Hi, Everyone. Here’s a little #TBT (throw back Thursday). It’s been a year since the momentus “JKR Japan Gasshuku”. Here is an article written by one of the travelers, Sensei Paul Belle Isle – Branch Director of JKR New England, for JKFan Magazine.
– Mina Yamazaki
By Paul P. Belle Isle
August 1-10, 2014
(JAPAN) In early August, Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai (JKR) Chief Instructor Kiyoshi Yamazaki (9th dan, JKR; 8th dan, Japan Karate Federation (JKF)) and his daughter, current top U.S. and international competitor Minako Yamazaki (5th dan, JKR), led a group of over 40 karateka and their family members from the United States, Australia and Great Britain on a cultural, educational and martial arts tour of Japan.
Yamazaki Sensei believes strongly in education as a foundation for effective karate training, and began laying the groundwork for the trip several years ago, so that participants would have time to plan and save for the journey. “I don’t think that anyone ever reaches a point where they have learned all there is to know,” he says, and for that reason, felt it was important for Western karateka to forge ties with Japan.
The international group began its tour in Tokyo, with training sessions over two days at Japan Karate Federation (JKF) headquarters. The first seminar was with former All-Japan Champion Sensei Masao Kagawa (8th dan, Japan Karate Shotorenmei), who focused on one of his signature kata, Sochin. Kagawa Sensei remains impressively athletic, and he gave several members of the JKR group individual attention.
The rest of the first day in Tokyo was spent sampling everything Japan’s capital has to offer. Some of the delegation visited the Dai Nippon Butokukai and Sengakuji Temple, while others toured Meiji Jingu and visited Edo Castle, or strolled through Shibuya Crossing and Ginza. The following day featured a seminar with former World Karate Federation (WKF) and Japan Karate Association (JKA) champion Toshihito Kokubun, who led the visitors through kumite exercises that emphasized proper distance, timing and the use of angles.
Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai Soke Yasuhiro Konishi was also on hand to observe, and afterwards, posed for pictures with everyone. Finally, the travelers were honored with an appearance by JKF President Ryoichi Sasakawa, who made a short welcome speech, and greeted each of the JKR karateka individually.
The international group’s next stop was Shizuoka, making a quick and comfortable trip on Japan’s famous shinkansen. Minako Yamazaki spoke for the group when she said, “We would be in one area of Japan in the morning and on the other side of the country by late afternoon. I was really amazed with how reliable the transportation system was.” Once there, they met up with former WKF champion Takashi Katada, who today not only coaches the men’s and women’s karate teams at Yamanashi Gakuin University in Kofu, but is working to help grow YGU’s business education department. Sensei Katada joined the JKR members for the bus ride to YGU, traveling through beautiful hill country that was dotted with lakes.
Arriving at the university, the visitors took part in a joint training session with Katada Sensei’s students, working on kumite, kata and practical application, with Yamazaki Sensei stressing the need to balance the many aspects of karate. As he has said before, “It is very important that an instructor knows the difference between sport karate and self defense… Karate is several things at the same time: It is a great physical activity, a martial art, a self-defense method, and a great sport.”
Following that, the JKR group was treated to kata demonstrations of Chatan Yara no Kushanku by the Yamanashi Gakuin University women’s team, and Anan by the men. An iado demonstration by Takeru Sato, star of the hit Rurouni Kenshin movies, closed out the athletic portion of the day, and everyone adjourned to a reception featuring remarks from members of the university faculty and administration, good Japanese food, and an opportunity for the YGU students to mingle with their foreign guests. The day concluded with a stop at Mount Fuji to visit one of Japan’s most important sites, before returning to Shizuoka.
From there, the Americans, Australians and Brits moved on to Kyoto. No training was scheduled to take place in Japan’s old capital, so this visit was a chance for the group to relax and take in some more of Japan’s rich history and culture. Many members of the group visited Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-Ji and Kiyomizu-dera Temples, and others also explored Fushimi Inari Temple, Nijo Castle, and the Kyoto Tanabata Festival. The highlight of Kyoto for many, however, was a visit to the Taizo-in Buddhist Temple, where a special program had been arranged for the JKR group.
The abbot of Taizo-in, Daikou Matsuyama, led the international visitors on a tour of the temple and its grounds, where they contemplated its famous gardens and viewed Josetsu’s masterpiece, Hyonenzu (“Catching a Catfish with a Gourd”), one of Japan’s oldest surviving ink paintings. The group then took part in a seated meditation session and dined on a delicious meal of vegetarian Japanese specialties prepared by temple chefs. Osaka, the last stop on the travelers’ itinerary, saw the group return to training, this time with two seminars at Yamazaki Sensei’s alma mater, Kindai University. In the morning, WKF medalist Kou Matsuhisa led a number of kumite drills, with current members of the school’s karate team training alongside the visitors, and finished with focused instruction on his signature technique, sasori-geri. Asked what she thought of Matsuhisa Sensei’s abilities, Sensei Anna Parkin of Great Britain (6th dan, JKR) said, simply, “Awesome. Just absolutely amazing.”
Following a short break for lunch, legendary 4-time world champion Sensei Atsuko Wakai (5th dan, JKF) provided instruction on Seipai kata, covering both the form and its bunkai. Her precision, technique and power remain exceptional, and the class was a high point for many. Sensei Paul Belle Isle of the United States (5th dan, JKR), noted, “Training with someone like Wakai Sensei, who, with all of her accomplishments, remains incredibly friendly and outgoing, is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
While in Osaka, members of the group also visited Sumiyoshi Taisha, Osaka Castle and other sites. Finally, just as Typhoon Halong began lashing southwestern Japan, the karateka from the U.S., U.K. and Australia held a celebration dinner at a soba restaurant the evening of August 9th, before departing for their home countries the next day. The group had grown closer to one another, closer to Japan, and closer to the roots of karate, and all agreed that their visit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Sensei Howard High of the United States (7th dan, JKR) noted that the trip was beneficial for everyone involved, including their Japanese hosts: “Working with some of the greatest practitioners in the art of karate was invaluable to those of us who were able to participate in this tour. It was also invaluable for the Japanese karateka to train with our sensei, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, who provided insights into some of the deeper meanings of the art of karate. I was specifically impressed with the attentiveness of the students at Yamanashi Gakuin University when Yamazaki Sensei was instructing them in practical applications.” Simon Oliver of Great Britain (6th dan, JKR) agreed, and summed up his views thusly: “For us as a family, this visit to Japan was a perfect blend of spending quality time with like-minded friends and enjoying training with a varied and friendly mix of dojos and senseis. Making new friends and meeting old ones from when I lived in Japan was something that made this trip special. We visited famous and cultural locations that brought back many old memories – as well as created some great new ones. We can’t wait to go back!”