Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shiramizu Summer Camp- 17-18 July

Peter Here:

Goodness, what a weekend!

On Saturday and Sunday 17th-18th July The Shiramizu Summer camp was held in Nasuyumoto, In the Tochigi mountains. We were blessed with fine weather for the weekend, and the stunning landscapes did not disappoint.

The Coaches departed early saturday morning, with a 3 hour journey ahead of us. During this time, Fabian Sensei, Uehara Sensei and I were discussing the difficulty of language, before being united in the entertainment of My Neighbor Totoro (my Favourite!), which was put on for the kids but I was just as wide-eyed as any of them.

Arrival was celebrated by a quick lunch, elegantly wrapped in boxes (mine was branded 'mystery box' as Yamazaki Sensei could not tell me what was in it), then off to the dojo.

Warm ups were taken by the support Sensei, Yamazaki Sensei with the stretching, and Uehara Sensei with the kihon- intensive drilling of Juntsuki, Gyakutsuki, with kette and no-tsukkomi.

After that, we split into groups for Kata. I was support staff for the weekend, so I was helping with the green belts to learn Kushanku, while the Yellow/Blue belts were learning Pinan Godan, and the more senior grades practicing Wanshu. Wanshu Aside for the black belts, it must be noted that these Kata are above what are required for the grades of the students- so it was interesting to gauge the different reactions; who was excited for new kata, who was frustrated with the unknown- although the latter hardly happened, and the opportunity to climb a little higher in the Karate world was attacked with great enthusiasm.

This enthusiasm took it's toll on my knees, as I had to help repeatedly instruct the two big drops in the kata, in the manner of a lightweight flexible karateka- which I am not!

After the practice sessions the groups performed the kata as best they could in front of the whole class. I'm happy to say that most of them retained the movements. Wanshu was particularly impressive, furthering the love I have for that Kata even more.

Then the top students performed their kata- Mikea did Wanshu, and it was award winning.

Evening time was spent with a very traditional Japanese meal, some games and study of the JKF rules for kids, then a nice relaxing soak in the onsen and an after-party for the adults and support staff after the kids were tucked up.

In the morning, the hotel had a Mochi demonstration. Being the adventurous sort, Arakawa Sensei joined in...

...this was quite infectious...

Even with Fabian Sensei!

Kumite training lasted from 9:30 to 11:30 (after a brief Kata recap), where I was supporting Fujimoto Sensei in his group. His drills were well structured, involving movement shadowing, and line deviation by moving around your opponent and striking as fast as possible (a drill that Richard Sensei also showed me when I visited his dojo). After which was an endurance kicking drill where you had to literally kick your way down a line of 13 people. Impressively, the kids did amazingly at the drills.

The weekend was finished by a trip to the Nasu Switzerland Theme Park, where we enjoyed a 'viking' style barbecue and a good walk around.

After another 2 hours journey, we arrived back at the Satte Dojo to deliver the exhausted but happy children back to their parents, many of them thankful that the next day was a public holiday so they can sleep off the training!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saitama Prefecture Taikai - 11th July

Peter Here!

Over 350 karateka and many more supporters filled the arenas for the Saitama Prefecture Wadokai Taikai on Sunday, July 11th. Being the Shiramizu Intern, naturally I was one of them.

The program says '5th Annual Wadokai, Saitama Prefecture Karate Tournament'

400 competitors!!!

Smaller by comparison to other tournaments in Japan, the people were queuing outside the arena from 8:00am to get inside, change and register. Having got a lift with Arakawa Sensei to the venue, I was surprised to see that there were people there even earlier than us!

At 9:30 all entrants were changed and ready for the opening ceremony. Arakawa Sensei, dressed in shirt and tie for the first time since I met him, led the proceedings and although much of the speeches was lost on me I managed to pick out the odd words of encouragement and decorum.

Kata was first on the agenda, with the kids on first, then working up through age and rank. Pinan Shodan was the required Kata; because of this it was really quite insightful to see where the differences were between people and schools, and how the timings differed- even if just slightly.

I was put in a category of 6, and was not suprised to be knocked out in the first round; Kata is not my strong point and I haven't competed in it since 2001, so a definite room for improvement there.

At later stages of the Kata rounds any Wado Kata was allowed, which is where the Shiramizu big guns really started firing. Chinto and Wanshu were the favourites (in contrast to Chinto and Seishan in the competitions I've been to in the UK), and the ranked places came flooding in for the Dojo. I only wish I had gotten photos :(.

(editors note - see a full report and pictures on Arakawa Sensei's Japanese blog)

After the lunch interval were the Kumite events, again with the lower ages and levels going first. It was refreshingly surprising to see even the lower grades compete in a clean and clear way - a far shout from 'pee-wee' fights in the west (though they are encouraging in their own way).

Some kids were feeling more than up to it!

Some adults were too!

The junior high school level was the one category I really wanted to watch (not least because I received a thrashing from one of them the weekend before in training), and I was not disappointed. My god, they're quick. The Shiramizu entrants again made their mark, with both finalists from the dojo.

My Kumite category held 8, and I won't lie- I was convinced I was going out. A bag of nerves, I tried to retain everything from the last month's drilling and training. But, against all odds and my expectations, I won 2 rounds, 5-2 and 4-1!

I had made the Final!! Not only that, I had all the little kids from the dojo and english classes in Shirayuri Kindergarten cheering for me!

The finals for senior grade Kumite events were held at the end of the day, on a central mat- my fight was to be the last one, and I was against Mori-san, a fellow black belt at Shiramizu (and who had been a gentleman in helping me out most of the day with events and warming up). He had overwhelmed his opposition, and from training with him I knew he was a great fighter.

Being last, all eyes were on us- every event finished, apart from ours. The kids were screaming support for both me and Mori-san, but the fact they were cheering me at all made me happy just to be here.

We lined up, shared a kindred grin, bowed- then set off. BANG. His right hand met my head at some velocity. Too much velocity, in fact, and he was penalised for contact. Off again, he came in, 'blitzing'- then scored with a gyaku. Ippon. Restart, and another blitz- instinct kicked in sadly and I back pedalled beyond the area. Warning to me, and on the restart i tried to use my range, he came flying in.. and met my knee with some force. Thankfully, he was able to carry on, and despite my getting one more point he emerged victorious, before crumpling over to the medical bench for treatment. I learned later that I might've broken his rib :(

After that, the closing speeches and awards took place for Kumite. The Shiramizu club had numerous honours from the lower age groups upwards.

Then it was my turn, to collect, with Mori-san.

It was a proud moment, a very happy moment- but the best part of the day? Had to be hearing the little voices cheering me on, wanting me to do well. I hope I did well enough for them!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Week 4- Completing the first month

Pete here,

Well, Tuesday, June 22 also had other events, as I also got my foreigner card (gaikokujin torokusho)! Unfortunately when Arakawa Sensei and I got to the city office, the department was on lunch, so we had to follow suit (but it was forced! What? Don’t look at me like that). Once we returned and collected my shiny card, we drove to a tennis tournament, where Yusuke’s school was taking part. On the way we talked about Shiramizu, his dojo branches, how karate is taught for just competition in schools and the vital difference between that and training in a dojo.

Whilst there, I saw exactly how large a figure Arakawa Sensei is in the community; almost everyone knows him, and he in turn knows them as well, showing an amazing memory!

After enduring the midday heat for only a little while, we returned to the sanctuary of an air-conditioned car and drove back to the dojo for the English classes.

Wednesday I was invited out with Sensei and his family to a ‘viking’ style restaurant- all you can eat, and a barbecue in the middle of the table. Awesome! Yusuke introduced me to all the different foods – in English – and Masatoshi showed me how to work the candy floss machine. More details and pictures are on Sensei’s blog!

Saturday was a large training day. As Wednesday’s class had been canceled I decided to meet up with Richard and train with him at his school dojo in Akabane. It was a 3 and a half hour session, from kihon to kumite endurance and stamina training (which believe me, I need). Vital things I got from that session:

1) I can be longer in the stances.

2) I shouldn’t wobble so much, try to keep upright (this has been mentioned in other classes as well)

3) I *really* need to work on my hikite- it’s very slow

4) The left hip needs work, as I tend to double over when kicking over chudan

5) My maai needs adjusting (though I’ve known this for a while and it is improving)

6) I must spend less time setting myself up for a combination

7) More stamina and more speed

It was a brutal, but open and honest assessment, and everything pointed out I knew was useful to me and so graciously taken.

After the training was over I had to head back to Shiramizu for the evening session. Unfortunately that also meant a change of dogi as my condition of turning into a pool of water when I set foot in any dojo has not yet been remedied, so arrived at the session late. This was a great shame as Arakawa Sensei had his guest teacher in, Fujimoto Sensei from Guseikai Tokyo, who was once a member of the Japanese national team.

The session was incredible; just one hour of training improved my mindset about kumite. The basic principle of keeping your stance low, shifting your body and not your feet and transferring your weight is definitely something I can see myself using in tournaments as it benefits my longer reach. It also helped that I was starting to feel the benefit of the past month’s training, both in strength and flexibility.

Afterwards, it was time to socialise. For more than one reason, too: one of the Shiramizu members was moving away, so it was also a goodbye party. We headed to Tobudobutsu-koen station where there was a traditional revelry house, where karaoke, food and drink were piled on. It was that evening that I was finally introduced to sake (the drink, not the fish), and as part of some shameless egging on by the rest of the party I ended up drinking a little more speedily than usual (which would have some unpleasant repercussions for my head the following morning). It was an evening of much laughter and chat, both in English and Japanese as my confidence in speaking rose with every beer, and all in all an amazingly fun night.

But my word, my head the next day…

Week 3 - Meeting up with Richard in Omiya and Homestay

Pete here,

Two big events for week June 14-18; the first was meeting Richard in Omiya for kebab sticks (kashira) and a couple of drinks, and the second was a home stay with two families over the weekend. Erica had flown back to Canada on Tuesday (another sad day, but we made sure that we all met up for lunch before she left), and I had now moved into the intern apartment.

It was great to meet Richard in Omiya, which happened after my first Thursday in Nerima on my own, so goodness did I need an Asahi! We headed to a local eatery that was popular with salarymen, all of which gave us (well, Richard) a warm welcome. We sat and chatted about Wado, my first couple of weeks, and the plans for this year, all while chewing contentedly on ever-reappearing kebabs. Once filled and chilled we went for a quick tour around the glowing lights and attractions, stopping into a department store to be shown the (quite splendid) book section. I like Omiya, it must be said, and especially as it’s quite close on the train it looks to be one of the places I could stop by or visit on the weekend. It’s not touristy (which is possibly why I like it), nor is it a sight-seeing place, but as a hub of activity it’s a good one.

Home Stay Weekend!

The Weekend was a very special one, as I was to spend an evening with Sae (a Shiramizu English student) and her family, then the next with Rika (a classmate), then meet the rest of the classes family for a barbeque on the Sunday.

Sae’s family was amazing in their welcome, presenting me with some beautiful Japanese leisurewear (which, I might add, I am wearing at the time of writing), and plying me with a fantastic amount of cultural food, including tempura, sushi, sashimi, gohan, chicken, pork… it was a feast. After dinner we played with sparklers and checked out the ‘pets’:

Once Sae was in bed, Sae’s Mother, Grandmother and I talked and learned Japanese and English a-plenty. Key new words are: “muzukashi, desu ne!” aka “Difficult, isn’t it!”, “sugoi!” aka “great!”, and “Joozu!” which means “wow, you’re talented!”. The latter, when mentioned, is very charming, but in all honesty I didn’t feel ‘Joozu’ at all, more likely just a step up from ‘incompetent’. However, many a laugh was exchanged, which must mean some things get carried over in translation, right? Either that or I made an embarrassing speech error…

After an incredibly refreshing sleep, it was breakfast time. Were I to think that last night was the end to the vast amounts of food, then I was to be gravely mistaken. Filled to bursting with more food than I could possibly list (though special mention must go to Yakult yogurt, which has become something of a joke between the family and me), we enjoyed more conversation before heading out to meet the other families… over lunch!! By this point, I was starting to fear for my stomach, however I managed some lovely udon noodles and, thankfully, the meal was drawn out by lots of conversation.

The meal ended and it was time to go with Rika’s family. We stopped off at Joyful Honda (a local superstore that I had discovered with Louise a couple of weeks before) to have a quick look around and grab a new game, which we played at their house. It involves princesses and bald men- so why it hasn’t taken off in England is beyond me.

Almost thankfully, the dinner at Rika’s house was low-key, a simple table-barbecue that was remarkably tasty. After which, Rika’s parents and I watched the world cup through our eyes as Japan only narrowly lost to Holland, dictionaries in each of our hands, ready to tackle any language barrier!

The morning, after breakfast, was the big barbecue with all the families. Arriving at 11am, it was already hot and humid, and we wasted no time in getting the shade up and the barbecue on. Kaho and Saho’s dad had brought along some acrylic ‘guttering’ where we had Nagashi Soomen- probably the most fun way to eat noodles, ever. Cold water is run down a bamboo (or acrylic) flume, and cold noodles, Soomen, are added. People then stand by the side of the flume and try to collect the noodles using hashi (chopsticks) and dip them in their tsuyu sauce.

Eating too much food was the theme of the weekend. Layers of meat, vegetables, fish and noodles were offered and taken, and then worked off by playing games of badminton and catch.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such wonderful hospitality as this weekend, which has already become a highlight for the year. It was a wonderful weekend, finalized by collapsing in bed, stuffed with food and happy memories.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Week 2!

Pete here!

The second week (June 7-11) has been my trial-runs for the English classes. Both Erica and Louise have monitored me and given helpful advice for all the classes, and have given me sheets containing student profiles and what they have generally taught each year.

Tuesday, June 8 was a sad day as it was time to say goodbye to Louise; it was her time to fly back to New Zealand, but she will be back in August for the Wado World Cup! Hurrah!

The biggest test of the week has been the Friday, my first day on my own. Thursday and Wednesday have been with Erica, so if I was going wrong anywhere she could step in and take control of the class again; she was a safety net. No such thing on Friday: it was just me. Thankfully, although terrified I managed to get the kids enthused with my phonetics warm-up, which involves them pulling a lot of faces and making a lot of noise!

Saturday Erica and I went to the Kanto Regional High School Karate Championships in the former 1964 Gymanastics Olympic Arena in Komazawa Olympic Memorial Park, Tokyo, meeting Richard there too as he was on the staff. This was a good chance to see the difference in both the level of competition, and the method of organization for the event. Needless to say I was blown away by both. The quality of kata is beautiful to watch and the clean open fighting style of Japanese kumite a welcome difference to that of some regional competitions I have been to in my past.

Unfortunately, Richard’s school (who we came to cheer) was knocked out in their first rounds to some very skilled opposition, but we got a photo opportunity afterwards to mark the occasion.

Richard also introduced me to the Deputy Editor of JKFan Magazine, a goju practitioner. We had a good talk (her English is great!), and have set the scene for some good things to happen in the future.

After 1pm Erica and I decided to head back to the train (not before stopping by a really good Hawaiian-style bar for some food and ice cream), then headed to the evening’s training where she was beaten up more for leaving next week (if that’s what you get then I’m staying!).

Out with the Old...

Peter Here, with the blog of my first week!

My first day actually seemed like 1.7 days, or 2.6, or just very, very long. The fact remains that I was effectively awake for 39 hours. Which is a very long time considering that I was to introduce myself to Louise, Erica, Richard and Arakawa Sensei and keep it coherent!

2 quick points:

1) a global disaster movie probably isn’t the best in-flight entertainment

2) The landing procedure at Tokyo Narita takes precisely the same amount of time as the first four tracks of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’- to the extent that ‘the Great Gig in the Sky’ kicks in the wails exactly on touchdown, with the airbrake rumble adding to the cacophony, then mellowing as the plane taxis to a stop. Worth a blog post on it’s on, that; and probably the most awesome way to kickstart a journey evereverever.

Passport check went by swiftly, by 6pm they must have been getting tired of all the blond-haired blue-eyed westerners shrugging their shoulders at every question. So, after declaring myself fit for my year's residency, I stepped through the gates to meet Louise and Erica who, looking at my disheveled state, took me to the rescue remedy that was the coffee shop. It was here that I experienced my first bit of Japanese culture:

After coffee, we swung by Ueno station to meet Richard, and then to Tobudoubutsu-koen station to meet Arakawa Sensei. By this time, I was taken in by all the pretty lights and tall buildings, but as for listening to people although I was trying my best to take everything in alas, it was steadily turning into white noise despite my efforts. Arakawa Sensei took me back to his house, which is where the main dojo is as well. That night was spent in the dojo office, which has a bed in it thankfully.

Tuesday morning I was awoken to the sound of a sole karate practitioner at 6:30am. I expected this to be Arakawa Sensei warming up for the day, but no- it was one of his high school students, and right there the tone was set for how seriously I should take this year. Back in England, 16 year-olds would hardly recognize the world at 6:30am, let alone produce elegant kata!

After Breakfast with Arakawa Sensei and his wife Keiko, I got ready for my first day at work. That’s right- no resting for the interns!

The day began with an interview with the Principal of Shirayuri Kindergarten, where I would be teaching on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. A brief conversation surrounding my work went over my head in Japanese (ironic, given the size of me), and I was introduced to the kids. The children, pleased that they received this new walking climbing frame that also happens to teach English, promptly made themselves known to me by chasing me around the playground.

It was on this day, I learned: “Okii Ne!” – which is a general exclamation that I am, in fact, quite tall - and this looks to become a general comment that somehow mingles with everyone’s introduction.

That afternoon Arakawa Sensei, Louise, Erica and I sorted out my temporary accommodation for while Erica and Louise were still here, which turned out to be the party guest house for the Shiramizu events:

Incredible, isn’t it!

Tuesday evening was the first training session, and although jet-lagged, I felt eager and set to the class with gusto. However, halfway through the session I started to feel very giddy; before long felt myself dangerously near collapsing and just had to sit out. This was not how I wanted to impress in the first class, and felt demoralized. Arakawa Sensei made sure that I was ok, tugging on my obi to make sure that it wasn’t tight. But for me, that pull on the belt reminded me that I was a shodan and should be able to take this strain, yet fell very short of the mark. My first session then ended humbly and I returned to the guest house- drained of sweat and pride, and in their place a lot of self-doubt.

After that session I wanted to make amends in the Wednesday morning class, which I did. The intensity of the practice was much lower than the night before and the lesson was focused on basics, which suited me just fine. Thankfully the session passed without any incident, aside from the fact that I stuck my chin out when I bowed, causing a few giggles and a correction.

After lunch with the Shiramizu class, we set off to apply for my foreigner card (a process that takes two weeks), then after a brief respite at the guest house Erica introduced me to two new classes.

That evening Erica’s private student had invited the three Interns to dinner in Kuki. Sensing that it would naturally be rude to turn down such an invitation, we met and ate in a traditional Japanese style restaurant, sampling many new dishes along the way. Some were lovely, though others may take a while for me to become accustomed to the texture or taste. Needless to say an enjoyable evening was had by all, and the journey home was filled with happy and colourful conversation and more laughs than should be deemed reasonable for such a late hour!

The Wednesday had restored some much-needed self esteem (especially as both Louise and Erica delighted in telling me about former intern #2 Paul’s unfortunate first day of training, involving his dogi and overdoing it a tad). So thankfully Thursday was attacked with vigour as Erica took me to Nerima, and my next job. The day passed by swiftly, the kids were great, and afterwards we checked out the bright lights of Ikebukuro, playing a few games and having a couple of drinks along the way to celebrate such a successful day.

this is a challenge/accident/hospital visit just waiting to happen. I wonder if my insurance would cover this?

Friday looks like it will be the busy day. Louise picked me up from the guest house a 7:45 and caught the train to Himemiya, where we were picked up by the kindergarten bus. The look on the kids’ faces as this hulking figure got on their bus was comical to say the least, although I repaid said comedy by cutting a humiliating figure of trying to sit on one of their ‘child sized’ (read: very, very, very, VERY small) seats.

The actual day of teaching was to be different than usual, as it was a goodbye to Louise, as well as a ‘birthday’ assembly (happens once a month to celebrate everyone who has a birthday in that month, which is lovely I think). Louise took a general class of over 30(!), and also introduced me to everyone.

A very beautiful setting!

After that was the two English classes at Shirayuri, and then assisting in Arakawa Sensei’s junior class. Eager to make up for Tuesday’s embarrassment, I also took part in the High School training, which is very fast paced! But, after a couple of months I really hope that I’ll be able to match everyone in terms of performance and not flooding the floor with perspiration.

The weekend, hurrah! On Saturday I had the chance to recharge my batteries, and finally adjust to the Japanese time zone. Rested, Louise and I headed to Asakusa, where we visited the temple district and wandered the streets with one of her friends; my first bit of sight-seeing was well rewarded.

Asakusa in Tokyo

After that, we headed back to Sugito and to route 4 to introduce me to several important (and frankly amazing) shops, before heading home to get ready for the evening’s training session.

The improvement from Tuesday’s session to this evening’s class was really notable for me- no collapsing, no feeling completely drained- and although it was apparent that my actual ability lies far below my fellow black belts, the goal didn’t seem that impossible anymore (just very difficult). I gave as good as I got in kumite, wanting everyone to know that I was serious about being here and giving it my all.

As it was to be Erica’s and Louise’s last Saturday session, the class finished by ‘100 man kumite’, where they have to stay in a circle as people continually spar with them. They both did very well!

After this, we Interns decided to check out a local sushi bar, which was awesome!

The Sunday was the first big event: the Shiramizu Welcome/Goodbye party. This has been well covered by Richard Sensei, but just to add that it was one of the best parties that I’ve been to, and everyone was really warm and welcoming. The leaving speeches were touching, the presents incredible, the food delicious (well, Natto aside), and the atmosphere electric. I managed to speak and introduce myself to lots of people, with lots of “gambatte!” and “gambarimasu!” (“Do your best!”, “I’ll do my best!”).

The alcohol flowed, and for the remaining revelers the evening was capped with a visit to the nearby Karaoke bar. Unfortunately, by this time my voice had given out, I had been fighting a cough from Wednesday and so my renditions of Billy Joel and Sinatra hits were well below par.

12am hit, and with the startling revelation that work started at 8:15 the next day, we all retired for the night, filled with song, food, and maybe a little bit of Sapporo draught.