by Joel Castasus
In October 2022, Japan opened its border to tourists. This was fantastic news for anyone who wanted to visit Japan. To me as a karate practitioner, it was a chance to visit and train in Okinawa, the birthplace of karate. Thus in November 2022, this is what did, plus more…
There were a few amusing incidents along the way, such as missed flights, but the extremely helpful Japan Airlines staff quickly resolved these minor issues, and I arrived in Okinawa that afternoon. Perfect timing, as I had a few hours to sort out my hotel, have a bit of food, shower, and rest. I was then ready for my first training session at the Makishi Dojo.
At the Makishi Dojo, I joined the group of Steve Woolston Sensei, Sally Woolston Sensei, (both from Eastbourne, England Dojo), David Troup Sensei (Maine, USA), and Heinz Tessner Sensei (Grossefehn, Germany). We all trained together with Tetsuo Makishi Sensei, 6th Dan, and his own students. Although I was tired from a long flight, this had not affected my experience at all. I still remember how much I enjoyed Makishi Sensei’s teaching, and his innovative approach to Kihon and this is something I planned on taking back to Bristol to share.
The days that followed were a routine of three training sessions per day. Typically, a morning session began with Iwao Tome Sensei, 9th Dan, then an afternoon session with Masao Shinzato Sensei, 8th Dan, and finally an evening with either Toshimitsu Arakaki Sensei, 10th Dan, or Yoshitaka Taira Sensei, 10th Dan. Each and every session was gold, and I have something that I can take away and ponder later on. Whether it was a correction to my Kihon, movement, kata, history, culture, or practices from each dojo, I was very happy with what I received from each of the Senseis.
My schedule was free on Saturday morning. I managed to wander around and do some sightseeing on my own. I also took the opportunity to do some shopping for souvenirs at the Kokusai Dori and surrounding area. A single morning is not enough to do this, so I promised that I would come back again next time with sight seeing included on my list. However, at least I managed to get some lovely stuff for my family and friends.
In the afternoon, I joined the group again and together we all went to the Arakaki Sensei dojo to attend a training session. After nearly finishing a session, a group of students from mainland Japan joined us, and we did another class. This also happened about three more times, and I believe the class lasted about 5 hours. It was beautiful! Arakaki Sensei at his age, just 1 year away from being 80, was full of energy. He was and is a great inspiration and a true testament to a lifetime of dedication, as well as someone who lives and breathes karate. It was also a great pleasure to have met his lovely brother and train with his students. They were all cheerful and talented.
Apart from training and visiting Okinawa, my goal was to challenge myself and to take my Sandan exam. I was very nervous, to say the least. The grading panel consisted of the WMKA President / Chairman Okinawan Karatedo Federation Yoshitaka Taira, Hanshi 10th Dan, WMKA Vice President Toshimitsu Arakaki, Hanshi 10th Dan; and Iwao Tome, Hanshi 9th Dan. There were about 30 people in the room. The majority were taking their tests as well. Most were from mainland Japan.
This was a big opportunity for me, and I wanted to do my best. I’d wanted to be evaluated as a practitioner to see if I am progressing from my previous rank and to validate myself and what I’m teaching as a dojo owner as correct and up to standards.
The testing lasted approximately 5 hours. It was great to see everyone’s demonstration.
I both enjoyed it and learned a lot from it, especially when the panel made comments. It was excellent to see very skilled, eager young people and inspiring to see older people who demonstrated experience and spirit. This is a good indication that Karate is for everyone, that it is alive, and that it has a good future. I am happy that I have spent time with these people who share the same passion that I have.
When the testing had finished, the panel went to the other room, and we took a break while waiting for the panel’s decision. Then we were called back, and Taira Sensei began calling each candidate by name and making individual comments before telling them if they passed or not. At this point, I was no longer nervous and just happy that I was there while being grateful for the whole experience. If I had failed, then I would just come back and try again. Then Taira Sensei called my name and said that I had passed. Everyone then started clapping, and I was very pleased.
Here is the other side of Karate, which is in my understanding a big part of it. It is the eating and drinking with the extended karate family. A separate article will be needed on this topic, but for now, I am extremely grateful for the generosity of Arakaki Sensei, Mrs. Arakaki, and her sister. They were such a great hosts. The food was excellent, the conversation flowed, and the entertainment was great. All the international visitors were there, and all the guys from the mainland were there too. Because the hosts made the night very lively and because they were lovely and such happy people (no wonder they all look so young for their age), it was a perfect family night.
How do you end a perfect visit? This was by having a great workout with Taira Sensei. This last Keiko was a good wrap-up of my whole visit. His class structure and demeanor were and are a great inspiration for someone like me, who is a fledgling dojo owner. He runs a great technical class, a hard workout (but he still joins at his age, so no excuse) and he is very patient and caring, which showed when dealing with a young boy in our session. He’s a great role model.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. I tried to make this as short as possible, but I have too many stories and observations to tell. I tried to be in the moment at every moment during my visit. I’d like to savor it as much as I can. I think this is reasonable for the obvious reason, that this seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I would like to thank all the Sensei in Okinawa and their students who made us feel welcome. “Ichariba Chodee, those students from mainland Japan I met for the first time, it was great meeting you all.”Ichariba Chodee” Let us continue training hard, and we will see each other again. Thank you to all of my international friends who were there with me at the same time, Steve Woolston Sensei, Sally Woolston Sensei, Heinz Tessner Sensei, and David Troup Sensei, for making my trip a success and less stressful. Martin O’Malley Sensei, thank you for the opportunity and for taking my karate and dojo to where they are today. Thank you to all the students in Bristol who motivate me to keep going by training and supporting the dojo. And lastly, thanks to my kids and my wife for letting me go to Okinawa even though it was my birthday. This is one of those times I consider myself fortunate to have a wife who understands my passion.
Until our next visit, let’s keep training hard. See you again Okinawa!
Click on an image for a full-size gallery