Today we had booked a tour of Okinawa, but not just any tour, this was a karate tour including some more training.

After waking and realising my Gi was still damp with sweat from the night before, we headed to the car at about 7:30am, as we had to meet our tour guide Carlos at 8:45an in Naha (about an hour from us and it was rush hour). We arrived pretty much exactly on 8:45 and met Carlos and his van, we switched from the car to the van and headed off to our first location.

Monument of Kanryo Higaonna and Chojun Miyagi

This monument was in a park, which is said that masters of old may have trained in. Carlos also explained that Okinawa as it is today is very different, as the many islands over the years have been connected, to make 1 larger island. This monument is dedicated to two renowned masters, Higaonna Kanryō (1853-1917), an expert of Nahate and Miyagi Chōjun (1888-1953), founder of Gōjū-ryū. It was built in 1987 for the 100 years commemoration of the birth of Miyagi Chōjun.

Monument of Kume Sanjuroku Sei

The park was what I would have expected of an old Okinawan park and in particular we loved the look of the trees, which apparently you need to ask to pass as they are said to contain spirits.

We also saw the Monument of Kume Sanjuroku Sei which was to remember the 36 Min families that travelled from China to Okinawa so that the Ryukyu islanders could learn from the Chinese, still to this day there is a lot of Chinese influence in Okinawa.

Shorin-Ryu Lesson

It was now time for our lesson. The lesson began at 10am and we hurried back to the van and headed to what was an Okinawan housing estate (well kind of). We were let out of the van and into a garage, then up some stone steps on the side of a building and before you knew it, there was a Dojo ahead of us, above someones house (as it turned out, Sensei’s house).

We were greeted by Kenny who was the owner of the company we had booked with. Kenny was also a black belt in Shorin-Ryu and was joining in the lesson to help teach and translate to English. We were led through to the back room to get changed into our Gi’s and we saw where Sensei works out and whats impressive is he’s in his 80’s.

As soon as we were changed it was almost time for the lesson to begin. The damp Gi was initially a welcome cooling to my skin, but that didn’t last long! We were introduced to Yoshimasa Kakazu Hanshi Sensei (10th Dan black belt in Shorin-Ryu). He seemed pleased to welcome us, as you do always wonder how many people don’t take the lessons seriously and just want to be tourists!

We then started the lesson with a standing bow and then a warm-up. The students took turns in counting around the hall as we did the warm-up and it was very quick, only spending about 10 seconds (or counts) on each exercise. After the warm up we all had a quick break, which seems to be the normal behaviour in Okinawa, it may be because of the humidity and heat. We took on some water and then got back to it.

It was explained to us that we would start with some basic moves and there were various ‘sets’ of moves that we would run through. We tried our best to copy, some moves were very similar and others quite alien to how we have previously done them. There isn’t really pointing or half way positions as such and the moves are a lot smaller in movement that ours. Obviously the stances are also smaller and more upright. In the lesson we were joined by other grades, but also 2 white belts who had also joined training like us – I felt for these 2 as they didn’t have any clue what was going on.

After we completed the basics, we had another break and this one was very strange to us. We stopped for coffee, water and even some biscuits. It seems that Karate training is a social event here and we were told that many pensioners when they retire decide to take up karate. There was a lady who had just joined us who started when she was 60 ish and now was 80+ and a Sandan – WOW. Eating in the dojo for me was always a big NO, but it was something they were all doing here. I know from the signs at the JKA this wasn’t allowed, but it was clear that in Okinawa karate is more of a social event and it all felt very friendly.

After the break we moved onto Kata’s. The kata names were familiar and we started with the Tekki katas working through Shodan to Sandan – looking at the others there were a lot of differences in the moves, especially the leg movements and it all being done from Shiko Dachi. Then we moved onto the Heian kata’s and the first difference was Haian Shodan and Nidan as Shotokan do them the opposite way around, so Heian Shodan is actually Heian Nidan and vice-versa… it felt weird starting with Heian Nidan!

We completed all the kata’s up to Heian Godan and then Bassai Sho (which again is actually Bassai Dai to us in Shotokan). Now we had a chance to fumble through copying there versions of the katas, it was the chance to watch them perform them, but also Sensei wanted to look at us do the Shotokan version. We completed Tekki Shodan, Bassai Dai & Sho as well as all the Heian Kata’s… we definitely looked more worn out that they did! There is a lot more energy expenses in Shotokan katas compared to Shorin-Ryu. Puddles of sweat were forming on the floor… although Tony reckoned the roof was leaking.

The lesson finished after about 2 hours and Sensei was kind enough to have a picture with us. From left to right below: Kenjiro Ueda (Kenny), Tony Bygrave, Mick Dennis, Yoshimasa Kakazu Sensei, Steve Pearce.

I also have been collecting ‘course’ entries in my licence and Sensei was kind enough to add to this. We also left him the bottle of Whiskey that we had bought at the airport in the UK.

Lunch – Soba

We were hoping after training we could get a nice shower and changed into clean clothes… nope, no shower! So we dried off the sweat as best we could and put our drenched Gi’s back in our bags. Carlos then set off for lunch nearby, as I think we had worked up enough of an appetite.

We went to a local Soba spot, which basically does noodles. One of their staples if noodles with rib meat and it was delicious. It still feels a little weird to me having to take off your shoes to sit down and eat lunch in a restaurant, but thats the culture and who were we not to follow it.

Kaikan Dojo

After lunch Carlos said he would take us to the Kaikan, which is a new purpose built Dojo for competitions and events. You can visit the Kaikan at any point as its open to visitors. Wow was this an impressive building and the shame being is it looks under utilised.

We first visited the main hall, which has 4 competition areas in it, as well as seating around the sides. There were also various training and seminar rooms off of the side of the main hall, each big enough to hold a class in! The place was empty! We had a quick go with some of the traditional training utensils which help build strength in your hands, arms and feet.

After the 1st main hall, we walked over to the 2nd building which contained a museum, shop and an exhibition area. We had a look around the shop and bought a few bits before being escorted into a cinema type room. They then played numerous films covering the origins of Karate and how all the styles came about!

After the cinema presentation we headed for the museum where there was some interactive stuff to do, like punching out a candle or 3 candles. We’re pleased to let you know that all of us punched out 3 candles on the advanced setting 😉

The museum contained lots of artefacts to do with Karate, including some of Gichin Funakoshi’s original books. There was also a timeline of karate on the wall which you could follow around.

Finally, we wanted to leave a bit of ESKA behind and completed a badge which could be attached to the tree in the lobby. We filled one in for and on behalf of ESKA and the Biggleswade and Ickleford club.

Shureido Shop

As we were heading to the next location Carlos asked if we wanted to visit the Shureido shop. If you are familiar with Tokaido in Japan then this is the equivalent of Okinawa. They make Gi’s and other Karate related equipment. The shop wasn’t too large, but they had a good range of Gi’s to buy off of the shelf. There was a pet frog on the counter… a new one for me. There was also a famous Dojo above the shop, which one of the winners from the Japan 2020 Olympics trains and like the UK the post box outside was therefore painted Gold to recognise this!

Monument of Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi should be well known to us all. He is known as the father of Shotokan Karate and it was an honour to visit his monument. Apparently it had been moved a few times over the years and now resides in a park next to a shrine, but the shrine has nothing to do with his monument. Out of all the monuments this is easily the most impressive and even includes all of Funakoshi’s 20 precepts, his most famous one being ‘There is no first attack in Karate’ displayed on the centre monument.

Monument of Kanga Sakugawa

We headed up to what felt like the tallest point on Okinawa and it actually wasn’t far from the Shuri Castle. As we were on the way up Carlos pointed out the school where it is said Matsumra Sokon did his demonstrations. Being a guard he would have walked over from the castle to be able to give these. Sadly Shuri Castle burnt down a few years ago and is being reconstructed, apparently it was an electrical fire which caused it.

The views from the park were impressive and you could see all over Naha city! What we had came up here for was the monument of Kanga Sakugawa which also shows the lineage of karate and the various masters.

Matsumura Sōkon Grave

The last part of the tour was to visit the graves of 2 greats. The first was Matsumura Sokon. The family of Matsumura will still come and visit here and it is a family grave not just for him.

Itosu Anko Grave

The final grave was that of the family of Itosu Anko, one of Gichin Funkoshi’s instructors and student of Masumura Sokon. Apparently the family have recently visited to pay their respects as you can see a lot of flowers on display.

We then headed back to the mall car park where we left the car and headed home. No dinner update for today, we just stuck to the hotel lounge food, so nothing exciting!

Click here for the next post: Part 11


Sensei Steve

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