I continue in this second episode on my stay and training Karate in Japan, from the moment when my ship I arrived in Tokyo Bay!
We docked in Kawasaki at six o’clock in the morning after a night of no sleep, because of the excitement of the arrival – floating slowly into a brightly lit Tokyo bay towards our mooring, watching the pilot coming on board and steering the ship through the channels in the bay, past Yokohama, finally watching tugboats pushing and securing us to the quay, watching the stevedores tie up the ship to the moorings – all the time having a feeling that this is a moment in time in my life that will be remembered – imprinted in my mind forever!
I was filled with a cautious anticipation and also overwhelmed by the intensity and magnitude of life around this bay at that time of the morning!
Compared to Cape Town port back home, everything here was so different!
The intensity of the stevedores and other workers in the docks – so competitive and productive – caught my attention! No-one sloughing or slacking, just getting things done quickly and effectively!
I must explain at this point that back home, life pretty much came to an end around about 10 o’clock in the evenings starting up again round about 6 o’clock in the morning.
This ‘City that Never Sleeps’ syndrome was really beyond my frame of reference!
The only big international city I ever visited before this, was Paris, France the year before and I was there for a very short time, so did not quite experience the 24/7 nature of it!
This was long before mobile phones and computers, so before I left South Africa, I wrote a letter to Higaonna Sensei with the details and contact number for the ship’s agents Tokyo and an estimated date of arrival. So I was kind of anxious whether somebody was in fact going to be there to meet me!
But only about two or three hours after we docked and the cargo was being offloaded, Higaonna Sensei arrived and came on board the Sugela accompanied by Pat Telsrov, a Nidan training at YoYogi Dojo at that time. Pat was originally from Minnesota and had finished his service in Vietnam in the US Marine Corps a few years before.
Upon introducing myself, I got the feeling that Pat regarded me a bit skeptically, and I discovered some time later why this was so!
After saying goodbye to the crew of the ship, the three of us left by taxi for Tokyo, it really felt weird walking on solid earth again!
We went to Higaonna Sensei’s apartment where I was going to be accommodated until I found a place to stay.
This was one of the situations where Higaonna Sensei’s unbelievable warm human side struck me – I figured out later that he had arranged that his wife would stay over with a friend and he would sleep in the Dojo, so I could stay in his apartment until I found accommodation of my own!
Higaonna Sensei’s apartment was the first of many cultural shocks to come! So unbelievably small!
It was the size of a mobile camper back in South Africa! I was bumping my head on the ceiling and walking into the walls – like a gorilla in a submarine!
In South Africa, we took space for granted, so this was the beginning of a new regard and appreciation for a lot of things I had accepted before as simply being a given!
My amazement started with the complete difference from life back home – the Tatami floor, no chairs, sitting, eating, sleeping on the tatami floor, a simple bamboo pillow or head rest – sitting with legs crossed!
A lot of getting used to was lying ahead, not mentioning the language and food! In South Africa, we grew up on meat – we ate loads of meat, in Cape Town, some fish, but our portions were huge!
Little was I to know how long it would be before I ate meat again!
Sensei explained to me that he needed to go to the Dojo to teach a class – it was Saturday and there was only one class at 18:00 and that he will only be back pretty late to make me dinner.
I asked Sensei if I could come along, just watch the class and maybe after the class, when the Dojo was free, just do some stretching by myself to shake off my sea legs.
He agreed, so off to my next couple of newbies – the Japanese Railway and subway system and Wall to Wall people on the stations and everywhere!
Tokyo was much smaller then -12 million inhabitants – compared to 25 million today! But in South Africa, three times the size of Japan, the entire population of the country was 23 million!
We got to the Dojo, which was right next to a railway line. Every time a train passed by, the whole Dojo would vibrate! It took few weeks to get used to this!
I sat and watched the class, not a big class because of the weekend, which ended at eight o’clock.
Higaonna Sensei left for a meeting and told me he would not be long and to wait in the Dojo. About five or six black belt students hung around on the floor and did some self training.
I got changed, bowed and started stretching a bit at the back, when one of the guys on the floor, who arrived after the previous class and had a bit of an air of authority around him, called ‘Shugyo’ ‘Line Up!’ and everyone lined up. They looked at me as well, so I also fell in! I understood that we were going to be training senior Kata together.
I did not know how to explain that I just got off a ship after 25 days, etc. and I thought a little Kata couldn’t do any harm, all the time hoping for Sensei to come back so I could go home and get sleep!
Again I got that funny feeling that I was being regarded very skeptically – almost hostile!
45 minutes later of doing the Kata Sepai over and over – again I got in touch with the phrase ‘Mo Ichi Do!’ meaning ‘One More Time!’ – I had learned this phrase the hard way when Higaonna Sensei’s was in South Africa!
My lungs were burning by now and I was drenched in sweat in the hot humid conditions, dehydrated, as I was told not to drink any non bottled water and felt a bit like fainting, when finally the senior – Mr Yozuo Ito – the Dojo Sempai Dai or Senior – called ‘Yame’ – Stop!
I thought ‘Thank Heavens, it’s over’ – but … surprise surprise – we started free sparring!
I thought OK, just take it easy and try and stay on your feet, but …. my first opponent flew into me like he wanted to bury me right there! There were no holding back in his attacks – I immediately realised that if I did not block or got out the way, my nose, ribs or groin would be gone!
I reciprocated in kind – I could fight – after all, I did fight in the World Tournament one year before!
Let me explain at this point that Dojo sparring in the ‘old days’ was pretty much full-on under normal circumstances!
When there was a respect or attitude issue – a junior not showing respect to a senior member, or someone not showing respect to his/her colleagues, it could get brutal!! Ribs, noses were occasionally broken, the odd tooth knocked out and everyone wore an athletic groin protector for a reason!
Every time we changed partners now, the same happened – the new opponent would fly into me with everything he had, while I noticed they were taking it easy when going against each other.
I was a bit surprised at their lack of street-smart – I was taller than any of them and they fought me with completely the wrong strategy by just rushing in and attacking, which made counter attacking easy. But they kept me moving constantly, which did zap my energy!
This must have gone on for at least 30 minutes – it felt like hours though – one or two more guys had also arrived in the meantime, bowed, warmed up briefly, got on the floor and started joining in – fresh!
Meanwhile, form the corner of my eye I noticed that two westerners had also entered the Dojo and sat down in the corner and watched.
It was an old acquaintance of mine – Terry O’Neill from England, editor of the prominent Martial Arts magazine, ‘Fighting Arts’. With him was Denis Martin and the two of them had, in fact, just arrived back from Okinawa, covering articles on Okinawan Karate for the magazine.
I by now realised that I had a maximum of five minutes left in my tank and the next time Mr Ito said Yame, I bowed and started moving towards the changing room area.
But just then, a person appeared in front of me coming through the little curtain that covered the entrance to the changing room with an insignia or logo on his Karate Gi that I did not know – I bowed to greet him, but he bowed and got his hands up for sparring!
I thought, ok a couple more minutes! The next moment he let fly with a spinning back kick to my groin area, and although I saw it coming, my body was too tired to get out of the way completely – he caught me just above the pubic bone, full blast, I was moving sideways, so the kick was deflected to an extend, but I thought, that’s it – I won’t survive this for the next five minutes or so, and flew into him with everything I had!
I remember using the exact same spinning back-kick to his stomach and knocked him down (it was one of my best techniques in those days and I could do it deceptively fast for my size and ‘slow’ appearance!) I then grabbed him as he stumbled up and ended up by pushing him against – almost inserting him into – one of the shoe racks in the side of the Dojo.
I stepped back, bowed to him, said ‘Thank You’ bowed to the Sempai Dai and Dojo and got off the floor into the changing area, feeling like getting sick any moment!
Just them Terry O’Neill came in to greet me and said in his Liverpool accent ‘Congratulations Bakkus, you just f’ed up the All Japan Shito Ryu Champion!’
It turns out that this guy had won this major Style title two weeks before in a tournament in Tokyo!
i should explain that a lot of students from other styles trained at YoYogi Dojo in those days because they held Higaonna Sensei in such high regard and they enjoyed the no-nonsense, traditional type training there. Also, very few students wear a logo on the Gi, so it was only possible from watching their techniques, to ascertain that they were from another style!
Terry was one, although he was a Shotokan man, he trained at YoYogi Do when visiting Tokyo and loved Higaonna Sensei’s training and him. as a person!
I got changed, sweat still running like water of me. Higaonna Sensei returned, had a short meeting with Terry and Denis and we eventually had something to eat after which Sensei accompanied me home where I slept for 12 solid hours!
I learned later that, had Higaonna Sensei been there, this hostile reception would have been totally taboo, but when the cats away ……..!
The next day at noon, Sensei fetched me and we went to meet some Dojo members at Shinjuku. Luckily, Pat was there to translate! We went to see a movie as it was a day to relax!
The movie was in English with Japanese sub-titles and it was called … The Poseidon Adventure!! Lucky I did not see it before the 25 days Bak75264
boat trip from South Africa!
My first two days in Japan I will never ever forget!