OUR MAN IN JAPAN AND THE JKA.
One of the clubs Shodan Black Belts Daniel Ray went to Japan in September 2018 and was able to train at the JKA, when he returned he wrote up his experience which is detailed below.
When I look back in years to come September 2018 is a major key month in my life and in my Karate journey. It was the month I achieved my shodan, went to Japan and trained at the JKA. I feel truly very very lucky to have been able to do this. It was an incredible experience and I want to share a summary of it I hope you will find interesting below.
So as soon as we set foot off the plane in the airport I went to get a trolley for the suitcases you can see from the picture below the trolley park to the left, I am greeted with a blackbelt caricature on the wall! The excitement mounting before we had even left the airport!
So I set off from the hotel (having managed to get a deal on the data on my phone) with google maps open, walking along like a proper tourist, JKA headquarters dojo plugged in. It was a 15 minute walk and Id set off 45 minutes before training was due to start as I wasn’t taking any chances on being late for this one. Clean Gi, gumshield, and mits in the bag at the ready, with an air of nervousness mixed with excitement. I felt so lucky, walking through northern Tokyo having got to a key point in my karate journey now going to one of the key focus points in the world for Karate. I walked through a pretty garden park as I walked through Bunk-You and Suidobashi to the Honbu dojo. A few lefts and rights and I was getting very close. I took the final left and walked down a side road and there it was a four storey building dedicated to
Karate. I walked up to the door and took my shoes off before I opened the door. As I walked in I was greeted by the largest trophy cabinet Ive ever seen.
As I looked left there was a large office area with a number of people working behind desks, just like an office area clearly those who run the JKA. I walked over and placed my completed forms through the reception check in hatch, a kind lady checked it over and my licence book, I handed over quite a lot of Yen in exchange for a training card with all my sessions Id booked onto in it, which I would get ticked off each time I turned up. I’ve put a picture below of the standard training times.
I walked through and started to climb the stairs as I walked round the landing an array of pictures on the wall showing the sheer scale and volume of karate-ka who train and have achieved at the JKA.
As I came out on the next floor there is a gym, sofa’s changing rooms, and Sensei and Shihan sectioned areas. I carried on up the next set of stairs up to the next floor and came out into the largest dojo Id ever seen, wall to wall polished immaculate wood with various training areas with hanging wall bags and various other aides. Off again up the next set of stairs to come out into another dojo training area, small carpeted area step up onto the training floor. I kept thinking this is it, this is where Shihan was and where so many greats have been. With my inner nervousness and excitement I ran back down to the second floor to the changing rooms to get changed. In there were a number of Japanese regulars and other international chaps who had come to train from around the world. I quickly got changed and then headed back up to the 4th floor dojo. I still couldn’t believe it, passed my shodan on the Wednesday and training in the JKA on the following Monday. So very very lucky. When I walked in there were various International Karate-ka all stretching and looking around not quite sure what to expect. The Japanese locals were very welcoming and mutual respect was shown both ways. The Sensei taking the session clearly hadn’t arrived as yet so I went over and started chatting to a lady and a gent stood nearest me (both black belts) the lady happened to be from the USA and the chap was from Chile. More and more students arrived into the dojo and then all of a sudden the sensei arrived and everyone ran to the edge of the dojo bowed and lined up. The sensei picked a sempai to do the warm up and we were off. We were asked
to pair up and there must have been around 35 black belts in the Dojo. Ju-ippon was the starting part of the session (with no mits or gum shields) a western gent lined up opposite me for the first round. Jordan, chudan etc all followed and went fine, with the sensei then calling rotate, and guess who should end up opposite me, the sensei taking the session, (who I later found out was national Japanese and international champion in both Kata and Kumite). Remember your training, remember your training I kept thinking and running through in my head and you will be fine and to my slight surprise I was and felt proud having done ok against such greats. The sheer focus, passion, strength, drive and delivery of everyone in the dojo was incredible.
Part way through training some instructions were given in and a few didn’t react quickly enough so just as in England down all of us went for press ups. Ive also put a photo of the Dojo etiquette which was very clear.
At the end of the fantastic session the sensei literally bowed and walked out. The Sempai did another round of bowing and then we all went over to a basket and picked out a flannel for each hand to polish and shine the floor (check out the picture below).
Walking back to the hotel I reflected on the sessions, no mits or gum shields were used by those training when we did kumite, great control shown. There were a range of techniques and approaches that were taken to improve precision. Kicking and punching very precisely to specific spots on different parts of the body to significantly improve accuracy and control. Punching it was all about the hip twist to give maximum power at the end and with kamae. A lot of the 1 hour sessions I went to would start off with a range of mixed combined Kihon moves for 10-15 minutes, followed by 30-35 minutes of kumite, loose freestyle and mixed combinations of Ju Ippon, ending with an advanced Kata which would be walked through initially to the count finishing with in your own time completion.
Despite there being a number of differences to the training approaches, there were a significant amount of similarities. I though how amazing it was to have flow on a plane to the other side of the world for 13hrs and how the precision of many of the moves, stances, and kata’s were so very precisely the same.
It is also really important to mention how incredibly powerful and strong the girls were that I was privileged to train with. Their Kata was super strong and super sharp. Ive put a picture below of two of them I saw practising for a competition when I was there. My arm is slightly bent as I was in the process of stepping forwards.
I turned up the next day for training and went up and got changed, straight up to the 3rd floor and there was a Japanese gentleman practicing Jitte. So I went over and said hi and could I join him in his Jitte practice kata. We got chatting and he mentioned he was practising it for a Japanese national competition. I learnt more than a thing or two from him about some of the bunkai for the kata. We continue to chat and I mentioned that my Sensei’s, sensei, Shihan Cummins had trained at the JKA and to my amazement Tanikawa (who was in his late 70’s remember him and Enoeda. I was blown away and got on the mobile to text my Sensei right away. Sent a shiver down my spine.
I came to quickly realise my Sensei’s standard is very very high, and all the times she has driven me to seek and strive really hard to be the best that I can was all paying off. In the time I had there I learnt a lot. New methods of training, new approaches to Kata and new combinations of Kumite. The Sensei’s there equally pushed every student very hard. There were no combinations of 3’s as in our syllabus, everything was at least 5 if not 10, so counting to 10 in Japanese was important and a must. After the days of training I did there was little skin left on my feet, and most other international students had more tape on their feet than skin at the end of the week!
The photograph below I took in an area west of Tokyo city centre, not far from the Dojo (which is north west of the city centre). It always reminds me of the channel 4 advert years ago that lined up signs to make the number 4 in Tokyo. I was lucky enough to also do a range of other activities in Tokyo. It is an incredible city that takes on a range of extremes. For example I drove a go-kart on the road around Tokyo city centre for 3 hours, what a great way to see the city and only in Tokyo!
Whilst I was there I was also able to go to a Samurai Museum in Kyoto (the historical capital of Japan before Tokyo). There I learned about the history of the Samurai, the famous Katana sword and how the civilisation came to a sad evolutionary end. The photograph below is a picture of the last samurai (not Tom Cruise). You’ll notice the date 1877. Below that is a family of Samurai and also a traditional battle outfit worn by them.
Whilst I was there I searched for a Gi and black belt, I came across a little shop on a corner a couple of minutes from the hotel, about halfway between the hotel and the JKA headquarters dojo. This lovely lady who hardly spoke English agreed to embroider a made in Tokyo black belt for me with my name in Kanji on the one side and Shotokan Karate on the other end, with a Kanji tribute to my mom, who died of cancer 2 years ago. She never made it to see me get my shodan but I know and hope she was watching from somewhere.
The Gi purchase again as with a lot of things that happened in Tokyo and Japan had a story attached to it. Walking back from the dojo one day I came across a little shop on the west side of town. I had a sandwich on a box in my hand upon entry I was politely instructed to put it inside a back before entering the shop any further, to which I did! I enquired about a Gi, not just for me but also for my sensei. The gent who ran the shop basically said unless I had exact measurements (or could measure the person himself) he wouldn’t sell me a Gi because of the amount of returns he had, had. So I proceeded to purchase one for myself and was instructed to stand on a drawer he had pulled out on the floor with my shoes off, which I did. He then got out wipes and asked me to wash my hands, after which he measured me precisely and disappeared into the back of the shop. He appeared and said this is the one for you. To say it was millimetre perfect on both trousers and jacket is an understatement, nice and heavy but not too heavy, nice and long on the top hanging below the belt. I handed over around £120 in yen and left with a smile, not least because I had only managed to bring one Gi, had no where to wash it and my original Gi could walk to the washing machine itself by now!`
Below is a photo of Gichin Funakoshi, the man who brought Karate out of Okinawa and into China and Japan. This is a photo graph of him that is on the wall in the JKA.
In regards the 3 pictures below whilst in Japan I was also lucky enough to take a trip on the bullet train. It looks like a bullet and goes like a bullet, one key aspect that I loved is that it was always on time! Wild Macaques in Nagano who go into the hot springs in the winter and the very famous multiple zebra crossings. The country is incredibly clean, and well organised with very friendly people. Tokyo as voted as the safest city in the world over the last couple of years and it really felt like that being there. Everyone could not do enough to support and help when travelling around.
I owe a huge thanks to my wonderful fiancée and Karate widow Adele, she took most of the amazing photos you can see above in this write up. She sat patiently for hours while I trained and was so supportive and flexible about training while we were there.
I managed to find the picture of Shihan in front of the JKA and have put mine next to it. I will never follow in the incredible achievements that the Shihan made in Karate, a legend.
As the great man always said – I will never give up and never give in. Oss.