This is the third part describing my arrival and training in Japan.
In the previous episode, I described my first two days in Japan!
First, a gruelling session in the Dojo the Saturday when I arrived and then the next day – on ‘Relax Sunday’ – being taken to watch a movie in Shinjuku by Higaonna Sensei and some Dojo members. The movie – ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ – all about a disaster at sea – a ship capsizing in a freak tidal wave! This, after I spent 25 days at sea and actually experienced the power of just merely a typhoon’s outskirts!
Little did I know then that this was not my last encounter with the might of the ocean – a much scarier experienced laid in stall in the not-so-distant future!
Let’s continue, starting with my third day after arriving – Monday.
I trained in my first class in the afternoon session, with every single muscle in my body still aching from the Saturday session! Luckily, Pat Telsrov was also training on Monday and he advised me on the customs and rules, do’s and don’ts in the Dojo.
Although very friendly and helpful, I still had the feeling that Pat and the senior black belt members in the Dojo whom I were introduced to, were a bit stand-offish, but I had other things keeping me busy during those first days!
Things like – acclimatising!
It was not so much the Tokyo summer heat, but the incredible humidity! Back home, we know heat of 30oCentigrade +, but the humidity was a new ball game! The constant nauseous and soaking wet feeling the moment one left any air-conditioned building, was an unknown! Later in my travels, I realised the intensifying of the heat and humidity as a result of the high buildings was par for the course in summer for most big high-rise cities worldwide!
I also could not understand why the sky was overcast daily, 24/7 – but no rain fell, just the pressing heat and humidity. I asked Pat about this and got my answer! It was not rain clouds causing the overcast, it was pollution!!
I was taken aback – first the experience at sea, 250 km out from the Japanese coastline with all the wall-to-wall waste floating in the ocean, and now the sky?
Coming from country three and a half times the size of Japan with abundant nature and open spaces, so pristine and clean 47 years ago as far as industrial development and waste was concerned, it was all new to me and I have to admit – scary!
It was frightening to witness rush hour point duty traffic policemen in the centre of Tokyo having to leave their little islands in the centre of an inter section every now and then to breath oxygen from a cylinder, then get back on again! Wearing a white T-shirt or shirt was a challenge – soon after starting to move and travell outside, a black ring would form on the collar!
The first time I actually saw blue skies in Tokyo, was when the monsoon season started, and the winds blew the pollution cloud out to wherever!
Anyway, I also had to do my alien registration with Sensei as my sponsor to be in Japan legally, as required from all Gaijin.
Every evening after training, Sensei escorted me back to his apartment because I was still unable to use the train system by myself and would get lost, for sure! Then, he would return back to the Dojo to stay there.
These night-time train rides were nerve wrecking for me at first – Sensei would fall asleep on a train the moment we sat down! I did not know which station we needed to get off and was afraid we might overshoot our station! I was also too wary to wake him up – In the beginning, I tried coughing really loud, but no luck! Many times, the trains being so jam-packed full, we were not even sitting close to each other!
But … like an alarm clock he would wake up the moment we stopped at the station where we needed to get off!
By the eend of the week, Sensei explained to me that we are going to look for a place for me to stay.
A very kind and dear elderly lady who worked in the restaurant next to the Dojo that was part of the property, Mrs Hasegawa, took me and Sensei to a friend of hers, a Mrs Fukazawa, an elderly music teacher who had an almost western style apartment with a spare room. The apartment – very small compared to back home!
After being formally introduced, Higaonna Sensei and Mrs Hasegawa explaining my motivation for being in Japan, Mrs Fukazawa agreed that I could move in – she had this small spare room – a three tatami room. A tatami is 3 feet x 6 feet, so the room was basically 9 feet by six feet – 54 square feet in total!
But the apartment had a shower and inside toilet, and it turned out to be paradise, as I later realised how lucky I was when seeing where other people stayed in similar sized apartments with communal toilets and neighbourhood bath houses!
Mrs Hasegawa stayed over as well the first night after Sensei had left and the three of us sat looking at each other – I spoke no Japanese, and they spoke no English – so, just foolish smiles all around and pushing little plates of food my way which I have no idea what it was – and ….. filling up my ‘small’ beer glass as soon as I took a sip! Strange to me at first, but later this ‘never pour your own drink’ custom was explained to me – again exemplary of manners and respect for each other and other people
As time went by, I started getting a basic grip on Japanese and Mrs Fukazawa had about ten dictionaries! By the time I left Japan, we could communicate almost fluently and was able to share so much about each other’s cultures and beliefs!
Mrs Fukazawa understood and appreciated my studying a Martial Art! She was a direct descendant of one of the famous Samurai War lords or Daimyõ, from the south of Japan – Shingin Takeda! She herself practised the art of Naginata (halberd or spear) in high school and university. Her younger brother whom I met soon after, trained Iai-Do, loved drinking and introduced me to the well-known Kuruda Bushi song – later a trademark of Terauchi Kazuo Sensei!
Her family homestead in the Kanzai area near Mt Fuji was 350 years old – the age of my country!
I only appreciated later in my stay how absolutely blessed I was ending up with this incredible lady, who taught me so much about Japanese culture and about being a true ‘giving’ type person and I was so happy when I was able to take my wife and mother to meet and stay with her upon a return trip in 1978!
Back to the Dojo!
I was getting into training now and trying to do two classes daily and also hung around for the ‘self’ training – Jibun de renshū -after the last class finished at eight o’clock in the evenings.
The classes were two hours long with breaks of between 30 mins and one-hour in-between, depending on the day of the week.
Training consisted of ‘Junbi Undo’, which Higaonna Sensei usually designated to some 1st kyu Brown belt or lower Black Belt and it would seem that they enjoyed showing how many push-ups, sit-ups, squats kicks and ‘bunny jumps’ they could do to impress the Gaijin!Junbi Undo would be anything from 20 minutes to half an hour long!
Higaonna Sensei believed in Kihon or basic training and we did at least 30 minutes to one hour of basics – attacking and defensive techniques done standing and moving and then combinations.
The level of the combinations would vary according to the level of the participants in the class – if there were more 10th to 3rd Kyu present, we would do loads of standing basics – off course, a lot in Sjiko Dachi, not a ‘favourite’ with us Gaijin, being taller and heavier and with different bone ratio in our legs, it was not easy, but after a month or two of grinding your teeth, your legs actually got a lot stronger!
Next, we would do Kumite, ranging from one technique standing and blocking to Sanbon or three attack, standing and blocking and then using the same techniques moving, again from one attack to Sanbon Ippon and Jiyu Ippon Kumite and sometimes Randori, depending on the level of the class. We did not do too much Randori in class – that was more for the senior free training after the last class.
After Kumite, it was Kata training, mostly taking one technique or combination from the Kata and doing it over and over ‘ Mo Ichi Do’! – Higaonna Sensei’s Trademark command! We would sometimes split up in levels for different Kata, but mostly start with the Gekki Sai Dai Kata and as we progressed to higher Kata, juniors would be made to sit down and watch the senior levels train Kata. Higaonna Sensei is a great believer in this way of teaching – ‘watch and learn!’
After the class, Sensei would maybe go out to eat and come back and do some one-on-one teaching or the most senior on the floor would take a few students for specific training, mostly Kata.
It is interesting to mention at this stage that the Yoyogi Dojo Senior was the only Yondan in the Dojo – there were about two Sandan, the rest were Nidan and Shodan. I was a Sandan at this stage.
I did have to adapt my intentions of doing two classes of two hours each plus the self-training afterwards daily, as the body simply could not maintain this. One class plus another one or two hours of the free training would be ample!
I am very sceptical about people claiming to do six hours daily training whilst in Japan – of course – there’s training and there’s training, but doing Higaonna Sensei’s training in those days, four hours was already very demanding on the body! – He was in his early 30’s then, so you do the math!
Also, adapting to a completely alien diet, was telling on the body!
I couldn’t understand why I felt so weak after two or three weeks, but then realised that my body was not getting the nutrition I was used to, so I started paying more attention to my eating habits and became very protein conscious – although it was expensive – from Sashimi to Yakitori, Tonkatsu, etc – it was expensive compared to a bowl of noodles.
The first ‘Makudonarudo’ – McDonalds – were around already in those days, one close to Yoyogi Station, so it was quite a treat to eat a Hamburger and an Ichigo Mirkoshaku(Raspberry Milk Shake) now and then – again, it was not cheap compared to local stuff.
Terry O’Neill and Denis Martin returned from one of their interview trips and were also now training sporadically in the classes in between their interviews in Tokyo itself, so more English conversation for me!
It so happened that Terry needed accommodation for about two weeks before he went back to England and Mrs Fukuzawa was so kind as to invite him to share my room for the period! Two fairly huge Gaijun in a three-tatami room! But it turned out to be fun.
One Friday evening during training in the last class, we were doing Jiyu (Free) Ippon Kumite training and I was working out with one of the Japanese in the class.
The training was a single timing, ‘surprise or random’ attack with any pre-arranged technique and the defendant had to block and counterattack against it. So, you needed to concentrate to anticipate and react. Timing was a factor, so the attack would be totally random – the idea not to signal your attack beforehand and then to catch the opponent with speed and timing before he sensed the nature of the attack.
Yoyogi Dojo had big sliding doors leading out onto the street and it was customary to find walkers-by stopping and watching training. As it was a Friday, there were quite a few spectators – my eye caught an elderly Gaijun or foreigner amongst them, but I was kind of busy defending my wicket against my opponent. Japanese relied a lot on speed when doing any kind of Kumite training against me and this guy was no exception, so I had my hands full and my mind on 100% concentration!
As the class finished, Terry and Denis arrived, and I just saw them speaking to the foreigner gentleman as we did our Moku So and finishing of the class (the sliding doors were the Shomen or front of the Dojo).
After cleaning the floor, I went across to them, who had entered the Dojo and was speaking to Higaonna Sensei. Terry introduced me to the gentleman I saw earlier outside – it was the legendary Don Draeger himself! Don Draeger, an ex US Marine from WWII, was the first foreigner ever to be registered as an instructor at the Kodukan, the headquarters of Japanese Judo and who had training Karate at the JKA Honbu Dojo when legends such as Senseis Kanazawa and Enoeda were still white belts!
He also wrote the most encompassing series of books on Classical and Modern Budo.
While I was still busy feeling very honoured by the introduction, Don Draeger turned to face me and remarked ‘you did a very impressive workout there!’
I was speechless and he continued to explain that, while watching the class, standing amongst the locals who did not know that he spoke Japanese fluently, he overheard them commenting how big, clumsy and slow the Gaijin on the floor (me) looked and how easy my Japanese opponent would beat me with speed!
He concluded with the words ‘..but, they soon became very quiet!’ He commented on my focus on technical correctness without relying on my superior power and size, and how I applied my power and speed very effectively for such a tall person!
Until this moment, I still regard that moment and that conversation as one of the absolute unforgettable high points or moments in my Karate career, not only because of the compliment that stroked my 23 year old ego, but because of an affirmation from this Martial Art Icon!
It was a confirmation from a Master in the Martial Arts that I was on the correct path in what I was trying to become and achieve in Karate!
Note! Trying to Become and Achieve! I am still daily trying on that path of ‘pursuing excellence!’