Monday, September 27, 2010

Back to the Work Routine

Pete here,

September was the beginning of the Autumn term for schools, and a welcome return to my routine after the often chaotic pace of the Summer 'Holiday'. The return to the Lolipop Kindergarten on Friday in particular was punctuated by being immediately set upon by the kids, who must've missed their walking-climbing frame during the break. Touching!

My weekly schedule has an essential structure, with some extra lessons/days in school happening periodically.

Morning: Shirayuri Kindergarten
I go with the bus to greet the kids in English as they board, then in school I do three 15-20 minute lessons for the different classes. Usually this is singing, basic words and actions (head/shoulders/knees/toes etc.), however up until the middle of October I will be helping them prepare for their Sports Festival (by dancing and marching like a lunatic, mostly)

Afternoon: Shiramizu English Class
I teach one hour at the Shiramizu English Club, in the hut next to the dojo. Most of the kids at the club have had at least one previous Intern teach them, so their English is much more advanced than at the kindergarten, or with other kids their age. The songs are more complicated, and they get to use more constructed sentences, and even ask questions!

Evening: Shiramizu English Class
I teach Setsuko, our adult English Student and #1 Intern supporter throughout the years. Recently I have also taught her some German!

Morning: Shirayuri Kindergarten
This is the same as Monday. Sometimes Arakawa Sensei also comes to the school and teaches the kids 30 minutes of Karate per class, and I act as assistant- very very fun!

Afternoon: Shiramizu English Classes
Tuesdays I teach 3 classes, each with different age and abilities. It certainly keeps your brain active trying to come up with ways to teach! These classes run right up until Karate training in the evening.

Evening: Training
The first Adult training session of the week.

Morning: Training
Training starts at 10:30 so there's plenty of time to get up and ready for the day. This session is usually slower paced than the evening sessions and more care is taken to explain the techniques. This of course changes when a tournament is approaching, or if the kids are on holiday. This training is almost always followed by lunch together; a very important part of the social calendar!

Afternoon: Shiramizu English Class
This one hour class is quite late in the afternoon, so I get a few hours after lunch to prepare and plan for the rest of the day.

Evening: Adult Conversation Class
This is a new one for the Autumn- a weekly hour-long session with over 20 adults! This was quite scary at first, but now after the third lesson I'm getting into the swing of it, with some 'genki' banter as well! this is only for ten weeks, so the course will finish in November.

All Day: I.C.E, Nerima
I.C.E. is a private School that provides, amongst other things, english conversation classes. I teach 5 lessons to kids between 6 and 12 and one Adult. This is a great job as the location means i can catch a bit of the Tokyo atmosphere during lunch, and after work. I often spend just a little longer than usual getting home as I stop in a noodle bar for some food and check out Ikebukuro or Shibuya.

Morning-early Afternoon: Lollipop Kindergarten
Possibly my favourite job! I get picked up by the School Bus at Himemiya Train Station and essentially get to play with the kids until lunchtime, then afterwards take 15-20 minute lessons. These days are almost always fun, and the kids are adorable here. Sometimes they have special activities arranged, like painting and the teachers and I hang them outside to dry, making a beautiful marquee.

Afternoon: Shirayuri English Club
For two hours I teach kids from 3 to 6 years old. This is mainly things that I cover in the lessons earlier in the week, but in more detail. Sometimes the very young kids get really tired so it can be a little tricky to get them motivated, but usually a game or song wakes them up a little! The older kids are amazingly switched on though, so it's great to teach them.

Evening: Karate, support and Training
After Shirayuri I get an hour or so to eat and unwind, then I help Arakawa sensei with his evening elementary class. This involves correcting stances, footwork and explaining things when I can!! After this class is the junior High School class and I train with them, they're certainly good enough to put me to shame so I get what I can from them.

I only have one commitment, and that's Adult training on Saturday evenings. Usually though, I do find that I've agreed to be part of some event or other, so I'm never kicking my heels and it's great to feel like I'm really part of something. However, I do use some of this time to do the more mundane tasks like shopping and washing. Some things never change no matter where in the world you are!

"Dreams Come True" A Shiramizu Celebration: 12th September

Peter here;

Sunday, September 12th was a celebration party in honour of everyone from Shiramizu who competed in tournaments in August who earned medals. The main guest of honour was Rie Hirai, for her outstanding achievements at the Wado World Cup, by winning the individual
-55kg women's kumite gold medal & the Women's Team Kumite gold medal.

Held at the Sanko Salon Banquet Hall in Kuki City, about 20 minutes by car from the dojo, this was a collar and tie event (a fact I only learned as I was getting into the car to go to the venue in my jeans and short-sleeved shirt; prompting a pretty sprightly change into a suit), and I saw most of the Shiramizu family looking very dapper in their suits and dresses.

Richard had prepared and edited footage from the different tournaments to play in the background while toasts and presentations were made. Several guest sensei were present, including Fujimoto Sensei and the instructors of the highschool karate club who gave a speech of congratulation.

We were also treated to the award-winning Kata from Tsubasa (Kushanku), Takoba (Kururunfa) and Masatoshi (Wanshu).

The food was wonderful (with some of the junior high school students breaking the record for repeat visits to the buffet table), and the meal was accompanied by alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I was sat next to Uchida-san and Mori-San, so the conversation and beer flowed quite frequently!

Uchida-san and Iwasaki Sensei posing with the JKFan photographer.

After the meal each medal winner was presented with a special commemorative photo of the Shiramizu team at the Japan Wadokai Nationals. Mine is on my wall, next to my medal- a daily reminder that the awards that you win are never as important as the people who help you reach them.

left-right: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
  1. Yukiko Yamasaki Sensei (Shiramizu instructor, numerous Wadokai Nationals Women's Kata champ)
  2. Hiroyuki Uehara Sensei (Shiramizu instructor, Vice-Chair of Shiramizu after Arakawa Sensei)
  3. Hiromasu Shimizu Sensei (WKF 1996 Worlds Men's 80kg+ kumite champion, Nihon University Head Coach & current JKF National Team Coach) - he was invited as he is the new coach for Rie Hirai as she entered Nihon University from this April as a 1st year student.
  4. Takamasa Arakawa Sensei
  5. Mitsuyo Akiyama Sensei (Saitama Prefecture Kazo City's Hanasaki Tokuhara High School Karate Club Coach & International Budo University Karate Club alumni/class mate of Arakawa Sensei)
  6. Hitoshi Kikuchi Sensei (Shiramizu instructor)
  7. Takamasa Iwasuki Sensei (Shiramizu instructor)
  8. Noriko Yoshinohara Sensei (Shiramizu instructor, numerous Wadokai Nationals Women's Kata champ)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Some R&R: cycling about town

Peter Here;

After possibly the busiest fortnight of my entire life, Shiramizu Dojo shut for a week, allowing everyone some well deserved r&r.

I took this opportunity to grab my bike and go for a long ride to take some pictures of the area, and the life that goes on with it...

The Park in Sugito town, just 10 minutes away from where I live.

A farmer harvesting rice. It was kind of symbolic for me, as when I arrived in Japan the plants were new, and the shoots were barely visible dots in a square pond. During the three months they slowly turned lush, then burdened with their stalks.

A small shrine in Satte: this was tucked away behind houses in a back road. It will always amaze me how these beautiful structures are mixed in with everyday life.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Climbing Fuji: Fujiyama, 16-17th August

Peter Here;

As mentioned in the Wado World Cup blog post, I had to make an early exit from watching the championships to ascend Mount Fuji with Setsuko-san, an English Student of mine. We were climbing as part of a tour group - Big Holiday - with about 30 other people! Before now, the largest group I had been hiking with was 15, so this was very new.

Leaving Shinjuku at 7am (and the apartment much, much earlier- eurgh), we arrived at the 5th Station hotel at about 10am, and were forced to wait until the previous day’s climbers had rested before we could change and prepare ourselves for the climb. Even by that point the temperature was soaring and I could tell that the sunlight would not be our friend today- although it did make for good photography conditions.

We got into our hiking gear, and after a lecture from the group guide, we started the ascent. The plan was that we walked up to the 8th station, rested until after nightfall and then make the rest of the climb by torchlight, so that we'd reach the summit before daybreak.

At the beginning the track was clearly carved out for large groups, however this narrowed to bare rock the higher we went, which slowed the group down a bit more than I would have liked.

After about 4 hours of steep hiking we finally arrived at the 8th Station, where we would eat, rest and wait for nightfall before tackling the rest of the mountain. I must say that the views from here were somewhat amazing. It was something special to see a city gradually become smaller and lower just by walking- the only time I’ve seen recently something similar was through a window of a plane.

After a somewhat uncomfortable rest in my hiking gear, we stirred, including Setsuko, and we prepped ourselves for the long night ahead. We again received a talk from from the guide, warning of the dangers of night hiking up Fuji-san etc. Setsuko willingly for me, but now I am happy to say that I am starting to understand conversation just by myself. We all donned our headtorches and set off and upwards.

As we ascended more and more could be seen, and on a perfectly clear night too. When resting to allow less experienced people catch breath, I was mainly looking up at the clearest sky I've ever seen.

With the dawn threatening to break imminently, we broke for the highest point on Fuji (that was reachable by foot anyway) to meet the sun. I caught a quick glimpse down to the paths again; people were still climbing up- the Mountain was full to capacity!

The sun rose at 4:32. You can capture the light all you want on a camera, as many of us on the top did- but you will never be able to capture the power of witnessing the sunrise when it happens. We all stayed put and marveled at both the sun and our individual efforts for a good while, the cold suddenly disappearing with the morning fire.

Another phenomenon that not many people take notice of though is the ‘Fuji shadow’; that is, the shadow of Fuji which spans hundreds of kilometers onto the foothills behind. Almost as impressive as the light is, so was the shadow- a very zen moment, if I do say so myself.

The Mt. Fuji shadow!

Afterward we walked round the crater peak, and rested at a cafe until 6:30, when we began the descent. After feeling slightly restricted on the ascent (and possibly fueled by lack of sleep), it was good to be allowed to descend at one's own pace.

Time to go up Fuji: 11 hours; time to go down Fuji; 3 hours and 10 minutes. Halfway down I did stop to consider that I should take care - I did have a tournament in 4 days after all - but the gravelly shill was starting to make my legs ache and I wanted to be at the bottom again.

While waiting for the rest of the group, I caught up on some sleep. Travelers and walkers were surrounding me, getting ready for the day’s challenge as we were the day before. My eyes closed… and opened about an hour and a half later, making me one of the last people to meet up with the group. Oops.

Before home, we were treated to a nearby onsen. My first experience with Onsen was at the Shiramizu Gasshuku, and that was very nice. But let me tell you this: The very best time for Onsen, the time you will think you have died and gone to watery-spa heaven, is after a 12 hour long walk. I felt rejuvenated and relaxed in a way people would charge you thousands for. Afterwards, Setsuko and I had ice cream, the icing on the cake!

Eventually, the group returned to Shinjuku bus station, and the group of strangers departed, the rope of Fuji which bound us slowly burnt away by fatigue and memory and train timetables. Setsuko and I headed back to Sugito, half-dazed, half happy and discussing our adventure.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

JKF Wadokai Zenkoku Taikai: Chiba and Nippon Budokan, 21st-22nd August, 2010

Peter here;

After months of preparation (and dread), the event was finally here: the 46th Wadokai Zenkoku Taikai (Wadokai National Championships). Held over 2 days and in 2 locations, this tournament was filled with more competitors than the World Cup, and with a larger audience as well.

My events were Yukyusha (kyu grade) Kumite and Kata. Why Kyu grade? This is because my dan grade isn't JKF Wadokai verified, therefore for all JKF official tournaments I would be regarded as kyu grade until I pass my JKF wadokai shodan test in Japan. It was not lost on me however, that the last time I wore a brown belt was almost ten years ago to the day (when I earned my shodan), and although I'm not an overly superstitious fellow I was hoping that it would provide the same fortune.

After a very short welcoming speech, the events began. Carl was one of the first competitors up; having rested his knee he felt that he could compete. His knee lasted about 2 minutes into his first round before giving out, but fortunately it wasn't as bad this time; plus Carl was also commanding a very good lead. He held out, and won the bout practically on one leg! Unfortunately the next round wasn't so fortuitous and despite a good effort he was eliminated.

Ladies' Kata was up next, and it was a good turn for all the England Squad and Louise from New Zelaand, everyone getting through. Time for a much warranted pose, back by popular (i.e. Carl's) request:

Kamihamihaaaa! (spelling may differ from actual spelling)

Among the categories was the men's team event, which I had been really looking forward to: Arakawa Sensei was fighting in the team. It's frightening how someone who exudes positivity and a friendly approach can suddenly 'switch' to an aggressive fighting mentality, and this is exactly what I saw. Impressive, but very scary. The Shiramizu team won their rounds to go through to the last 8 in the Nippon Budokan the next day.

As I was with the Kyu grades, I was hoping that my Kumite event would get me to at least the last 8. However, despite a positive first round my second round fell apart. I was in the lead and let it go, which I was very annoyed at myself for (However, as a late concession the fellow who beat me was a finalist the next day, so it wasn't too bad). Kata I was lucky enough to be straight into the last 8, and performing at the Nippon Budokan the next day.

Although I had visited the Nippon Budokan with Arakawa Sensei and Fabien Sensei before, there is very little to compare with actually competing there. The atmosphere is electrifying.

Electrifying quickly turned to petrifying as I learned at 9:30 that my even started at 10am and not 11- I practiced as much as I could, but as Kata is definitely not my strongest point I was semi resigned to failure.

Imagine my surprise then, when I received all 5 flags for my Pinan Godan! I was through to the final, the second tournament in a row!

Unfortunately as I was spending all my time rehearsing Pinan Godan and not a secondary Kata, my Seishan was a mix of nerves and excitement- definitely not my best performance for the final. That said, I was surprised and happy to get one flag in my favour against a very good Kushanku.

So, two tournaments, two silver medals. I feel very lucky.

Louise's category was much more competitive in Women's Individual Black Belt Kata, and she burst through several impressive Kata before narrowly losing out in the semi final.

Katrina Wilson (England's Wadokai Junior Women's Kata World Champion from the weekend before), also ranked in the Bronzes, as did Lee Minion Sensei. Shiramizu's Uchida-san added to the Bronzes with his veteran Kumite category.

The other finals took place throughout the day, but most of them happened after the interval.

The break in a tournament is a new thing for me, being from England each event just tends to happen subsequently- were there a interval the tournaments would get longer than they are already, which on some particularly disorganized ones can be as late as 8pm. However, in Japan the interval is a requisite for entertainment and demonstrations. For the National Wadokai tournament, Arakawa Sensei leads the hundreds of younger participants of the tournament in some basic drills, while the massive o-daiko drum thumps out the rhythm of the movements.

Back to the events, the Shiramizu Men's Kumite team sadly lost out to the eventual winners Shinobu Kazukai, an unfortunate disqualification making it very difficult to regain the points needed to win. But the Shiramizu team did place 3!

Time for some camaraderie shots:

Lee Minion Sensei and Amy.

Carl and Louise, pulling 'genki' faces.

The interns, Lee Minion Sensei and Arakawa Sensei.

Group Victory! That's Dr. Hideo Takagi in the center.

So, a good result for Shiramizu, and a very good experience for me; not just with the tournament but also meeting new people and building new friendships both here and in England. After the tournament, I headed out with the England squad and Louise one last time, where we saw Louise depart for the next part of her adventures and also saw off a couple of beers, drinking a toast to the last couple of weeks (and of course, our success and endeavors!).

Kibishi, surely: Training with England Squad after Fuji, and up to Wadokai Nationals, 16th-19th August

Peter Here;

Well how do you relax after climbing the tallest mountain in Japan and only having 2 hours sleep to show for it? More Karate training of course!

Seriously, the England Karate Squad, including Carl and Amy, was at Shiramizu for some training after the Wado World Cup (Aug 14-15), and I wanted to participate as much as possible while they were there.

It was hard training, with fast-paced kick exercises and intense sparring. The kata was pressed heavily too; you could feel that everyone was starting to really feel the pressure of the Wadokai Nationals upon them that was the weekend after in Tokyo. If this wasn't Shiramizu training at full tilt, then I would be very scared to find out what would be.

Over the four days leading up to the Nationals I only rested on the Wednesday, having finally succumbed to the exhaustion of Fuji-san. However Thursday saw much the same paced sparring and Kata practice as the Tuesday; it seems that 'taking it easy' on a tournament week may not exist here.

On the Thursday The 'I-Team' (I just made that up) and Lee Minion Sensei with his son, Ryan, headed into town to do a bit of sightseeing. Visiting the Meji-jingu shrine and seeing the sights around Shibuya and Yoyogi park was a good break to take the mind off of training for just a little bit.

We even got to see the lighter, cuter side of Louise as we piled into the disney store!

Orrrr Maybe not.

Thursday evening saw even more England Squad members join training, along with Intern Alumni Louise and Amy. Carl was still on the sidelines resting his knee in the hope that it would recover for the weekend.

It was great to see everyone in the dojo train towards the same goal, feeding each other with the competitive atmosphere.

Friday came, and we had several guests: The Fujimoto Sensei brothers from Fujimoto Guseikai Dojo in Tokyo attended and gave tactical advice, Carl, Amy and Louise were present and training as hard as they could, members of the Romanian Wadokai team including Nobuyuki Nukina Sensei, and a Sumo Wrestler friend of Arakawa Sensei. I can honestly say this was the most multi-cultural dojo I've ever had the joy of training in.

After the final session, the Shiramizu Sensei and guests each gave a speech for the upcoming tournament, after which we toasted to our success and endeavors. Kampai!!