Due to the covid pandemic, it had been three years since students were able to visit Okinawa and receive corrections and instructions from their seniors. In November this year, however, I was able to undertake the journey along with my wife, Sally Woolston. We run a small dojo in the South-East of England and in the past have travelled regularly to Okinawa; this would be my 11th trip since first visiting in 2010.
It’s been a difficult couple of years for us, as it has been for everyone, but at last the restrictions were slowly lifted and we were able to spend 10 days on ‘the Island of karate’ once more. Flying out of London Heathrow Airport on Saturday, the 12th of November, we were looking forward to arriving and checking into our hotel in the center of Naha, located near to the bus terminal.
Plans, however, always seem to have a way of keeping you on your toes and we missed the connecting flight from Tokyo Haneda to Naha due to being stuck in a massive queue for immigration processing. The result of this was us having to frantically try to book a hotel in Tokyo, somewhere near to the airport, at 9 pm at night! Anyway, we did it and flew out from Tokyo bound for Naha at 7:30 am the following morning.
Thankfully, we didn’t miss any of the training sessions that we had arranged in advance, as the first of these was on Monday evening with Taira Sensei. From that initial class onwards, we worked hard and spent the remainder of the trip soaking up the various advice and corrections that we were lucky enough to receive from Taira Sensei, Arakaki Sensei, Tome Sensei and Makishi Sensei. The evenings were spent after class, back in the hotel room, making sure that notes were fully documented.
One of the aspects that made the trip so memorable on this occasion was due to being in Okinawa at the same time as other karate-ka (and good friends) from USA, Germany and England. We met daily and trained together, working hard to motivate and encourage each other. We travelled to each of the dojos together, usually by bus, and it really did help to make a huge difference. I am extremely grateful for their friendship and support.
Before we all returned home to our respective countries, we had the opportunity to test for our next karate grades and although obviously nerve-wracking, we had trained hard in the lead-up to that day and thankfully everyone passed their various promotions. In all there were a total of 17 people grading on the Sunday, ranging from 1st Dan to 6th Dan. It is reassuring to know that the future of Matsubayashi-ryu in the WMKA is in such a positive place.
As is always the case, the journey home was far too long and the jet-lag most unwelcome, however without these sacrifices we would never be blessed with the attention and knowledge that our seniors see fit to grace us with. All we can ever say, although it never seems to be enough, is “domo arigato gozaimasu, Sensei”.
As a final note, in order to be considered for promotion to 6th Dan, I was required to write and submit an essay and I chose to reflect on the subject of how karate had so strongly influenced and indeed shaped my adult life. Both Sally and I started our karate journey in 1994 – 28 years ago now – and when I think about how much of an impact the journey in karate has affected me in a positive way, it is something that I consider and talk about often when in class. When I have the opportunity to visit and train under the watchful eye of Sensei and Sempai in the various dojo in Okinawa, it continually affirms not only how far I have come, but more importantly how far I still have left to go on this ‘journey’ of ours – it truly is never-ending.
This realization is both daunting and exciting in equal measures, and I remain so grateful for the opportunities that I continue to receive from the study of traditional Okinawan karate-do and specifically as proud members of the World Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate-Do Association.
Click on an image for a full-size gallery: