006 Training In Japan Part 5

In the previous podcast, I shared my Makiwara ‘Introduction’ to the ‘Real’ Goju Ryu Karate world of Higaonna Sensei and mentioned a few of the characteristics required to rise above just being another Karate Ka or Martial Arts practitioner! In the previous podcasts, I also mentioned my introduction to the Martial Arts icon, Don Draeger. I probably need to explain at this stage that during the few times that I was in Don Draeger’s presence and company, I learned more about the Japanese Martial Arts culture from him than from anybody else in my whole career. I recall another very prominent South African Shotokan Karate Ka, the late Sensei Nigel Jackson, making a similar remark a few years ago! There’s a popular saying in business or in any corporate and even creative type of environment that one ‘Needs to See the Big or Bigger Picture’ in order to align your own personal objectives and define your goals. Once you have the objectives and goals, you need to start searching for a road map to get there and then start to establish, formulate and adapt the methods and systems required and, most importantly, negotiate with yourself on how much time, energy and passion you are prepared to invest in this journey or personal odyssey! The ‘Road Map’, your starting point – is impossible to find without a Mentor or Teacher, and unfortunately, genuine Mentors or Teachers are becoming very scarce to find and the search for a real one is often blurred or side-tracked by selfish, egoistic self-interest and swamps of internet clutter! There’s a Chinese saying ‘He Who Speaks, Knows Not and He Who Knows, Speaks Not!’ – makes you think, doesn’t it! Another factor that complicates this search, is the commercial factor, which, on the one hand contributed largely to the expansion and preservation of the Martial Arts by allowing Teachers to practice their art as a profession and get food on the table this way instead of merely doing it part time, but on the other hand it is also a threat to true, honest, classical and traditional Martial Arts when the motive becomes financial profit at all costs, driven by intensive marketing and self promotion! Our system of Karate, Goju Ryu, literally means the ‘Hard/Soft system. It is pretty easy to understand and do the ‘Go’ or Hard part. The ‘Ju’ or Soft part is an absolute variable and totally unknown and you would only experience or witness this – if you are very fortunate – in a real ‘Master’ in the Martial Arts! The bad news is – there are just one or two of these Masters, with their roots in the ‘Old School’, left worldwide! I was very blessed to experience the ‘Bigger Picture’ on occasions, apart from experiencing Higaonna Sensei develop and transform over the years – remember, I started training with him when he was in his early thirties to the present! The first was when I was invited along with Terry and Denis by Don Draeger to visit the Jo Do Dojo – the Jo is a short staff as opposed to the Bo – the six foot staff. Don just dropped us of after the courteous introduction to one of the seniors and left. We sat down in Agura – crossed legs – at the side of the Dojo and watched some students going through sparring drills against each other. Two were really impressive with obvious speed and power in their strikes and parries, Yondans, I learned later. Trying to take my mind of my legs, which were going numb now, not yet accustomed to Agura for long periods of time, I noticed from the corner of my eye, an old man entering the Dojo, looking like maybe the cleaner person! We watched him appear from a curtained corner – the changing room – wearing a Hakama. He walked very slowly and difficultly, as one expects from a very old person, and shuffled to another corner where the Jo’s were kept. He took one out, shuffled over to the one Yondan, and mumbled something. They went into Kamae and the next moment, the Yondan attacked with full force – I was shocked at the speed and power of the attack onto this frail looking old man! But – the next moment, the old man moved, floating like a ghost out of the way of the attack and had the tip of his Jo against the young guy’s throat! I just realised instantly, that I am witnessing something that probably will only come along once in my lifetime – a real Master! The sparring went on for quite a few minutes, when they bowed and he turned to the other Yondan and the same thing – every time an attack came, he would float out of the way with absolute minimum movement and effort, either parry or avoiding the attacks and counter attacking without using any noticeable power or energy – true JU! The ‘old Man’ was none other than – Jodo Master Shimizu Takaji Sensei, this was five years before his death in 1978. An even greater bonus came about a few days later, when Terry invited me along to Narita area in Chiba prefecture (before the airport was built!), where Don Draeger lived, to meet up with him and another expert on the oriental Martial Arts, a known Budo journalist, Arthur Tansley. Don Draeger would introduce Terry O’Neill to the Terauchi family, the patriarch Terauchi Kenzo, a Master along with amongst other, the legendary Otake Rizuke in the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu – the oldest extant Bujutsu Ryu, founded in the Heian Period (794 – 1185) for an interview. I mentioned ‘introduce Terry to Terauchi Kenzo Sensei..’ I must explain: When you wanted to visit any traditional Dojo of whatever system, Karate, Judo, Aikido, Kobudo in those days, you needed an introduction from someone, almost like a sponsor – a ‘trusted’ person known to the Master or Sensei, before you were allowed to visit the Dojo – similar to Higaonna Sensei and Mrs Hasegawa introducing and ‘sponsoring’ me to Mrs Fukazawa. On another occasion, for example, I asked Higaonna Sensei if I could visit an Aikido Dojo not too far away from Yoyogi and it entailed that he first had to make a telephone call, explaining who I was and why I wanted to visit the Dojo, got permission to bring me along and then he accompanied me to the Dojo and we sat in Agura – the cross legged position – for the entire class we were watching for two hours! The trip to Chiba took a while and after a quick lunch with Don Draeger and Arthur Tansley, we continued to the house of Terauchi Kenzo Sensei. Once the introductions were completed, Terauchi Sensei showed us his family Samurai armour suit as well as his Katana (long sword) and Kodachi (short sword) all passed down for centuries of generations. Terry interviewed and Don translated and when Terauchi Sensei sensed that we were serious about Bujutsu, he instructed his son to get some stuff together! Out from everywhere – cupboards against the wall, underneath boxes in the wharehouse – came stuff! Hakama, jackets, Naginata, Bo, and Bokken! The house had a small courtyard or garden and we moved there. First, Terauchi Sensei performed an Iaido Kata with the live Katana, starting off knealing in Seiza, leaping into the air while drawing and cutting three times with the Katana, landing , spinning the blade and hitting it on the handle to shake the ‘blood of the blade’, putting the Katana back into it’s scabbard without looking or hesitating! The ‘put back’ is where many novices would cut themselves, as Iaido people would know! I saw demonstrations later through the years, but nothing that came remotely close to what I just saw!! I had goosebumps on my skin from witnessing something so ‘DIVINE’!! After finishing the Kata, we were treated to a demonstration by Terauchi Sensei, his son and Don Draeger to combinations of all the Kata Bunkai of the Ryu – Bokken against Bokken, Bokken against Naginata, Bokken Against Bo, Bo against Bo, No against Naginata. It was unbelievable to watch – some of you might recall that I posted some pictures on my Facebook page of this event – I was so overawed, I only remembered to take a few pictures towards the end of the demonstration! Again, it was shear poetry watching Terauchi Sensei in action whilst he demonstrated using the Bokken against all the other weapons without any visible effort and power, he would anticipate, move out of the way, block the attack and countered! It was almost as if he was floating on air! These two experiences are of the outstanding in my mind of the Bigger Picture of the ultimate Master level in Budo – it was pure, pristine, honest and effortless execution – the result of decades of pursuing excellence by these sincere and real people and these memories still to this day reflect in my mind daily, when I put on my Karate Gi to pursue excellence in my craft – traditional Karate!

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