Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shiramizu Kyu Grades

Carl here...

...for a short report on the Shiramizu dojo. The last 4 weeks have been very busy for the dojo. There was the 10th Anniversary Shiramizu club competition, closely followed by a Dan Grading and a Wadokai Training course over the same weekend and then the Wadokai Kanto Taikai.

The dojo is still busy. This week is full of belt tests, with 450+ students at Shiramizu, it takes a full week to test everyone.

The examiners!

This is Naoya, one of my students from the Shiramizu Kindergarten English class. He's just passed his yellow belt test, so he happily passed on his old blue belt to his little brother. This is great for Naoya because he's only been in the 'big kid' class a few short weeks after graduating from the kindergarten class.

Naoya (Yellow Belt), and his little brother!


Carl here...

...for a quick write up on Uchida-San, one of the students from the Shiramizu dojo. He's had a busy two weeks, not only did he recently (15th March) achieve his shodan at the Chiba Dan Grading BUT he also won the over 40 years old Kumite division in the Wadokai Kanto Taikai on the 22nd March! Not bad for a guy pushing past 50 years old!

Wadokai Kanto Taikai

Carl here,

I’ve been looking forward to this competition for a while now; the last few competitions were only local events with relatively small categories, this one would be a real challenge. Also, this would be mine and Amy’s last competition during our internship in Japan. Naturally my ego wanted me to win my kumite division.

(editor's note: The Wadokai Kanto area Taikai has about 1600 Wadokai member only competitors from the 7 prefectures around and including Tokyo so it is one of the biggest tournaments of any style in the region.)

We all had an early start from Tobudobutsu-koen station to get to....

....The Komazawa Olympic Park sports arena near Shibuya for 8:30.

The venue had 13 area mats set up and most categories were big. My kumite category (none university student adult men only) had 54 people in but I was feeling confident. My category was one of the first to start, Arakawa Sensei came over to help me warm up and I was ready to go.


I won my first fight 6-0 with three punches and a head kick. It was a straight forward fight.

I had a long wait for my next fight, but just as I was about to go on the mat, one of the officials came over to tell me that I was wearing the wrong colour so I had to change. After changing colour, I walked to the edge of the mat and the same guy came back over and said he’d made a mistake and I now had the wrong colour on. So, after changing my belt and gloves again, I walked to the edge of the mat.

The fight was terrible, I fumbled my way through to a 1-0 win but I wasn’t comfortable in the fight at all. I had obviously let the fussing about at the start throw my focus. What made it worse was that the area was directly in front of were Takagi Sensei and various other important Wadokai Sensei were sat, so they had a great view of my terrible performance.

My third and last fight was even worse than the last one. I was up against a big guy who came in immediately with an unanswered body kick to my back to get 2 points. He then proceeded to pound my face a couple of times to get another 2 points and a contact warning. I didn’t really answer any of it, I kept chasing but my reverse punches were nonexistent and my lead hand was moving in a very obvious circular movement rather than a straight line to the target. Without my hand techniques to open up the opponent, my leg techniques were all but useless. To add to this, my distancing was way off! All in all, probably one of the worse performances I’ve ever had in kumite. I lost the fight 4-0 finishing I believe in the ‘best 16’.

I walked away from the area to cool off and watch my fight which Amy had recorded. Once I’d watched it a few times, I was ready for human contact and I found Arakawa Sensei to apologise for fighting so badly. He laughed and we had a talk about the way I fought and what I did wrong, we both concluded that my ‘head’ just wasn’t in the fight!

I didn’t get to see Amy fight in her kumite division because I was called for kata, she didn’t make it through her first round which she wasn’t particularly happy about.

Team Guseikai

Arakawa Sensei taking a break from his warm up

Arakawa Sensei was fighting as part of Takagi Sensei’ Guseikai Kumite Team. I’ve never seen Sensei perform in a competition so naturally I stuck around to watch, with almost everyone else in the venue including the free officials!

Guseikai did well in their first round, winning easily. Arakawa Sensei in particular was in total control of his fight. The next round wasn’t so great, they changed the fight order around and the first two guys lost and the next one after won. Arakawa Sensei was up next and despite fighting well, he ended up running out of time being one point down. The next Guseikai guy also lost, though barely.

Lunch Break

Kids in action
Photo from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

During the scheduled lunch break, all the kids were lined up and put through some basics and kata by Shiramizu’ Arakawa Sensei.

Chihiro from Shiramizu giving out presents

Then all the Shiramizu adults helped the other officials give a small present (Wadokai branded Chopsticks!) to every child competitor. Whilst this was happening there was a number of demonstrations held for the crowd.

Amy’s kata category was called up whilst I was fighting but I did see her first kata performance from across the hall. She did really well, getting all 5 flags in her first round. I didn’t get to see any of her other kata performances though. Amy ended up finishing in the top 8 of the category. This is a great result for her, especially considering her set back over the Dan grading! Also, the trophy she got is great, it’s probably one of the most stylish trophies either of us has ever won, and it was for an 8th place!

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have any hope in kata! I was fairly sure that I wasn’t going to get past the first round but I still had my objectives. The first time I competed in kata was 9 months ago and I was very nervous, my only objective for this competition was to perform with no tension and not be nervous. My Pinan Godan wasn’t perfect, but it was ok, I slipped slightly in the last move which I believe lost me the round (5 flags to 0!). I was still happy though because I wasn’t nervous during the performance and there was very little tension. Mission accomplished.

Lawrence gave a good performance of Pinan Godan but the decision went to the other guy. For the life of me I couldn’t see the difference between the two kata!

The Shiramizu squad!
Photo from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

This wasn’t the best result that Team Gaijin has achieved at a competition, but I’m really pleased for Amy and her kata placing. I don’t suppose ‘best 16’ in kumite is too bad, but it’s 15 places from where I wanted to be!

Shiramizu did well with the medal haul, I don’t have exact numbers but a large number of Shiramizu people were in the finals.

A special mention should go out to all the Shiramizu instructors, they were either helping at the competition as officials or they were competing. Iwasaki Sensei got 2nd Place in the over 40’s Kata, he smiled when he said he got zero flags for his Kushanku kata in the final. Also Yoshihara Sensei, who just so happens to be one of the nicest ladies you’ll ever meet, got two silver medals, one in Kumite and the other in Kata. I think Yamazaki Sensei would have placed in her Kata category but she was struggling with a back injury so her kata was pretty tense.

Even though I came away from the competition empty handed, I’ve still learned loads. Also, I got some great feedback from Hideo Takagi Sensei about my fighting which I very much appreciate! Also, it was great fun to hang out with friends who all love karate as much as me, make new friends, flirt with all the cute girls – the usual!

By my calculations, I have 22 weeks to train for the JKF-Wadokai Nationals in August which I’m planning to fly back to Japan for.

Chiba Dan test

Photo taken from

Carl here,

Let me start with an apology to the readers, we don't have any cool pictures of the Dan grading because although we took the camera with us, we somehow forgot to take the camera battery!

A few weeks ago I made the somewhat innocent mistake of asking Arakawa Sensei what a new poster on the dojo wall said. He told me that it was an upcoming Dan Test in Chiba, as I was walking away he asked ’Carl, you trying?’ As I’m sure I’ve explained before, that translates into English as ‘Carl you are trying?’. So, that’s how I found myself lining up with maybe 20 other Dan grade candidates at the Shiramizu dojo, ready to take part in a ‘Pre-Dan Test’ for my Nidan (2nd Dan).

Shiramizu Pre-Dan Test
This pre-Dan test is a quality control for maintaining the very high standard of the Shiramizu black belts. Arakawa Sensei only lets the very best try for the next belt!

All candidates had to perform two Kata and then some free-fighting. I wasn’t concerned about the kumite, I know I can hold my own with most fighters; the Kata though, was a different matter!

I performed Chinto & Wanshu. I say ‘performed’; it was really an attempt at fumbling through the various movements. If I had performed them on my own, they would have probably been passable; however I had to follow all Shiramizu high school kids who are all great at kata. Anyway, the Shiramizu instructors were feeling particularly charitable and so Okayed me to try for Nidan.

Amy was also allowed to try for Nidan, despite only being a Shodan for 8 or 9 months. However, it was decided that her kata wasn’t strong enough yet by Shiramizu standards.

Chiba Dan Test
The Dan test was being held on Sunday 15th March near Disney Land Tokyo in Chiba, this is only maybe a 90 minute car ride from Sugito so we had a late start (10am-ish!) to get to the venue for the 12 o’clock start time. There were 13 students from Shiramizu attempting the next belt. Those of us who were travelling from the dojo lined up as we would at the start of class and bowed in, Uehara* Sensei wished us all luck, and asked us to try our best.

*Arakawa Sensei was teaching at a Wadokai Training Camp that he’d helped organise in Satte City during the same weekend as this Dan Test. So he couldn't be at the Dan Grading.

Photo taken from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

We had a few minutes to get changed, stretch off and register, and then everyone lined up. The hall was far too small for the 150+ people training. We were packed wall to wall. One of the instructors put us through a few basics. Then we were given 10 minutes to practise our Kihon Kumite drills and kata. We lined up once more for a standing bow and then the test began. 128 people were taking various tests from 1st Dan through to 5th Dan.

Photo taken from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

I was a little concerned that we would be tested 5 people at a time, in front of a grading panel of 10 high ranking Japanese Sensei! I was also aware that this test was going to take hours!

All grades went through the same program, with a few differences or additions as you go up the grades, everyone performed the same Ido-Kihon followed by two kata and then sat down. Once everyone had performed part 1 the day was getting late, the examiners decided to split the test in two 5 examiners for Shodan candidates and 5 for everyone else.

Photo taken from the blog of Arakawa Sensei

We were then marshalled into pairs to perform our chosen Kihon Kumite followed by free fighting. I was paired up with Lawrence, who was trying for Sandan. We’d only managed to train together a few times with Lawrence training at Shiramizu on Saturdays and I went to his high school (Seiritsu) in Akabane to train on a couple of mornings before I went to work in Nerima. Despite this, we had Kihon Kumite number 4 & 5 looking good.

Despite fumbling the take down on ‘number 5’ a little and planting a solid round house kick on Lawrence’ face during the free fighting, we got through the test unscathed.

We had a short wait to find out if we passed or failed, all but two people from Shiramizu passed including myself and Lawrence. I was a little disappointed with my performance, especially my kata, I actually wanted to give up my Dan grade and start again as a beginner! I’ve worked hard to ‘fix’ my kata over the last 9 months in Japan, but it’s still not where it needs to be. There’s nothing to be done but get back to training…

Oh, I can also honestly say that the test made me feel the most nervous I’ve ever felt in my life!

During the next Shiramizu adult class, the instructors were shaking my hand congratulating me and Uehara Sensei, who speaks great English, said that I’d done well. I denied it and said I’d performed terribly, he laughed and said ‘yes, but other people were more terrible!’. It made me laugh so I thought I’d share it with the blog readers!

Monday, March 9, 2009


Amy here, part two of the English Intern ‘tag team’.

On those rare days when there is no karate training or work to do and the weather outside is dismal, with the wind howling and the rain pelting the windows, what is there for the intern to do? Well on one such day I found myself enjoying one of the great Japanese cultural arts............Origami.

Unfortunately there are no classes for gaijin in this noble art, or at least none that I've found! It is taught to kindergarten children, from their teachers, parents, grandparents........a tradition passed down through the generations. So I found myself reading, (actually following the diagrams) of an origami book recently purchased from the great Hundred Yen Shop, with enough paper so that I would be able to succeed in making something, even with all the mistakes .

Start simple....
The books are all obviously in Japanese, but if children as young as three have mastered this then it can’t be that hard, (or so I thought). So with much trial and error I finally managed to make an orange and white budgie. I believed it was a great achievement, until Carl commented ‘Erm.......what is it?’ Obviously he does not have the same artistic eye that I have, and I had managed to complete a small zoo, including turtles, squids, seals, whales, dragonflies, rabbits, frogs (that actually jumps!) and other birds that I don’t know the name of. All of which I thought were very complex..................until I saw a child of five make one of the more difficult birds which took me about twenty minutes to do, in about three minutes before the start of his English class.

So I thought I would share this great art with you, by showing you with simple instructions how to make a whale.

You will need.....
- A square piece of paper
- A pair of scissors
- A flat surface

Step 1

Take your piece of paper and fold it diagonally across then open it back out.

Step 2

Fold in two of the corners to make a kite shape.

Step 3
Turn the kite over.

Step 4

Fold the bottom of the kite to the top of the kite.

Step 5

Turn the piece of paper over.

Step 6

You now need to fold the paper back into a kite shape. The easiest way is to take hold of the lose flaps (marked with a circle on the picture) and pull down, then flatten. You should get a diamond shape and the folds should be the same that are marked on the image. Do both sides.

Step 7

Fold one of the left flaps over.

Step 8

Take the corner on the right hand side and fold it o the middle.

Step 9

Then fold the corners from the top and the bottom towards the middle, leaving a small space.

Step 10

Turn the paper over.

Step 11

Fold the right corner in slightly.

Step 12

Fold the two middle flaps open.

Step 13

Fold the piece of paper in half, and make the small fold on the right hand side stand vertical (the tail).

Step 14

Cut down the centre of the tail and bend down.