by AJS Member Roderick Martin | Japan Karatedo Federation Gojukai training 2023
With the borders once again opening up for international travel, the community of Karate practitioners around the world were once again invited to a Gasshuku in Akita and the world championships in Osaka 2023. Over 140 karateka from all over the world braved the heat of August to learn from the best in the world, for over 2 weeks.
For most of this Japanofile community of Karate practitioners, this was the first time in 4 years to head to Japan, we have all missed it so very much. The draw for us all is more than just the karate practice, it is going back to the source of the learning again, to be there under the watchful eye of the Federation, to once again test ourselves physically and mentally as we try to improve, to bring back the skills and knowledge of this fabulous art form.
There is something stunningly unique about going to the spiritual home of karate. The Japan/Australia relationship is a very powerful one with karate and dates back to the late 1960’s. It has led to Australians having a place in the Japanese karate heart and also to some of the best standard in karate outside of Japan for the JKF Gojukai.
The Hoshindo Honbu Dojo in Brisbane were once more able to send 5 dedicated sensei to the Gasshuku in Omagari, Akita. The chance to completely immerse in training, 6 hours a day for 6 days, brought back so many memories of the years past. Daily Zazen practice, breakfast in the Ryokan and to the Budokan early to stretch and warm up, were only hampered by the 36 degree temperatures and humidity off the scale. Pocari sweat didn’t touch the sides as we attempted to rehydrate .. a few people into hospital on the first day from heat stroke reminds us of the intensity and brutal nature of karate training.
For those who don’t know Omagari, it’s the last stop on the Komachi Shinkansen before you get to Akita. World famous fireworks, a stunning river through the middle, kind and generous people, it’s a fabulous place to rest and enjoy a sleepy little town. With Misato, known for its water (and therefore Sake) and Kakunodate close by, ski fields and Daisen Hospital, you would almost not know it was there. Other than it being the home town of the world famous Karate Sensei, Fujiwara Seiichi Hanshi, Chief Instructor of Gojuryu Seiwakai and Head of the International Committee for the Japan Karatedo Federation Gojukai.
This year was extra special with the introduction to a few days of learning with Ono Hiraku sensei and Nishiyama Kakeru sensei who are the genuine Karate power couple, with both winning the world championships in 2023. 2 days of training with these current world kata champions gave us the edge we all hoped for, it also humbled us to watch the way these two young people move and describe the art. We hope for the chance to bring them both to Australia for a seminar in the future to bring their energy to a new generation of young students.
My wife Malwina and I have been making the pilgrimage to Omagari every year since 2007. It has been part of our heart and soul for so many reasons. In the early days, we took our children (aged 3 and 5), every year they would patiently sit while we practiced. Later, they joined in the karate themselves, befriending the local Japanese children and enjoying the local food and culture! This year was a special year for Malwina and myself as we were given the opportunity to test for (Malwina) Rokudan and for myself to attempt Nanadan.
6 months preparation with Pilates, constant physio, dojo training and other almost seemingly crazy ideas brought us to the other side of the intense training, relatively, unscathed. It was time in Omagari to show our kata to the Heads of style.
In a test like that, courage over nerves, learning to relax and breathe are critical elements. Hearing your name called ‘Hai’ strongly, boldly you step onto the mat, willing your body to hold out, perform, shine! In a room where not everyone passes the tests, both Malwina and I were successful and were able to board the plane to Osaka with genuine joy.
Osaka JKF Gojukai world championships were held in Edion stadium in a sultry Namba. People everywhere, it is a huge change from Omagari, indeed the huge numbers of westerners are a shock.
Heading into the stadium on day 1, we are greeted by old friends from around the world. Good people we haven’t seen in years but have a history of training, sweating, competing with and going to the parties after.
Over 15 countries were present for the masters seminar this year, headed by the Grand seniors of the JKF Gojukai including Shiomi sensei, Teruya Sensei (both in their late 80’s), watched over by Ujita Sensei, the president of the Federation and the training taught so sublimely by the likes of Sato Sensei, Takegawa Sensei, Muramatsu Sensei, Tanaka sensei to name a few. These instructors are the past and present of Gojukai karate in Japan, their desire to impart the knowledge and the inner understanding of the body increases as our ability develops, the ability to translate and understand the nuance of culture and sport improves.
Day 2 sees tired bodies head to the venue to attempt Federation grades, those coveted numbers that Martial artists hold so dear but seem so far away. Again Malwina (now Renshi, 6th dan) repeat our performances in front of the technical grading panel of 70 year old veterans. Half of the 6th dan attempts fail where Malwina succeeds to become the first 6th dan Woman in Australia, indeed the Southern hemisphere.
Attempting 7th dan in front of a panel like this is daunting enough. Set aside that there are 17 wiling candidates, all over 50 years old and with a lineage of competition, support, teaching, successful student and more, some of these fabulous karate people were there for their 10th attempt. I set aside my own trepidation and went out to find myself standing next to Furakawa Sensei, 6 times world champion and the ‘Belle of the ball’ for teaching videos world wide.
Was it luck? Was it preparation? An open heart and a warm smile? We may never know but with 2 out of the 17 people passing the test, I am proud to say there is one more 7th dan Kiyoshi in the JKF Gojukai, this one based in Brisbane. We will continue to make this journey each and every year. The information sharing, the cultural bond, the language, the food, the joy of the people we meet along the way help build a life of fulfilment.
We are so very grateful to Fujiwara Hanshi and the people around us, we are humbled by those who have gone before and will continue to strive for those who come after us.
Domo Arigato Gozaimashite Japan