I purposely didn’t write anything in Okinawa as the danger of regurgitating the training topics into a mildly annoying ‘look what I’ve done’ list was too much. How then, does one sum up or comment upon such a myriad of experiences – I guess a good place to start is to outline what it was not… For me, Okinawa was not like mainland Japan. There were no skyscrapers, no massive underground network and certainly no people pushing you in to a carriage at rush hour. The last few trips to Japan have been mostly to Tokyo and there are stories of nightclubs in Roppongi Hills, one exceptional transvestite and a blue power ranger. Okinawa was not a bit like this at all, no Okinawa was like going home… to Cork… in Ireland.
How in the name of God did I arrive at this statement… well think about it… Naha has one main street (Cork has St. Patricks Street), both have a population of almost 400k and are port towns. Of course when I was in Naha it was 30C hotter than Cork and Naha does have a monorail, but these are minor differences. So when 700 or so martial artists arrive it’s bound to cause some bit of consternation or so you might think. Actually much like Corkonians, Naha took this influx in its’ stride with only the slightest of side glances when we invariably got things wrong. It doesn’t take long to understand the etiquette of the shoes or the chopsticks and even when we did make a mess of it sure we were foreigners and all was forgiven.
To me it is amazing how quickly the human race can adapt or as someone recently put it to me, ‘go native’. Within a few days I was living a completely different regime – I wouldn’t say quite bounding out of bed at 0600 but up at that time all the same. Early mornings were filled with strong coffee, training in the Hombu dojo, washing of sweat clogged gi bottoms and a quick nap to round so that by 10 sure I was ready to start the day in earnest.
I never knew I could be so productive at that hour of the morning… ! It does make you think about limitations though, in essence how we (I) limit what I can achieve in a given day. At home I am slave to the snooze button, seeking out those extra few minutes of guilt laden sleep, convinced that I deserve them because I work so hard and add in a few hours of training a day. I have vowed to continue the morning training ritual… the current plan is to start next week!
The gasshuku, lets face it the main reason we went to Okinawa in the first place , was a roaring success for the organisers. Excellent venue [tick], atmosphere [tick], attendees [tick],instructors [tick] and subject matters [tick]. This won’t become a pro feminist post but it was evident to see that the female numbers did thin as the grade levels increased with only 2 women in the 50 strong front row. I won’t rant (after this paragraph) but was amazed and disappointed at the range of talent in the women that I faced, from the brilliant to the ones who asked to decrease the (my) pace and the intensity. Those who know me personally will know how I struggle in such situations but perhaps the most disappointing was the decision of one instructor to move me from facing a (big-ish) lad to one of the aforementioned women who asked me to ‘go slower’. ARGH! I thought those days were gone! This was, once I had calmed down (took a few hours (sorry)), a blip in an otherwise brilliant few weeks.
The training after the gasshuku in Higaonna Senseis dojo was simply amazing and early morning sessions continued on Tokashiki Island, where, our early morning Sanchin on the beach was visited by a wee Turtle who popped up from the water to say hello.
I love Japan but Okinawa was different, I find myself missing the place whereas before I missed the comradery… I found the training both in the gasshuku and afterwards helped me to explore where I was going and future possibilities-as well as highlighting gaps in my abilities and training. I met amazing people from all walks of life with whom I hope to keep in touch.
Experiences like this that take us from our daily Sisyphean endeavours reinforce the possibilities of life and the world that exists beyond our daily vision.