By Sensei Jakob Kold - IOGKF Denmark:

”The Tiger from the West” and his Sensei

IOGKF Denmark Instructor, Sensei Jakob Kold, was part of the group that travelled to Fuzhou in China, with Higaonna Sensei in March this year. The goal for the trip was to uncover more about Goju-ryu's rich historical heritage, as well as strengthen relations with our martial arts cousins in China...

On Sunday the 22nd of March, Sensei Henrik Larsen (Danish chief instructor) and I went to Fuzhou China, to participate in a history and research trip together with Higaonna Morio Sensei, IOGKF World Chief Instructor. Before meeting with the other part of the delegation, we spent two days in Hong Kong, and then from there we travelled to Fuzhou together.

Hong Kong is a very nice city. Everywhere is clean, everybody understands English and it is possible to find a Starbucks on every corner. We acted like genuine tourists and managed to see a lot of the amazing sights and surrounds of the city, including seeing a group of Tai Chi practitioners performing in a park.

On the 25th of March we met with Nakamura Sensei (World Vice chief instructor), Ernie Sensei (English chief instructor), Eric Higaonna (Higaonna Sensei’s son) and Sifu Han (Wushu Grandmaster from Fuzhou, who is now living in Canada). Later that day at our hotel in Fuzhou, we met up with the two last participants of our delegation, Higaonna Sensei and Yamashiro Sensei (IOGKF Chairman).

During our stay we participated in several official dinners, a huge demonstration, a friendship tournament and we took part some interesting sightseeing as well. On several mornings I ran to a park close by, where I met practitioners of Tai Chi and White Crane, who inspired me to start practicing my Kata.

The demonstration, in which we participated, was part of the opening ceremony of the Fuzhou Wushu Friendship Tournament. The day before the demonstration we got together and practiced at the hotel. It was decided that Higaonna Sensei would perform Suparimpei, Yamashiro Sensei would perform turning Sanchin. while Ernie Sensei would perform Shime, Nakamura Sensei and Eric would show Kakie and Henrik Sensei and I would perform Kururunfa and Bunkai.

Our demonstration came right after a group of boys, wearing Shaolin clothes, did a fantastic demonstration, including several jumps and kicks in the air - just like watching a Kung-Fu movie. The training hall was filled with people, the air was Smokey, the demonstration area was carpeted and the interest in us, ‘the foreigners’, was huge. This meant that the atmosphere was very special and most of all, it reminded me of the movie ‘Bloodsport’. Fortunately our demonstration went well, for which we received a huge applause and an exuberant amount of attention such as handshakes and many photograph sessions.

After watching the demonstrations of several different styles and schools, the tournament started with the competitors competing in everything from Tai Chi, to flying monks armed with spears, as well as older people wearing canvas trousers and singlets, ‘Jet Li-like’ fights, with and without weapons and of course, IOGKF Karate.

Personally, I am not a huge fan of competitions. It has been 10 years since I last participated in one, and that was in Okinawa. But Higaonna Sensei “convinced” me to participate, via an email from Nakamura Sensei two weeks before leaving for Fuzhou, which said that “Higaonna Sensei would like you and Eric to participate in a tournament in Fuzhou - And so it was decided. I prepared for showing Kururunfa Kata but I got a nice surprise as I was entering the tournament arena, when I was told to show a new Kata in each round. Despite these challenges, I won a gold medal.

The rest of that day I had to pose for more than "1000”photos together with most of the other competitors. A quite overwhelming experience, but fun as well as nobody spoke English at all, meaning that we all had to try to communicate in……….

The most interesting part of the tournament was the competitors from the many different styles. We were looking for styles similar to Goju-Ryu Karate and we saw many different variations of Sanchin Kata from the styles Iron Monk, White Crane, etc - Two very interesting days.

Sifu Han came in the morning at the 30th march and showed us two different local newspapers with articles and photos from the tournament with the headline “The Tiger from the west”. We also visited a Wushun School with 10,000 students where we attended a fantastic demonstration which convinced me that the legends about Kung-Fu men flying through the air with or without weapons could be true.  Afterwards we visited The South Shaolin Temple, where Bodhidharma is said to have lived. Our visit was recorded by a local TV Channel, and Higaonna Sensei seized the opportunity to make a small demonstration. Sensei performed Sanchin, Nakamura Sensei performed Sesan whilst I placed myself strategically far away, from where I could take some nice photos. Apparently my hiding place was not good enough, as Sensei saw me nevertheless and called my name and asked me to perform Kururunfa Kata.  Afterwards Sensei told me, that my performance at the temple was very good, much better than my performance at the tournament, even though I was wearing ordinary clothes and shoes. Which makes me speculate about the way we are training?

The next day we visited the Ryukyu Kan, which is the part of town where citizens from Okinawa lived in the past, including Higaonna Kanryo Sensei, at the beginning of his stay in Fuzhou. Later that day we visited the temple Ryu Ryu Ko Sensei would have lived in when he was a monk. It is said that he trained in this temple before he later went on to become a close protection officer for the Emperor. Later on he ran a bamboo shop where he also taught martial arts.

We spend our last morning in China in the Library to study local history. But it is a known secret that Sensei Henrik and I were not very much help, because neither of us can speak Chinese. Though it should be said, that Sensei Henrik suggested joining forces with some university students to review the history and translate it, which was taken note of. We finished at a Museum and went on to have the trips best meal at a Japanese restaurant, the second best being at McDonalds.

China was also very interesting and tasty for the first couple of days. But turtle soup served in the turtles own shell, jellyfish in sweet-sour sauce and other miscellaneous kinds of indefinable dishes isn’t easy for your stomach to get use to, especially when such food is served three times a day.

All together it was a very inspiring and instructive trip which cannot be compared to anything else I have ever experienced. It was also a great experience to be around Higaonna Sensei outside of the Dojo. I am sure Higaonna Sensei was satisfied with the results of the trip, which amongst other things resulted in the Fuzhou government making premises available for the IOGKF to build a Dojo in. I was also asked to teach there, but I am sure it would give me too many logistical problems and I am not sure my stomach could handle longer periods in Fuzhou either, which is why I politely rejected the offer.