Baby Bears and Scorpions - NZ Gasshuku with Nakamura Sensei
By: Sensei Phil Seddon - IOGKF New Zealand
If Sensei Tetsuji Nakamura starts talking about “big bears” and “baby bears”, he’s not referring to the wildlife in his adopted home of Canada – he wants you to get down and walk like an animal. And be warned, bears (all fours), leads to crocodiles (crawling), and then crabs… and don’t even ask about scorpions! But all this floor-cleaning fun has a serious purpose, teaching us to rediscover the value of a flexible spine.
Increasingly sedentary lifestyles and a fondness for slumping in chairs has made our core body weak and stiff. This is bad news for aspiring martial artists because explosive speed and power can only come from a flexible spine. Learning to control, strengthen, and use the full range of motion in the torso was one of the key insights imparted by Sensei Nakamura to 100 Goju Ryu (hard-soft style) karate practitioners during a 3-day gasshuku (training camp) in Wellington this month, and Sensei Nakamura is someone well worth listening to. He’s a trim 44-year-old Rokudan (6th degree black belt), Chief Instructor for Canada and the USA, and the Vice Chief Instructor and Administrative Director of the International Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-do Federation (IOGKF).
Six hours of training a day in Wellington provided ample time for specialist senior training for New Zealand black belts, as well as general sessions, and split sessions that meant every grade and age received specific instruction for their level. Sensei Nakamura’s 30 years of karate training, his fluent English, his humour and his affable nature make him an excellent teacher. His karate pedigree is impeccable, including three years of 6-8 hours a day training under the IOGKF Chief Instructor, the near-legendary Master Morio Higaonna (10th Dan).
The gasshuku was very technical, and even the most senior New Zealand and Australian dan grades present came away with new insights into fundamental karate principles. For me, Sensei Nakamura’s comments on how to generate striking power with maximum efficiency were timely and valuable as I search for ways to stay ahead of my younger, stronger, and fitter karate students. But detailed explanations were balanced with plenty of sweat and strain as all present were put through their paces and pushed to explore their own limits.
The weekend’s training closed with the challenge of doing one kata (form) over and over for 45 minutes; never slackening nor holding back any reserves. The wooden floor of the Victoria University’s gym grew slick with sweat as the repetitions of the series of blocks and strikes taxed endurance and forced a new appreciation of the importance of breathing control and economy of movement.
It was Sensei Nakamura’s first visit to New Zealand, but definitely not his last. Hopefully memories of hard training, many shared laughs, a few post-training beers, and the wonderful early morning sight of over a hundred dolphins in Wellington harbour, will lure him back soon – to the delight and the benefit of Kiwi karateka (just don’t remind him of scorpions)!