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3) Karate Training with Akamine Sensei - Okinawa 2019

Dojo Bar - Nagamine Sensei Dougi and Obi.jpg
This article was originally posted to The Matsumura Seito Karate-do Hozonkai Homepage.

September 12, 2019 / Thursday
Well, today is my birthday. I should probably do something to celebrate. Work and train like normal? Sure why not. The ride into the dojo has been getting quicker, I'm down to 30-40 minutes now that I found the right route. Got to the dojo and changed. Kōya, sensei's tall grandson, was playing around upstairs. I asked about his training, and he'd been doing it for seven years, since he was 5 years old. He's got quite a headstart on me, and what I understand with my head he's been drilling into his body. The latter seems more valuable when the pressure is on, but I wonder if a young person thinks about the violence that underpins the art we're learning. It's hard to tell how differently he'd be teaching if there were other adults or senior students, but considering I'm also a "beginner" in some ways, there's nothing for me to complain about. I've only worn a white belt outside of my home dojo, ego only creates the illusion of a martial artist, so I tell myself to practice humility when you intend to learn, and never stop learning.


Towards the end of class I asked sensei about his kicks, as all the drills seem to be forward snaps, does that mean they don't do other kicks like mawashi-geri? 全部できるよ, he said, we can do all of that, but it's important to first relax and get the basics down. From a relaxed position you can throw anything, and move however you need. In practice everything moved together, but in training you need to master the basics, and first move your eyes, then feet, then your hands. Grip the floor with your toes like suckers on an octopus' tentacles.

Now that I think about it, that wasn't just a general admonishment, but Sensei was pointing out what I wasn't practicing correctly. So nowadays when I practice, his advice echoes in my head.


We did Pinan shodan and nidan, and I asked about the first overhead strike in Pinan nidan. "Ah, that's called "tataki," it's a fist with a slight downturn in the wrist, like you're swinging a hammer. You see, the shuto-uke might not be the best for blocking a kick and you might want to be stronger, and use a fist in your block, but you can also use tataki to attack the shin just below the knee, like a low defensive punch. No matter how big and muscular you are, everyone's shin is just bone in the front and is unprotected by muscle; most people don't train this part of their body to temper it against attacks, and it can cause a lot of pain. Sensei demonstrated a kick defense by driving his fist into the top of my shin. It demonstrates his mastery and confidence with such a high-risk movement.


At the end of class sensei was telling me that the kids' training is catered to their physical abilities, and the kata are taught in sequence because they build on each other. You can learn them out of sequence but you won't get the full lessons they have to teach. I felt especially foolish for attempting Kushanku the previous day, as in Matsumura Seito it's the second highest kata in the system (albeit different from the style I performed).


Sensei reiterated the importance of maintaining your center and not overextending yourself too much. You may make your punch a little longer but you'll lose power and balance. He set me in front of the wall in horse stance, so my extended fists would rest on the wall. When you bring your fists to the center, they ought to float away from the wall, or else you're compromising your balance by either leaning or overextending the shoulder. Straight back, pelvic curled, shoulders pulled back. The moment of impact everything is rigid and powerful, but the next moment you relax and are ready to flow again. Every move is followed by relaxing, which allows your body to flow into the next move.


I capped the day off by visiting the Dojo Bar, which was mercifully tame as it was a Thursday night, and talked with a few people there. There were some nice folks working, and a few German guys from a Shorin-ryu Shidokan seminar having a last beer before returning home in the morning. One had dislocated his shoulder demonstrating a throw… I thought of what Akamine sensei might say about it… probably that a technique that injures the person using it probably should be forgotten. I wished them well.


The bar is covered in signatures from martial artists around the world. James, a British Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu practitioner owns the bar and the dojo across the street, and runs a few rental flats for visiting karateka. He trained under Arakaki sensei, who was a student of Shoshin Nagamine. On loan from Arakaki sensei and encased in heavy glass is Nagamine sensei's uniform and belt, alongside a series of professional portraits of the elder masters on the island.

バーの壁が空手家のサインだらけだった。ジェームズと言うイギリス人がバーと道の渡ったところの安里道場を経営している。古武道の道具や沖縄の空手のマスターの真影が貼ってあった。ジェームズさんが新垣先生の弟子なので、松林流の始祖の長嶺 将真先生の道着もアートワークのように展示されている。二杯ぐらい飲んでから帰った。明日も稽古だって!


I wonder if Okinawa still has that "small town" feel to it anymore. I understand that people from all over the world now come to Okinawa to study the Martial Arts.

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