There are few things in life that can really mess with your head, however, being in Higaonna Senseis’ dojo and realising that you might be responsible for the dojo kun (in Japanese) is certainly one of them. This was my last opportunity to train in Okinawa and it was already roasting when I arrived.
Today I also trained with Natsuko Sensei, she was chatting to Higaonna Sensei in the morning when I arrived and he asked if I would join her for Seisan practice. We took the kata apart and tried to focus on each section… so by the time I returned to the dojo I felt a wee bit tired.
I have really tried this trip to work on strength and kata, which has been great fun, if not painful to boot. Many years ago, I went a gasshuku, it was predominantly a Shotokan gasshuku and there were people from right across Europe. I was a Shotokan (this isn’t a pop at Shotokan, it just sets the scene) blackbelt at the time, and took my place in the line up. Now to be fair I wasn’t a member of the association, but they had advertised an open course…so I went along.
When it came to partner work, the Sensei was very strict in the way people should face each other, he asked the first line to face the second, the third the fourth etc etc. Because of my grade I was in the second row and was looking forward to training with someone who was going to push me and I am never one to shy away from a chance to learn something. To this very day I will not forget the reaction of the person who turned to face me. It was sheer disappointment and it wasn’t even guarded and then the best part, my ‘partner’ decided that he wanted to ‘exchange’ me. As the situation became clear to me, I suggested that we would be fine and we should just get on with it, but he was sure that I was not going to be the partner he needed. So, he found another male/female partnership and dragged me over (literally…(for the record I was a lot younger)) and set up the female on female partnership, whilst he took other male karateka. I was fuming but the training was good and my new partner was excellent. For a while we got on with the bunkai we were doing and then were asked to jump into groups of 6. My initial partner was part of our group and despite his senior grade, he was very much struggling with the material.
One of my club colleagues was also in the group and we were trained to get going and figure the bunkai out, after the usual shaky start, we began to work well as a group and everything seemed to fall nicely in place. I can’t remember the kata but I think it was Sōchin and so after a few turns each, the Sensei realised that our group had figured the sequence and were now working at a pace. So he stopped the class and asked us to demonstrate, just as I took the ‘central’ role…typical. So we went for it, I think about 100 people were at the gasshuku and we went through the entire kata at full speed and only a few wobbles along the way. My heart was racing but I got through, my initial partner, was next, as we started through he became unstuck but we coached him through.
As we got our breath back, the guy who exchanged me came over and thanked me for helping, he kind of said sorry, but in a way that was a bit of a give and take statement. Here is what he said…”you don’t look strong and fast, I guess looks can be decieving’…
I had no idea what to do with that comment, but I have tried to work on as many aspects of my karate as possible since then. As a young karateka I was known for my kumite skills. So for me kata has always been really difficult. But as I’ve gotten older (and slower), I recognise that with goju ryu there is always progress to be made and this is where I spend my focus.
It’s been a long 10 days, great 10 days but long… thankfully just before we kicked for my last call in Okinawa, a load of lovely Danish people arrived and I was saved! No need to try and muddle through the dojo kun in Japanese… tho I do feel the need to learn it properly in Japanese 🙂