This is less coherent than I wanted it to be; I blame the narcotics. 😛
I went to Okinawa! As many of you know. The main purpose was a karate and kobudo (weapons) seminar; there was also time built in for sightseeing, which is relevant because Shihan’s planning to do another seminar in three years, but that one is intended to be all training, all the time. It is also possibly intended for a different time of year, because yare yare, the heat and humidity. I said I was going to be training in an un-airconditioned budokan; this turned out to be mostly not true, as Shihan got them to turn on the A/C for most of our scheduled training. But we also had one unscheduled afternoon block — about which more later — with nothing but a couple of very inadequate fans, so I got to experience something more like the full misery for at least a couple of hours. More than enough to be grateful it wasn’t the entire time, I can tell you that! (Though even with A/C, it was quite warm. Japan, unlike my home state of Texas, does not feel obliged to chill every indoor space to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The prefectural budokan is an odd place: concrete walls studded with random bits of stained glass, highly functional but with lovely hardwood floors in most places, and then the exterior looks a bit like a stylized samurai helm. Our first day we shared the place with a swarm of children there for a tournament; we also saw a number of kendo groups come and go. It clearly gets plenty of use, and has three separate training halls as well as a weight room and a konbini and so forth. As for the training, it was both very intense and not. Each block was two hours long, usually without a break, and sometimes I was doing things like learning kusanku that drove me into the ground. But periodically Shihan would stop everybody to expound upon some point of technique or history, so you did at least get breathers. I suspect the experience was a bit more valuable for the people from Germany and Denmark and Spain and so on; people from our dojo get advice from Shihan on a regular basis, and are taught by people who are still being trained by him directly. The other RBKD dojo are a bit further removed, and so get that kind of guidance much more rarely. But it was very nifty to see them all, and to realize we truly are part of an international organization for the promotion of shorin-ryu karate.
Where sightseeing is concerned . . . I realized a while ago that I kept saying I was going to Okinawa, not to Japan. The difference matters. Those islands were only added to Japan in the relatively recent past, and culturally speaking, they have a lot of influences from Taiwan and China that make them distinct from the home islands (not to mention, of course, the indigenous Ryukyuan culture). We went to Shuri-jou, to Naminoue-guu, to Fukushuu-en, to the Churaumi Aquarium to see the whale sharks. We went to a small island called Kourijima, and that wound up not really working at all: I don’t know what happened, but we had nowhere near enough space for everybody who came. Shihan told us monks sleep on only one tatami mat; well, the American contingent had fourteen people in an eight-mat room, with no futon or even pillows. (Half the group ended up sleeping on the wooden porch; one of them got bit badly enough that he ended up going to the hospital to have the water blisters lanced.) So Kourijima got cut a day short, which is why we were back in Naha for an extra afternoon of training. But we were there long enough to have “beach training,” which Shihan ought to have called “ocean training” instead: he literally marched us into the water and made us do kata there. (It turns out that you can do the upper-body half of naifanchi shodan quite well while treading water.)
As instructed by my sister, I ate spam fried rice. I ate chanpuru (though not with goya). I ate Okinawan soba; I could not have avoided it if I tried, because it got served as a side dish with practically every meal I ordered. We got to see traditional Okinawan dancing at the welcome dinner; Shihan’s wife Tomoko-sensei is to Okinawan dancing what he is to karate, basically, though health issues mean she doesn’t practice regularly anymore. We bought CDs of traditional Okinawan music and also heard the same group sing “Let It Go” in Japanese. All in all, an excellent trip . . . except for the Kourijima part. 😛
And oh yes, there are pictures. Expect to see many of those in the days to come.