Monday, April 27, 2009

Amy's Half Year Interview...

Carl here,

I thought it was well past time that Amy and I interviewed each other. We’re nine months into our one year in Japan, so this is a great chance to see what we’ve thought so far, what we’ve learned and what we’re planning for the next three months.

So Amy, why don’t you tell us all a bit about yourself?

Hello, I’m Amy. I am now 26 years old, (after having my birthday recently in Japan) and I love karate!!! I have a 1st class honours degree in photography and I have a passion for art. I have many hobbies they include kayaking ,rock climbing, scuba diving, running and going to the gym. I was working for the police in England as a PCSO before I came here and that’s about all………

When & where did you start Karate?

I started karate on the 29th of April 2003 to be exact!! I started at a brand sparkling new club in England in my home town of Hartlepool that had at the time six different sensei’s. The funniest part of this story is the reason I started karate in the first place. It was New Years Eve and I was celebrating with some friends as many stories begin. One of my best friends was talking to a friend of ours who had just came back to England after living in Jersey and was about to open a Dojo. She decided that the best way to get fit and lose a few pounds was to join karate and of course she couldn’t go alone………so I was dragged into it. I did not mind as I had previously done a bit of kick boxing and I had really enjoyed it.

Why did you stay in Karate?

As most stories like this goes my friend left after becoming a yellow belt as life always seems to get in the way. But I stuck at it. Karate helps keep me relaxed and fresh. It motivates both my body and mind. Also being an Aries I am incredibly stubborn, once I have set my mind to something I achieve my goals no matter what. As I am not a natural at karate I had decided that I wanted to be the best I could possibly be at karate! Which as you can expect will take me the rest of my life, so I can’t quit yet!!

Also my friend was right. Karate does keep you fit and toned in all the right places!! I also believe that it keeps you looking younger too.

When did you start teaching Karate?

I started teaching karate at the end of 2005. I was a purple belt and I had just started training with the Wadokai England squad on their kumite team. I found this an amazing experience and the best way to truly understand karate, because all your juniors expect you to have all the answers, be able to do all techniques and partner drills perfectly. Karate becomes a very steep learning curve at this point!

When did you first think of coming to Japan?

I have wanted to come to Japan from about the age of 16. But I must admit that this had nothing to do with karate!!! I wanted to visit the place where all the amazing wood block prints and other traditional Japanese painting had come from. Japanese imagery had always been a big factor in my art work and continued to be all the way through my degree in photography.

What was your image of Japan before you first came here?

I had an image of ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and ‘The Last Samurai’ in my head. I knew it was a thriving industrial and business country with huge cities and tower blocks, but to be honest that had no place in my mind as I wanted to see a traditional and artistic Japan.

You were ‘seconded’ to the Internship half way through the year, how do you find the internship program?

To be honest the intern program did not really affect me. I was lucky that it did provide me with somewhere to live and train in karate but really I forced my way in, after all Carl was not having an adventure without me!!!! I found it very easy to find jobs in Japan and that was without speaking any Japanese. I have a very independent nature and I am used to doing my own thing.

What were your first impressions of Japan?

After a full day travelling the first memories are all a haze. I remember the pure heat and some very nasty tasting drinks that we got at the airport while we waited to be picked up. Then arriving in the dojo thinking oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh this looks nice. Also on the first day we had the pleasure of watching some kyu grades. Some tiny children all about half my height taking a different level of brown belt. I was left thinking wow these kids are amazing, and then to my pure amazement Arakawa Sensei then failed them all.

As for Japan in general it is a pure blend of old and new.

Any strange first non-karate experiences?

I have to agree with Carl on this point the strangest thing has got to be the trains!!! I admit that I love the way they are on time, unless someone has committed suicide (which they always do on my train line). But for the amount of people they fit into a train has got to be against human rights. The worst train I have to catch is at 10pm from Omiya and it is so full you can hardly breathe. I am lucky to have such broad shoulders because they keep a lot of people at bay.

What was your first impressions of Shiramizu and Arakawa Sensei?

I loved the place from the very beginning. It was filled with people like me. People who are dedicated to their training and work hard to improve at all levels. Arakawa fills the dojo with his enthusiasm. But this feeling is also help by his many instructors, who are all so kind and caring. And all who are willing to help you with any problem big or small whether it is related to karate or not!!

What’s your relationship with Arakawa Sensei now?

I hope that Arakawa sees me as a grateful and hard working karate-ka. It has been unfortunate that Arakawa has had such a busy year and that my working hours have been conflicting, as I never really got to speak to him as much as I would have liked. He is such a hard working, nice gentleman.

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 don’t believe I have scratched the surface of traditional Japan. As for modern Japan I currently work, breathe live and commute in it. The most important part for me has been the karate aspect. In England I would never have had the opportunity or time to commit as much as I have to my training.

How do you find the activities and atmosphere of the Shiramizu dojo?

The atmosphere in the Shiramizu dojo is infectious!! It’s a great place to be motivated and train. Shiramizu is always busy going somewhere or doing something!!

Do you notice a difference between who you are now and who you were when you first came to Japan?

I would not say I have changed in my opinions. I am now more willing to eat exotic foods, but that always happens when you travel to different countries. The biggest thing I would say is I have changed in my attitude towards training. I use to believe I was dedicated and trained hard, after viewing some of the students from Shiramizu on the run up towards the worlds in Canada I now know I can train harder and smarter.

You’re seen karate associations in the UK and now in Japan, so how do you find the political side of karate?

Mainly a mess. But I don’t get involved, all I want to do is train thank you.

What other dojo have you been to in Japan?

I have trained at Saitama Sakai High School and I have had the privilege of training at Yanagawa Sensei dojo in Ogikubo. I have also been to the Guseikai dojo. I have also trained at the Utsunomiya Bunsei girls high school and I must admit there are so many good fighters there it is just a shame that it is very far from where we live as I would really like to have trained their as often as possible.

How has karate changed over the years from your perspective?

I think karate, like fashion goes in cycles. The right way to do something today is the wrong way tomorrow and then it’s the right way again. The karate I have seen is Japan has mainly been competitive karate. I believed before I came here that karate in Japan would be traditional and heavily in depth, the true secrets of Karate…….everything changes.

What’s your own competitive success?

I have only been in 4 compititons since I have been in Japan. Which I was deeply disappointed in, as it takes me time to get my competitive fitness up. I have received Gold in the Satte Taikai, Silver in the Sugito Taikai, ‘best 8’ in kata in the Wadokai Kanto Taikai. The ‘best 8’ in kata was my biggest surprise, to me, Carl and Sensei Arakawa. It shows I have made some improvement in kata. My kumite in Japan has not been at its best. I find it difficult with all the extra protective equipment that the Japanese wear. The head gaurds are a nightmare because they fog up and you can not see techniques that are thrown and the body armor stops your movement.

What’s your belt rank success?

I took my Shodan in May 2008. I then did a pre Dan test with Arakawa Sensei for my Nidan in February which I failed as my kata was not strong enough. I feel honoured that Arakawa Sensei would pre test me after just under 9 months of being a Shodan. I completely agree with the feedback as I want to shine as a Nidan and not just scrape through.

What does it take run a successful dojo?

Personality, hard work, commitment, talent and above all else a team of people who are happy to help you achieve it!

What do you see in regards to your personal future in karate?

I will continue to gain as much knowledge as possible so I can become a worthy instructor. I am going to continue to compete in hopes of winning the European Championships and hopefully the Worlds in Japan in 2010! I am going to continue working on my kata. I also want to train and become a referee.

Any final words of advice for future interns?

RUNNNNNN…..only joking. Enjoy yourself here, give it your best and work hard. The Japan experience is everything you make it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Disney Sea

Carl here...

A few months ago Amy and I went to the fantastic Disney Land and had a great time, so to celebrate Amy's 26th birthday, we decided to see what Disney Sea had to offer.

I must say, that I'm not particularly into the cuddly Disney characters at all. I prefer the cool characters like Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story and the funny Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc. Both of these characters are honoured at Disney land (including a brand new Monsters Inc ride!), But Amy really likes Aladdin and for that, we had to go to Disney Sea!


A view of 'part' of the queue to get in the park.
The picture was taken from the Disney monorail.

It was a Sunday, and it was forecast for great weather so naturally it was very busy. We made sure that we arrived before opening so that we could beat some of the queues though. Once the doors are opened the crowd race to their favourite parts of the park to secure a FASTPASS for their chosen rides. The Fastpass is a great idea for cutting your waiting times, they basically give you a time slot to come back to the ride so that you don't have to stand around all day.

In front of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull ride.

Apparently Disney Sea is very popular with 20-30 year olds (like us!), maybe because a lot of the rides have height restrictions that stop smaller kids from enjoying certain rides. Of course, it could be because Disney Sea actually sells beer!.

Though there are still plenty of rides that young and old can enjoy...

...just don't try to tell Amy which ones are which!

The 'Tower of Terror' was definately my favourite ride, but I won't spoil it for you all. :-)

Twilight in Disney


Anyway, we had a great time yet again thanks to those great people at Disney. I definately recommend a visit for people of any age. At first glance, the entrance fee can seem expensive, but when you think that we were there for over 12 hours, then it's actually quite good value.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cherry Blossoms...

Carl here...

The past few weeks has been a great time for hanami: 花見 or flower viewing. In particular the Cherry Blossoms that have been in bloom. The Japanese take this very seriously, if you turn on the TV during these special weeks, you will see the news channels telling you where the best places are to see the blossoms at their best.

The cherry blossoms are really just an excuse for family, friends and colleagues to get together and.... drink!

Amy and I were invited to Richard Sensei' house a few weeks ago for a delicious lunch and then we went to Karaoke. Afterwards, we decided to have a nice relaxing walk through Omiya park. The walk quickly became a lesson in Japanese culture... this is what we found:

Every walkway was filled with vendors selling food and drink, and every bit of grass was covered over by a huge tarpaulin sheet with a bunch of revellers on. That wasn't too bad, though the Karaoke machines that had been rigged up to noisy generators somewhat spoiled the mood.

According to the TV, the blossoms weren't at their best so we quickly got away from the masses and walked around the nearby shrine instead...

Making the most of a very warm day, Amy and I went to Gongendo park in Satte city, apparently it's a very famous place for viewing the cherry blossoms...

...once again the vendors were out in force. It really is a Japanese idea that if something is worth enjoying, then it's worth enjoying enmasse.

But we did have a great picnic before we both had to rush off to work.

The cherry trees are everywhere, and they really are beautiful when in bloom. You really have to make the most of these trees whilst they're in bloom because a few days after these pictures were taken some strong winds came across Sugito and overnight ALL the flowers were gone from the trees!

Nishi Kinren park in Sugito

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Carl's 'half way' interview...

Amy here...

For a rather late 'half year' intern interview with Carl to see how things are going so far.

So Carl here are all your questions……………………….

Well Carl, why don’t you tell us all a bit about yourself….. because I know you will love that!
Are you trying to say that I’m an egomaniac?

Ok, my name is Carl Jorgeson, I’m 26 years old and I’m from the seaside town of Hartlepool on the north east coast of England. My day job is being a Line Manager for Tesco PLC a supermarket chain in the UK. I started my own dojo, Hartlepool Wadokai with my brother in 2003 and I’m now the club development officer. In my spare time I like sea kayaking, scuba diving and hiking.

I’m now one of the 08-09 Shiramizu Karate Interns.

When & where did you start Karate?
I started karate in 1988 at the tender age of 5! I was very eager to follow my big brother and my parents into a karate suit.

My first club was the Hartlepool Wado Ryu Karate club, but I didn’t train there very long. This was around the time that the Japanese Sensei in the UKKW (United Kingdom Karate-do Wadokai) split apart. My family decided to stick with Sensei Sakagami and were among the first students of Sensei Mick Stainsby’s Kihon do Karate club.

Why did you stay in Karate?
I’ve always loved Karate. I remember that even when I was in primary school, I was never into football like most of the other kids, though I would train in Karate almost every evening. My mother would probably call it fighting, but my brother and I would always practise Karate on each other. He’s two years older than me so when we were young, that always gave him the advantage but he stopped training for a while and when he came back I was more of a match for him. Now I would say that we have a very healthy rivalry in Karate that keeps us both motivated to push ourselves.

I got the competition bug shortly after getting my Shodan. I’ve had the honour of representing Sakagami Sensei and Wadokai England at a number of European Wadokai championships and bring home a few medals too.

Karate has always been a challenge for me, but it’s great to have something that you can throw yourself into wholeheartedly and get out what you put in. You get nowhere in Karate without blood, sweat and the occasional tears, which certainly helps keep my ego in check!

When did you start teaching Karate?
I started teaching in 2000 once I got my Shodan at the Kihon do Karate club. I was only helping out in the junior classes to start with, but it was enough to give me the teaching bug. When I moved to Jersey I taught a few of my friends a little bit and that gave me the confidence to start my own dojo.

When did you first think of coming to Japan?
I originally wanted to come to Japan when I left college in 2001; I took a ‘gap-year’ with every intention of coming to Japan then going to University. Instead I ended up accepting a management job for Woolworths at their Jersey branch in St. Helier. When I eventually went back to the UK mainland, my brother and I decided to set up our dojo. The dojo put my plans for Japan on hold until we got the club established.

What was your image of Japan before you first came here?
The home of Dragonball! Japan has always seemed to be exotic, for most martial artists it’s Mecca! I’d always thought of Japan as a mix of old and new, with everyone practising the martial arts. I’ve seen plenty of movies based in Japan all showing the usual stereotypes.

How do you find the internship program?
I think it’s a great idea. A great way of visiting Japan whilst training at a great dojo.

What were your first impressions of Japan?
Concrete everywhere and hot! I think I’ve probably seen too many Samurai movies, but I was expecting Sugito to be like an old fashioned Samurai village.

Any strange first non-karate experiences?
The first time I was packed onto a rush hour train was an experience I’ll never forget. I could have lifted both feet off the ground and not fallen!

What were your first impressions of Shiramizu and Arakawa Sensei?
The Shiramizu dojo has a great family feel to it, the standard of Karate is very high and the students are very focussed. Arakawa Sensei is a genuinely nice guy; he goes out of his way to help people and his positive personality is infectious.

What’s your relationship with Arakawa Sensei now?
I see Arakawa Sensei as my Sensei first and foremost, he has a fountain of knowledge and experience that he is more than willing to share. I would like to think that he sees me as one of his students, rather than simply being a foreign visitor to his dojo.

Outside of the dojo, I see Arakawa Sensei as a friend who has dropped everything on a number of occasions to help me or Amy out.

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?
The funny thing, or maybe not so funny thing about Japan is the work ethic here. Before I came to Japan I had the idea that Japan was a very conscientious country.

I don’t claim to be a social expert, but what I’ve found is that people work too much to such a degree that it’s detrimental to the culture of the country and often the health of the individual.

High school kids catching a 6am train to school every day including the weekend, coupled with extra supplementary schools is a recipe for mental breakdown! White collar workers catching the first train to work and the last train home every day is not exactly conducive to a healthy home life.

It’s very easy to get ‘sucked into’ this culture, I’ve lost track of weeks where all I can remember doing is working and training. There has to be a balance so I force myself to try new things and do loads of sightseeing whenever I have free time.

How do you find the activities and atmosphere of the Shiramizu dojo?
Busy, there’s always something going on. The dojo has so many members that it’s often working towards a number of things that are happening over the same weekend.

The atmosphere at the dojo is inspiring; all the instructors are very motivated and clearly love teaching Karate as much as Arakawa Sensei does. This enthusiasm rubs off on everyone.

Do you notice a difference between who you are now and who you were when you first came to Japan?
I’ve always been fairly sure of whom I am, but I think that being here has shown me the career path that I will follow when I get home. I’ve lost some of my English reserve being in Japan, I’m certainly not as shy as I was, but I’m still a total ‘mummy’s boy’.

So how do you find the political side of karate?
I’ll keep it brief. I’ve found that being responsible for a dojo means that you have to get your hands dirty in the politics of Karate to some extent.

Karate in England is something of a political quagmire and people outside of England just don’t seem to understand it! It’s only natural that the ‘mistakes’ of the governing body will be reflected in the smaller member associations.

A lot of the ‘old-boys’ have been doing Karate since the 50’s and 60’s so there is a wealth of technical knowledge. The problem is that not everyone has the necessary skills to ‘steer the ship’ so to speak, though everyone wants to try anyway! I do think the English Karate Federation (EKF) is making great progress and is the right way forward in England.

I think the Wadokai would benefit from having some sort of international oversight to coordinate international relations and events better. This would certainly stop things like the date clash from last year where the JKF-Wadokai Nationals were held over the same weekend as the JKF-Wadokai World Championships on different continents!

What other dojo have you been to in Japan?
I’ve trained at Saitama Sakai High School a couple of times, the kids there are all great fighters. I had the privilege of training at Yanagawa Sensei’s dojo in Ogikubo. Yanagawa Sensei has his own ideas of what Karate is and his teachings and ideas are very interesting. I’ve also been to the Guseikai dojo headed by Takagi Sensei who is thought by many to be the greatest technician in the Wadokai.

How has karate changed over the years from your perspective?
I think it’s almost all sport based now, even in Japan which was a big surprise. The uses of modern scientific principles in coaching are great for the sport, but I think we are losing some of the traditional parts of the martial art. I also think that too many dojo shy away from trying to teach the philosophies and culture behind Budo.

What’s your own competitive success?
I’ve only been in five tournaments in Japan which was a little disappointing, but I’ve come away with one gold (Sugito Taikai), one silver (Satte Taikai), one ‘best 8’ (Satte Taikai) and two ‘best 16’ placings (Wadokai Kanto Taikai & Wadokai Nationals). I was also a member of the Seiritsu Gakuen Kumite team that got 3rd place at the Northern Tokyo Taikai.

What’s your belt rank success?
I got my Wadokai Shodan in June 2000 under Sensei Sakagami in England. I passed my Nidan in March 2009 in Tokyo under a panel of 10 Japanese Sensei.

What does it take to run a successful dojo?
I think all sports clubs and dojo are personality driven to a large degree. The Shiramizu dojo has a large number of students because of Arakawa Sensei’ personality, drive and business sense. But also in part because of its location, there isn’t a lot to do in Sugito and there isn’t a university or big high school nearby to compete with for students.

I’ve been writing a new business plan for my own dojo since September based in part on my observations of Shiramizu. I’m hoping I have the secret formula!

What do you see in regards to your personal future in karate?
I’ve decided not to return to my job in the UK where I originally took a 12 month career break. Instead I’m going to try to make my dojo more successful using what I’ve learned whilst being in Japan.

Short to medium term, I want to keep competing. I’m flying back to Japan for the Wadokai Nationals in August, September is the British Open and in October I have the Wadokai Europeans in Ireland. Also, I hope to make the Wadokai England squad for the Wadokai World Cup in August 2010.

Coaching wise, I want to lead more of my students to European medals and get all my students ‘hooked’ on Karate. I want to increase the size of my dojo without losing our standards. I also plan to go to university at some point and study for a Sports Science / Sports Coaching degree.

Lastly, I want to help my Aiwakai, my association in England to be successful.

If you could redo this year what else would you like to accomplish?
I’d enter more competitions, climb mount Fuji and make more of an effort learning the Japanese language.

Favourite place in Japan?
Kamakura, closely followed by Kyoto.

Any words of advice for future interns?
A year is a long time, so make sure that you’re not going to get homesick after 5 months (like me!). But, seriously coming to Japan and training is something that a lot of people talk about doing and only a few actually do. The whole experience will be something that you will never forget. If you’ve always wanted to visit Japan and train intensively in Karate then Shiramizu is the ideal place for you to do just that.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dragonball Movie....!

Carl here...

We've had a really busy few months, but now the Karate schedule has settled down a bit... no competitions for us in the next three months... no Dan tests... What are we to do? Never fear!!! Dragonball is here....!

Yes that's right, the long awaited Dragonball movie has finally arrived in Japan. Being the fans that we are we (Amy, Carl & David) went to the local cinema on the opening weekend to catch the movie.

It's by far the greatest movie ever made! Ok, maybe not but it was still enjoyable and I DO recommend it. Just remember that the movie was probably made for 12 year olds...