Saturday, April 07, 2007

Okinawa Trip 2007 – Part 1

Okinawa Trip 2007 – Part 1

Sunday, 1 April

I spent the first week of April in Okinawa with my karate instructor Pat Nakata and his good friend Sensei Charles Goodin, who owns the Hawaii Karate Museum. Things were originally supposed to work out well for us, as my best friend Terry (and student of Nakata Sensei) now lives in Okinawa and this was an excellent chance for us to see him again. As fate would have it, Terry was called away for a trip the day after Sensei and I arrived, so we only saw him for a few hours. Much of this time was spent first finding Nakata Sensei’s hotel and then finding mine, which were actually in humorously close proximity to one another (maybe ¾ of a mile). Upon arriving at my hotel, we discovered they had no knowledge of my reservation, but it worked out in the end (especially AFTER they took my safety deposit). I stayed at the Forest Makishi, which was a bit cheaper than a hotel since it was a condo and ran me about 200 dollars for the whole week. After eating at a local diner and talking story, we turned in for the night and said our goodbyes to Terry.

Monday, April 2

We started the morning off by visiting Shinzato Katsuhiko Sensei of Kishabajuku Shorin Ryu, who is Sensei Goodin’s teacher. We watched Shinzato Sensei teach Sensei Goodin and a group of visiting Slovenians. It was interesting to see Shinzato Sensei’s methodology in some ways start to approach ours, with of course some very dramatic differences (at this point, far more differences than similarities). Shinzato Sensei was a professor at the Ryukyu University and his English is very good.

Afterwards, we swung by to visit Nakamoto Masahiro Sensei, prolific karate historian/author and kobudo practitioner (and to my surprise, wearer-of-bright-Hawaiian shirts). He was very excited to see us and showed us around his museum before taking us out to lunch (and later, dinner). We ate at a small restaurant that for all appearances looked like a house and had true Okinawan home cooking. It’s probably the kind of place that not a lot of locals know about. At any rate, it was quite good. Afterwards, he took us by the haka (grave stones) of Matsumura “Bushi” Sokon, Hanashiro Chomo, and Itosu Anko. Unfortunately, he informed us that not only was Chibana’s house sold, but his haka was sold as well. He said Chibana’s daughter was staying with her in-laws, so when Chibana’s son-in-law decided that as a Christian, he did not care to have a haka around, she could not object. Chibana Sensei’s remains are presumably interred on church grounds somewhere. Nakamoto Sensei said the people of Tori Hori were organizing a memorial for Toudi Sakugawa and for Chibana Sensei, and he was playing a part in the process. He felt especially that since Chibana Sensei’s haka and house are now gone, it would be a great shame if there was nothing physical to remember him by. 2009 will mark the 50th anniversary of Chibana Sensei passing away. We then swung by a used bookstore, where I bought Nakamoto Sensei’s book (and had him autograph it, which he got a kick out of) and Sensei Goodin found himself a pretty old book which mentioned karate. For dinner, we ate at a place that Nakamoto Sensei’s relative worked at, and included multiple courses that I easily lost track of. We had interesting things like umi budo (sea grapes… a type of seaweed) and ikasumi (squid ink mixed with rice). Quite tasty, actually.

It was quite interesting to hear many of the stories Nakamoto Sensei had to tell, such as his speculation that Chibana Chosin’s father was probably a martial artist, even if he wasn’t a famous one. He based this on the assertion that most all sakeya were martial artists, and they usually had to defend themselves walking home from the market. As the sake business was quite profitable, they had a lot of money to carry, and Chibana Sensei’s father was a leader in the business. During the rule of the Okinawa king, the Sakiyama area was the only place where sake was allowed to be made in honor of their efforts during the Japanese invasion (I need to confirm this). After the annexation of Okinawa and the king was deposed, the restriction was no longer in place, so it is surmised that the Chibana family entered the sake business at this point. At any rate, they ran quite the profitable business. Nakamoto Sensei remarked that on occasion, all the fighters (and bodyguards) in Torihori would come together and have a big fight without any referees or rules. As Terry mentions on his site, there is still some ambiguity regarding the relationship between Chibana-Tawada-Itosu. It is consistently heard that Chibana Sensei’s older sister married Tawada’s eldest son. This time, Nakamoto Sensei clearly said that Tawada’s daughter married Itosu’s eldest son. Regardless, the relationship meant Chibana Sensei was privy to a deeper level of Itosu’s and Tawada’s karate than other regular students of his.

When speaking about how Okinawans cared for their dead, he mentioned that it was the daughter-in-law’s duty to clean the bones (senkotsu) for a number of years after the body has decayed, which then allowed the person to ascend into heaven. Of course, this means you must always be nice to your daughter-in-law, because then she can pay you back by not taking care of your remains after you have departed! The remains are interred in a ceremonial jar and the ink they use to write the names on them is indelible, the same kind that the yakuza use for their tattoos. He mentioned that in this way, oftentimes the most reliable family tree records for old families would be found in the haka.

Another interesting bit of information turned up after Nakamoto Sensei showed us several old sai. These sai all had large bumps where the crosspieces met with the handle. He explained that in the old days, the way they made them resulted in a bulge in the intersection, which was also useful in order to stop blades or other objects caught by the sai. He was amused by people decrying cheaply manufactured sai with bulges where the crosspieces intersect. He stated sai originally had bulges there, although they were a little different. Of course, cheap manufactured sai with bulges are probably worse than well-made, modern “traditional” sai that do not have them. All the same, I had not heard that theory before and found it interesting. After spending the vast majority of the day with Nakamoto Sensei, we headed back to the hotel. On the way, we stopped by where Chibana’s old house used to be, which was a little bit of a letdown since I was interested in seeing it. After getting back, I planned to go out for a wild night on the town, but I just went to bed instead…

To be continued in part 2

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