Tuesday, July 29, 2008

4 weeks in Japan

Amy and I have been here a month now, so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the past 4 weeks. I thought I would concentrate more on the Karate side of things in this post since my personal blog has more generic information on there, and is updated more often with our day to day antics.

Here are a few random facts about my month in Japan:
  • I’ve been here 28 days

  • I’ve had 1 bad day

  • 2 ok days

  • 25 good days

  • I’ve been to 44 English lessons

  • I’ve had 23 Karate classes (not including private training)

  • I’ve had 1 trip to Takagi Sensei’s Guseikai Dojo

  • I’ve watched 1 competition

  • Attended 1 weekend training course

  • Had 27 shopping trips

  • Taken 77 Tokyo Train journeys

  • Took the wrong train 3 times

  • Been lost in Tokyo once

  • Had 3 job interviews

  • And, most importantly, been chatted up by Japanese ladies 5 times (Just don't tell Amy!)

Japan Karate
In the UK, I have been training and competing in tournament karate for the past eight years. Though in the last 12 months, my training preference was heading away from tournament Karate to close quarter techniques, grappling and Budo karate. So, all the basics that I did were centred on that. Sensei Peter May in particular has been a very good coach in these aspects of my training. I would say that my basics, and definitely my Kata have suffered as a result of this change of focus.

The training that I’ve been doing these past 4 weeks at Shiramizu has all been centred on a combination of Kihon, Kumite and Kata, so I’ve been revisiting the core elements of my Karate. This can only be a good thing. Arakawa Sensei and his team of instructors have built up a very good club here at Shiramizu and the technical standard is very good. The class format is usually very similar, regardless of which instructor is running the class. So, every lesson, you will run through the same basic techniques, this means that you are constantly building up your muscle memory, in a positive way.

I feel as though my kata standard has already improved tenfold since I’ve been here. Despite Amy and I being new to Shiramizu, we have been given a lot of one-to-one tuition from each of the instructors. This has certainly helped our Kata since it is not something that we concentrated on much in the UK, with both of us specialising in Kumite.

In Kumite, I would like to say that I was already above-average in terms of ability (?). Though the Shiramizu training has helped me work more on closing the distance faster and the timing of attacks all whilst protecting my centre line. Therefore, my fighting ability has been improved significantly. Likewise, I would like to think that I have also helped to improve the fighting ability of the Shiramizu students since I fight in a completely different way to the Japanese. For a start, I fight southpaw, everyone else in the Dojo fights in an orthodox stance. Also, my fighting style is a typical European style, a lot of ring craft and circular movements; the Japanese fighting style is typically very linear. So it's good for the Shiramizu students to have a European to fight against.

I thought I would give you an idea of a typical Shiramizu class, so you could see what the routine generally is...

A typical Shiramizu class
A typical 1 ½ hour lesson starts with a warm up, and then the etiquette. What follows, is usually line work for 20 minutes or so, and then a short break. After the break, we often move onto Kata training, occasionally with time for self practise. After Kata practise, we often split the class into those wanting to practise Kata or Kumite. The Kumite people line up and practise various attacking drills for the remainder of the class. After training, everyone (including the instructors) cleans the dojo and then we have the final etiquette.

After training, a lot of students hang around the dojo chatting. Some people use this extra time to practise Kata, maybe do a little extra stretching or test their Kumite skills in some free fighting against their peers.

Final thoughts
The past month has been a bit of a blur, and we've loved every minute of it. We have been made to feel at home here in Japan, and Shiramizu is just like a big family. Living in Japan has certainly agreed with us too, and we're already talking about extending our stay after our initial one year.

The two most difficult things for me to adjust to have been the weather (it's very hot and humid) and the food. There's not much you can do about the weather, unless you want to stay indoors all the time with the air conditioning on, I've found the best way is to simply grin and bare it. Hopefully I will survive August when the weather gets worse!

I do like Japanese food, but I found very early on that it would be difficult to follow my vegetarian diet here in Japan. On our first day here, Arakawa Sensei took us to an American style restaurant and he pointed to the salad bar and said 'Carl-san, for you the Salad Bar, Vegetarian option.' My 10 year streak as a vegetarian went out of the window with that sentence.

Other than that, it's been great here and I would definately recommend that people visit Japan. Even if you're not interested in training, the culture and way of life here is very different to anywhere else I've been, and something that you have to experience first hand to truly appreciate.

For example,
Picture a very busy evening at a train station, when everyone has been working hard all day at work, and they just want to get home, put their feet up and relax.

People know that they could have over an hours commute to get home, so every minute counts. A train station during rush hour is a sight not to be missed, people literally get off one train and then sprint for the next. 

On the popular train routes, the trains are very often filled to capacity. I've seen railway staff start pushing people further into trains, just so the doors could close, or so that one more person can fit inside the already overcrowded train carriage, quite literally so that no-one can move, the person who has just been pushed onto the train still manages to bow to the usher as a thank-you because they now don't have to wait an extra 3 minutes for the next train. It's a very Japanese idea... but common courtesy and self discipline is engrained into every Japanese person I've met.
Intern V4

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Shiramizu Summer Camp, 19th & 20th July 2008

The Nippon Budokan Training Centre in Chiba was the venue for the Shiramizu dojo annual summer training camp. It took place on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th July 2008 and 97 Shiramizu students attended.

Amy and I were kindly invited to go along by Arakawa Sensei, despite it primarily being a child-orientated weekend. With us being big kids ourselves, we naturally jumped at the chance! It would be a great way to see how this camping trip compares to our own Hartlepool Wadokai version and it would also be a good training weekend.

We had an early start on the Saturday morning where we had to meet in the local kindergarten car park at 6:00am. Arakawa Sensei gave a short talk to everyone and when he had all the helpers/instructors lined up, he introduced us all and we all had to give a short speech. Amy and I weren't actually officials, we were just there for kicks, though we would still help out wherever we could.

The various Sensei got everyone locked and loaded on the coaches and we were ready to leave for 7:00am. We were on bus 2 with Yoshihara & Yamazaki Sensei and also Yuki Sempai, one of the cadets who was acting as an official for the weekend.

The journey was very long, approximately 6 hours including a number of breaks. The kids didn't seem to mind the journey and had very high spirits throughout. The kids all started cheering as soon as they could see the coastline.

We got to the Nippon Budokan Training Centre at about 1.30pm, and by the time we got everyone unpacked and had got through the welcome/introductions in the hotel foyer, it was close to 2pm. Sensei announced that training would begin at 2pm, so we had a few minutes to get changed and get to the Dojo. In the medley that followed, I managed to lose Lawrence who had the key to our room and, more importantly knew my room number. Uehara Sensei must have sensed my dismay, because he quickly told me which room I was staying in.

The room that we were staying at was very traditional, with tatami on the floor and futons hidden in a big cupboard that are simply pulled out and rolled along the floor when its bedtime.

We got changed and headed down to the training venue; we walked past a huge dojo which had Kendo-ka and Judo-ka busy training inside. I had to resist the urge to stay and watch.

The training was pretty standard by Shiramizu standards, we ran through a lot of basics and then we split for Kata. All the officials were given their own group of students to teach. I think Sensei could tell that everyone was starting to tire a little. So he stopped the training and got everyone to have various races from one end of the hall to the next, performing different techniques. The highlight of this bit of training was the jumping Sando-geri which Arakawa Sensei expertly demonstrated. This short ice-breaker gave everyone enough of an energy boost to finish off with Kumite.

We (the Dan grades) were primarily taught Kumite by Fujimoto Sensei, who use to be on the Japan National Team. He was very good at explaining things, and his English was pretty good too. I learned quite a lot about closing down the distance and breaking the line from him. The other students were split into smaller groups and led by different people, including a few University students. The day's training finished with the Seniors (...and me!) having a short Kumite session whilst everyone else observed.

The training finished and we bowed out and went to get changed for a barbeque. It was pretty cool, the kids were divided up and the Dan grade kids were put in charge of cooking on the hot plate for their respective teams. It was really good to see and quite funny watching some of the kids concentrating really hard on cooking one burger at a time, and then be uncertain of which hungry kid to give it too. The various sensei gave them all some advice, which was basically 'throw everything on!'

Everyone got there fill and we finished off with some fireworks. All the kids (and me and Amy!) were given a big pack with various sparklers.

After everyone got cleaned up and the kids were all in bed, we had a bit of a chill out in Arakawa Sensei's room, all the officials (and us) were treated to a late night snack of ice cream, which was lovely!

It was another early start, 6.00am. The original idea was to go for a run up to a close-by vantage point, do a bit of training and then run back. However, Arakawa sensei hurt his leg yesterday, so the run turned into a walk, for the most part anyway. For which we were all grateful. We stopped at the half way point to perform some basics and work up a sweat, and then we headed back.
After the walk, we had a Japanese style breakfast and then we were off to the Dojo for more training. This session was a little over an hour, and we covered more basics and quickly moved onto kata. This time, Amy and I were taught by Yamazaki Sensei along with the other Dan grades. Todays training was finished off with an exhibition match between two younger students, with full head gear.

After training, we packed up and loaded the coaches and set off for Kanagawa Sea world. This was a relatively short bus ride, and the scenery kept the children occupied.

The kids were organised into their teams again and sent on their way into the park to see the sights. The team leaders were kitted out with synchronised watches so that they wouldn't be late back too, a very good idea!. We spent a few hours there, and had lunch, and then headed home.

All in all, it was a very well organised weekend. It was a lot of travelling for two days, but it was still very enjoyable for everyone. The trip to sea world in particular was very enjoyable for the kids.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Intern V3 outgoing interview...

So Lawrence, you're Intern V3. Why don`t you tell us all a bit about yourself?
My name's Lawrence Liang and I'm a 25-yr old Canadian from Pacific Spirit Wadokai in Vancouver.

How and when did you get started in Karate?
I started karate back in the summer of 1996 through a summer school program my Sensei offers every year. I just thought it'd be fun to try it out and, as it turns out, I'm still training......

So, why did you originally apply for the internship?
I had planned to come to Japan just to get out into the world and see someplace new. I also was quite sure I wanted to be a teacher as a career and I had applied and I was accepted to start my teaching degree. But then I heard about the internship and thought it'd be perfect- I'd get to travel, I'd get to teach (English), and I'd get to do karate.

So after staying here for a year, what has been the best thing about this whole experience?
I think the best thing to come out of it was the relationships I've built with everyone. Even though I've only known these people for a year, already it's hard to imagine leaving them. Be it support for each other's training, good times at dojo get-togethers, or even simple after-practice joking around, the Shiramizu atmosphere is something I'm very glad to be a part of.

I`ve had a taste of the Shiramizu atmosphere, it really has to be experienced first hand to truly appreciate it. So, what's been the worst/most difficult thing about this experience?
It'd have to be the competing. I never competed in Canada so the learning curve was very steep when I got here. And that wasn't helped by (what I realise now were) rather unrealistic goals for myself. But I readjusted my perspective, got my nose to the grind stone, and just kept pushing.

That's usually the best way forward... I know you're staying around for a while longer, but how do you plan to use what you've learned when you go back to Canada?
Broadly speaking, I've learned that I really do enjoy teaching both having taught English and now at my current job, so it's helped me see my future goals more clearly.

In terms of karate, it's renewed my interest in it. I'm more driven than ever to try and pass on to my own dojo the feeling of hard work and fun that I've experienced at Shiramizu.

So, what about any lasting impressions of Japan...
"What?! You're not Japanese?!" haha........ but really, Japan is a really interesting place steeped in historical culture while openly embracing the modern world. I may not agree with everything about it, but having lived it has helped me broaden my senses.

That and being elbowed by old ladies on the train......... good times!

and lasting impressions of Shiramizu...

Shiramizu Summer Camp, August 2007

Chiba Dan Grading, February 2008

Mr. Mike Spain's 2nd visit, February 2008

Need I say more?? =)

It seems a bit pointless asking after the great time you've had but, would you recommend the internship to other people?
In even-less-than a heartbeat. I thought my past year really immersed me in both a new world/culture and a good example of strong karate without overwhelming me. But even for those not in the karate world, not able to devote a year to something like this, or desiring to travel some place other than Japan, I think "living" something new is a chance to be taken.

...interview by Carl, Intern V4.0

The English-English Intern Interview

Lawrence again and yes indeed, it's time for another Shiramizu Internship Interview! This time (and probably the last time from me) we have Mr. Intern v4.0, Carl Jorgeson.

The first non-Canadian intern, Carl (and Amy) has been settling into the intern groove rather well so I thought it'd be a great time to see what's what...

L: Why don't you tell everyone a bit about yourself?
C: My name's Carl Jorgeson, I'm 25 and I'm from Hartlepool (ed- Hart-lee-pool), England. Back home, I'm a Line Manager for Tesco PLC, which is the largest supermarket chain in the country. I also run my own dojo, Hartlepool Wadokai (http://www.hartlepoolwadokai.com/), which has approximately 70 members and is a part of Sakagami Sensei's Aiwakai Karatedo Federation as well as England Wadokai.

In my spare time, I like to train for karate competition where my preference is kumite. I'm also on the England Wadokai National Team for kumite and at last year's European Wadokai Championships, I brought home an individual bronze and team bronze for kumite.

L: Wow, busy man! Such a huge part of your life, how did you get started in karate?
C: I got started when I was 5. My parents had already been training for a while and my older brother had been training for about a year. I wanted to start when my brother did but I was too young. So, on my 5th birthday, I was finally allowed to start training.

L: That's a nice birthday present! And then how did you hear about the internship?
C: I registered on the Yahoo! Wado Karate Forum and I saw a post by Richard Sensei about the internship, so I sent an email asking for more information and grew to love the idea of it.

L: So then what was it about this Intern that you grew to love?
C: Well, I just liked the sound of what I'd be doing. I had always wanted to visit Japan and I think I was at a point in my career and my life where if I didn't come to Japan now, I never would. Also, I picked up an injury just before last year's European Wadokai Championships and though I managed to limp through the competition, I've had a lot of problems getting back into shape since. I thought training intensively in Japan for a year would be a perfect remedy for this.
Also, I was allowed to bring my fiance Amy along, who also happens to love karate and is on the England Wadokai National Team. So, it just made perfect sense to come...

L: Well, now that you've actually arrived and had a chance both to see a tiny bit of Japan as well as sweat profusely at the dojo, what are your first impressions? Both of Japan and of Shiramizu?
C: For starters, Japan is hotter than I expected, but I'm coping for now. I think everyone has been so friendly and helpful, from all the Shiramizu instructors, students and their parents to the strangers I walk past on the way to the train station in the morning.

As for Shiramizu, the standard here is second to none. The first night we were here, we watched a kyu grading where some kids didn't make the grade. By our own standards, we would have probably passed everyone one of them, and our club is very strict with gradings! It just shows how high Arakawa Sensei's standards are. And it works. The work ethic, even from the youngest of kids, is great. They concentrate and try their best when they're training. Of course, after class, the kids are very lively, play fighting with each other etc........ it's great!

L: Ah yes, the play fighting with kids..... I tend to lose unfortunately haha..... anyway, how do you feel about Arakawa Sensei himself?
C: I find he's very laid back, but he has a great way of explaining things. Even though I don't speak the language yet, I can usually follow what he's saying.

L: I found that too and, as it turns out, I learned a lot of Japanese just from watching Arakawa Sensei and matching his words to his actions. Well then, now that you're here, what kind of goals have you set for yourself in this one year? Both karate and otherwise?
C: My karate goals; Get my nidan and work towards my sandan; Place in the Top 3 of most of the tournaments I'll enter in kumite (not including the Wadokai Nationals); Learn the Shiramizu way of doing Wadoryu.

Other goals? Learn the Japanese language well enough to get my thoughts across; Help Arakawa Sensei with his English!; Set up an English class just for the Shiramizu instructors; Climb Mt. Fuji; See and experience as much of the country as possible; and learn the practice methods of Shiramizu so that I can incorporate some of those ideas into Hartlepool Wadokai.

L: Quite a list there..... a perfect way of spending the year =)...... do you have any other hobbies?
C: Outside of karate, I like sea-kayaking, rock climbing, and scuba diving. I also like to climb/walk hills and mountains when I have the time.

L: And Mt. Fuji is certainly the "hill" to "walk" heh...... any other things you're liking about Japan?
C: Well, I like the people here; everyone is really friendly. I also like the work ethic in that people don't take sick days here! I also like the efficiency of the train and the architecture of the houses and the gardens, especially since I have a Japanese garden at home.

L: Oh nice........... anything you don't like?
C: It's hot. And humid (ed- Yes it is......). There's also a lack of vegetarian food/options. And there's quite a bit of smog, especially around Tokyo. The last thing is having to commute to work for two hours by train- each way! I'm used to being 15 minutes away from my workplace.
(Richard here - the Thu and Fri English conversation classes are in the city which requires some time on the train whereas the rest of the English classes are at the Shiramizu dojo, a 5-7min bike ride from the new intern apartment.)

L: Ah yes, that can get a bit wearing..... and now that you've trained here a few times, how is the karate different from that of England's?
C: The main and most important difference is the frequency of training. The Japanese train or can train everyday, especially at Shiramizu where the door is literally always open. In the UK, the standard is for people to train once or twice a week, possible with a training course on the weekend.

This obviously has an effect on the standards of Japanese dojos compared to UK dojos...

L: I see I see........ well, it certainly sounds like you have your goals set for the next year so.... have at it!
C: Thanks!

And have at it indeed. Carl (and Amy) have been doing very well these past two weeks with all the people really enjoying their company and the effort they put into the training. And the Japanese English students, while still getting used to a new teacher, have warmed up to Carl quite quickly so no problems there.

So keep checking the blog to see how the v4.0 Intern evolves into v4.1.... then v4.2..... v4.3....

Saitama Wadokai Championships - Sunday 6th July

Welcome to my first official post as the Shirimizu ‘Intern’. I've tried to wait until I had something of interest to write about rather than simply writing about how my first two weeks in Japan have been (if you are interested in that, then please visit my personal blog (HERE) .

A short intro on me and Amy...
My name is Carl Jorgeson, I'm 25 years old and I'm from Hartlepool, which lies on the north east coast of England. Back home I'm a Line manager for Tesco (the leading supermarket which is slowly taking over the world!), and I also run my own Karate Dojo - Hartlepool Wadokai (http://www.hartlepoolwadokai.com/) which has approximately 70 students and a pretty good track record on the tournament circuit. In my spare time I enjoy training for Karate competitions, to maintain my place on the England Wadokai National Team. I also enjoy climbing mountains, Sea Kayaking and Scuba Diving.

I brought my fiancé Amy along with me to Japan, Amy is also from Hartlepool and she is also 25 years old. Amy's an active competitor and a member of the England Wadokai National Team. Back home, Amy is a Police Community Support Officer and also a professional photographer. Amy is also an instructor at my dojo. Amy volunteered to be Shirimizu's official photographer for the Saitama Wadokai Championships.

Tournament report – Saitama Wadokai Championships Sunday 6th July

The Asuharu community centre was the venue for the Saitama Wadokai Championships on a very hot and humid Sunday 6th July 2008. The day was going to prove difficult for me because as an active competitor, I’m not used to watching tournaments, I normally compete in them!

(Richard here - the deadline for participants was over a month in advance so we were unable to get a spot for Carl and Amy not knowing what their schedule would be in the first week. But they are registed for the Wadokai nationals in August!)

Amy on the other hand was kept very busy taking photos all day.

What struck me straight away, before we even got into the sports centre was the punctuality of the Japanese! The majority of athletes and their parents were waiting outside the sport's centre before it even opened for business. When we turned up, there was already a buzz in the air, despite already being 25 degrees at 8:30am, the kids were messing around whilst the parents looked on, no doubt jealous of their youthful energy!

6 clubs attended the tournament, with approximately 300 total competitors; by far the biggest turnout was Arakawa Sensei's Shirimizu dojo with an impressive 160 students, most of who competed in both Kata AND Kumite. From what I could ascertain, the next big turnout was from KICK Karate and then a number of other clubs (sorry I can't read Japanese yet so I don't know their names).

The tournament was setup very well, there were 5 mat areas set up in the hall, with all spectators kept out of the way in stadium seats overlooking all the areas. It gave the event a very ‘clean’ look throughout the day. Usually, at UK tournaments, you can't see past the first area due to huge crowds of parents standing around the mat. Not so in Japan. The hall with its grand marble pillars and stadium seating also gave the tournament a feeling similar to the coliseum in Rome; the students would be going into combat like the gladiators of the past.

There was the usual sort of expectant buzz in the air, as you get at all good tournaments. What stood out were the ‘team’ warm-ups, which lasted for well over an hour. All the different dojo got their students together and the students were put through their paces. I always find that this sort of warm up serves two purposes. Firstly, it gets all the students fired up for the day ahead, their bodies become more agile and the techniques become that bit more sharper, the younger students feeding off the more experienced person stood next to them, it’s a great way to build team spirit. Secondly, it is a great way to psych out all the competitors from the other dojo! Shirimizu filled half the hall with its competitors, surely an intimidating sight for everyone else. The effect of all 300 students warming up together was an impressive sight to see and hear, it was as though the competition had already started, with each group trying to ‘out-Kiai’ the next.

The Shirimizu warm-up was split up in two (due to the large numbers of competitors). Yoshihara Sensei and Yamazaki Sensei took the young yellow and blue belt kids whilst the older and higher grade kids and adults were led by Mori-san, with the other Shirimizu instructors walking between the two groups correcting and encouraging as necessary. Both warm-ups consisted of a lot of bouncing, stretching and Kihon moves, with a lot of synchronised counting. They then moved onto punches with Kiai, and finally onto Kata. I must say that this part was very good, watching 70+ 6-9 year olds perform the different Pinan Kata in near perfect unison – an awesome sight.

It was during his warm-up that Amy donned her Gi so that she could pretend to be a competitor, and therefore get closer to the action for better photos.

At 9:30am, the students were marshalled into lines by dojo.

What followed was a standard opening ceremony, with a lot of speeches by various people. Arakawa Sensei, who happened to be running the tournament, gave a short speech which drew out 5 students (4 of whom were from Shirimizu), they were all presented with a certificate and a small envelope, these kids had been selected to the Japan National Wadokai Team for the forthcoming Wadokai World Championships in August.

After the final bow, it was onto the day’s business. Each mat area was announced and the students were organised into the correct ring. With Japanese efficiency, all 5 Kata rings were ready to go in a matter of minutes. All of the rings ‘bowed in’ together and at 10:00am the tournament begun.

The Kata sections involved both Aka (red) and Ao (blue) competitors perform their chosen Kata simultaneously in front of 5 officials, with the winner getting the majority of the official’s flags. It was Shirimizu up first on all five areas, and impressively, all got through to the next round. This would turn out to be a sign of what the day had in store. What followed was 2 hours of great Kata, no matter which area you watched, there was some very good Kata on display. The main thing that caught my attention was the difference in the Kime points (points of focus) and the general pace of the kata, particularly with the more experienced competitors.

After each round, the area would stop and the officials would have all the students bow out, those competitors that hadn’t made it through the first round were then dismissed.

Round 2 on all areas led to a lot of exciting Shirimizu vs. Shirimizu matches. Next up was the Seniors Dan Grade Kata division, I paid particular attention to this category as it would have been my division had I been competing and Lawrence, my predecessor was also entered. Lawrence was first up, and he got a bye because the other guy didn't turn up. Second round, Lawrence gave a good performance of Pinan Godan (the compulsory Kata), he won this round 5-0. Third round, and a Shirimizu final was between Lawrence (with Seishan) and Tsubasa Oshima (with Chinto). Tsubasa won the final 5-0 with an excellent performance and a well deserved result. Lawrence was thrilled with his second place finish.

At 12 o’clock, when all the Kata areas had finished, everyone broke for 1 hour lunch.

Kumite begun promptly at 1:00pm with everyone bowing in together and each mat area starting at the same time. The main difference between Japan and UK Kumite competition is the extra compulsory safety equipment that is required here in Japan for juniors and ladies. This consists of a huge helmet, with face guard and body armour. The end result is 200 cute little storm troopers lined up at the side of the areas minus the laser-guns of course!

The competitors were all fearless, if a little predictable. From what I could see, everyone's strategy seemed to rely on being the fastest off the mark, with very little in the way off ring-craft. The fighters attack constantly with punches until the referee stops the fight. A lot of the fighters had killer gyakuzuki’s (reverse punches) and were particularly good at stealing the distance from each other, getting in range and then striking to get the point. The downside to the fighting was that most people fought in the same way, most, if not all held a left stance throughout the tournament.

I was particularly impressed whilst watching Yuki Okamura (sorry, no photo), from Shirimizu in the cadets Kumite division, he was, in my humble opinion, the best fighter of the day, showing great skill in picking off his opponents. I think at times he was too confident; losing a few points, but that didn’t stop him from taking gold.

I was a little disappointed with the senior divisions, the categories were quite small (compared to the kid's categories) and the standard wasn't the best I've seen. I still watched the Seniors Dan grade category with interest because again, this would have been my division. This category had a few good bouts, but none had the flair that had been shown in the previous divisions. Mori-san from Shirimizu put on a good display and he was very confident in a few of his bouts, having no guard and simply dodging the opponent's strikes.

All in all, the competition was very well organised and very well run. The Kata standard was very good and there was some good Kumite on display too. I can't wait until the Wadokai Nationals to see how Amy and I perform.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Peter & Paul attend Kanazawa Sensei Seminar in Canada!

July 4, 5, 6 saw the famous Hirokazu Kanazawa Sensei, head of the Shotokan SKIF association, give a seminar in Nanaimo, Canada.

Frequent Shiramizu visitor Peter sent us a picture of the event, which also has Intern 2.0 Paul lurking in the background! I'm sure they had a great experience.

I have only two small stories related to Kanazawa Sensei. The first was several years ago when I ordered Kanazawa Sensei's English version of his autobiography from a publisher in Singapore, but it never arrived after several months of waiting. When I emailed the SKIF office in Japan to mention this fact to them, Kanazawa Sensei couriered me a copy that very day! Classy!

The second story is when I met him not long after getting the book at a karate function in Tokyo. I thought he might have wanted to speak English since he is fluent, but instead he spoke to me only in Japanese, which was refreshing since most Japanese instructors who speak some English only want to practice their English on pasty-white folks like me. But he's not like that. Someone mentioned to me afterward that when in Japan, we should all speak Japanese, especially non-Japanese who are here to learn, which is also what Toshiaki Maeda Sensei says. So again, Kanazawa Sensei is a sophisticated man who deserves the good reputation he has.

No doubt he was just as sophisticated and personable this time around in Canada.


4th Annual All-Saitama Wadokai Tournament

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

Lawrence here. I'm in the last few days of being "the intern", but that hasn't stopped me from taking in all of the sights, sounds, and punches in the All-Saitama Prefecture Wadokai Championships.

This past Sunday (July 6th) as the Asukaru Community Centre in Satte City (about a 10 minute drive from Shiramizu), Wadokai clubs from all over Saitama prefecture gathered to duke it out amidst the steadily growing heat and humidity.

There were just over 300 competitors (with 160 of those from Shiramizu alone... talk about support!) representing 7 different clubs ranging from kindergarten/elementary only clubs (like KICK) to the Bunkyo University club. The first matches kicked off at 10am and my kata adult's men division was the last division run that morning.

My goal during this internship was to place somewhere respectable in a competition and, seeing as my kata division had 7 competitors with only 1st and 2nd places to be awarded a medal, that meant I would have to win at least two rounds to get something.

The first round went by without incident (literally, as my opponent didn't show) and I sat back down to wait for my second round. The second match was against a Bunkyo University student who was seeded through the first round and we both did Pinan Godan, the "first round" shitei kata (picture on the right). Joy of joys, I won that 5-0 and was in the final round, against another Shiramizu member (Tsubasa Oshima). Tsubasa is actually a high school student, but because there weren't enough entries for a high school division, he was put in the adult division. I didn't beat him for the gold medal but, having accomplished my year's goal, I was still grinning from ear to ear.

After lunch, it was back on the floor to get ready for my kumite match at its seemingly usual place at the very end of the day. Again I was pitted against another Bunkyo University student and though I eventually lost that match 4-2, I've been feeling more and more comfortable in the ring every time so I wasn't the least bit upset.

Nor was there any reason to be upset because the final matches between adult women's kumite, adult men's kumite (coloured belts), and adult men's kumite (black belts) were run one after another at the end of the day. As it turned out, all three matches were Shiramizu vs Bunkyo University and I'm very happy to say Shiramizu came out on top in all three of the very exciting fights in addition to, as I found out later, reaching or winning the final round in almost every other division.

To follow up such a happy day was a party at a local izakaya restaurant, doubling as Carl and Amy's welcome party. Lots of food and drink, speeches, and laughs were had all night and it was a great way to forget about the sweaty July summer and instead focus on making new friends and living new experiences.

On that note, my own experience this past weekend showed me that there's no such thing as something "not worth doing". I came to Japan intent on improving my karate and I entered everything I could sign my name on to try and do that. Though it's always nice to be able to hold up a medal at the end of the day, I had a lot of levels to pass through to do that and those experiences are just as important to me, especially since I have more "experiences" than I do medals.

Beyond that, just knowing that 160 Shiramizu members entered and seeing everyone out there trying their best to push through to their next level was a very good example of how anything can be taken seriously, but still be fun at the same time. At the end of the day, despite a few tears here and there, people had a great time and you can bet that all of us will be signing our names up again for the next tournament...

Shiramizu's Mori-san (blue gloves) en route to his 1st place finish.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Welcome 'English Intern', v4.0!

Amy and Carl after they have arrived at Shiramizu, after more than 20 hours of traveling on cars, planes and more cars!
And the internship just keeps growing and growing, the most recent growth happening on July 1st with the Shiramizu Internship's 4th intern, and the first non-Canadian.

Mr. Carl Jorgeson learned about the internship through this very blog and, like the rest of the interns, jumped at the chance to spend a year training hard, seeing the sights, and living the culture.

But more than that, his fiance Amy Coulson decided to come along as well! While Carl is the official intern, Amy will have just as many opportunities to see Japan, practice karate and experience living in a new country all for herself.

The past two days, however, have mostly been settling in. There is now a "Shiramizu Internship Apartment" and Carl and Amy, along with much help from Arakawa Sensei and other dojo staff, started to get things like washing machines, have the lights hooked up and so on.

As the week goes on (and their jetlag disappears), they will get a chance to start their karate training here as Shiramizu also resumes normal hours since most of this week has been only for kyu tests.

And the two of them can start preparing for their first Japan competition, the Wadokai National Championships on August 18 and 19! Unfortunately they missed the registration deadline for the Saitama Wadokai Tournament, but I made it so I'll be waving the intern banner there.

But in the meantime, keep checking back as I get read you pass my blog duties to Carl, Intern v4.0.

Richard here - Carl said he likes the idea of being called the 'English Intern' but to the Japanese all the interns have been English since that word relates to language only, so for Carl we might have to say the English-English Intern, the British-English Intern, or maybe the Real English Intern... let's see what sticks.

Welcome to Japan!

(L to R): Richard Sensei, Amy, Arakawa Sensei, Carl, Lawrence

(Photo courtesy of Arakawa Sensei's blog)