Visit to Czech Republic

I’ve not had a great deal of time for blogging lately.  Thankfully end of term has rolled around and things have started to slow down a little.

Some time last year I received an invite to take part in an international exchange programme via the Erasmus Mobility scheme. This is a programme funded by the EU which basically encourages and facilitates exchange visits for students and academics throughout Europe.

The university I work at as had a strong relationship with Masaaryk University in the Czech Republic for many years. For martial artists they are a particularly interesting institution. The faculty of sports and exercise contains a range of staff with quite an extensive background in traditional martial arts and security work.

The Faculty of Sports Studies

 

 

 

 

 

Courses are offered to prospective police officers and Paramedics, with a decided bias on practical martial arts applicable to those roles. In addition to studying karate, aikido, judo and self-defence techniques a great deal of emphasis seemed to be placed on the legal and moral side of things. For example, the students were quick to question me on knife and gun control issues in the UK and the legal ramifications of self defence.

The Faculty of Sport Science is very impressive. It’s just outside the City and looks new. The sports science labs are well equipped and the sports hall and budojo were really well set out. The budojo had a range of bags, kettle bells and practice weapons.

My first impression of the majority of the male students was that they were big. Very big. Not only were they big fellas they were also in very good shape. They were also extremely friendly and enthusiastic. There were also a number of female students, who were also very athletic and shared the same positive attitude as their male counterparts.

I was given the opportunity to teach some classes and also observe and join in the regular activities at the university.

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The quality of the instruction was very high. All the members of staff are excellent budoka and the manner in which they imparted their knowledge was first rate. After class many of the students stayed behind and worked individually and in groups.

In addition to attending daily lectures I was also invited to take part in Aikibudo sessions run by Dr. Michal Vit in a dojo in the city. Many of the students here were members of staff at the university and the lessons were conducted in a really good atmosphere. Again, the students were very welcoming and I was fortunate to receive excellent instruction, not only from Michal but also his senior students.

I also had the pleasure of spending an afternoon chatting with Dr. Willy Pieter from the Netherlands. Dr. Pieter has performed extensive research on martial arts injury and I found him to be a very well informed and interesting researcher, with a clear passion for his work.

Throughout my stay I was made to feel extremely welcome by my colleagues at Brno.My thanks to Mikal, Jitka, Zdenko for the endless enthusiasm and Zuzanna for organising it all.

 

Busy!

I received an email from a friend of mine a few weeks ago asking why I had stopped blogging.

Simple answer…too busy actually training and working.

I had also originally started the blog in order to give an insight into my time spent in Japan last summer.

I will be heading back to Fukuoka in 2014 so expect more updates along the way.

In a related note another friend of mine asked me how I manage to practice everything I studied in Japan.

Another simple answer I don’t. Whilst in Japan this summer I was presented with the chance to study novel activities and to experience things from a somewhat different perspective. I was also very fortunate to have exposure to a variety of excellent teachers and budoka. However in terms of my own training, I find the older I get, the narrower and more focused my training has become. I believe that we can all benefit from stepping outside of our individual comfort zones at some point, however in my opinion we all need a core set of practices which we measure ourselves against on a daily basis. It sometimes takes a while to find out which path to take.

I don’t really feel the need to detail my daily training regime for others…

So until the next time, please enjoy your training 🙂 

 

Reigando

My wife mentioned a few days ago that I should rename the blog, Budo Baka Ichi Dai, given that I have been devoted some time to ken jutsu and other experiences in Japan…I make no excuses for this. The overall experience of living and training In Japan was important to me and I’m enjoying looking through my old photos and basing the majority of my output on those.

Living in Kokura was very convenient as far as travelling to other areas of Japan was concerned. A short walk from my apartment was a highway bus stop which connected me with pretty much all the major cities in Kyushu.

I would often use this as a starting point for a short trip. After a few weeks of studying Niten I decided to take a trip to nearby Kumamoto Prefecture and visit Reigando, the cave where it is believed Miyamoto Musashi spent some time near the end of his life, meditating and working on Go Rin No Sho, The Book of Five Rings.

I discussed this with Mr. Matsuo, the supervisor at the board of education for who I worked. Mr. Matsuo wasn’t too sure if this was a suitable trip for me. He explained that the route to the cave was very difficult to access and I would need to work my way through a thick forest. Having known Mr. Matsuo for a number of years, I had grown used to shall we say, his somewhat overprotective attitude and decided to get a second opinion. A quick search on line showed that there was a bus stop pretty close to the entrance and it was as I suspected easily accessible.

I took a highway bus to Kumamoto City and then jumped on my connection to Tamana, which is located near the cave.

When I got off the bus it wasn’t difficult to work out which way I needed to head. Next to the ubiquitous vending machine was a sign pointing the way.

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I walked passed beautiful rice fields and up a small hill, it was here that I was left in doubt that I was heading in the right direction.

 

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There was a large statue of Musashi at the entrance. Looked like it was made from plaster of Paris to me and a close inspection revealed a fair bit of wear and tear.

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From here it was a short walk to the cave itself, passing on the way some interesting and if I am honest pretty creepy statues.

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It was the height of summer and the area was deserted apart from me. It was quite a bit cooler here than in Kokura, the cool breeze and the quiet was a welcome change. Anyone who has lived in a Japanese city for a while, will appreciate the need to get away from people and the noise of every day life at some point.

The cave itself was easily accessible and offered a nice view of the surrounding values. I sat there for a while an just relaxed. I can’t say I experienced any epiphanies or Zen like states. It was just nice to sit and relax and enjoy the view.

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With the exception of the vending machines, there was very little commercialism connected with the cave. I was worried that there would be little stalls selling Musashi t-shirts and ice-cream, but thankfully no. It was a nice relaxing way to spend the morning and that afternoon I headed back to Kumamoto City to once again spend time at the impressive castle. More of that in future posts.

 

Happy Anniversary

My wife and I spent our first wedding anniversary shopping at Don Qui Hote (a chain of unusual department stores in Japan) in Hiroshima and then eating crisps in a converted brothel. I am assuming I have your attention 🙂 read on…

As a member of the Kokura branch of the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu I was often called upon to participate in demonstrations. These demonstrations usually took place at castles, shrines or other areas of beauty, either natural or man made.

One of the highlights of my initial stay had been taking part in the Nihon Kobudo Embu Taikai at Itskushima shrine in Hiroshima.

With Iwami sensei and members of the Hyoho Niten Ichi Ryu circa 2009. Note the floating shrine in the background

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The demonstration area is directly opposite Miyajima, the iconic floating shrine. It is one of the symbols of Japan and often featured in travel brochures and so on. It really is an impressive and beautiful sight.

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I have always tried to keep my feet on the ground with regards all the wonderful experiences I encountered in Japan. However this one was a bit special and really hit home to me how fortunate I had been not just to travel and study in Japan, but more importantly just how lucky I had been in meeting the right people for me. I would say I have been extremely fortunate, Takakura sensei, Yoshino sensei, Kanari sensei…the list goes on. In addition to meeting and forming lasting relationships with many Japanese teachers, I also had the great pleasure of making friends with a number of talented and genuine western budoka.

In Kitakyushu I had met Thierry Comont, my senior at the Niten dojo and a great help to me both inside and outside practice. I found Ken jutsu very demanding and Thierry support and encouragement had helped me get to the point where I had been invited to participate in this event.

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The first time I had taken part I was probably too nervous to take everything in. I was so concerned with doing an at least acceptable job!

My second time to demonstrate at Itskushima was a little different.

During my month long stay last summer, the majority of my karate practice was in the evening, this gave me time in the afternoon to Iwami sensei’s private home dojo and study there. As I have noted earlier this was a fantastic learning experience and the intensity of the study was very beneficial to me. I was aware that there was another demonstration coming up as Thierry had mentioned that Iwami sensei may ask me to join, however for the first few weeks of my say there was no mention of the event. A few days before the event, I was sitting with Iwami sensei in the entrance area of his dojo looking at the nearby mountains and drinking tea, a nice time of reflection. It was at this point sensei told me that I would be demonstrating Ito waza, long sword techniques at the upcoming event. A great honour and good news, however there was a snag.

Our first wedding anniversary was on the Friday and we had arrived to travel to Tokyo. The demonstration was on Saturday and I needed to be at the shrine at 8:30 am. I wasn’t going to be able to make it in time.

At that time I mentioned this to sense as politely and delicately as I could manage in my rough Japanese, his reply “no problem, bring your wife along, she will enjoy it”. With that I was reminded that I needed to catch a bus and was sent packing down the hill, through the rice fields to the bus stop.

My wife was as always understanding, she knew how important something like this was to me and she quickly rearranged travel plans. We decided that we would spend the night of our anniversary in a Ryokan in Hiroshima. One hurdle cleared.

There was another small issue, my left ankle and foot had mysteriously become really swollen. It was so large I couldn’t get a shoe on. Ice helped a lot, but as soon as I walked for a few minutes the swelling and pain returned.

The demonstration was only a few minutes in length, I would show three techniques, then wait in seiza while Thierry demonstrated the use of Kodachi, the short sword and Iwami sensei gave his presentation of Nito, the double sword technique which the ryu ha is most well know for. With my wife being so supportive and my desire to take part there was no way I was going to miss it, so it was going to  a case of grit my teeth and get on with it.

We arrived in Hiroshima late on Friday evening. The charming ryokan turned out be a little bit further away from the station than we had bargained for. It was however clean and tidy and the owner was a very friendly older man. He seemed very interested in me and gave me a quick tour of the place, whispering to me that this was a former brothel and the surrounding area was still an ‘interesting’ place to visit.

My foot was really swollen now. The tabi I had intended to wear, wouldn’t fit, neither would shoes. I had been wearing beach flip flops but didn’t really feel comfortable turning up at the demonstration dressed in those. My wife suggested that I buy some geta, traditional sandals. Good idea, but where are you going to get hold of a pair of those at 12:00 am?

My wife had noticed that there was a Donki as it is known, just down there road. They pretty much sell everything and are  open till 4:00 am. So off we went. I eventually found a pair hidden away behind the multi coloured tracksuits and baseball hats that these stores seem to stock and we were soon back in our room, eating a hearty supper of wasabi crisps.

The morning came and along with it torrential rain, being Welsh I am no stranger to damp weather. This however was typhoon level. We needed to take a taxi to the station and even doing that left us soaking. After a short train ride and an even shorter ferry ride we were on the island and needed to walk the 15 minutes or so to the shrine.

We actually reached the meeting point before sensei and my friends from Kokura. I was changed and ready to go when they arrived. The good news was we would be the third group to demonstrate. No time to practice, meant I could rest my foot and then just get on with it.

Iwami sensei and our group after the event – sasen without a sword!

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Our turn came and I managed to get through the event with no problems. In fact my biggest difficulty was maintaining seiza while my sempai and sensei demonstrated. For the record I demonstrated; Sasen, Haso Hidari and Moji Gamae. Sensei seemed pleased with the demonstration and I was glad that I could overcome my injury. Perhaps at home I  would have rested, but here the sense of occasion and the realisation that I may not get the opportunity to take part in such event for some time spurred me on.

Some photos of the event. Here I demonstrate Moji Gamae, Comont san shows Sasen with Kodachi and Iwami sensei shows Nito

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There were lots of other ryu ha demonstrating that day and it was a fantastic environment in which to enjoy meeting other budoka and experience other forms of training. I was once again very impressed with a group of young ladies who demonstrated koryu naginata tecnique while wearing traditional dress.

Naginata 

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I had of course aggravated my injury and I wasn’t able to practice properly for my last few days in Japan. With hindsight I think I made the right choice, I needed to seize the chance I was given. The flight home was a little painful but within a few days of being home my foot and ankle had returned to normal.

A fascinating demonstration of the use of jo

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It was a great way to end a wonderful summer of training and learning. Thanks again to my wife for her continued support and infinite patience!

The K is not on the way

I had mixed feelings about the blazer brigades failed attempts to get karate into the Olympics. A mixture of apathy and then relief. On reflection I felt relieved was when it was confirmed that karate had not been accepted. Maybe I naively hoped that it would slow down the rot. After watching this I have to ask. Could it get any worse? These are not XMA guys from the USA. These are Japanese karateka, who believe they are practising traditional karate. They may even believe that they are the keepers of karate’s highest tradition  :- )

I remember watching something like this with Takakura sensei. He didn’t say anything at all, but his face said a lot! If I had a mirror in front of me right now I am pretty sure I would be doing a good job of replicating his expression.

Time for some training I think.

Seminar with Krishna Godhania

Last weekend I had the pleasure of a little cross training. A friend of mine who practices Filipino martial arts invited me along to a seminar being held by Mr. Krishna Godhania who is a well know practitioner of kali and other Fillipino derived martial arts in the U.K.

I have studied a little kali in the past and was really looking forward to this session; my friend Pete who encouraged me to attend the event is an excellent martial artist who I have great respect for.Pete’s recommendation was enough to see give up my own training regime for the day and experience another point of view.

My first impression was how friendly every one was. People came over and quickly introduced themselves, almost all the other participants seemed to know each other and there was a nice atmosphere before Krishna arrived. When he did arrive, he took the time to walk around the group introducing himself. I thought this was a nice touch. It really set the tone for day. One of hard work but also cooperation. As in we were all there for the same reason, to learn from each other.

We began with some single stick work, my knowledge of the technical terms in kali is not great, so I apologise If I have made an error. I believe the correct term for the drill we worked on is hubud. It was a sensitivity drill similar in concept and application to chi sau in Wing Chun or Kakie in Karate. The drill was slowly progressed and we were soon practicing a number of variations.

From here we moved on to another flow drill which emphasised using the butt of the stick as a striking tool. The drill was easy to remember, but difficult to perform correctly and we spent at least 20 minutes or so going over it.

I liked this approach, on occasion visiting instructors can sometimes cram too much in. The lesson becomes more of a demo than anything else and I feel that educational value can be lost. On a similar note, as an educationalist I really appreciated the teaching style used by Krisha. Calm, relaxed and friendly. Krishna gave excellent demonstrations and moved around the group giving individual attention. He also used differentiation within the group, for those with more experience he was quick to offer a more challenging variation. I think this is an area that is often lost in karate lessons when there is one instructor working with a large group. All too often we see beginners and experienced karateka working on the same technique, and often more importantly the same way.

Krishna emphasised the use of both hands in single stick and we drilled a series of grip changing exercises and then applied them. This constant application of technique was a strong point of this lesson for me. There was no solo work against the thin air. All the drills were partner based and Krishna was keen that we use reciprocal teaching, pointing out to our partner positive points or issues to improve on.

After a short break we moved on to open hand drills. This was an area that I really enjoyed.

The Filipino arts contain a number of techniques aimed at attacking the limbs. Today’s emphasis was on attacking the thumb, wrist and elbow in response to a jab, straight cross or a lunging action. A palm heel action was used to strike through and attack the thumb of the attacking hand. I could see immediate parallels with techniques in karate kata. Anyone familiar with the opening movements of Shito Ryu Ananko would perhaps understand my point here.

We moved on to look at entry techniques, chokes and the use of elbows, which again led me to draw direct comparison with techniques contained within many kata, particularly both versions of Sanseru that I am familiar with.

The day finished with some knife defence drills. I have mixed feeling about knife defense and don’t really feel experienced enough to give much comment. What was taught seemed very effective and worked within the confines of the class. Hopefully something I will never need to “pressure test” for real.

All too quickly the day was over. Another nice point was the summary of the day given by Krishna and the question and answer session.

A thoroughly enjoyable day for me. So nice to have the opportunity to view karate from a different perspective which allowed me the opportunity to reflect on what I had learned today in relation to my karate and my own training experiences.

In many ways, this session was much more similar to the manner I was taught in Japan and Okinawa than in the U.K. There was an informal atmosphere yet respect was shown to all. There was no drill sergeant leading from the front, yet everyone worked tirelessly. Seniors helped to guide less experienced participants and there was a real feeling of cooperation in the class with everyone looking to improve and help each other to improve. I could have quite honestly described an average night at the Shidokai dojo in Iizuka, Japan, in the last sentence….worth thinking about when the term “traditional karate”  comes up. My opinion, well a little clue..I don’t think it means wearing a gi and counting in Japanese.

I look forward to training with Krishna in the future. He certainly gave me many ideas that I will investigate in my own practice over the next few months.

Kawasoe sensei

Aside

A few days ago I had the chance to once again practice under Kawasoe Masao sensei. For those who study or have studied Shotokan karate, this gentleman will need little introduction.

Kawsoe sensei originally came to the U.K. in the early 70s as an assistant to Enoeda sensei of the KUGB. Known for his relaxed, thoughtful teaching style and excellent technique it is a pleasure to watch and study with Kawasoe sensei regardless of style or political association.

The class began with a very thorough warm-up which I am pleased to say was very activity specific and a vast improvement from some of the old school ‘touch your toes 10 times’ routines I had seen in Japan.

Kawasoe sensei demonstrate his impressive range of motion in a static stretch

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In the actual lesson, Kawasoe sensei placed a great deal of emphasis on correct fundamentals. This session consisted of a lot of attention being paid to the timing of hikite in conjunction with correct hip movement. Great emphasis was also placed on developing inside tension in stances. Kawaose sensei highlighted the need to develop tension a strong core and how this good be best used to develop power in techniques. I found this relevant to training in Naha Te based systems and interesting to experience from a different perspective.

I enjoyed training under Kawasoe sensei. He is an extremely talented karateka and moves with great fluidity and economy of motion. His karate is as far removed from the stereotypical view of Shotokan karate as possible. This view in my opinion being perpetuated by those who pay too much attention to competition karate and little attention to core fundamentals.

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It was also nice for me to meet a group of adult karateka who seemed genuine in their motivation to improve themselves and subsequently pass this knowledge on correctly. I felt that quite a lot of Kawasoe sensei’s insights and teaching points could potentially have been lost by many of the younger and less experienced students in attendance. At the end of the course senior members of the host club made an effort to further explain and reinforce Kawasoe sensei’s instruction.

Given the relatively large class size, Kawasoe sensei was possibly forced to resort to instructing via the repetitive drill method. Techniques were practiced against the thin air. I haven’t really practiced this way for a while and it is not a method I particularly value for my own training. I  did enjoy this session as I was able to take away a few interesting points to work on, but would I wish to go back to studying in this manner? Quite honestly, a definite no. The group training experience is not something I would wish to involve myself in in the future.

The other people training were a friendly bunch and I was amused by some comments at the end of the session. In the changing areas people where exchanging pleasantries and asking the usual questions. Although I knew quite a few people in attendance from my younger days there were a few visitors from the South West of England. One particularly friendly guy struck up a conversation with me and seemed genuinely shocked and even a little concerned for me  that I wasn’t a member of any organised group, didn’t train regularly with other karate people and horror of horrors actually trained in a tracksuit for most of the time! He seemed worried about me 🙂  I’ve now reached the stage where I excuse myself politely and point out that I have to be somewhere else very quickly….and leave! I could feel myself being drawn into a conversation I didn’t want to be involved in and decided that evasion was the best recourse.

All in all an interesting and enjoyable experience for me. I imagine training regularly in a smaller group with Kawasoe sensei would be extremely rewarding for those who study Shotokan karate. He really does have excellent technique and is able to demonstrate his thoughts very well. Kawasoe sensei is also an absolute gentleman and seemed to give a lot of time at the end of the session to talk with and offer advice to all the students.

Training in such a large group reminded me of the frustrations I felt when first learning karate. I often felt frustrated when I regularly attending events like this as a teenager. Even then I was aware that the teachers had so much more knowledge than they were able to get across in such a challenging teaching environment. On a seminar such as this you are only ever going to get the skin and feathers of the chicken!

Once again a big thanks to Mark and all the members of Burleigh Shotokan for the warm welcome and invitation to practice. It’s so refreshing to meet a group more interested in training than politics.

Okinawa Karate Museum

All that reminiscing about Fighting Arts magazine made me think about some of my favourite articles from days gone by.

Specifically the ones that at that time fascinated me and made me think “I want to visit Japan and experience this for myself”. One such article detailed the Karate museum founded by Hokama Tetshuhiro sensei in Nishihara, Okinawa.

Hokama sensei explains a point on a tour of historical karate sites

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I believe that the museum opened in a different location in around 1987. I first read about it a little later, possibly 1988 or 1989 and it struck a chord immediately. By this point I was really interested in karate history and had acquired quite a bit of knowledge over a short time but there was still little information available to me in comparison to what is now available.

My first trip to Okinawa was in December 2007. Visiting the museum was one of my priorities.

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Naha has a great public transport system. The monorail is quick and convenient. Unfortunately the museum lays outside the boundaries of the monorail. It meant jumping off at Shuri castle the last stop and then a short bus ride to the museum.

The museum is above Hokama sensei’s dojo and wasn’t hard to miss given the colour scheme. It dominates the local area.

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Hokama sensei had very kindly agreed to meet me and give me tour even though it was almost New Year.

Hokama sensei practices Goju Ryu in the Higa lineage. As with most teachers in Japan and Okinawa he has his own idiosyncrasies and his karate seems quite different in many respects from the Jundokan Goju I study and also other forms of Higa lineage Goju Ryu I have seen and experienced. There are various videos of Hokama sensei and his students available on Youtube.

Here is an example. It’s in French but gives a good overview of the museum and the karate of Hokama sensei. There are many more available.

 

The museum itself is a treasure trove. Full of artifacts from Karate and kobudo histroy. The entry fee is 200 yen and that includes tea and water melon with Hokama sensei and depending on time available there may be a little practical lesson thrown in as well.

The foot prints are designed to help with Sanchin training

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Hokama sensei is also a very talented calligrapher and offers personalised calligraphy at a small fee.

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I visited Hokama sensei a number of times over the years. I spent some time studying both karate and kobudo at the dojo. I found him to be a very gracious host and an incredibly interesting person. Highly inquisitive and with a great sense of humour. I remember one afternoon when he decided he would give me a lift back to Naha where I was staying. We ended up taking a detour to his mother’s shop and spent the afternoon watching high school baseball on TV and drinking tea. Of course this was also a great chance for me to talk with sensei and pick his brains.

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The address of the museum is :

47-2 Uehara , Nishihara, Japan

Phone :+81 98 945 6148

http://www.seishinkan.ne.jp/okinawa/

If anyone who has even a passing interest in karate and kobudo finds themselves in Okinawa I would very much recommend a visit.

Terry O’Neill’s Fighting Arts…gone but definitely not forgotten

I first got seriously interested in martial arts  training in the early 80’s. There wasn’t a great deal on offer where I lived plus I had very little chance of travelling down to the big city where there seemed to always be something good going on.

In terms of martial arts there were a few classes. Luckily for me I picked one that had an excellent teacher who with fantastic technique and an enthusiastic attitude to put it mildly. He ran a very demanding adult only class. It took a fair bit of convincing for him to accept me as a 14/15 year old and I took my fair share of bumps and bruises along the way.

It was around this time that I began to look for more information about karate. Not just technical details, because to be fair I was getting enough of that four times a week. I was interested in finding out about the history of karate, why there were different styles, even simple things like the English translation of a kata name.

I began to read the various martial arts magazines that were on sale at the time; Combat, Karate & Oriental Arts, Fighters. I even found a small newsagent that for some reason stocked American magazines like Black Belt and Karate Illustrated. In a short time I had acquired quite a collection. I read and re read these magazines over and over. I found the American magazines particularly interesting as they seemed to feature information on areas of karate that I was unfamiliar with. There were feature on Okinawan karate and kobudo for example. The UK based magazines were very focused on Shotokan and Wado Ryu karate and almost always concentrated on tournament competitors. Even at a young age I was sharp enough to realise that the American magazine also featured their fair share of nonsense, people wearing stars and stripe gi, the by then ubiquitous death strike articles and features on martial arts movies.

I had been training for a few days when my instructor mentioned that there was a seminar being held in the next town that was well worth attending. It was being run by Terry O’Neill a well known and highly respected senior member of the KUGB, the group which I was a member of. I was told all about his fantastic kicking ability and that he was an excellent teacher. That was all true and more so. He was incredible. I can remember watching in awe as he delivered perfect roundhouse kicks to the heads of the local black belts while standing close enough to elbow them.

The man himself

It sounded good to me and I was offered a free lift, so I packed my gi and sandwiches and off I went. A trip like this, even though only about 40 minutes in the car was a big deal to me then. We needed to go over a mountain to get there and my teacher took a short cut across a road that seemed to be exclusively for horses and sheep.

When we got to the large school hall where the course was being held I noticed that there was a little stall set up outside selling martial arts book and other bits and pieces. There was also a large pile of magazines for sale.  The magazines were back issues of Fighting Arts.

One of the many issues of Fighting Arts I have read over and over again…

Luckily I had enough cash to buy a few copies and stuffed them in by sports bag to read on the way home in the car. I had a feeling that this magazine was different to the others. Even from just looking at the cover and a quick skim though it seemed to have an authenticity that the others sometimes lacked. I wasn’t disappointed. There were features on top Japanese instructors and pictures of Terry interviewing them in their dojo in Japan. I was right. This was the real stuff!

Fighting Arts was a magazine that was produced and edited by Terry O’Neill from the early 70’s to the late 90’s. It featured articles that ranged from profiles of instructors to historical articles. My favourite  features were the reports by people like Mike Clarke and Rick Jackson, which documented their time training in Japan. I was hooked and began to order back issues direct from Terry. It took a few years but with trips to second hand shops and thanks to some donations from seniors at my class I soon had a nice selection. In recent years I have looked online for the few issues I am missing, but with no luck. I did see the first issue on sale once, but it was for some ridiculous fee.

The thing I really liked about this magazine was that Terry O’Neill was the editor. Having trained with him and being incredibly impressed by his ability it gave me a reassurance that the features in the magazine would be authentic.  I read the magazine avidly while it was being published. It was published bi-monthly, however given Terry’s somewhat eccentric grasp of time this often meant twice a year. I managed to find a newsagent that would stock it for me and I would pop in every week to check if it had arrived.

It may seem strange today that going to the newsagent to pick up a martial arts magazine would raise such excitement in a teenage boy. At that time it was literally the only regular means I had of educating myself about martial arts outside the tiny sphere of the club where I trained. It was through Fighting Arts that I learned that Shotokan had developed from Shorin Ryu and that karate had originated in Okinawa. I still have all the magazines at home. About 10 years ago I was looking though a boot sale and found a large pile of them in the official fake leather bounders that Terry used to sell! I had always wanted these as a kid, but they were too expensive. They now rest proudly on my shelf. I still find myself looking through them and re reading articles. Before I left for Japan this summer, I spent a few hours reading Mark Bishop’s excellent articles about his time at the Jundokan in the 70’s.

I was in a newsagent a few days ago, waiting for my wife as she did the usual Japanese thing of treating such shops as a library. I had a quick look at the martial arts magazines on offer. There were a few and all seemed to feature MMA fighters on the cover. The blurbs were all about “6 pack abs” and “dominating your opponent”. There was one that featured more traditional martial arts. I’m using the word traditional loosely here. I had a quick skim through, nothing caught my eye at all. Seemed to be the usual photo strips of large tattooed men hitting other large tattooed men.

It’s a shame for today’s generation that there is little on offer like Fighting Arts. The excellent American produced Journal of Asian Martial Arts has also seemed to have folded and what it is left ranges from the level of a kid’s comic to magazines with more pictures than words…for people who can cope best with that kind of thing. There is also a magazine that does seem to have some rather grandiose ideas, but for me loses out on one vital area. Integrity.

Thinking about other magazines on offer at the moment another thing I really like about Fighting Arts is that it wasn’t a some kind of pseudo glossy travel brochure that featured articles exclusively about teachers that the magazine editors could then quite conveniently help you to train with…for a large fee!

As for Terry O’Neill. I believe that he is still actively teaching. If anyone is interested in training with someone with a real knowledge of the use of karate in a practical environment, then go and train with him. He has no doubt forgotten more than most people know!

The International Seminar of Budo Culture

In attempt to refresh my memory about the many training and learning opportunities I was fortunate to experience during my initial stay in Japan I have decided to trawl through my old photos and devote a post or two to any relevant and hopefully interesting folder. The first one that caught my eye today was labelled – ISBC.

The ISBC has been held annually since around 1987. It takes place in Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture which is a small seaside town 90 minutes or so from Tokyo. The event is held at the Nippon Budokan Training Centre and the nearby International Budo University.

Accommodation is provided in the student dormitories and there are three meals a days. Actually with the amount of food that is available it feels like six meals a day. The whole event costs 5,250 Yen. At today’s rates that works out to approximately £34.00.

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The price includes training, accommodation and food! The price hasn’t changed in the last seven years. When you think about the prices that are charged for one day seminars here and the fact that you are training with some of the top instructors in Japan, I don’t think I need to labour the point.

Outside the IBU with Jack Bauer!

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The event is held in early March and is aimed at foreign residents of Japan who hold at least shodan in a form of Japanese modern budo, although practitioners of koryu kobudo and Chinese and Filipino systems have also attended.

The event comprises of three days of training, interspersed with lectures and social activities.  The modern forms of the following arts are taught at the seminar:

Karate

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Judo

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Kyudo

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Kendo

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Sumo

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Aikido

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Jukendo

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Shorinji Kempo

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Naginata

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In all of the above arts, practical instruction is given by sensei ranked 8th dan and above with assistant instructors who are often 6th or 7th dan.

The class room based lectures ranged from being really interesting and engaging to the other extreme. I seem to remember an excellent lecture on budo in the Japanese education system that turned into a lively debate and another on etiquette, where the tutor explained the importance of the correct angle when bowing for 90 minutes. This being Japan, once you were in the lecture room there was no escape, however it was perfectly acceptable to fall asleep.

An example of the correct etiquette for sumo given during a lecture

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For me the most important part of the whole event was meeting with others who study martial arts in Japan.I really enjoyed the camaraderie that was present throughout the entire event. Many of the participants had lived in Japan for a long time and a few had attended all the seminars. Everyone was made to feel welcome and the whole event had a fantastic atmosphere.

In terms of karate. If I am honest, the karate on offer was very sport orientated and running in a different direction to the route I have chosen to take. Although the instructors were technically excellent and obviously extremely good at what they wish to practice, I took away very little for my own purposes. The lessons I attended were directed towards sports kumite and kata even though there were a number of Okinawan stylists in attendance.

I really enjoyed the free time training session when all the non-Japanese would get together and exchange ideas and techniques in the main hall. For example one evening I was able to practice Tai Chi, Ken Jutsu and karate.

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I was also able to observe a contest between a kendoka and a naginata practitioner and some really interesting Chinese weapon practice.

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The experience a new budo section always proved popular. Over the four years that I attended the seminar I tried Kendo, Naginata, judo, Shorinji Kempo, Aikido, Kyudo and Jukendo. A regret is that I never experienced Sumo. Friends of mine did and really enjoyed the training, which was described as “brutal”.

One of the highlights of the event for myself and many others was meeting Kashiwasaki sensei, Kashiwasaki sensei was the 1981 World Judo Champion and is now a senior instructor at the IBU. Even someone like myself with only a surface knowledge of judo, could tell from his demonstrations and lessons that this was somebody rather special. One of my friends who studies judo was literally speechless at the end of one demonstration.

I saw a lot of excellent budoka during my time in Japan and this gentleman is right up there in my opinion. A friend of mine studied under him at the IBU for a year and has nothing but praise for sensei both as a teacher and a man.

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There are a number of videos of Kashiwasaki sensei available on You Tube.

The last day of training was a little bit different. An attempt was made to introduce various koryu kobudo. Usually some form of ken jutsu, although I did experience the use of shuriken (quite unlike the nonsense prevalent in modern culture), yari and a particularly interesting lesson on Daito Ryu Aiki Ju Jutsu. For someone like myself who is interested in the older traditions this was a great chance to experience different ryu ha first hand.

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I always viewed the seminar as a break from “serious” training. Almost like a holiday. At some times I felt like I was on a treadmill in Japan. Go to work, leave work and rush to the bus stop, jump off that bus to catch another or a train. Get to the dojo, go home and do it all again tomorrow. Not that I didn’t enjoy it. It was without doubt the best time of my life. I was getting paid very well for not the most taxing job in the world, which also allowed me to join in kendo and judo training with the students at school and was in a position where I was able to gain excellent instruction 5 nights a week. Sometimes though, I needed a break and the Budo Seminar was always a refreshing experience.

I met so many great people there, many of who remain good friends even after leaving Japan. The final party was always an interesting event to say the least.

The only Welshmen in Japan!!!

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I really miss the Budo Seminar, it was always a welcome end to the Japanese winter for me. A great chance to spend time with like minded people and learn something new and all for less than the price of a night out!