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4) Karate Training with Akamine Sensei - Okinawa 2019

This article was written for posterity and translated for Akamine sensei. It was posted to the Matsumura Seito Karate-do Hozonkai homepage.

September 13, 2019 / Friday
It’s important to know that there are peaceful moves in the kata; the beginning of kusanku is raising your hands in apology, to show you aren't a threat before bringing your hands together in a mudra similar to the buddha. You then acknowledge your opponents to the sides with a gentle kamae, but it's not till the the 5th count that your opponent comes at you and you have to move explosively. Sensei explained that your expression is a part of the kata: it hardens with the body in the moment of impact, but like the body it should relax and soften immediately after into 優しい目, “gentle eyes," de-escalation is a part of the story. You can see this in his kata demonstration of Kusanku for the judges at the international Okinawan karate contest a couple years ago. The first two moves are kamae, but they are gentle, acknowledging the opponents around in a way meant to show no aggression, until there is no choice but to strike.


I've heard that kata tells a story, but up until now that story has only been one of violence. In this style there are moments of peace. In Gojushiho, Sensei explains, the story is that of a thief that breaks into your house. After fighting him off, he goes to jump out a window, which may result in injury or death. The last moves of the kata are to save your attacker. Karate isn't just a way to defeat your opponents, but to have the strength to save them, and to turn them into friends.


立ち方 (“tachikata”), 腰の入れ方 (“koshi no irekata”), 姿勢 (shisei)--stance, use of core, and posture--the three things Sensei looks for in a kata, aside from 全体的 (zentaiteki, overall). Are you standing correctly, with your center strong and protected? Are your feet fully grounded, sending your energy up into your hands through the tanden? Is your posture correct? Are you Square to your opponent? Are your shoulders square? Are you sure?


Stand properly and you can move properly, this is “Bi,” the beauty of kata. It’s seen, but more importantly felt.


We went to the community center to watch the kids practice for their performance at the festival next week. After watching a couple times, Sensei asked me to go up and do pinan shodan and nidan, and passai sho with them. But I've never done passai sho, I protested. It's ok, just copy them. I did what I could, and I'll have to save the questions for later.


He mentioned when they came out with the boys staff over their shoulders that this way of carrying the staff is unique to Soken sensei's karate. I asked him what he meant by that, and what the meaning was. Later, he showed me a large thick staff carried across the shoulders to move heavy loads, the kind you’d see in any pre-industrial agrarian society. “The tools in our hands became the weapons of kobudo,” he explained as he swung the heavy pole around like a bo staff. When coming to ready, Soken sensei’s kiotsuke and bow are nods to the history of the staff. The staff is level across the right shoulder, pointing straight forward, with the right hand gently holding the staff. When you bow, the staff angles down, in line with your shoulder.


On Saturday, I met up with Josh Simmers of the Okinawa Karate Podcast. He graciously showed me around Nakagusuku castle remains, and the old Nakamura residence. We traded thoughts on Karate and the martial arts, and enjoyed a great conversation about a variety of other topics. Honestly a good dude doing a good thing out in Okinawa, I’m really grateful as it’s his podcast that introduced me to Paul Sabota Sensei who connected me with Akamine Sensei.


He gave me a ride back to Naha, and we chatted up James at the Dojo Bar a bit before calling it a night.


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