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Training In Japan

One of the positive things to come out of this crisis is that it gives you more time. I’m getting round to things that I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t because I get caught up in the fast pace of day to day life. One of these ‘meaning to do things’ is to share with you my experience of training in Japan.

This time last year, Sensei Simon McMahon and I were lucky enough to visit Japan for the first time. My son, Matt, was living and teaching in Tokyo so we decided to pay him a visit. He had found a dojo local to his home in Saitama (about 10 miles outside central Tokyo) and had been training there. He got permission for us to attend the dojo and for me to train with the class.

The training sessions are held in a school twice a week in the evening and on a Wednesday night, half-way through our trip, we travelled by train to Urawa, the district in which the dojo was situated. I felt both excited and nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but more than anything, I felt extremely privileged to be able to train in a Japanese dojo.

We found the school and entered the dojo where we were introduced to Sensei Kanda, who is the JKA instructor there. Matt’s colleague, Pete Kelly, acted as interpreter and I asked Sensei Kanda if I could train with them that evening. He agreed and also gave Simon permission to sit and watch.

The dojo was the size of two badminton courts with a shiny, spotless wooden floor. Around it were storage spaces filled with martial arts equipment, such as bags and kendo head guards. The class immediately felt very familiar as it had a mix of grades and ages, very like our own in the CFTS. The children were wary but curious and soon warmed to us. We knew this when they started ‘flossing’. They were cheeky and full of fun but they immediately came to attention as soon as Sensei Kanda spoke.

The class was split into two groups, 3rd kyus (brown belts) and Dan grades in one and the rest of the kyu grades in the other. Matt and I were asked to line up at the end of the Dan grades. Our Dan grade instructor was Sensei Tanaka. She was very friendly and welcoming and shook my hand.

We started with kihon, simple combinations, the same as those in our orange and yellow belt syllabus, one block, one gyaku-zuki and then gedan-barai. Sensei explained each technique and broke it down so that each part of it had to be executed correctly. The pace was fast and the students’ techniques very clean and crisp. The standard of karate was very high, and it didn’t surprise me that this club has produced a female world kata champion who still visits the club to train.

This was followed by kata – all the Heians, Tekki Shodan and Bassai Dai. There were quite few differences in the kata. For example, when performing shuto-uke, the non-blocking hand was placed in the sternum, as in the opening moves of Kanku Dai. In Tekki Shodan and Bassai Dai, kicks were replaced by leg raises, reminiscent of Sensei Funakoshi. The name of the kata was not announced and there was no audible breathing.

However, some things were exactly the same, particularly the corrections. Sensei reminded us to not to move our knee when performing gyaku-zuki at the beginning of Heian Godan, to keep our fists on our hips and not to bob up and down.

After kata came kumite, taught by a young male Dan grade, whilst Sensei Kanda continued to focus on the rest of the kyu grades. Some students put on mitts but we didn’t pair up; instead, we executed the techniques up and down the dojo. We were taught to drive forward, and then kicks and punches were added to form combinations.

The lesson ended with an English lesson for the whole class taken by Pete. He was helped by six of the young students who mimed emotions such as ‘hungry’, ‘tired’ ‘bored’ to the question, ‘What’s the matter?’ Everyone joined in, including Sensei Kanda, repeating the phrases in unison. It was a friendly light-hearted atmosphere to end the training session.

We then all knelt in Seiza and the register was called by one of the young Dan grades. There was then a period of meditation or motsu and we recited the Dojo Kun before Sensei Kanda took the formal bow. We were allowed to take a group photographs with all the students and Sensei. We thanked Sensei Kanda for what had truly been an honour. I will always be grateful for the the level of respect and kindness shown to us by Sensei Kanda and his students. Next time, Pete has promised to take me to the Honbu dojo, which I’m told is an entirely different experience!

Sensei Kanda's Dojo Class

Matt Waterhouse, Sensei Pam Waterhouse and Pete Kelly

Sensei Kanda

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