Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year end practice! And Happy New Year!

On Friday, December 23 (a national holiday), over 300 Shiramizu students assembled at a local recreation center gym to participate in the last practice of the year. At the end of the practice was the annual '1000-punches' (zenbontsuki). Not only was it a great practice for everyone, but those students who did well in competitions, from local to the national championships to the Asian championships, received special gifts of recognition.

Afterwards many of the core adults had some good fun at the year-end party (bonenkai), a very important event for all companies, schools and of course karate clubs in Japan. I'm sure everyone have many bonenkai to attend due to different commitments. (This is different from the shinenkai, the beginning of year party in just a few weeks - sweet!)

It's truly been a unique year, very topsy-turvy from the triple disaster on March 13, to the 2nd full-time dojo opening in Satte City, to multiple interns coming and going, to the internship being reset again for 2012.

As things have gotten back to normal, I think it's amazing how Shiramizu has continued to grow and be vibrant, both in getting new members, in current members deepening their traditional knowledge of Wadoryu karate plus in members now growing up to be adults who are achieving great things in different competitive leagues (high school, university and adult) plus moving up the dan ranks.

For visitors coming to sleepy Sugito City where the head dojo is, about one hour north of Tokyo, probably no one would ever think such a small place could produce so many members creating a vibrant, active club run by professional karate instructors. As I think about all the professional instructors I have known over the past 25 years, while many have had one or two very good strengths as an instructor, no one has been as well rounded as Arakawa Sensei, nor as consistent day after day, year after year, at teaching and promoting, not to mention event hosting, in such a positive manner. I myself as a pro coach concede this fact, but that's why I still learn from Arakawa Sensei, and that's why so many people come to visit the dojo. No one is perfect, but the infectious energy for karate here at Shiramizu is great to experience.

Happy New Year to our many, many readers. We wish you all a great 2012. Look for the intern blog to again be very active over the new few months. Plus we also look forward to all our visitors again showing up, which I think starts with quite a few people coming from Canada in just a few weeks.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

2012 Intern application deadline extended to January 31

While we've had some interest in the 2012 Internship starting in April, no one qualified has yet to step forward. Therefore, we'll extend the application deadline to January 31, 2012!

Some questions I have received recently;

1. Is Tokyo safe? (some worries over the Fukushima reactor problem slowly being fixed).

Yes, it's safe, life is carrying on, monitoring by the government and non-government agencies at all levels happens everyday and the 'fear of the unknown' has subsided quite a bit.

It's good to look at the other programs accepting foreigners, like the universities, as they all saw a drop right after the triple March 11 disaster, but by September, most foreign student levels were back to normal in Tokyo. At my university which is extremely popular with foreign university students, hundreds of students from around the world are on campus.

While there is quite a bit of good/so-so/bad/incorrect news floating around, the Fukushima problem is getting closer to being resolved.

I must say this is a very good time to be in Japan because the triple disaster has finally awoken Japanese people to be much more proactive in politics and social issues, to the point civil society (charities, non-profits, volunteer groups) for all kinds of issues have starting popping up.

2. Is airfare included?

No, it's not included, but if the selected applicant has the right karate background, they can earn extra money assisting some of the karate classes and at the end of the year receive a substantial payment from the dojo that will most likely equal their return airfare.

3. Can I do other things not karate related?

Sure! We expect the intern to act as a professional taking care of the English classes and to attend the required karate lessons/events etc, but other than that, the intern can do whatever they want.

Again, for those interested, please read over the application information and send us an application by email.

Thank you,

Friday, October 28, 2011

UPDATE! Working holiday visa & high school diploma ok for internship

Richard here,

UPDATE: Application deadline extended to January 31, 2012!

Internship application update.

1) Working holiday visa only ok
2) High school diploma or equivalent ok, no college/university degree needed
3) Dates are slightly changed to April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013

The dojo informs me that they will accept a new intern from next April 2012 on only a 'working holiday visa' & the intern also only needs a high school diploma, not a university degree.

This is very good news as it is much easier to acquire this visa from a Japanese embassy or consulate if you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland or Hong Kong, aka 'the English-speaking' countries in the program.

(As an aside just to head off all the questions I know I will get like previous years as to why Americans are not allowed to participate, it was explained to me that while Japan would be ok with the US joining, there is no political interest in the US for making the program reciprocal to Japanese, hence the two countries have not made an agreement.)

Official information for each country can be found here on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Working holiday visa applications are received by the selected applicant
directly going to their local Japanese embassy or consulate within 3 months of planning to arrive in Japan.
The dojo is not involved in visa applications.

A 'working visa' is different from a 'working holiday visa' in that the work visa applicant needs a university degree and they must be sponsored by the host company in Japan.

The purpose of the working holiday visa is for the applicant to focus on cultural activities and travel in Japan, with working part-time being a secondary purpose. This matches the internship perfectly.

If an applicant is from a country not in the working holiday visa program, they will have to prove they either already have an acceptable visa or they can get a visa on their own as the dojo can not sponsor any visas this time.

Internship applications will be accepted until November 30th.
UPDATE: Application deadline extended to January 31, 2012!

For all the details about applying, click here!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Slow but steady

Hi, Jonas here.

My cold has finally gone away, and I am back in the dojo!

I was really worried that I would have forgotten the katas after almost a week and half of absence from training, but after a couple of minutes of guidance from the teachers I was back in the game.

I find that remembering movements and such is quite different from just remembering something mentally. Physical movements seem to stay with you much deeper. Even though you feel like you have forgotten, if you just start doing it (moving your body) somehow it just naturally comes back to you. Quite an interesting sensation.

But giving your brain a little help on the way is never a bad idea. During my cold I took my time to finally read and watch some of the karate learning material that is in the intern apartment. The Shiramizu DVD and, "Introduction to karate" by Shingo Ohgami.

I have finally been able to remember both Pinan Shodan and Nidan, and the Shiramizu DVD has has been a great help with in memorizing all the movements.
I am still very insecure about all the stances, especially neko ashi dachi, but I guess stuff like that only comes with time so I will just have to hang in there.

ファイト Fight!

Book I was recomended, actually written by a Sensei living in Sweden of all places!

The Shirmizu DVD, great for studying at home!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn has arrived with Sport's Day!

Hi, Jonas here.

Saitama has finally started to cool down some. This is actually quite good news, since September's Saitama was way too warm for me. And on top of that the humidity here in the summer is just crazy!

Unfortunately though, in the beginning of this week I managed to catch quite a nasty cold, so I have not been able to practice any karate the last couple of days. All my energy has been focused on teaching English.

体育の日( Health and Sports Day) in Japan was on Monday , so all of the schools seem to be busy with sport activities right now.

One of the kindergartens I teach at had a sport's festival on Saturday that I took part of.
I was really surprised at how well prepared everything was. They even had a school orchestra playing a Disney medley.

絆 "bonds", the theme of this years sport festival
The outfit of the day.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

2012 Intern application schedule! UPDATED!

Richard here,

UPDATED DEC 3/2011: Application deadline extended to January 31, 2012!

* The dojo will again accept new interns on only a 'working holiday visa' *.

See visa details below.

For those interested in applying for the 2012 Shiramizu Japan Karate Internship position, please read carefully the requirements below.

UPDATED Internship dates: April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013

The Shiramizu Japan Karate Internship was created in 2005 as an ideal way for a non-Japanese to visit Japan to learn karate and Japanese culture while earning subsistence money by working as a part-time English teacher.

The benefit to the intern is the supportive environment of a professional Japanese karate dojo teaching one the 4 main styles of Karate, Wado, which is recognized worldwide. Shiramizu is a member of the JKF Wadokai federation, one of the 6 mainstream karate groups in Japan.

By immersing into a busy schedule of weekly practices, seminars, training camps, tournaments, dojo parties and special events, the intern truly raises their martial arts ability and understanding to a high-level.

In addition to living the dream of learning karate in Japan, the intern earns enough money to to cover basic expenses by teaching English at kindergartens, private language schools, the dojo itself and sometimes through private lessons. For someone who loves teaching and interacting with mainly children, the position is ideal.

It is important for applicants to understand the core of the internship program is interacting in the karate world, while earning money is secondary once day to day costs are covered.

During their free time, interns are encouraged to learn Japanese at volunteer language classes, sight-see around Tokyo & Japan and try numerous cultural activities all while making new friends, some of whom will last a lifetime.

This intern blog has many years worth of posts describing the internship in detail so please look it over to better grasp how the internship works.

The main intern duties include;

- participate in karate lessons (most interns attend 3 to 5 practices a week aside from personal training)

- prepare lessons and then teach English classes (1 to 4 a day, Monday to Friday)

- update the intern blog once a week

-keep the Google Calendar account of intern related activities up-to-date

- represent the internship in a positive manner at all times

- help with Shiramizu foreign guests (normally 1 person or 1 group per month)

- attend events either as a competitor, participant or spectator on the official Shiramizu schedule (tournaments, seminars, summer camps, all depending on the intern's karate level and available free time)

While most interns to date have participated in this program because they wanted to become professional instructors upon returning to their home countries or they wanted to try to pass their shodan (1st degree black belt) in Japan, the internship is open to a wide range of people.

The 2 important factors that the selected intern must attempt in the internship;

a) Make the most of their time in Japan!

b) Improve the internship for the next person!

UPDATE on accommodation:
While there was a small furnished one-room apartment near the dojo included which the previous interns paid the monthly rent and expenses using some of their part-time English teaching earnings, from April 2012 the accommodation location might be moved. For sure accommodation be it an apartment/shared apartment/dorm/home stay will be organized.

Depending on the month, earnings can range from 120,000-220,000yen, as it varies due to regular vacation times with about 160,000yen being a monthly standard amount.

If an intern is careful, total monthly expenses don't run over 100,000-120,000yen.

UPDATED: Working holiday visa ok!
The dojo will accept a new intern from next April 2012 on only a working holiday visa!

This is very good news as it is much easier to acquire this visa from a Japanese embassy or consulate if you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland or Hong Kong 'the English-speaking countries in the program).

(As an aside just to head off all the questions I know I will get like previous years as to why Americans are not allowed to participate, it was explained to me that while Japan would be ok with the US joining, there is no political interest in the US for making the program reciprocal to Japanese, hence the two countries have not made an agreement.)

Official information for each country can be found here on the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website

*Applicants from countries outside the working holiday visa program will have to prove their already have or they can successfully acquire on their own a proper visa as the dojo can not sponsor a visa from 2012.

Candidate requirements
1. Age: 20-30
The working holiday visa program's age range is 18-30, but since the interns teach adults and children, and they interact in important adult events (meetings, dinners, etc) the dojo has the set the minimum participation age at 20 to match the Japanese legal adult age of 20 years old.

***UPDATED 2. A high school diploma completed in the English language required. Some university/college studies or degree in any field an asset, but not required.

3a. Experience working with children
3b. Experience teaching or tutoring English is an asset

4. Some experience with martial arts, preferably karate.

5. Positive, up-beat, take charge attitude (describe in cover letter)

6. No criminal record in any country - the selection committee reserves the right to potentially ask for a criminal record report if a concern arises

7. Ability to be in Japan for 52 weeks with no interruptions. April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013.

The required documents for the application are:
a) 1-page cover letter - describe yourself and why you would be a good candidate for this internship

b) 1-page resume - short list of only related information, including personal bio details

c) 2 references - list contact information and relationship to applicant

d) head/shoulders photograph (passport style, can be taken with own camera)
e) copy of high school diploma or copy of official transcript (scan or picture)

All documents can be sent as email attachments. Only small file sizes please.

Application Process:

1) October 1 to November 30: Applications are accepted.

UPDATE: Application deadline extended to January 31, 2012!

Email to: karateintern at gmail dot com

We thank all applicants who apply. Only those applicants short-listed will be replied to.

We do accept questions if anyone has them once they have clearly read this explanation page.

2) January 15-20: Skype interviews with the short-listed candidates.

3) January 20-25: Short-listed candidates ranked in order of acceptance and then this list is reviewed with Arakawa Sensei.

Final candidate and runner-up are selected and informed.

***The role of the runner-up is to have the option to become the intern if the first person selected is rejected by Japanese immigration when applying for their visa.

4) February to March: The selected candidate completes any local ESL weekend course (1 or 2 days) in their town prior to coming to Japan. Any inexpensive, short course is fine.

5) February: Selected applicant applies for the working holiday visa at the Japanese embassy or consulate in their home country as the application can be done within 3 months to arriving in Japan.

6) April 1: The selected intern arrives and is introduced to the dojo and the different English part-time teaching locations. The new intern receives an extensive explanation package on all the part-time lessons and begins teaching the English classes while going to karate practices.

April to March is the official Japanese school & university calendar, also followed by private English classes and the Shiramizu dojo classes so having the new intern start in April perfectly matches the 'back to school, meet the new teachers' atmosphere in Japan.

Again, there is much, much more information in this blog which interested applicants should read thoroughly.

If anyone has any questions, they can email us anytime.
karateintern at gmail dot com

Friday, September 30, 2011

Jonas in September

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Hello, Jonas here.
First of all, sorry for the delay of my first blog post!

It has been almost a month since I came to Saitama now, and it's been really busy ever since I arrived. Not having trained karate for around 14 years, you can pretty much say I am a total beginner. Right now I have just barely memorized Pinan Nidan and Shodan. So trying to catch up with all the black belts in the dojo is quite tough.

On top of that teaching English to small kids in Japan for the first time in my life is not the easiest task I have undertaken I must say. Definitely a learning experience!

Just the other week Shiramizu dojo had a visit from Paul who lives in Thailand. It was a lot of fun to meet him, and learn about what living in Thailand is like. A great guy!

Before leaving for Thailand Arakawa Sensei took Paul to Nikko, and I was lucky enough to be able to go with them.
Nikko is a really beautiful place and I hope I can go there again sometime.

Unfortunately we were not very lucky with the weather there though. It was pouring down to say the least! But in my opinion this actually added to the atmosphere of the place. Arakawa Sensei said that normally Nikko is crowded with tourists, but because of the weather, we were pretty much alone there, which was very cool.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interview with Jonas!

Richard here,

Here's a short interview with the current intern, Jonas.

Where are you from exactly?

I'm from a small town called Krylbo in Dalarna county of Sweden. Dalarna is a quiet place with lots of forests and lakes, and with very few big cities.

When and how did you first get interested in Japan?
I got interested in Japan when I was still very young, maybe around 6 or 7 years old? I remember seeing stuff like Starzinger and Tottoro on kids TV in Sweden. Even though the dialogue was dubbed to Swedish, the theme songs were still kept in original Japanese, and I found the sound of the language very beautiful. Some time later I saw The Karate Kid and decided that I wanted to start learning karate. Also I must admit that Nintendo was also a big influence, as 10-something years old I remember thinking that working at Nintendo in Japan must be like the best job ever.

What was your first impression of Japan?

Before coming here I always thought of Japan as a very spiritual and mystical country.

When did you first come to Japan?

I think it was around 2009.

So after your first visit, how has your impression of Japan changed?

It's more noisy and busy than I expected. (both in bad and good ways). Also, after staying here for some time now, things that I used to think of as very strange and foreign has become normal to me and this has made me realize that wherever you go in the world people are still people. "Sekai wa hitotsu"

How many times have you been to Japan now? What have you done each time?

Counting this time, I've been here 4 times already! The first time I came to travel, I bought a 2 week JR Rail Pass and visited lots of different parts of Japan. Second time I stayed at a guesthouse in Ikebukuro and studied Japanese. Third time I went to Sapporo Tokai University as an exchange student through my university in Sweden. And now I'm in Saitama as a karate intern!

After you graduate from your university, what do you hope to do?

I want to live and work in Japan. If possible I hope to get a job working with music, since it is my biggest interest.

How is learning karate again?
It's hard! My body aches and my head hurts from trying to remember everything. But it is really interesting to see how karate is taught in its motherland.

Is there anything similar or different to how you did karate before?

Yes, when I was young I practiced Shotokan karate and I can definitely notice some stylistic differences. Also in Japanese there seems to be more weight on small details when training than I remember in Sweden.

While being an intern, do you have any challenges for yourself?

I was told that if I do my best I might be able to get a to the level of green belt. That would be really sweet!

Every intern so far has tried to add something new or improve on something for the internship position? Do you have anything you would like to do to enhance it?
Hard to say now, since it's only been 2 weeks since I arrived here... but I will do my best!

How are the people at Shiramizu?

Very friendly and helping. I was quiet nervous when I first came here, but as soon as I had met everybody I felt like I was in a very good community.

Any advice you have for other people in the future planning to apply for the internship or just come to Japan on their own?
Be prepared for cultural differences and be open to changes and I think you will have a great time.


Monday, September 5, 2011

New Intern! Welcome Jonas!

From today Shiramizu warmly welcomes Jonas Holm as our 10th Shiramizu Karate Intern to date! Jonas is from Sweden and he is a Japanese studies specialist now on his 4th long-term visit to Japan.

He initially become interested in Nippon when he began learning Shotokan karate as an elementary student and since then, his Japanophile passion as grown to the point he has now passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 2, which is quite an achievement. Probably his Japanese ability can surpass some of the high school and university students in the club!

Jonas speaks fluent, native level English, and he has worked with children leading language and music classes as he is also a musician who plays the guitar. I'm sure the English classes will look forward to having some guitar fun.

Later on this week we will interview Jonas to find out what makes him tick, and if he is a lover or a hater of umeboshi and natto.

Jonas will be completing the remaining months on the 2011-2012 internship position that runs until March 2012.

We will be accepting applications for the next internship position 2012 to 2013 from next month.

Every time each intern comes to Shiramizu, a new atmosphere is always created. Since Peter is still kicking around here too, and he's a silky piano playing jazz singer in his spare time, perhaps the two will form a band specifically for Shiramizu party performances...


Intern termination and new hire

The intern hired for this year, Erica Jones, had her internship contract terminated completely on September 2.

Due to the requirement to find a new intern immediately since the various English classes are starting up again after the summer break, we were successful to find a suitable candidate to start from today who has the right qualifications and karate experience, plus who is already in Japan.

For any unresolved issues related to the previous intern, please contact the Shiramizu office manager directly.

The new intern will complete the remaining six months of this year's contract ending in March 2012.

The application and selection period for next year's intern (2012-2013) will begin in October. For those interested, please check this internship blog then. Thank you.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Friendliest Rival

Erica here!

I mentioned in my earlier post that that my first competition will be in October. Even though it's months away, I'm still rather nervous. I think once you get to a certain level it's easy to forget how you felt when you first experience something.

I think it becomes a sort of emotional blur where you remember on the most dramatic and intense periods, which are relieved on a more basic emotional level. You remember the overall feeling of being nervous, or excited, but the details are lost as you come to focus more on present priorities and current goals.

So of course, while I feel tension about the competition, most of the people in the dojo tell me everything will be fine-and I'm sure it will. However, it's always awesome when you can experience an emotion at the same time as someone else. I love being able to share my difficulties and successes with the one other blue belt (she passed to!) who I occasionally practice with. Since she is the only adult that I know of that is around my level, I suppose we could be considered "friendly rivals". I think we really encourage each other because of our shared experience.

At first, she had no intention to enter the competition but then Arakawa Sensei asked her on the basis that if she didn't, I might be the only one competing(because of our lower level) and the fact that I begged her to enter too, for moral support! So eventually she gave in. Yesterday, though, she told me she was only going to do the Kata, NOT the Kumite! So I suppose I'll be going that alone. She had a good laugh at my shocked face though, haha.

Anyhow, since we often talk about our struggles, she took the time to print out a sheets that outlines different points about performing two different Kata that we will probably need to perform: Pinan Nidan, and Pinan Shodan. Plus, she took the time to handwrite all of the furigana for the Kanji on all TWELVE sheets so that I could be sure to read it.

There was so much detail! I was very touched and motivated by her effort!

It's so nice to know that support at Shiramizu is available on so many different levels and even among "rivals".

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Birthday Fun

Erica here!

Recently, Sensei had his 44th birthday!

Arakawa Sensei holding a birthday gift: Flowers from the dojo members!

A large group of people from the dojo celebrated the occasion at an izakaya near Tobu-Dobutsu Koen station. While it's always inspiring to see everyone working so hard to improve their karate or kihon at our training sessions, Sensei's party was a wonderful chance to see everyone outside of their usual "karate-mode". The guys ordered a lot of beer so of course they were bursting with energy throughout the night. Everyone could see they were having a great time. Because I try to stay within a pretty tight budget, I don't go out to eat very often. Therefore, it was nice to splurge a bit and try a bunch of different foods all night. However, there were a lot of fish dishes, and unfortunately, since I have an allergy to seafood, there were so many things I couldn't try!

Eating, talking, drinking and laughing at Sensei's birthday celebration.

The most important thing was that Sensei seemed to enjoy the night. He is usually smiling anyway, but it's always good to see the person of honor having a nice time at their special event. I hope 44 is a great year for him!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Test Time!

Erica Here!

Several Saturdays ago I had my first ever Karate belt test! When I got to the testing site, I immediately realized that it probably would have been beneficial to have asked someone to take me to see one beforehand, or at least read about them on this blog. What was I thinking! I was feeling alright hours before the test, but just before it, I suddenly became terribly nervous. This was because as I was driving to the Satte Dojo (where the test was held) I misunderstood what Arakawa Sensei said about the testing process, and inadvertently psyched myself out. Therefore, I thought it would be nice if for the next intern, (and those of you just wondering), I could present a pretty thorough run-through of the Shiramizu Belt test.

First, the students are informed of the kyu test (pre-black belt) about a month in advance, and the test is conducted in groups. I'm not quite sure how the groups are divided, but I believe my group was for adults who were not black belts, and the junior high school students who were not black belts. As for the adults, there was one white belt (me), one yellow belt, and one brown belt adult. The middle school testers were all green and brown belts.

(Richard here - normally people are grouped together in 3 to 5 people at a time of the same belt rank level, which range from kyu 9 to kyu 1, with 1 being the highest. Black belt tests are done separately by Wadokai associations judges at a different time, normally one or twice a year for the whole prefecture.)

Because the Sensei come in and set up early, the students have an opportunity to practice beforehand and ask any last minute questions. In my case, I practiced my Kata and Kihon for about 30 minutes before the test.

The test is about 2 hours long from start to finish. However, my misunderstanding just before the test led me to think that everyone would be actively doing something for 2 hours, so I started panicking! But luckily, I was mistaken. Instead, the large group is divided into smaller sub-groups of similar ability and each group is then tested for a certain skill for about 10 minutes while everyone else watches. The lowest ranking belts are tested in each area first, which meant myself and the yellow belt started things off as we were tested together. I was nervous about that aspect of the test, because I had never demonstrated any of my Karate in front of a group before, and since I went first, I didn't know what to expect!

Some things to note, all of which I didn't do (or delayed in doing):
When the Sensei call your name, you are supposed to say "Hai".
Just before you start, you should turn to the Sensei and say "Onegaishimasu" doing a slight bow.
You are supposed to do Kiai (battle cry) with each karate move…not just the end of a set of 5, or 10, etc. (editor - this is dependent on the person running the test, sometimes one kiai or no kiai are required.)
When you finish that portion of the testing, you go back to sit down (walking behind others instead of in front), say "Onigashimasu" and do the deep, floor-level bow.

I'm not sure how important these things are for passing or not, but I'm sure proper etiquette factors in somehow.
(editor - the test is about technical ability first and foremost - how well someone bows after they go sit down in normally inconsequential.)

The first portion of the test was Kihon, and it is tested group by group. The Kihon differs depending on the ability of the students. After the Kihon, there was a slight break period (about 10 minutes) where we could practice for the next portion: Kata.

The Kata is also tested in groups. I wasn't sure exactly how it worked, but some people had to perform one Kata, some people had to perform two, and some people could choose the Kata they wanted to demonstrate. People in the same group did not always preform the same Kata. In my case, I did Pinan Nidan while the yellow belt did two other Kata which I am still unfamiliar with.
(editor - everyone pretty much knows what kata relate to which kyu ranks and a month prior it is announced which kata are expected of each level being tested, normally with 2 to 3 kata required, except for complete beginners like Erica who only know one kata).

After Kata, Kumite (sparring) is tested. As a white belt, I didn't do this part, but the more advanced students were paired off and faced each other on opposite sides of the room. Each pair then did a bit of sparring and that was that.

During the test, several Sensei observe in the front of the dojo, and take notes. After everyone has been tested, the Sensei take about 10 or 15 minutes to review their notes and talk with each other and after that, they announce the results to everyone, one by one, and offer some explanation, particularly for the people who didn't pass. It's a surprisingly quick process.

When I went into the test, I didn't know exactly what the Sensei were looking for. Richard told me that at my level, it's basically the fact that you know the basic commands and that you "do them with effort". I'm the kind of person likes a checklist of sorts and a clear line of passing and failure before a test, so that criteria left me unsure about how things would go right until the end. Unfortunately, I didn't really understand much of the explanations given, but I did understand one thing: I passed! That means I am now a blue belt! I was very surprised, but of course, I was happy.
I still don't have my own to wear yet...but soon!

Though I still know I have such a long way to go, I think the best thing about the entire process was knowing I could pass once. That thought gave me more confidence concerning the advancement of my Karate skills and more motivation for the future. I'll definitely need that, because yesterday, Arakawa Sensei told me I had to sign up for my first competition…which will be in October!

Monday, July 11, 2011

More Than One Way to Learn

Erica here!

One of the lovely things about the Shiramizu dojo is the variety of instruction available. The diversity of the Sensei in terms of experience and instruction style insures that I receive a variety of perspectives on my progress as I train. At this point, I've interacted with some Sensei more than others, but I'll just use this blog to talk about my experiences with a few of them.

There are two female instructors who I mentioned before, Yoshihara Sensei and Yamazaki Sensei. These ladies motivate me so much for a variety of reasons.When I first began this journey and everything was new, they really came to my aid in a very basic way: by telling their stories how they both started Karate in their 40s, how they have gotten good enough to teach at Arakawa Sensei's dojo, and how they have done well in various competitions.

On the one hand, it's awesome to know that I'm training under the umbrella of Arakawa Sensei, someone who is internationally recognized for his talent, and who has a room full of medals and awards that signify his exceptional martial arts ability. Learning under someone who is so throughly accomplished makes me feel that I am in good hands as every time I train at Shiramizu.

However, it can be intimidating and difficult to relate to someone who's been immersed in Karate for longer that I've been alive! Therefore, it's easier for me to see Yoshihara Sensei and Yamazaki Sensei as more immediate role models because of their background. Through training everyday, they developed a love and passion for karate, along with great skill. Even though they haven't practiced Karate for decades, they have a spirit of learning, and continual improvement that is thoroughly transparent and contagious, and I'm always energized by their presence and instruction.

On Sunday, we had a special "girl's only" practice and both Sensei made the experience great for everyone.

Female only Practice! The Dojo certainly smelled different that day :)

Uehara Sensei has also been a great help to me. He is very gentle, but stern in his instruction, and he has really helped me to break down many of the different Kihon. I can repeat a move over and over with him and he will continue to help me correct my mistakes until I gain confidence.

I've also recently begun training with Peter and Richard. While Peter isn't a dojo Sensei of course, I feel I really benefit from the occasional private practices we do together, not only because he speaks English, but he's also incredibly funny when he explains things, which helps me not to take things so seriously. While of course the internship is serious business, I'm also a beginner and he helps me to remember that that's not a bad thing, rather, it is something everyone has to experience to move to the next level. He is definitely encouraging as well, and because he was the former intern, I know that we have some shared experiences which helps me put things into perspective.

Training with Richard is great not only because of his own long and impressive martial arts background but also, due to the fact that I see him once a week, he is able to evaluate the changes in my ability differently than the other Sensei who see me every other day or so. When I train with him, he also gives me great insight into the reasoning behind moves and he helps me to understand what I should be thinking about and what others will be looking for when evaluating my Kihon and Kata.

All this instruction will soon culminate into my first belt test, which will be on July 9th! Last week, there is no formal Karate instruction at Shiramizu, so my preparation will be mostly self-training. I'm still nervous, but hopefully a few solo trips to the dojo will help give me the confidence I need for the weekend!

(Editor's note: Erica's belt test report & results will be the next post up later this week!)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Being a beginner in a Japanese dojo...

Erica here!

Among the many things I'm getting used to during my year here is the dojo culture. Although I've been told every dojo has it's own culture based on the style of karate and the desires of the dojo's Sensei/instructors, Shiramizu is the only dojo I've ever spent a significant amount of time in. Therefore, my observations are based on that, plus the fact that I'm a beginner.

Thus, for other beginners like myself, this blog in no way should be considered universally representative of all karate dojos, all dojos in Japan, or even Shiramizu, as I am approaching it from a beginner's and a foreigner's standpoint. I am simply trying to relay my experience and, should another Karate beginner choose to apply for the internship, they can get a sense of Shiramizu.

There are some things that even a month later I am still trying to make habitual. They are small things, but I feel that when I miss them, it's another way, on top of everything else, that I can be seen as being a beginner and a bit of an outsider. Some of these things include:

• When entering the dojo, everyone says "お願いします/Onegaishimasu" and takes off their shoes, and the other members will respond in kind by saying "お願いします/Onegaishmasu". I will sometimes forget this greeting both when I enter and when others enter the dojo.

• While stretching together, whenever the stretch or warm up changes (for example, changing from running to skipping, or stretching the right leg to the left) everyone says "Hai!" but I often forget to do it until about halfway into the warm up.

• During sparring people say "Fighto!" and other expressions as a way to encourage everyone. I'm still trying to pick up on all of them.

• When drinking water during a break, you are supposed to sit down. I didn't know this until Peter told me. As a former long distance runner, I'm definitely used to standing up and drinking quickly so I've made this mistake often.
(Richard here - I've never thought about sitting down on water breaks, but for eating something substantial, sitting down is culturally correct).

• There are various times (such as the beginning and end of practice, as well as getting ready to practice kihon) that we line up accruing to belt color/experience. Even now, I am never quite sure when I should line up and I looked to one of the Sensei's for confirmation.

• Another interesting thing that I've noticed and struggled with is the notion of making a face of confusion. In America, with every sport that I've ever done, when something was difficult or confusing the participants would usually make some kind of pained expression to nonverbal signal to the instructor our lack of understanding so that they would come and help us out. Of course, come performance time or a competition, you would hide that the best you could. I could be wrong, but it seems that in the dojo, simply doing things incorrectly is enough of a signal in and of itself, as the instructors pay very close attention to the students.

Here, it seems better to look serious and thoughtful even during times of difficulty. Of course, the amount of times when everyone else is confused as opposed to myself is so uneven that maybe I haven't had enough experience to speak to that as of yet.

However, the one thing I can do without a hitch is cleaning! :)
We vacuum, sweep and wipe down the dojo after we finish practicing.

One non-cultural difficulty about being a beginner is that I am usually regulated to practicing with one of the Sensei. This is great in the sense that they are the best resources available to help me improve my kihon, and I also know they are experienced enough that my clumsiness doesn't inadvertently harm them. On the other hand, I rarely have any interaction with other members of the dojo, so it's hard for me to socialize despite having conversational Japanese ability. However, maybe in a few months time I'll be able to join the others occasionally.

There are a host of other small things that I could speak to, but the blog would get much too long. Soon I will finish my first full month here, so hopefully I will feel more comfortable. Until then, I will continue to observe and do the best I can.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Erica's June update!

Erica practicing kata on the side of the dojo.
Picture from Arakawa Sensei's blog.

Erica here,

Well, after a few disjointed weeks in Japan, I'm slowly getting acclimated to my new life. It's been a real adjustment trying to get used to such a non-traditional schedule, but hopefully things will become second-nature soon.

As someone who's been to Japan before, I haven't had to contend with much culture shock. That's a good thing because learning Karate for the first time is enough of a challenge for me!

Being active has been something I've enjoyed for a while, so luckily, I am in pretty good shape. Kickboxing is the closest activity I've ever done to karate, but that was in college, and I'd say the focus there was primarily on fitness, enjoyment and effort. However, learning karate here, I've found much of the focus to be on technique. While my level of Japanese understanding allows me to understand the basic idea of most conversations, much of what's discussed in the dojo is about refining basic moves, and when things get that specific, it can be hard for me to understand, and most of all remember when everything else is new for me. Even remembering to keep my fist properly locked can be difficult to do when I'm worrying about if if my shoulders are relaxed or my feet are properly positioned, etc.

Because I'm forced to think about these things so often now, I feel that at the end of this year, I should be a lot more in tune with my body. I received Shingo Ogami Sensei's "Introduction to Karate" from the last intern, Peter, which is an English language book that helps explain some of the specifics. I think it will be helpful as I encounter more moves in the future.

As a beginner, it's hard not to be self-conscious when I'm essentially the only white belt in a room that's usually full of black belts. Whenever I've learned something new, it's usually been the case that I'm with others of the same level. However, at practice there is a mix of different belt levels, which I found surprising. Sometimes, it's a little lonely being the sole beginner, especially when many people I practice with seem to be younger than me. However, even though I'm just starting out, my teachers are very supportive which is quite a relief. And two of the teachers began in their 40s which makes me feel a little better!

My main focus right now is learning the Kata, which is basically a set of prearranged moves I have to remember. Yesterday I finally learned all of the "Pinan Nidan" kata, so now I have something I can do for self-practice. I have a terrible memory sometimes, so after a bit of searching I found a helpful video on youtube.

Here's Wadokai's Hakoishi Sensei performing Pinan Nidan.

Here's WadoRenmei's Suzuki Sensei performing Pinan Nidan.

And here's to another week.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pete's Graduation & Erica's Welcome Party!

Richard here!

Pete & Erica in the front row wearing Shiramizu towels!

Congratulations to Pete being the 8th graduate of the Shiramizu Karate Internship! In addition, a warm welcome to Erica as the 9th intern! We had the Graduation/Welcome Party a week ago at a Taiwanese restaurant.

Some mischievous Shiramizu members remembered to complete the party with the mandatory natto eating contest for all non-Japanese in attendance (ahem).

Myself, Pete (with graduation certificate & Wadokai National's photo 2010) and Arakawa Sensei.

Erica and the honorary alien

The nijikai was the annual gaijin karaoke madness with an honorary alien member as well from Pete's non-karate life.

That's going to look pretty sweet on you-know-who's wall...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Welcome to the latest Karate Intern, Erica Jones!

Erica just after she arrived at Narita Airport - the customary arrival photo

Peter Here!

Shiramizu's latest intern has now arrived! Erica Jones touched down at 4pm Tuesday May 3rd, at Narita Airport. We met at the airport and took the very swanky Keisei Skyliner train service back to Nippori (after all, it was Golden Week and we deserved a little luxury!), before swapping to the local trains and getting her to the intern apartment. We also did a little whirlwind tour of the local supermarket, so she knows where to get her snacks from!

Here's her opening interview!

1. Welcome to Japan! A softball question first, where are you from?

I'm from the United States of America- Dayton, Ohio to be exact. The Midwest has a boring reputation, but Dayton's claim to fame is being the birthplace of the Wright Brothers- inventors of the airplane and therefore, a pretty big reason why I can be in Japan today!

2. Have you been to Japan before and if so, why?

I visited Japan two years ago for about 6 months to study Japanese language, history and culture at Sophia University in Tokyo.

3. How did you find out about the internship and what motivated you about it to apply?

Ever since my college days, I would scour through the local Craigslist to try to find some kind of bargain in the "for sale" section. I guess I'm kind of a weirdo, because after leaving Japan, I continued to occasionally look at the Japanese craigslist postings as well. Looking at the "for sale" section would lead me to casually look through the "jobs" section and I happened to see the internship posted there. I didn't know what to think at first, as Craigslist can sometimes house sketchy things, but I was actually motivated to apply by reading this blog and learning about the fantastic experiences past interns were having. It seemed like such a unique and challenging opportunity that I thought I absolutely had to apply...and I'm glad I did!

4. Being a karate beginner, what are you initial impressions about this 'amazing martial art of ours'? - no pressure, answer freely :)

I'm definitely still developing my thoughts on this, and my answer will be a bit multi-facted, but so far I've found that the people I've interacted with are extremely welcoming and eager to help others to learn, and that Karate itself consists of thoughtful, systematic and controlled movements. Also, when I went with Arakawa Sensei to watch the tournament (第47回東日本大学空手道選手権大会, 47th East Japan University Kumite Championships, May 5th, at the Nippon Budokan), I was surprised at how everyone was much smaller than I imagined "ripped" karate practitioners would be. So my other big impression is that Karate is about making what you've got work for you in a powerful way. As a smaller person, that thought is encouraging to me, and I also feel like it acknowledges the uniqueness of each human body.

5. You've now been Japan a few days, is it different or the same as when you were here before?

So far, I've spent more time in Saitama than Tokyo whereas before I spent most of my time in central Tokyo, so I suppose I can't say for sure. However, the people are just as polite and the trains are just as crowded as two years ago so maybe it's the same! But, while the overall environment has stayed consistent, what I'm doing this time around is radically different, so I feel like I'm experiencing Japan in a different way.

6. Last question, anything you would like to share with us, perhaps some of the non-karate related things you would like to try while you are here?

Well, I'm very excited that I was selected as this year's intern and I look forward to working with everyone. As for non-karate related things I'd like to try, learning calligraphy, and making a trip to Fuji-Q are at the top of my list!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Carrying on as usual

Peter Here,

It's impossible to say that the effects of the earthquake and tsunami, and the following problems at Fukushima daiichi plant haven't been felt here - there are rolling blackouts and people are being a lot more cautious than usual, especially concerning aftershocks - but looking at the general view of the foreign media I'm getting the image that they're reporting the quality of life in Tokyo specifically far worse than it actually is.

The power cuts were advertised to be within 4 hour brackets, but the last few instances there have only been 1 hour cuts, and this week we have only seen one outage. Big bottles of water have been clean bought out in supermarkets because of the Iodine scare, but smaller bottles are still readily available, and vending machines are still stocked. Even the gas panic has settled down.

As the weather has been turning nicer as well, I've been exploring Tokyo more, and going back to favourite spots, such as Ikebukuro- there are plenty of signs of life here, even if the lights have been turned down to help save power.

I even went to the aquarium, and saw the scariest crab in the world, ever.

Omiya too is still alive and kicking, with plenty of people going out and providing the restaurants custom.

As for Karate training, some classes have been cancelled and/or rescheduled - this can't be helped. Also, the Kanto tournament and other events (including the Shiramizu Inter-Dojo championships and demonstrations) have been cancelled. My Shodan test has also been put back to the 10th of April.

However, these trials through adversity have shown to be character building- training on a Saturday class last month we were hit by a large aftershock / small quake in the middle of practice and had to halt. After the shocks had ceased, we practiced with even more energy and enthusiasm than before, working together to keep the spirits up. Excellent stuff, and proof that life is keeping going here as best we can.