Friday, April 13, 2007

Okinawa Trip 2007 - Part 3

Wednesday, 4 April

Wednesday morning, I woke up a little later than usual thanks to the awamori. We met up at Sensei’s hotel and went to Shureido where we talked with the owner Nakasone-san over coffee. He was a very nice man and seemed to know a lot about every karate instructor on the island, probably doing business with all of them. We heard later that Nakasone-san is always present at gatherings here and there, taking pictures and footage. He probably has exclusive media and is a veritable encyclopedia of karate history himself. Shureido called up Yonamine Kosuke of Uechi Ryu for us, since we were unable to reach him. They ended up getting in contact with his wife, Oshiro Nobuko, who runs a large Higa Yuchoku lineage school in Urasoe City and we decided to meet up with her the next evening. Speaking with Nakasone-san, I started to notice a trend that everyone we talked to asked how Nagaishi Sensei was faring. Fumio Nagaishi Sensei worked for the US government on Okinawa for many years. He studied under Chibana Chosin and is one of the most senior students of Taira Shinken (he is without a doubt the most senior American student of Ryukyu Kobudo). He served as a liaison for many of the early American karate practitioners on Okinawa and is a close friend of my instructor, Pat Nakata. Nagaishi Sensei is such a large part of karate history on Okinawa, yet he seems to be missing from any of the history books. Some of this is due to his humility, and some of it is due to his being an American despite the many years he spent on Okinawa.

In the afternoon we went to the head of Shorinkan Shorin Ryu Nakazato Shugoro Sensei’s dojo. There we saw Sensei Pat Haley with his group of 20-odd students from the U.S., (Canada?), and South Africa. When we walked in, Nakazato Sensei’s face lit up and he welcomed us, introducing Sensei to several of his 9th dans and a black belt of his who were observing the practice. When he mentioned that Nakata Sensei was a student of Chibana Sensei, they started bowing respectfully. Right away, I could tell that Nakazato Sensei was pretty comfortable with Nakata Sensei. We watched Sensei Haley’s students and they were trying very hard. At one point, one of the students suffered a contusion after bending down on his knee, so he was taken off to the side. Nakazato Sensei gave Sensei Haley a bandage of some sort and gave directions how to apply it, but Sensei Haley was having a little trouble understanding the Japanese and wasn’t really sure what the exact injury was. Nakata Sensei walked over, very quickly diagnosed the problem, and told the student exactly what to do to work it out. It was a nice reminder of just how broad and deep Sensei’s knowledge is. After that, a lot of the dialogue was funneled through Nakata Sensei both by Nakazato Sensei and Sensei Haley.

When their practice was finished, we went upstairs into Nakazato’s Sensei’s home with him and his wife. It was mostly Nakazato Sensei and Nakata Sensei reminiscing about Chibana and the level of familiarity of Japanese that Nakazato Sensei was speaking with indicated that they shared a deep bond since they were both very close to Chibana Sensei, far different from the typically distant Nakazato Sensei that I had heard about. Of course, Nakazato Sensei asked how Nagaishi Sensei was doing and expressed gratitude for what he had done for Chibana Sensei when he was ill (But let there is no doubt that of all the students, the one who did the most for Chibana Sensei when he was ill was Nakazato Sensei). Nakazato Sensei and his wife were visibly upset when they heard about Chibana Sensei’s house being sold and Nakazato Sensei’s wife was brought to tears when she heard about Chibana Sensei’s haka being sold. Nakazato Sensei mentioned that the burial plot he bought for Chibana Sensei was twice as big as his, but that Chibana Sensei was in the Chibana family plot, not the Tawada family plot as Nakamoto Sensei mentioned, but it is possible that some arrangements were made without Nakazato Sensei’s knowledge. We turned the conversation to lighter matters and ended with an open invitation for Nakazato Sensei and his wife to come to Hawaii just to visit if they wanted.

Upon returning to the hotel, Higaonna Sensei and Goodin Sensei were already waiting for us. We then went to another old bookstore and this time, Goodin Sensei spotted a rare book (he already had) with the founder of Goju Ryu Miyagi Chojun Sensei in it. Higaonna Sensei forked over a large sum of cash for it and left feeling very happy. After the bookstore, Higaonna Sensei treated us to dinner before we went to his dojo to observe his class.

The dojo was only a small distance away from both our hotels and like many on the island, was a part of the instructor’s house. Already in the dojo were not only Okinawan students, but students from across the world as well. Practice started with a lot of their hojo undo, which involved the use of traditional Okinawan or Chinese training devices. This usually entailed gripping something heavy and/or either hitting or hitting themselves with something pretty hard, like a rock or a big metal ring. I used to do a lot of hojo undo myself (more so the gripping of heavy things), but I sort of gave that all up a while ago in favor of modern training equipment (like my bowflex). While their ability to take punishment was impressive, I always prefer to train to give punishment rather than to take it. At any rate, after the hojo undo, they did their kata with the usual dynamic tension and artificial breathing methods of Goju Ryu. Higaonna Sensei asked if I wanted to try out some hojo undou, so I grabbed some jars and did some of the walking up and down the line. It was a bit gratifying to feel that the nigirigame (gripping jars) were a little lighter than what I used to train with (or maybe I just grabbed a light pair). When he was showing me how to punch the Goju Ryu way, I’ll admit I had a little difficulty… Some may say there is a lot of similarity between Goju and Shorin Ryu methodologies, but I would have to disagree strongly. Suffice it to say, I will stick with my Shorin Ryu for various reasons. After class, Higaonna Sensei took us upstairs into his house and showed us the beginnings of his museum, which was pretty good already. After a little while, we excused ourselves and I made my way back to my hotel… It was a pretty long day.

To be continued in Part 4

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