Okinawa Trip December December 2009

BY: Sensei Linda Marchant – IOGKF 6th Dan, IOGKF England – EGKA

IOGKF senior Instructor, Sensei Linda Marchant, recently returned from her most unique visit to Okinawa, where she received a more personal experience. Documented are Sensei Linda’s experiences of training in Higaonna Dojo, practicing Zazen and travelling beautiful Okinawa.

I was really looking forward to this trip, just to be able to enjoy the training and Okinawa at an even more relaxed pace than usual because there was no Gasshuku! So it would just be Maroulla and I on holiday!

As always, Higaonna Sensei, Yamashiro Sensei, Kuramoto Sensei and the students of the Higaonna dojo all extended such a warm welcome.

When I arrived I was honoured that Higaonna Sensei took time out of his day to show me around his museum. One item of particular interest was his treasured collection of old manuscripts written by a Samurai some 300 years ago. The Samurai was travelling by sea when the ship he was travelling on was blown off course to Okinawa. He carefully documented people’s belongings, supplies and conversations. One document worthy of noting was his comments on the Okinawan people as quite small, but strong, and that their punching and kicking was impressive. This is evidence of a very early account that Karate was practised at this time.

Higaonna Sensei is also researching the History of Karate and Goju-ryu, very carefully as there are instructors names that are very similar. Some of these have been confused in the lineage - Kanryo Higaonna and Kanyo Higaonna is a perfect example. So Sensei is retracing events and the timelines to ensure that they are accurate. This very painstaking and time consuming work, particularly when it comes to reading all the articles from newspaper clippings, old manuscripts, as well as trips to China to piece the puzzle together. When I read history books, I get a sense that sometimes I have not appreciated the amount of effort that goes into writing them; it has to be a labour of love!

For me, training is my passion and I love my first day when I arrive at the Higaonna dojo to be met with the wonderful smell of the wood of the floor, (which has now had the holes repaired!) reminding me of the great sessions and the intimacy of training that you experience here.

It is a good feeling just to train for yourself and to enjoy exploring the Kata and Hojo Undo, which I don’t get time to do so intensely at home. As the temperature was a very pleasant 25 degrees Celsius, there was no real acclimatisation, other than jet lag to get over. From the evening trainings with Higaonna Sensei, I would always have some pointers that I could practise the next morning, which is an ideal way to train so as not to forget the details. I was also delighted to have an impromptu 1 to 1 Kata session with Sensei as he was passing by the dojo on my last day!

I was also able to include some Zazen meditation at the Zendo temple this time. The Zendo temple is situated next to Shuri castle and on the way is the high school that Miyagi Chojun Sensei attended and used to run to in the morning. It was an early rise to meet Higaonna Sensei at 05:00hrs at the dojo, but only a short taxi ride. We went with Kuramoto Sensei and Raphael on the first visit and it was their very first time (my third time at the zendo and 4th practise in total). Higaonna Sensei kindly took some time before the session to show us the correct etiquette and posture so that when we started we would be ready. The session starts at 06:00 but you are usually sitting about 10 mins beforehand to get into your posture. Then the sound of the blocks starts a 20 min session, followed by the sound again, then you can adjust your position and stretch your legs ready for the next one of 15 mins.

Unfortunately for my legs on this occasion we ran quite a lot over in the first session at which point my left foot was completely numb! Afterwards we experienced a formal breakfast with the Roshi of a cake and green tea and then a 20 min lecture. Although all in Japanese, so I couldn’t understand, word for word, I still got the gist afterwards from Raphael and Kuramoto Sensei that he talked about the road to peace.

I attended the Zendo another two times with Higaonna Sensei and on all occasions I got a different experience. It is hard to sit still both physically and mentally but I did get a feeling of being more ‘centred’ after all the sessions.

I also had time for some sightseeing with Maroulla around Naha and we walked the length and breadth to visit markets, pottery shops and the town beach! Whilst I was training in the morning Maroulla would go exploring the markets, particularly the food, (as cooking is her passion), where she would find and taste some quite extraordinary delicacies and we would then go there together so that I could experience these as well! We also revisited the Aquarium which is about a 2 hour drive from Naha that Kuramoto Sensei very kindly hosted. We were also joined by Uehara Sensei who trained with Higaonna Sensei in the Yoyogi dojo in the early seventies, and who have known each other for 40 years! Uehara Sensei was also in some of the early books and videos that I have copies of and so it was wonderful to meet him and share such a nice trip together. We rounded off that day in a local Awamori house for a traditional Okinawan meal, including sushi and seaweed!

Other socialising we fitted into the trip was spent visiting Mama san’s (an old Awamori house across the road from our hotel), having a very late dinner with Kuramoto Sensei at his Boxer friend’s bar with his ‘walking’ friends (one of which has just taken up goju ryu at the age of 70!) and going out for a sayonara party curry with Higaonna Sensei, Yamashiro Sensei and Kuramoto Sensei, Brent and Thwhiti – it felt like being in Tooting (the area that I live in which has a vibrant South Indian and Sri Lankan community, particularly the restaurants and food stores!!)

Coming home this time I felt more calm, rested, energised, motivated and inspired. Maybe it was the stillness of Zazen and the movement of Goju-Ryu that are a complete balance that I am now starting to appreciate. Or maybe it was the friendliness of the Okinawan people and their relaxed way of life meaning that you have to slow down to their pace. It might have been that both ends of the day are for living in harmony with yourself and with others. Maybe this was the peace that the Roshi was talking about?

I now look forward to practising this all again very soon. I will be in Okinawa in February for the Chief Instructors Gasshuku and I can’t wait!