Thursday, April 24, 2008

Terrain and Karate Training - Guest Post: "Dojo"

What follows are some thoughts of my instructor, Pat Nakata, on the literal dojo environment and the effects on training:

In the beginning of Karate (Te, Ti, Di, Toodi) there were no dojo, because Te was practiced in secret. Practice was conducted in remote and hidden areas, such as hillsides, forested areas, grave sites, and in general away from prying eyes and inhabited areas. All training was held outdoors. Okinawa's temperate climate (unlike mainland Japan's more varied seasonal temperature fluctuations) was ideal for practice throughout the year.

Mrs. Nagaishi told me when she was a little girl (in the late 1930s), she would see the men of her village (farming village) go into the mountainside (hillside) every evening with candles. One night she followed them and hid as she observed Karate training for the first time. These practitioners never performed their Karate in public and practiced in the dark of night, thus they were called "kakure bushi" (hidden warrior). Practice even in this relatively modern time, was conducted in a remote outdoor setting.

Nagaishi Sensei talks about his early training (mid 1950s) with Chibana Sensei, where classes were held at a graveyard and light provided by a U.S. military issue, kerosene lantern. Nagaishi Sensei also tells us about clearing glass fragments from broken beer bottles, left behind from people drinking when there were no Karate classes. Besides the glass, the rocky soil had many large rocks that were removed before practice. There was a very small building where Chibana Sensei could correct students on a one-on-one basis, but the bulk of the training was done outside in the graveyard.

My training with Chibana Sensei during the daytime was on his front lawn, with the soil being a mixture of dirt and almost powdered coral. There were no large rocks and the lawn was relatively even and firm. In the evening, we would train at the dojo (Chibana Dojo / Yamakawa Recreation Center), with a training area of not more than 250 square feet. A class of 30 students could do a very abbreviated Kihon Kata with double stepping and the three Naihanchi Kata. The rest of the teaching was done individually or by groups where Chibana Sensei observed and corrected (see Classical Fighting Arts on Part 2 of my interview). The bulk of the practice was on our own and was done outside, which was actually a playground, during the afternoon.

A dojo in Okinawa is a modern phenomenon, which has changed the way we now practice Karate. With the smooth hardwood floors we can now do long sliding steps, wide stomping movements, stepping heel-to-toe (rather than toe-to-heel), and other stance and stepping adjustments. Which way (new or old ) is more effective? It depends on the situation or in this discussion, the terrain.

Returning to Hawaii from Okinawa, my first classes were held at my parents' home in their patio. The flooring for the patio was very porous cement, with a lot of loose black sand (cinders), so stepping was done in the same way as in Okinawa. Teaching at the University of Hawaii, we used the dance studio building which had smooth hardwood flooring, but our classes were conducted more like the "conventional" Japanese styles (Wado-Ryu). Soon after, we started classes in the evenings at the Moiliili Community Center, sharing different evening with the Shito-ryu Karate classes of John Teraoka and the Moiliili Judo Club. The dojo floor was tatami (straw mats) and uneven, so stepping was done in the same way as in Okinawa.

Moving to our own dojo on Waimanu Street, the flooring was tile on a wood floor. At this time, we were heavy into tournament competition and not too concerned with stepping and stance, since we were not as concerned with Kata and were more concerned with sparring techniques. Moving to our Waikiki Kapahulu dojo, we inherited a tatami floor from the previous tenants, Sensei Ed Yamaki's Judo club. We were still quite involved with tournament competition. After I moved to Hawaii Kai, I converted the backyard of my townhouse to a red brick patio, turned over the Waikiki Kapahulu dojo to our senior students, and started practicing with 6 to 8 students on my patio. My Hawaii Kai patio floor surface was a slight improvement over my parents' patio, except my parents' patio was covered, while my Hawaii Kai patio was open and on occasion, we trained in the rain (much like my training in Okinawa). After a couple of years, I resumed practicing at the Waikiki Kapahulu dojo.

The Waikiki Kapahulu dojo gradually evolved. The tatami was removed because it was falling apart and not conducive to our Karate practice. After about ten years, the windows were redone, new flooring installed, and reinforced with additional braces, all paid for by Alan Yokota and Ricky Tokumoto. As time passed, we were no longer into tournament competition. We gradually did away with sparring, and we started to do strict Chibana Karate, which is Kata training. Today, because of our flooring, we can concentrate on heel-to-toe stepping, which allows our Hara to flow.

Over the past few years, I have trained in many different settings and all of it was nice, but training in Tim Muzzin's backyard in San Francisco brought back memories of my early years of training. The Mainland U.S. is like Mainland Japan. With wide temperature variances throughout the year, you almost definitely need a dojo to train throughout the year, but again the old traditional dojo in Japan do not have heaters and you brave the cold during the winter (be it indoors). Hawaii's climatic conditions are even better than Okinawa. It would be nice to find a private place outdoors in Hawaii to practice. Humm...

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