Martial Arts tour of Japan 2005 By Merv Oakley
Sensei Oakley has regularly escorted groups of intermediate and senior students to tournaments and training workshops in Japan. One such group of 5 intermediate karate and novice Kobudo students departed Sydney for Tokyo on 20 May 2005. The planned itinerary included karate training at a Tokyo dojo before competing in a local tournament, followed by Kobudo training in Kyushu with Murakami Sensei.
Sensei Oakley was joined on the flight from Sydney by Akira Okado (3rd Dan), Dave Hancy (1st Kyu), Kathy Bryar (4th kyu) and Matthew Seisun (4th kyu). The group was joined at Narita airport by Max Razumkin, a student of Sensei Oakley's based in Singapore who returns to Sensei Oakley's dojo for regular karate and Kobudo workshops.
The group's first stop was a martial arts supplier in Tokyo where they purchased new dogi's and belts and sent them for embellishment with names and club details by silk embroiderers. Nunchakus were also purchased for training later in the trip and the group experimented with a range of exotic weaponry unavailable (and largely illegal) in Australia.
After a short period of acclimatization to Tokyo the team made its way to the dojo of Grand Master Katsuyuki Fukatoshi in Nishiara, north of Tokyo. Fukatoshi Sensei, like Oakley Sensei, was originally trained by Gogen Yamaguchi at the GoJu Ryu headquarters dojo in Ueno, Tokyo. Many people will be familiar with images of Fukatoshi Sensei presenting Russian president Vladimir Putin with a Karate Gi two years ago. Fukatoshi Sensei received his position as head of GoJu Karate in the Saitama prefecture directly from Gogen Yamaguchi in 1971. After a lifetime of training he has acquired a profound knowledge of the martial arts. His impressive resume includes: recipient of GoJu Kai Kyoshi status in 1971; All Japan karate Federation 8th Dan, received in 1993; All Okinawa Karate-do 10th Dan (Grand Master), received in 2000. He is an All Japan Karate Federation chief referee and an official Goodwill Ambassador on behalf of that organization, in which capacity he presented the award to President Putin. He is also widely respected in the community at large and is a recipient of multiple municipal and prefecture testimonial awards.
Following a warm welcome, introductions and refreshments, Grand Master Fukatoshi's senior student's demonstrated a variety of intermediate and advanced Kata. Fukatsohi and Oakley Sensei spent some time reminiscing about past events and personalities and discussing the development of karate in their respective countries. The team then enjoyed some Kumite training to sharpen their reflexes in preparation for the coming tournament.
The Saitama prefecture has a population of more than 7,000,000 people. The annual prefecture tournament attended by Sensei Oakley and his students was celebrating its 25 anniversary. It also served as a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the founding by Gogen Yamaguchi and Fukatoshi Sensei of the region's own GoJu Kai renmei (organisation). The large hall was festooned with proclaimitory banners. Several hundred students of all ages and grades had gathered to compete in Kata and Kumite. Sensei Oakley's students were wide eyed amidst the hustle and bustle.
After a period of speeches by local dignitaries and politicians, the tournament started with Kata. The group was impressed with the sharply honed precision of the senior black belts and the energetic commitment of the younger children. A few adolescent black belts demonstrated concentration and poise that belied their years. Sensei Oakley bad not planned on entering his students into the Kata section, however encouragement and requests from organizers convinced him to do so. His students, whilst relatively unprepared, acquitted themselves well with presentations of Saifa that earned in a third places.
The group was next stunned to see sweet little girls in ponytails and cherry cheeked boys of 6 and 7 launching at each other in full contact Kumite protected only by gloves. To Sensei's surprise the children's Kumite was not determined via points. Rather, an uninterrupted period of sparring was judged at its conclusion to determine the best performer. Almost as many tears as smiles ensued. Sensei Oakley remarked that he would not permit his younger students to engage in Kumite of that nature. He opined that the risk of injury is too great; and some of us questioned how enjoyable the children found it.
Kathy Bryar was first to compete from Sensei Oakley's group. To her surprise, her division merged all grades of kyus and clans; she had expected to compete in a 1st kyu and below group. In her second bout Kathy defeated the competing black belt and favorite. She went on to win her division and finish as the tournament's top female. Dozens of young Japanese girls gathered around her while their mothers snapped photographs. Their body language suggested that many would go home to practice Kathy's flashing Jodan round kicks and leaping strikes. For an Australian girl to win a gold medal in Japan fitting against female Dans is quite an achievement.
Max and Matthew competed in the men's 1st Kyu and below division. From opposite ends of the competition ladder they defeated all opposition before meeting in the final. Their friendship lent an energetic rivalry and fighting spirit to the bout and the Japanese audience ooed and ahhed at Max's spinning back kicks and Matthew's darting evasions. Ultimately, Max was the victor and Matthew gained silver.
The senior students in the group, Dave and Akira, had decided not to compete in the tournament, nursing minor injuries in anticipation of rigorous Kobudo training the following week. Overall, Sensei Oakley's intermediate students proved the equal or better of their Japanese grade equivalents. They next came up against the best the tournament could offer, and the results were instructive.
Max and Matthew were then teamed with Japanese competitors to form a team in the open men's team division. The Japanese black belts were vastly superior to their Kyu grade compatriots. The best among them employed high jumping kicks and low strikes with agility, speed and accuracy that betrayed years of practice and dedication. Both Max and Matthew were defeated however their team took away a satisfying second place. Eventually Fukatoshi Sensei's eldest son earned the prefecture championship in a display of controlled aggression that left all other competitors with much to aspire and practice towards.
Sensei Oakley teaches that all tournaments possess different characteristics and offer different learning opportunities. This tournament was no exception. The judges placed a premium on Jodan (head) strikes and kicks and seemed somewhat ambivalent to body blows. The scoring system was new to Sensei Oakley, a 40 year veteran of tournaments from Paris to Tokyo: a minor point, called a Yuko, was introduced, so that the point scoring system offered 3 (Ippon), 2(Wazari) or 1 (Yuko). Sensei Oakley's remembers the days when one strike could win a bout and the only illegal maneuver was eye gouging. His studied opinion is that a strike is a strike - there's no such thing as being half hit.
After the presentation ceremony our group was introduced to the audience and received a warm applause. This was in keeping with hospitality that had seen lunch and drinks provided during the afternoon and Sensei Oakley offered a place among the supervising dignitaries - an honor he declined in favour of remaining with his students. The greatest hospitality was reserved however for the evening, a night the team will long remember. The team was taken to a local restaurant and welcomed to a private dining room filled with most of the tournament's judges, regional Goju administrators, esteemed sensei's and Shihans' and senior black belts.
We are all looking forward to our next trip to Japan.