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9) Karate Training with Akamine Sensei - Okinawa 2019

Friday 9/27/2019:
Met up with Sensei early today, and went to the Karate Kaikan with him and his wife Ritsuko. We met up with Miguel Da Luz, who I had recognized as an interpreter in some of the videos I'd seen in my research. The kaikan was just finished 3 years ago so there's still plenty to do, and Miguel is there 4 days a week and works for the Karate promotion arm of the Okinawan government. They had already made setsumei (explanatory) books for Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu, and translated them into English, Spanish, and French (and maybe German?). Next up they intend to tackle the older styles, but it's considerably more difficult, and it seems like the masters of their own derivative styles don't seem very cooperative. Karate is full with a lot of big heads. Meanwhile, Akamine Sensei has stuck with his 6-dan rank bestowed on him by Soken sensei. If Karate is a process of self-perfection, what can rank tell us about ourselves? If Karate is a framework for competition, you may fall into the trap of trying to measure your obi against someone else's.



In the kaikan there was a museum too, with some great exhibits and examples of kobudo of various styles. Turns out the curved-looking nunchaku hanging from the dojo wall are called "muge nunchaku," which were designed from the old bridles, called muge, that were used in lieu of bits to lead horses with (the holes are inspired by part of the bridle, and don't serve any practical purpose for the weapon). It makes sense that an already existing object like that was quickly realized as an effective weapon when it got swung around. There was also a small 3-section nunchaku, like the kind of weapon he said you would hide in your sleeve, and use to more than double your reach. Like James was saying, for the most part, those weapons were just used for the surprise factor, and you would only get one shot to use it; if a weapon found its target, that usually spelled the end of the battle; there were no long, drawn-out clashes between armed masters. Each fight was decided in a flash, and that was usually early in the confrontation. The longer you face off against an armed opponent, the more likely you are to get injured. The more unexpected an attack is the more effect it has, so move quickly and decisively.


In the car, remembering my conversation with James, I asked sensei about knives and Soken sensei. He was a little cryptic and didn't directly address the lack of knife practice, but he told me "I don't remember him ever going to the Philippines, but when you train in Karate, everything becomes a weapon." This would become more clear at the local bunka (culture) center, where he pointed out a lot of household type items in the museum exhibit that may have served as inspiration for various kobudo like tonfa. When we went to pick up his granddaughter from preschool, there was someone trimming weeds with a kama, absolutely no different from the kind used in kobudo. Thinking back, I still wonder if the knife techniques were lost or ignored to discourage knife fights, to make the violent tough times they lived through, and in direct opposition to turning ordinary household tools into weapons, the obvious and ubiquitous bladed weapons were discouraged in settling disputes. In becoming "empty hand," Karate had taken a step away from the deadlier aspects of martial combat..


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