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

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