On October 30th Shihan Cunningham and I were to make their third pilgrimage to Okinawa this year. This time our group also consisted of Shihan Cunningham’s wife Kirsti, and their young daughter Amelia, along with Allan Engelin 4th Dan, Ian Holdaway 2nd Dan, and Mark McFadden 1st Dan.
We arrived at Kansai airport on Thursday evening 30th October, checked into our hotel and spent the evening checking a huge shopping outlet, a fun park for Amelia, a meal, and to bed.
The next day we left early for Nara….this was the original capital of Japan before Kyoto, before Tokyo, so the amount of history there is truly amazing. There are many old and amazing temples and pagodas, the most impressive of which was Todaiji Temple which is home to Daibutsu, the largest Buddha in all of Japan. Todaiji is the largest wooden building in the world and dates back to 8th century.
It was back to Kansai on the Saturday evening and on the plane to Naha on Sunday morning. On arrival in Naha we checked into our usual hotel, the Nahana, which is now beginning to feel like a second home, contacted Hokama Sensei, and arranged to meet him for dinner with two of his senior students, Taira san and Seki san. We spent a pleasant evening together and started to think seriously about the training which was to follow.
The training consisted of sessions for the whole group every morning, and advanced sessions with Sensei for Rick and myself in the afternoons. As usual it was learn more, constant practice of technique and then, “more speed please!” During these sessions we moved ahead and learnt more Bo Kata, Tonfa techniques and kata, and Eeku technique and kata. There were many discussions with, and explanations by Sensei of kata and technique, and Okinawa Kobudo weapons and their history.
On the next Saturday Sensei took us to Kume Jima island where one of his students lives and has a dojo, Shihan Yoshinnori Taira. Kume Jima is about a 40 minute flight from Okinawa, has a population of 9,500; three sets of traffic lights, and sugar cane everywhere!! Taira Shihan picked us up at the airport and took us to all the points of interest on the island, and also to the local sake factory where we tried some 18 year old sake…now that was an experience!! That evening we all trained at his dojo and Sensei really stepped up the pace. After training we were treated to an incredible meal of beautifully prepared sushi and salad with the odd beer and sake for good measure.
Then it was back to Naha and more training before we departed on November 12.
As with our previous trips we found Hokama Sensei to be most helpful and informative, and we thoroughly enjoyed his instruction and company.
As a result of this trip I was made Sensei’s first Australian branch chief in Kobudo and was graded to Sandan (3rd Dan) in Kobudo. Shihan Cunningham was also graded to 3rd Dan in Kobudo. For us this was a most unexpected end to this trip to Okinawa and one which we considered to be a great honour.
Shihan Cunningham and I will continue to travel to Okinawa to further our knowledge under the instruction of Sensei Hokama and look forward to honing their skills in Kobudo.
From August 19th until September 1st was to be yet another memorable trip to Okinawa….the home of martial arts in Japan. Shihan Cunningham and I spent this time training again with Sensei Hokama, and it was indeed a great pleasure to reacquaint ourselves with him and his students.
On our arrival in Naha we contacted Sensei, picked him up from his dojo, and proceeded to his favourite sushi restaurant for dinner together and to discuss our program for the next days. These next ten days were to be spent with just the two of us training with Sensei, which proved to be most interesting as the temperature was 32 degrees and the humidity was 88-90%.
After dinner with Sensei we were to return to our hotel, but as usual Rick had his homing beacon on, and somehow managed to find our favourite yaki tori bar where we enjoyed a little more food and had to reassess the local Orion beer for which we had both developed a taste.
The next day’s training started and progressed day by day with kata, bunkai, joint locks, bo and sai training, and over this period we discovered how hot it really was in Okinawa in summer. However the training and guidance by Sensei was excellent, his patience and persistence is something to be admired.
As well as the training, as before, Sensei was most interested for us to learn about and appreciate the people, customs, and history of Okinawa, and set about making sure we did.
We saw a private family shrine, Nakagusuku castle, which is now classified as a national treasure, and in its day must have been most impressive as it has a commanding view of the pacific ocean on one side and the east china sea on the other. We also saw “the Nakamura house“ which dates back to the early 17th century and is a major cultural asset. Sensei took us to a martial arts shop in Okinawa City, and we had lunch at the Legion Club which was initially established as an officers’ club post World War II and remains very much the same to this day!
Sensei took us to a very famous spa resort to help recover our bodies one afternoon, then that evening it was of to a local festival in Nishihara where his students were doing a demonstration. Everywhere we went we were constantly amazed by the friendliness and open hearted attitude of the Okinawan people.
Another afternoon after training we were taken to the royal mausoleum built in 1501 to re-entomb the remains of the famous king, Sho-en, then off to Shuri-jo castle, world heritage site which was the centre of politics, economy and culture of the Ryuku Kingdom where we were to see a presentation of classical Okinawan dance, which was quite amazing.
To many of you who read this it will probably seem that we were just sight seeing…I can assure you this was not the case, it was all part of the balance that sensei wanted us to achieve.
In training we learnt some of the Okinawan Goju-Ryu katas, bo exercises, kata, and applications, and also exercises for the sai and sai kata, and applications of sai against the bo.
Sensei repeats these drills over and over and by the time training was finished we had no doubt that we would remember these kata, and with Sensei saying that after 100 times if you work long enough and hard enough your body will remember….both Rick and I had to agree with this principle.
On our final day we trained in the morning, had lunch with Sensei, said our goodbyes, and told him as we had arranged with him we would return again on October 30th for more instruction.
Rick and I both agreed that we had increased the depth of our knowledge with this trip and look forward to the next chapter in this new book…..for us a new door has been opened and it can only be to our benefit and the benefit of our students.
Having over the years had 38 trips to Japan associated with my Martial Arts commitment to Kyokushin, this was to be my second trip to Okinawa. I was interested to discover the history of Karate in Japan and as it had its origin in Okinawa, I had a most interesting discussion with Sensei Hokama whose knowledge of the history of martial arts in Okinawa and his ability to perform them is truly amazing.
So whilst there I asked if I could come back with some of my Black Belts for a week’s training with him. He was most gracious and agreed without hesitation. On our return to Sydney it was decided that those to accompany me would be:
Shihan Rick Cunningham
Sensei Mark Shelmerdine
Sensei Idir Bahamid
Sempai James Sidwell
We arrived in Okinawa on May 23rd. After checking in to the hotel, we proceeded to the Dojo to meet Sensei, have a meal together, and plan our training schedule with him. Sensei was waiting for us at the Dojo and greeted us with Tea and cakes. Introductions were made all round and after an enjoyable meal we departed to return to our hotel…and then the trouble started thanks to Shihan Cunningham who had seen a Yaki Tori bar near the hotel, and decided we should all have a beer before bed.
Everyone spent the free day shopping for local artefacts and all managed to buy something of Okinawan origin. We thought this to be a free day however Sensei invited us to the Dojo for a “little warm up Keiko” and so it started!
The training was excellent and much to our great discomfort, we were to discover many pressure points…thanks to Sensei…who was quite amazing with his knowledge.
The next day there were more Gyaku Te techniques. We discovered even more pressure points…James had a truly unique experience when Sensei demonstrated one on him…everyone was seen to observe him react quite remarkably…jumping in the air and at the same time uttering something that would normally be taboo in the Dojo…but we all agreed that it was beyond his control.
That evening we returned to watch the kids’ class and then trained with the adults…our first class with them and certainly something to remember!! There was lots of conditioning and Sanchin practice and then application of Kata techniques…we all enjoyed the class and were very happy when finally it was 10 p.m. and we were finished.
The days progressed with Kata applications, pressure points and Bo training…the drills were repeated over and over again and Sensei stressed that a correct foundation was most important for Bo training, and so it went, stance, technique, repetition and correction.
Between training sessions Sensei took us shopping, supplied us with watermelon and bananas, and a huge bottle of Okinawan Sake.
So the training was left to Sensei. Rick seemed to have this magical ability to produce alcohol wherever we went, James disappeared a couple of nights in spite of Mark’s best attempts to take care of him…and in the mornings he seemed not to know where he had been, and poor Idir was constantly disorientated.
This trip I would say is the most memorable I have had to Japan…the instruction was amazing, everybody enjoyed it and had their knowledge expanded, and all enjoyed each other’s company both during training and after.
We returned to Sydney on June 3rd, enthusiastic and grateful for the experience.
This Sensei is a truly amazing Martial Artist and we were really impressed. So much so that Shihan Cunningham and myself will return on August 19th for a further 10 days training.