Monday, June 27, 2005

A Few Days in North Carolina with Kyoshi Perry: Training with the Best

Hello all. It's been a while since I last wrote. As I mentioned in my last entry, I went out to North Carolina to train with Kyoshi Doug Perry, North American Director of my system and then to Montana for a karateforums.com gathering. This will be about my time spent with Kyoshi Perry.

Just like the time I went out to North Carolina with Onimitsu2004 last year, every day was extremely long, ranging from 10-14 hours in the dojo (around 8-12 hours of actual training). And just like last time, I had a lot of quality time with Kyoshi Perry and some of his senior students. Kyoshi Perry was much busier than the last time I saw him, especially as he was recovering from surgery (he didn't get Purple Hearts for nothing). All the same, he took a lot of time going over things with me and Myles, another visitor to the dojo. Myles lives in North Carolina so he's been visiting with much frequency the past nine months.

It would be a rather exhaustive and unentertaining post to simply list all the things I did...so I won't. I did manage to pick up three kata: Miyazato no Tekko, Rokushu and Takemyoshi no Nunte Bo Dai Ichi. The latter thanks largely to the efforts of Sensei Sharon who introduced me to it, Sensei Mary who let me tape her and Kyoshi Perry who had the patience to continually watch us fumble through it until I memorized the gross (emphasis on gross) pattern. I did it several times during my previous visit, but Onimitsu2004 and I were certainly already laden with the other 4 weapons kata we were learning while there. Now...all I need to do is wait for Murasaki Kobudo to get more nunte bo in stock and I'll be all set. Meanwhile, I'll have to use my bo to practice it. I don't need anything to visualize the "tip" of it, but I do need a nunte bo so I can see where each of the tines are facing. For those of you not in the know, a nunte bo is a bo with a manji sai on the end. For those of you really not in the know, a manji sai is a sai with one tine facing up, the other tine facing down.

I made sure to jot down any corrections I could remember in my little note pad to add to my martial arts notebook. I suggest to any of you out there who are serious about your training to start your own if you haven't already. Needless to say, the corrections were many. Kyoshi Perry also introduced or further explained several subtleties which should be present in our kata. Everyone says their styles incorporate "natural movement". It's almost like a buzzword that has lost its value. However, natural movement was perhaps one of the biggest things he emphasized, along with various "Perry-isms" usually involving continuous movements and extremely tight (meaning small) circles. With Kyoshi Perry, it was definitely not the case of a simple buzzword. Interestingly enough, I found the nunte bo kata to be one of the most natural weapons kata I've done as the moves practically fell into place whenever I didn't think about them too hard, even during the first few times I did it.

In his book Martial Musings, Robert Smith wrote "Doug Perry, exceptional karateka and dancer, obviously resonates with music." I knew Kyoshi Perry was in the shag dancing Hall of Fame and a national champion, but I never quite grasped the meaning of that line until Tuesday of last week. Myles had just got his promotion to shodan in the Shorinkan system that night (he was already a shodan in another style but switched a while back). I was told it was tradition to do some interesting things in the yudansha (black belt) class after someone gets their shodan. And that they did. Kyoshi Perry brought out a cd with a song lacking a beat. "Light of the Spirit" by Kitaro, to be exact. He then told us all to do Rokushu (which me and Myles only learned the day before...an exquisite extra-curricular kata not in our system) to the music. He told us not to do a "musical kata" but instead to do "kata to music". It sounds very esoteric and flaky at first, I'm sure. So we divided into groups and then proceeded to attempt with varying levels of ridiculousness to do so. Every once in a while, Kyoshi Perry would start doing segments of kata to the music here and there. After we had all been effectively out of our comfort zones, he then demonstrated what he meant and the only word for it I can use was beautiful. He then told us doing kata to music with a beat binds us because we wait for the beat to move. He said songs without a beat (think classical Asian music, although Kitaro is lumped together with "New Age", much to his annoyance) force you to become the rhythm and "kata without emotion is body motion". He then had us do Chinto to the same song which was a little easier, but I still was woefully far off from what we were just shown. Later on, I asked him about the music he used and he then took me to his office and had me listen to another Kitaro song, "Flight", which had quite a different "feel" to it. Watching him both on the dojo floor and later doing motions to the music as we sat in chairs in his office was a pretty moving experience. I'm usually someone who likes to really emphasize the scientific and biomechanical aspect of kata, but I must admit I almost felt something....spiritual. There, I said it. Of course, he was quick to remind us on the dojo floor and me in his office that he was a man who spent many, many years of his life in war and that this wasn't merely some flaky nonsense. I assured him that was the farthest thing from my mind. In fact, watching him do the kata to music even made some of the bunkai (application) more readily apparent to me, at least. But that wasn't the most important part of it. Kyoshi Perry always says he teaches kata on five different levels. I think I got to glimpse one of those rarer levels back then.

Anybody who knows me personally knows I like to eat extremely healthy. So, another thing I discussed with Kyoshi Perry, or rather, questioned and then listened to, was dietary supplements and vitamins. Kyoshi Perry, amongst all his other achievements, is something of a medical marvel internally. At age 68, he's still gaining muscle mass and bone density where most people his age lose it dramatically. The doctors say he's got the insides of an 18-year-old (give or take things like a gall bladder due to a particularly bad case of stomach influenza he picked up in Vietnam...of the only 7 cases of this occuring amongst U.S. troops, he had two of them...). He's also been told his heart and chest cavity are so strong they look like they belong to someone about 50 or 60 pounds larger. He attributes it to the fact he started taking dietary supplements and vitamins long, long before all the recent buzz about them. In fact, stuff like fish oil were the result of the regimen his boxing coach made him do (Kyoshi Perry started boxing at age 9). I then asked him what he recommended a guy like me take, and he pointed me towards Pharmanex and their Life Pak, Optimum Omega, Cordy Max and Overdrive as things I should take daily. All of the above are various things to promote health and strength. The Overdrive is an interesting thing. It is made of completely natural ingredients and you are supposed to take it an hour before working out. It makes you feel energetic and ready to go and when it wears off, you don't experience a "low" like you would from a sugar rush. Well, after he gave me a free bottle of Cordy Max and Overdrive I tried them and a mere twenty minutes later (I was not expecting it to kick in until an hour later so it caught me totally by surprise) I started to feel very energetic and all tiredness drained from my body. To put this in perspective, this was my last of the four days of training I spent there. By that time, I was almost hobbling around and quite exhausted, yet that went away after I took it. I have taken it several times, all to the same effect. It is definitely not a placebo effect. At any rate, I have to call up pharmanex tomorrow and set up my account. I plan to be on this earth a very long time, so while I do I may as well be healthy. I continually seek out the advice of those like Kyoshi Perry in doing so.

I must say my experience was extremely motivating. I currently plan to attend the Summer Camp in North Carolina come this August and anxiously look forward to meeting everyone again. In the meantime, I am going to redouble my efforts to be the best karateka I can as my only way to offer payment back to Kyoshi Perry and all those who helped me out. Yes, it sounds sappy, doesn't it? (Sensei Church, don't laugh please) But I will cut out some things which have been taking a lot of my extra time and focus on my martial arts and actually trying to be fluent in Japanese rather than merely being "okay" at speaking and reading (for future use when interacting with Okinawans...I should pick up the Okinawan dialect as well). As a motivator, I think I'll be translating these books I have on Okinawan karate into English.