Monday, February 23, 2009

10th Shiramizu Annual Tournament

Carl here...

Sunday 22nd February was the 10th anniversary of Shiramizu's annual club-only competition. The official name of the event is:

'Dai ju-kai Shiramizu Shuyo Kai Karate-do Rensei Taikai'
(# 10 event Shiramizu Cultivation Association Karate-do Training Tournament). Shiramizu Shuyo Kai is the full name for the dojo.

As per usual with Shiramizu events, Amy and I helped set up the competition on the Saturday before at the Asukaru Sports Centre in Satte City. This was also the first time that we could walk through our parts in the'Karate-man' demo.

We had an early start, especially since I had to put aside my trademark jeans and T-shirt and wear a suit. Today I would be an official! Arakawa Sensei kindly gave us a ride to the venue, and we were introduced to his father (a Buddhist monk) and older brother (also a Buddhist monk) en-route.

The doors were to be opened at 8:30am so that gave everyone a little time for those last minute things, including the raising of the flag...

Mikya (Kikuchi Sensei son) had to do a spiderman impression to achieve the all-important standard raising.

This effort was well appreciated by the dedicated few...

Suzuki Sensei and his oldest son, Kaiji giving the salute!

As usual, the older kids put the younger through the warm up.

Part of the group warm up...

Opening Ceremony
The Shiramizu banner led the way into the hall for the rest of the competitors, who then made the line up.

March of honour...

Line up...

Let the competition begin...
All of the categories started with kata eliminations, and most changed to kumite for the semi-final and final rounds. This is a very efficient way of running the competition, meaning that the organisers can get through 400+ competitors in a few short hours. This also means that successful competitors have to be proficient in kata and kumite rather than trying to specialise in one or the other.

Two kids from the Sugito Shirayuri kindergarten in action


The competition had a celebrity present, none other than 'Kobaton' the mascot of the Saitama prefecture.

The competition part of the day finished at lunch time, then the demonstrations started. The first one was the 'Karate-man' demo, which Team Gaijin had been hoodwinked into helping with.
The story has as many twists as a good 'bond' movie but it's roughly like this:

Misaki (the damsel) is performing a kata demonstration, but then, 'Karate Man' (Okano-san) decides to pick a fight with her...

They trade a few punches...

Then some super heroes turn up to save her...

...they fight and 'Karate Man' is losing, BUT THEN!

'Karate man' calls in some reinforcements - 'The General' flanked by Team Gaijin!!

Team gaijin had lines (in English & Japanese),
My name is Lawrence... I come from Canada...
My name is Carl... I come from England...
My name is Amy... I come from the Moon... (no really!)

We all fight, and us 'bad guys' are winning.


Green and Pink superhero turn up, we fight some more and this time the fight is more balanced. I fight the green hero and even use the famous 'kamehameha' move!

Pink then stops everyone fighting and says something in English... Team Gaijin announce (in Japanese) that we've been duped by 'The General', and decide to switch sides. We all then thoroughly beat up the 'Karate-man' & 'The General'.

We hug, the end...

...well, almost... the superhero's passed the 'free time' doing various acrobatics and Amy did some fancy flag waving... and Lawrence and I... did our own rendition of
Night Fever / Pulp Fiction-type dancing!.

I think the demo was probably too long, with some of the referee's wanting it to end BUT the kids loved every minute of it. They were more than happy to show their appreciation by beating up the 'superhero's after the demonstration.

Next came various other demonstrations including one from the dance group that rents out the Shiramizu dojo space...

board & tile breaking...
All the competitors performed all the Pinan Kata en mass in age and belt color groups, (youngest kids did Pinan Nidan, slightly older kids did Pinan Shodan, etc) and the adult dan grades performed Seishan kata en mass.

Next came a great kindergarten demo to the beat of a Japanese drum.

Beautiful and deadly!
High school students Chihiro, Yuki and Erika' team kata demo...

Utsunomiya Bunsei Girls High School
Kata demo...

Sensei Fujimoto and his brother Sensei Fujimoto... knife demo

Tsubasa, Yuki and Rie performed individual kata demo's followed by a sword demo.

Then came a 7 vs 7 kumite exhibition, Team Tiger vs Team Dragon. Amy was in the Tiger team, and I the Dragon team. Everyone fought great, but I'm pleased to say that my Dragon Team won comfortably with 4 wins & 1 draw (my fight was the draw!) vs Team Tigers 2 wins & 1 draw

Dragon Team (right), Tiger Team (left)

The five high school kids then did there demo (two girls beat up three guys), followed by great demo's from all the Shiramizu instructors...

Arakawa Sensei, showing the 'Zero' inch punch, to break two boards.

...and Arakawa Sensei himself!

After that, all that was remaining was the awards ceremony and closing speaches from various important people including Arakawa Sensei's father.

Uehara Sensei

Arakawa Sensei also announced that Uehara Sensei was to be officially given the title of 'Vice Chief Instructor' for the Shiramizu dojo, a great honour!

After the clean up, all that was remaining was a party... with plenty of great food and drink...

...and everyone had a great time!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Roses are red...

My valentines...

...violets are blue...

Carl here,

For a 'cheek reddening' post about, yes, you've guessed it, Valentines day!

For those of you who don't know, Valentines day is celebrated in the west on February 14th as an excuse to give gifts to the one(s) you love.

In Japan, this tradition was annexed, and massively promoted by a confectionery manufacturer who insisted that only women should give gifts.

Then, another pioneering fellow, not surprisingly also a confectionery manufacturer decided that men should 'return' the gift giving one month later, on White day, March 14th.

Most of the chocolate I got is what's called 'giri-choco' which is bought by women for friends, bosses, colleagues and close male friends. ‘Giri' in Japan means obligation hence these types of chocolates has no romantic association. Apparently ladies feel the need to pass these onto all the guys who work close to them so that the guys don't feel 'left out' or embarrassed. In my case, I was thoroughly embarrassed at being presented with the gifts, or maybe it was the fear of Amy finding out?

...but I also got some chocolate that is classed as 'honmei-choco' which are for those special ones, boyfriends, lovers or husbands. These chocolates are hand made by the girls themselves to show how they really care! No, I'm not telling who gave me to them...!

Before you ask, no Amy DIDN'T get me ANYTHING for Valentines Day! She simply said that she buys me too much chocolate already, like there was ever such a thing as 'too much' chocolate!

So, what have I been doing all weekend? Eating chocolate of course...!

Cartoon by Roger Dahl, Japan Times newspaper

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kita-Kasushika Area Karate Championships

Carl here...

The English intern tag-team!

Yesterday was the Kita-Kasushika Area Karate Championships held at the Asukaru Centre in Satte City. I thought this was going to be a small local competition, I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find out that there was over 500 entrants and a reasonable number of competitors in my own divisions.

Anyway, back to the story...

The competition was organised by Arakawa Sensei and Masuda Sensei from the local Shotokan dojo. Shiramizu therefore helped setup the competition on the Saturday night. Team Gaijin was taken away from 'set-up duties' by Okano-san, to talk us through our Karate acting debut in what would be part of the Shiramizu Taikai at the end of the month. I'm still not sure of the details but to give you a glimpse, here's a picture of some of those involved (from the blog of Arakawa Sensei).

Thankfully, Team Gaijin don't have to dress up in any Lycra costumes, we can get away with our karate gi and sunglasses!

After the setup was complete, Arakawa Sensei took Team Gaijin, that being Carl, Amy and Lawrence to a local chinese restaraunt, accompanied by Kikuchi Sensei and a few other Shiramizu students. The food was delicious and Lawrence enjoyed laughing at my fumbling with the chopsticks.

The Competition
I managed to miss the 'team warm up' because I took too long taping my competitor numbers on my back, but I got there in time for opening ceremony. In typical fashion, there was a number of speeches and the Roman salute (one student says a short formal speech to the main organizer of the tournament that all the athletes will do their best in a sportsperson like manner) and then the competition started across 8 mats. Shiramizu entered approximately 150 competitors into the competition, but only three seniors - those being Amy, Lawrence and myself aka - Team Gaijin, so there was plenty of expectation resting on our shoulders, and I'm pleased to say that we didn't disappoint!

In typical fashion, after my own brief warm up to loosen up my body, I found a corner to fall asleep in, iPod playing, oblivious to the world...

...until I was woken up by a kick to the shins of either Amy or Lawrence to tell me that our Kata division had been called.

Our kata category had 17 people in. I've been working on 'fixing' my Chinto kata since I came to Japan, and it was that kata which I chose to perform. Despite this I personally didn't think I'd get past the first round. My competition kata isn't particularly great and with it being an open competition, I thought a Shotokan or Goju exponent would get the better of me.

Anyway, by some random fluke of luck I got through the first round with a 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' performance of Chinto, with no less than 5 flags! The next round I was not surprised to lose by 5 flags to the other guy. Lawrence was disappointed with not getting past the first round, but he lost to the guy who went onto the finals (finishing in 2nd) so we both ended up with a certificate for finishing in the 'best 8'.

Amy lost to a lady who went onto the finals of her division too, but there were only 8 people in her category so she didn't get a certificate for her placing.

Whilst we were waiting for our kumite divisions, I tried to steal myself away again and sleep but some of the little Shiramizu girls had different ideas. They thought it would be a good idea to use me as a warm up instrument, at one point I had a dozen trying to beat me up! I eventually managed to convince them to fight Lawrence and Amy instead so I could escape!

Amy was up first from Team Gaijin...

...and she fought very well.

Amy 'high fiving' her opponent during a match!

Making her way comfortably to the finals to win her first ever individual Gold Medal, in Japan of all places!!!

Amy with her FIRST EVER individual Gold Medal!

Not wanting to be out done, Lawrence and I made our way to the area. There were 21 competitors in the division and both Lawrence and I had been seeded into the 2nd round. Our referee was the coach from Saitama Sakai high school, where I sometimes train on Sundays, so I was conscious not to mess up.

Lawrence in action...!

Lawrence was up against someone much taller, but he held his own for most of the fight scoring with some solid counter punching. His opponent managed to keep his lead until the end, winning 4-3.

For my first fight I was matched against a gentleman who at first glance appeared to be of 'aging years'. Any false notions I had that this would be an easy fight were wiped away with two lightening fast lunge punches that I barely saw coming and could do nothing about. As I walked back to the line the second time, I remember smiling at Lawrence and getting a knowing smile back, something like 'well, we didn't expect that!'.

Winning punch

After that, I found my stride but the match went onto sudden death were I took the win with a head punch.

The next round was a little easier, I settled straight into the fight, measured and scored with a head punch straight off my line. After a little bit of trading, scoring another point, I launched in with a solid hook kick to the head to get 3 points.

Carl mid-flight, a moment before the right leg connects to his opponents head

I felt comfortable going into the finals, my opponent shook my hand before hand and we lined up. We traded well, scoring a point, then losing a point. He wouldn't let my bring my legs fully into the game, I scored with a solid body kick that nearly split him in two...

...and a reverse punch that put him on the floor.

However, in the last few seconds, being one point down, I couldn't get through his guard to get the point, I landed a few techniques, but none good enough to get the score. My opponent took the win, 4 points to 3. I would have to settle for 2nd place!

After I'd bowed out of the match, I realised that our fight had been the last of the day. Most of the other areas had already been cleared away and everyone had been stood watching the fight. I was disappointed with the 2nd place, but it could well be the extra motivation I need get ready for the Wadokai Kanto Taikai in March!

The competition was very well organised, ran smoothly all day and finished on time. The volunteers were all great, and the whole day was fun! Though I don't yet have any exact figures, Shiramizu did very well with a lot of competitors taking gold. This competition has proved to be a great warm up for the Shiramizu club competition in two weeks time.

Team Gaijin brought home 4 awards from 3 competitors, so it was a good result for the foreigners!

For me, it's showed what areas I need to get to work on in time for my next competition. Meanwhile, I must get back to my junzuki...

I'd like to thank Chris Heinmiller, the lastest addition to 'Team Gaijin' for taking most of the photos during the competition, leaving us free to concentrate on our karate. Keep an eye on this blog for an exclusive interview with Chris coming soon, as he is a 2nd Dan Taekwondo student from Canada now training at Shiramizu.

Additional photo's from Lawrence...!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Carl here...

Setsubun' on February 3rd is a special day in Japan, it's considered a part of the Spring Festival. It's a chance to cleanse away all evil of the previous year and start afresh by throwing soya beans at the devil!

Sugito Shirayuri Kindergarten

Sugito Shirayuri kindergarten has been teaching the kids about the festival, and its meaning. To make sure the kids are engaged, they've been making their own 'oni' or Japanese devil masks and costumes over the last week or so.

An example of Demon masks used in the festival
Picture taken from

Being the resident gaijin, I was nominated to be 'the devil', well, one of them, I was accompanied by one of the kindergarten bus drivers too. I had to wear some tiger pattern pants, and a multi coloured wig and then walk onto the stage and try to scare 250 children, who were sat waiting!

But they were well prepared... they all had cups filled with soyabeans and they were ready to throw them at us... whilst shouting... "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" which means something like 'demons out! look in!'. Needless to say, 250 kids shouting and throwing things is enough to scare away anyone, even the devil!

The soya beans are thought to purify everything, keeping away the evil spirits that bring misfortune and ill health.

Cleansing the classroom
Once all the kids returned to their respective classrooms, the teachers led them through the same chants, though on a smaller scale. The teachers opened all the windows and doors, and the kids threw their imaginary soyabeans out of them whilst making the same chant "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!".

I do have a rather embarrasing photo of me in my costume, but it was taken with my phone so it's very low quality - that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it...