Okinawa honbu dojo visit – November 2011

By: Helmut Leitner - IOGKF Australia

I decided on very short notice to visit Okinawa again and arrived a few days later at the Naha airport. 

After clearing customs I was welcomed by Jan Stolz from Germany who arrived with Gerd Richter a week earlier directly from the China Wushu and gasshuku events.
It was nice to be back in Okinawa again and at the same time catching up with Jan and Gerd as we had not seen each other since the Halle gasshuku with Kuramoto sensei June 2010.
We headed straight for the monorail to my usual Apartment at the Kina–Refine in Asato.  A few minutes later we were off to the Starbucks Café for my first” Macha Tea Latte” and to catch up on the latest. 

After a few hours rest it was time for the first honbu dojo session and I was not disappointed, Higaonna sensei as always seems to find new ways to push us to our limits.
There was certainly no time to ease off,  a Malaysian  film crew shooting a documentary for the first few days certainly contributed  for Sensei  to  raise the bar a notch. 
At the completion of the documentary Higaonna sensei rewarded us all by throwing a combined sayonara and welcome party at a traditional Okinawan eating place with a great variety of local foods.

The next day we had the day off training as Higaonna sensei was otherwise engaged, hence Kuramoto sensei and his female student Shoko were kind enough to take us to Anichi Miyagi sensei’s grave outside Nago. 
We were surprised to find the grave site in a slight state of neglect and straight away went to work by clearing the access to the tomb before paying our respect to Aichi sensei.
It was quite a moving experience as we each of placed some flowers and had a moment of silence at the grave.

Many of us visiting Okinawa regularly can be very grateful to Kuramoto sensei for his outstanding hospitality and support during our stay, he is always trying his best to make our stay a pleasant experience, showing us around Okinawa, introducing us to its culture and cuisine, not forgetting a few headaches to go along with it some mornings after indulging in the local spirits.

Off course it is not all about socializing, in the first instance we all come here to improve our karate.

For my part this time was probably the most successful of all my visits with regards to training and personal improvement.

I was lucky enough to be taken along by Jan and Gerd to private kata classes with Yamashiro sensei and also continue to do so after their departure.  This was probably my most intensive and detailed kata training in all my years of practicing karate, Yamashiro sensei is such an outstanding kata teacher.

He explained minute details and invited us to feel various muscle groups of his body while performing individual kata movements and techniques to make us better understand the importance of correct posture, timing, kime, muchime etc. in kata.
Yamashiro sensei certainly helped me to understand and improve my katas immensely, however I have a long road ahead to apply and practice all I have learned from him.  My mind is willing but …
I can highly recommend seeking out any opportunity to train with Yamashiro sensei  if you ever see the chance to do so.

One day we decided to go to the Budokan for some ground fighting practice courtesy of Jan and Gerd, this was my first introduction to it, enjoyed it immensely..
Both are excellent and experienced Goju as well as MMA teachers back home in Germanyand are hosting several seminars/gasshukus with high ranking instructors throughout the year
You can find more information about Gerd's and Jan's dojos at  http://www.shu-ha-ri.de/ and http://www.budokan-halle.de/..

Another highlight at the Budokan was meeting an old Iaido Master - Hamamoto-sensei with one of his students during practice. They were very friendly and approachable and even allowed us to take some pictures with their razor-sharp swords, as well as giving us some history and background of their art.

During this visit I was also fortunate to have many evening classes of kata training with Higaonna sensei, virtually covering every Goju kata in great detail with countless Moichido’s to go along with it. Off course not forgetting the many spiritual and sweat sessions pushing us to our limits with saturated gi’s at the end of each night.

Sensei seems to be in high spirit and getting stronger every time I see him again, he still practicing hard daily, I usually started my afternoon training just when sensei finished his training and appreciated his encouraging ”Gambate” as he left the dojo.

A few days before my departure a friend and student of Higaonna sensei from the sixties arrived at the dojo, Juichi Kokubo sensei was sensei’s assistant in the old Yoyogi days and is currently the IOGKF chief instructor of Peru for many years. He took us through some quite strenuous and unusual stretching exercises, still felt the effects a few days later.

At the end of my last night’s training I asked Higaonna and kokubo sensei to join me for a later dinner at a local noodle house, sensei entertained us with some interesting history pre IOGKF days and after taking Higaonna sensei back home he presented me with a hand written plague.

As always, after training some time at the honbu dojo I am walking away realizing how much more effort I need to put in to my training, how much more attention to detail I require and how many of my bad habits have to be worked on.