Sunday, May 22, 2005

A day with Shiroma Jiro Sensei

Surprise! This'll be an all martial arts entry, just like the good ol' days. Writing about politics is fun and all but I could write multiple entries everday on the goings on if I had the motivation; it just gets exhausting after a while.

Yesterday I got up early and drove to San Francisco to meet Jeff, a fellow student under Ahtye Sensei. From there, we drove to Vallejo to meet up with Charlie, a senior student of Ahtye Sensei and then we drove to Elk Grove. There, Shihan Tim Evans was hosting Shiroma Jiro, 8th Dan in Okinawan Shorin Ryu. Let me give you a little background on Shiroma-Sensei...

Shiroma-Sensei's early training began at age 13 in Shuri-Te and Kendo at age 15. At age 20, at the death of his first master, he began to train under Hanshi Shugoro Nakazato, the head of the system I take. In the late 60s he also opened up a Thai boxing gym and a karate gym and basically he trained with an incredibly large number of people. As an interesting sidenote, the then-white belt Doug Perry (now Kyoshi Perry the North American director of Shorinkan Shorin Ryu) trained under Shiroma Sensei and was knocking out all his top students...At any rate, Shiroma-Sensei moved to the United States in the late 70s and has been teaching his "style" of Seishindo. His school is in Phoenix, Arizona but he travels around the US for seminars quite often.

When we arrived at Shihan Tim Evans' dojo, we got changed and introduced ourselves to Shiroma Sensei. He instantly showed himself to be a very friendly and very jovial man and he went on a humorous discourse about his iron cup he always wears after he discovered some of us (me included...) forgot to bring cups. When class began, he had us do a thousand punches and then started fielding questions about various things. Someone asked him to demonstrate applications for the kata and while he said he "was not an application man", he went through and showed numerous bunkai for various moves. He seemed to favor the short and quick moves rather than really elaborate techniques.

Watching him move was a treat. He moved and punched very similar to a boxer in many respects and had excellent grappling technique, yet I could still call most all of what he did as "karate". He then proceeded to demonstrate a lot of self-defense techniques against knives and guns which were very well-structured and believable. When demonstrating the use of the knife, his speed and accuracy practically screamed of beautiful, expert lethality and actually makes me want to take up some knifework. I was able to catch on very quickly to his knife and gun self-defense techniques because they were simple, yet effective if you did them properly and applied the necessary martial arts principles. I also liked them because the techniques they were to defend against were practical, common and deadly attacks, not the contrived downard strike you see in so many places (or In Living Color skits...). He has done much work with law enforcement and studied many cases of such attacks, and from what he says and hints at, has been in quite a few situations like that himself...

His other big thing was women's self-defense. I am usually a harsh critic of "women's self-defense" because most places that do them are not really good. However, I was quite taken aback as his techniques and explanations revealed his actual knowledge of such situations and were all very practical. He really has done his homework...One thing he really sought to emphasize was the difference between rigidly adhering to specific technique and the improvisation necessary in a real fight situation. As I think most experienced karateka agree with him, so his message was probably oriented more towards the lesser experienced folk (or those black belts who don't seriously think about these sorts of things).

The seminar was great and all, but the real fun was the dinner. Me, Sensei Ahtye, Charlie, Tim Evans, and his wife and son got to sit on a small round table at a Chinese restaurant with Shiroma Sensei. In case any of you people ever wonder where all these authors on karate history and stories and such get their info, it's usually in settings like these or when they go drinking at their homes, restaurants or elsewhere. We talked for a few hours as we ate and Shiroma Sensei would often pause and start to shadow box or demonstrate a technique in response to a question--all while sitting at the dinner table. He seemed to enjoy the fact that Tim Evans' son and I could both speak Japanese. He told us all many stories about his run-ins with gangs, how he dated the sister of a famous gangster, the vengeance of rats on Okinawa, experiences with Hanshi Nakazato and other things. Rather recurring in his conversation was his continual insistence that one should learn from as many teachers as possible and the individual nature of karate. He kept going back to the importance of an open mind and not closing yourself off to any learning experiences. He had a point, but I think all of us at the table kind of already shared that point of view before even meeting him. He tended to over-emphasize the rigidness of karate in comparison to other ways of fighting, but I think he was doing it more to make a point. While he claims kata is still more "meditation" for him, he never failed to quickly respond to any questions of bunkai. He was critical of practicing too many kata because you wouldn't be able to focus enough on them. All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience with a true master. Those are trite words very often used in these types of stories, but I found them very appropriate.

We split up around 9 pm. I would've loved to stay longer (Shiroma Sensei said he wanted to stay up all night and talk), but I had to get back (a supposedly 3 1/2 hour drive and I was someone's ride to San Francisco) so we drove back. Charlie and I mused about the seminar and the dinner and then dropped us off in Vallejo. It was still nice to talk to him as he's going to Japan for a month this summer in conjunction with his college to study Japanese. I of course recommended James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" book as it is the best book to learn the Chinese characters used in Japanese for a Westerner. Period. So I thought it would smooth sailing after that, but the 4 lane highway had 3 lanes closed so I had to take a detour (luckily I knew other ways), but it took forever for all 4 lanes of cars to merge into one...I got back around 1:30 am. Despite all that hassle, it was well worth it. Should any of you ever get a chance to train with Shiroma Sensei, I highly recommend it. He is definitely the real deal.

Update: Greg asked me to put up Shiroma Sensei's website, so here it is:


Anonymous said...

Hi. I am glad you had a nice time with Shiroma Sensei. I have studied with him in Phoenix for about 10 years and his martial knowledge never ceases to amaze me.
It would be great if you could mention his website at since there are lots of schools in the area and it is always a struggle to pay the bills.

Bujutsu Blogger said...

You are fortunate to have him as your instructor.

I've added his site.

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