Friday, April 4, 2008

Lawrence’s half-year interview

Lawrence and Hachisuka-Sensei visiting the Sekiyado fort.

Richard here… now that Lawrence has passed the 6 month half-way mark in the internship, it was time to sit him down and find out how his time in Japan has gone so far.

For the benefit of our newer listeners just tuning in, who are you?
My name is Lawrence Liang. I’ve lived most of my life in Vancouver, Canada and now, being 24, I’m the lucky 07-08 Shiramizu Karate Intern.

When did you start karate?
I signed up for my first karate class through the Vancouver School Board’s summer school program taught by my sensei in Vancouver, Ms. Marta Adamovich. I was 13 at the time and just about to enter high school.

Why did you stay in karate?
It’s fun! Although our club Pacific Spirit Wadokai (PSWK) had few connections early on, the members and the atmosphere was always welcoming. Beyond that, I found more and more layers to it as I trained, both physical and mental, that maintained my interest.

When did you start teaching karate?
Around 2001 (when I was 18), I started helping to run some of the classes. Being of legal age certainly helped but the club was going through a few changes that meant busy schedules for Marta Sensei and having more than one person able to lead a class was important.

When did you first think of coming to Japan?
I first thought of coming to Japan back in mid-2006. I had just graduated from university and was heavily considering living abroad for a while. I knew quite a few people who travelled overseas to teach English and thought that’d be a great way to do it.

What was your image of Japan before you first came here?
I always saw Japan as a country quite far ahead in some ways yet quite resolute in other, more traditional ways. I knew about the crowded cities mixed with very deep rooted cultural methods and always wondered how that balance was struck.

How did you find out about this internship?
Richard Sensei and Marta Sensei knew each other from some time ago and around 2004, Richard Sensei stopped by our dojo. PSWK had no affiliations for a long time and we were quite happy to learn about joining the JKF Wadokai through the CZWKA (official Canada Wadokai). Keeping in touch with Richard Sensei led to the fateful email about applying to become the Shiramizu Intern.

What were your first impressions of Japan?
It’s hot! And busy. Really though, it’s a very interesting place simply because the culture is so different from the “West Coast” lifestyle I was used to. More than that, I was, and still am, amazed at how there can be such a balance between the old and the new. A woman in a kimono playing video games on the train? I didn’t know what to think the first time I saw that…

Santa Lawrence at the Shiramizu Elementary Christmas Party/Year-End Practice.

Any strange first non-karate experiences?
It’s never really surprising that many Japanese think I’m also Japanese. But because I identify myself as a Canadian, I feel tourists and other foreigners are my brethren, so to speak. And I forget that many foreigners also see me as Japanese by virtue of simply being in Japan. So it felt a bit odd the first time a tourist asked me something in Japanese and I got this urge to tell the world I’m Canadian. But now, I just take it in my stride and it’s become quite amusing when tourists ask me questions in Japanese…

What was your first impressions of Shiramizu and Arakawa Sensei?
My first impression of Shiramizu was how motivated and involved everyone was. Everyone trains hard and there’s a distinct feeling of connectedness between everyone. I think a lot of it has to do with Arakawa Sensei’s personality that both rubs off and serves as an example for the other members.

Going from that, the atmosphere of Shiramizu is like an extension of Arakawa Sensei; very motivated, always involved, and consistently positive.

What’s your relationship with Arakawa Sensei now?
I feel it’s reached a very healthy friend-yet-teacher/student relationship. Like I mentioned before about Japanese culture, I think I’ve struck a good balance between being formal to my sensei and being easy going to my friend.

Beyond that, I try to help Arakawa Sensei with his English as much as possible, although I’m the first to admit the balance between me helping Arakawa Sensei’s English and Arakawa Sensei teaching me karate is deeply one-sided. I also try my best to be a liaison between Arakawa Sensei and his many guests, the most recent one being Mr. Mike Spain, with things like translating (as best I can) or with other small things.

The internship is supposed to allow the intern the chance to really experience Japan and karate deeply. What have you found to be the most important for you while being the intern?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned being here is that while I do try to fit it in certain ways, I realized I don’t have to sacrifice my Canadian-ness to do so. I’m having a great time in Japan but I’m also proud to be Canadian and once I learned the balance (this is a recurring theme isn’t it??), I found my goal isn’t to become Japanese, but to become a Canadian who understands Japan.

How do you find the activities and atmosphere of the Shiramizu dojo?
They always seem really successful and I think that’s in large part to the members involved. Despite its size, the dojo feels really close-knit and everyone from the youngest to the oldest is always having a good time. Whether it’s a year-end lunch or just regular practice, the atmosphere is light and energetic.

You’ve been to Dr. Hideo Takagi Sensei’s Guseikai practices several times. How are they different from Shiramizu’s practices?
I find Takagi Sensei’s classes hugely informative- I always leave with a huge list of things I can work on as well as insights into body dynamics. The Guseikai classes themselves are also quite different in feel to Shiramizu classes. For starters, the gyms that Guseikai uses are very big and while the classes start together, then soon become more autonomous with different groups practicing different things. Perhaps this is possible only because Guseikai has such large spaces to practice in, but it does lead to a different class feel. However, though people train in small groups by themselves, there is never a feeling of being excluded as, ultimately, everyone there has been friendly and helpful to me.

You’ve also been to many Wadokai seminars and tournaments. What are some things that stick out in your mind about the Wadokai?
It’s really hard for me to choose one word that sums up the feeling I get about the Wadokai, but I suppose there’s a distinctly relaxed feeling about the Wadokai- perhaps “relaxed” isn’t the right word. At any rate, many of the Sensei present at the seminars or tournaments have all been very friendly with a “let’s-all-try-to-improve” attitude to them. It’s always felt quite open to me, as I’ve never attended a tournament or seminar where I felt excluded or ignored.

Do you notice a difference between who you are now and who you were when you first came to Japan?
I think that I’ve developed a clearer and more mature focus on what I want to accomplish and be doing later in life. For instance, every time I learned something new in karate, I get a feeling that I can’t wait to be back in Vancouver to show it to my dojo. And yet, I’ve also developed more of a respect for where I am in my life. I’m thinking ahead yet, being in a foreign country, I’ve realized that I can’t lose sight of just being young and going out and living it up. So I suppose I’ve become more youthful and less youthful at the same time.

What were your goals for the first six months? How have the changed for these next remaining 6 months?
I knew long before I arrived in Japan that I had a lot of catching up to do when I got here, particularly with my karate, and so my goal was just to try and take in as much as I can. Though I still feel I’m a ways from where I want to be, I have learned a bit and from this point on, I’ll be trying to expand my understanding so I can better share what I’m learning when I’m back home. Also, for myself, I’d like to reach some tangible goals as benchmarks for my progress. I practiced hard to pass my nidan grading and I hope to place somewhere respectable in a competition before I return to Canada to prove to myself that I’ve learned something from every experience leading up to that point.

You’re seen karate associations in Canada and now in Japan, so how do you find the political side of karate?
To be honest, my experience with the politics of karate has been quite limited. I’m not surprised that politics exists as it’s hard to avoid in any group or committee, but a lot of what I know has happened or is going on is through hearsay and it’s hard for me to really say anything knowing very little about it.

What other dojo do you go to now in Japan?
I’m still only attending Shiramizu regularly. I have gone to a handful of Guseikai practices and, beyond that, Wadokai training camps twice.

How has karate changed over the years from your perspective?
I don’t really know what to say about this ahha…….. PSWK has never really been that well connected so I can’t really say much aside from what I saw inside.

What’s your own competitive success?
None so far. Up until we joined the Canada Wadokai, my dojo never competed and thus I’ve been trying to get as much experience as I can while I’m in Japan. I’ve entered nearly all the tournaments I could, both kata and kumite, so hopefully I’ll see some progressive results soon.

What’s your belt rank success?
In December of 2006, I passed my Wadokai Shodan in Vancouver. Then, in February 2008, I passed my Wadokai Nidan in Chiba, Japan.

What does it take run a successful dojo?
I think a successful dojo, or a successful anything for that matter, starts with the right atmosphere and the right people. I really think that any place that focuses on the development of abilities, physical or mental, needs to be open and comfortable so that the people will feel motivated to push themselves regardless of how soon their success come. For a karate dojo, I think the members should take their karate seriously without taking themselves too seriously. I really think that success will come if the motivation is there, and so a dojo should be a place where that motivation is cultivated.

Best karate coaches you have experienced through seminars?
Twice, at Wadokai Camps, I’ve had Miyauchi and Okamachi Sensei lead the kata group and I feel they’re quite a pair. Miyauchi Sensei has a larger-than-life air about him while Okamachi Sensei balances that perfectly with his calm attitude and watchful eye. It’s great fun to see them interact as well as interact with them.

What do you see in regards to your personal future in karate?
I really want to help my dojo grow and to help develop some good athletes from it. I've learned (and am learning) a lot that's helped me rediscover my interest in karate and I hope to convey these ideas to spur the same interest in my students. Beyond that, I never had much of a chance to further my abilities outside of my own dojo whilst in Vancouver and I'd like my students to have that kind of opportunity to see how far they can go. For lack of better words, I'm gaining a lot from my experience here and I want my students to gain similar experiences though they're in Vancouver.

On a little more personal note, being Asian and raised in Canada, how do Japanese people react to you?
The pattern is: Familiarity, surprise, shyness. And if the conversation (English or otherwise) goes beyond that, interest. I find it particularly amusing because I’m mistaken for Japanese because of my Chinese heritage, yet I identify myself as a Canadian. I used to feel it was a bit troublesome, but I’ve found it’s a great icebreaker, good for a laugh, and a chance for me to expand my multi-culturalism.

So you plan to go back to Canada?
Eventually, yes. I really think I’ve learned a lot while I’m here and there’s a lot of really great stuff I want to show my friends and my dojo back home. Ultimately, I had wanted to become the intern partly to improve my abilities but mostly to be able to improve the abilities of the people around me, and moving all my friends to Japan isn’t really a viable option…

Any final words of advice for future interns?
Do it. Even if it’s not the Shiramizu Internship or it’s for 6 months instead of a year or it’s not Japan or you’re not even training karate, there’s a lot to learn from seeing some place new, meeting someone different, and trying something you’d never thought you could do.

That’s done, thanks for the half-year interview, Lawrence! You’ve got 6 months to come up with new, snazzy answers for the one-year completion interview in July!

No comments: