budokan's Budo-gakeun academy as an official karate instructor. Since this organization is at the center of the budo world here, it is quite an honour, and now Arakawa Sensei will assist Takagi Sensei every Thursday night from 5:30pm at the Budokan's dojo, which is located just to the side of the main hall.
Arakawa Sensei has asked me to come along as well as an unofficial instructor, which pleasantly surprised me.

The banner in Japanese for the 9th Annual Tournament.
Dai Kyu-kai Shiramizu Shuyo Kai Karate-do Rensei Taikai
(# 9 event Shiramizu Cultivation Association Karate-do Training Tournament)
Shiramizu Shuyo Kai is the full name for the dojo.

My daughter Ema at her first karate tournament! At 6-/12 months, she made lots of new friends and she didn't cry... until we said good-bye to Takagi Sensei at the end of the day - must have been the beard.

The medals! Now having run tournaments in Canada in the past, we would buy $4-5 medals and go through well over 100, so there is a large cost to them in a tournament budget. But these were easily 3x the weight of the medals I would buy in Canada. and engraved on the back with the tournament name, division, and 1st, 2nd, or 3rd!
Also, the top 4 of every division got a large certificate as per Japanese custom, but also every single participating member got a certificate of participation too! This is why the awards ceremony took so long as everyone came up one at a time, in a long-line, to get one.
Certificates here are printed in a huge batches with generic printing of the tournament event, and then one or two people trained in Japanese calligraphy spend the whole tournament day in a room off to the side filling out the year, the division, the person's name, their result and the current name of the current association president for that event. Actually, every tournament for all sports in Japan do this.

Just before lunch was the 'karateman' demo - which are 3 high school boys in what looks like Ultraman full-body stretch suits of different colors - red, yellow & orange. One high school girl was dressed as a manga character of some sort and at one point, one of the adults (Okano-san, the fish market salesman) dressed like a thug in sun glasses and an overcoat came out to only get beaten up by these super heros.

Here is 'blue karateman' in midst multi back flip. All the kids from 6th grade elementary learn acrobatics in the dojo and do them in all sorts of traditional and non-traditional demos.

After lunch, everyone got on the floor for a 20min tachi kihon and ido kihon workout, which was a good chance for the parents to see their kids again in action, plus for everyone to see how much the club membership has grown! Wow!

Arakawa Sensei leading the workout.
This was followed by many demos;
-kindergarten moving basics and simple acrobatics to music
-elementary school 6th grade Team Kata 'Chinto' demo, plus bunkai to music - very interesting routine created by Arakawa Sensei which this group will perform at the Wadokai World Champs this Aug in Vancouver.
-high school girls Team Kata 'Kushanku' demo - no bunkai
-all black belts Team Kata 'Seishan' demo - no bunkai
-double baseball bat break by Iwasaki Sensei - first with a dropping hammer strike, and the second as a shin break.
- there were a few other kata demos I think, like an elementary school group of 1-2-3kyu brown belts doing I think kushanku

Guseikai Honbu Dojo traditional defense demo done by the Fujimoto brothers.

'Fun karate demo' done by Lawrence and myself - this was a sport kumite-esque demo where Lawrence continues to lose which gets him more and more frustrated, much to the amusement of the kids who cheer him on not to give up. At one point I glanced at the head table to see Takagi Sensei looking stoic, but Arakawa Sensei was in the middle of a full belly laugh.
(Pictures from people there show both sensei actually laughing through the whole demo, which is just a bonus for us!)

Lawrence starts pounding his fists in frustration on the mat at this point, which was really funny.
He was hamming it up so well I was laughing too.

Even Masatoshi, Arakawa Sensei's youngest, was employed to run over with the cold spray!

During the finale with an Ogami Leap over Lawrence's head, I successfully don't wipe out in mid-air.

Awarding a top for group of winners!
This was absolutely a great dojo-only event, a real moral booster and an all round fun event both for traditional and sport budo.
Afterwards, there was an official's dinner at 5pm, followed by a dojo volunteers/staff dinner at 7pm. The official's dinner is covered by the dojo and the dojo dinner is normally a set fee of all you can eat and drink for between 3000-5000yen ($30-$50US depending on the exchange rate).
As I told Lawrence, it is important one watches how everything is run so in the future one can hold a similar event in one's own vision. And this event is so well run with a very positive vibe that there is lots to learn and pick-up. Arakawa Sensei and the other instructors really set a great tone of practical seriousness with clean fun.
I like the idea of those who only win one round of kata get to do kumite, keeping everyone motivated to improve their traditional technique, but I would modify this so everyone has to win one round of each to move on, so that everyone gets a chance at both. I'm not trying to knock this event, not at all, just saying that's how I would modify it.
Next year is the 10th, so Arakawa Sensei is planning a huge event for all ages, plus special demos and even a special commemorative training book/dvd set!
Foreign Wadokai members will be allowed to compete in this event so if anyone is planning to come to Japan next year, aim for the 3rd week of March.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Shodan Shinsa in Tokyo.

From L - R: Lawrence, Arakawa Sensei, Shunsuke Yanagida Sensei, 2 peoples names I don't know & Mike

Yes indeed, this past March 2nd was yet another shodan shinsa dan rank test, this one being for Tokyo. It was held at the Ikebukuro Sports Centre which has a beautifully finished dojo on the 8th floor of a business-like looking building. With registration at 12pm and the examination starting at 1pm, it was rather different from the one I went to in Chiba. For starters, there were far fewer people, only 38 people being tested. It also had a larger judge panel with 12 judges and people challenged higher dan levels, the highest being godan.

The test format was also slightly different. Examinees started right into ido kihon and everyone had to do all of them. After everyone did ido kihon, it was time for kata (whereas Chiba had examinees do both ido kihon and kata in one go). In Tokyo, many kata are examinable with the judges selecting one on the day of the exam. For adult shodan, as an example, all five pinan kata as well as naihanchi and kushanku were "possible" and hence one needed to be prepared. On the day of the exam, adult shodan examinees were told that they needed to do naihanchi.

Kihon kumite was the same, with all the sets between ippon mei and gohon mei examinable and adult shodan examinees were told, when they registered, that the day's kihon kumite was yohon mei.

The test finished with jiyu kumite and after the results, the judges gave a one-point lesson which lasted for an hour (and, as is the nature of lessons, contained far more than just one point).

It wasn't I, however, who took part in the test. Rather, Mr. Mike Spain visited from Feb 26 til Mar 4 with the sole intention of challenging the Wadokai shodan. And so, he spent pretty much his entire week at Shiramizu practices daily preparing. Many people offered words of advice and encouragement and Mike really got his head down and trained hard. In the end, the effort paid off and the panel at Tokyo awarded Mike his shodan. So big congratulations!

Of course, that wasn't all. After the shodan shinsa and the one point lessons, we went to Guseikai to practice with Takagi Sensei's class. To say the day was packed with karate is a bit of an understatement.

For me, the week I spent helping Mike prepare was a great experience in itself. Ever since I came to Japan, I've learned and discovered a lot of elements about karate, both tangible and intangible. And to be able to properly convey these feelings and concepts to students is something that isn't easy to do. I spend all my time here learning so to have an opportunity to switch my thinking and pass on the things I've learned was a great way to practice both modelling and explaining different aspects of karate.

So big congratulations and thanks to Mike!