Back in the Dojo, I was in my third week and slowly getting used to conditions and training. Still battling with the completely different diet and really longing for a big juicy South African Steak, to which I was accustomed! The larger parts of South Africa were meat producing areas and meat, mutton, pork and beef was very much staple food for us – for salad, you would have chicken! But steak was unaffordable in Tokyo! A 500gram steak in South Africa in 1973 would set you back roughly USA$2.00, but in Tokyo, at very selected restaurants, a 200gram steak would start around USA$40 – rough!
So it was noodles and rice from street café’s to fill up with and edamame, pork and chicken for protein – and the odd Big Mac (which had probably more soy than actual meat in the patty! !
I went for my fist Sushi with Denis Martin and some guys from the Dojo and was horrified! Raw fish! Only cats ate raw fish in South Africa in those days – totally unheard of back home! Remember, the world was young and South Africa had no television before late 1977, 1978.
Little did I know how crazy I would become about this dish until I went of grains completely – a story for another day – but I still am nuts about Sashimi!
At this time, I was delighted to learn from Terry that some South Africans would be coming to Tokyo! The big JKA Shotokan organisation was holding their annual ’World Tournament’ in Tokyo and some of my Shotokan friends from South Africa were going to be there – amongst others Karate legend – the late Sensei Stan Schmidt and the late Eddie Dorey – the reason why I wear a moustache – later more on this one – the late Ken Whitstock and my good friends Norman Robinson and Robert Ferriére.
It is interesting to comment at this stage that really good friendships was prevalent between individuals of the different Karate styles in South Africa at that stage – I am still friends through all these years with many of those guys.
I would believe that a few factors contributed to this. Most of the senior guys in South Africa from the different styles with roots in Japan, could physically handle themselves in a fight. Sandans, Yondans in the major styles in those days, could actually fight when it came down to it – that’s why most of us started Karate – to take care of ourselves in the street!
So when we had an All Styles tournament, such as trials for a National team, it was rough! We really threw everything we had at each other during tournaments, as we realised that anyone could beat anyone on a given day.
To give you an idea – also keep in mind that fights were Shobu Ippon in those days, the first one to score a full point, wins – in 1969 in a South African National Games tournament, I cracked an opponent’s ribs with a Mae Geri – the front kick, through his gedan block – knocked him down!
The head referee called Yamé and called up all the other referees as we knelt down, my opponent holding his ribs but maintaining himself – showing pain or fatigue to an opponent, whether in the Dojo or in a tournament, was totally against the codes we lived by then!
I could hear the referees discussing the possible point or disqualification. I clearly heard one referee remarking that the kick was not too well focussed – more of a push, so they only gave me a Waza Ari or a half point! The other guy could not continue, had to be helped off, so I was awarded the fight! We kind of fought for real! And we respected each other’s abilities, styles and Teachers.
When Higaonna Sensei visited South Africa and stayed over in Johannesburg before coming down to Cape Town, he was always invited by the late Sensei Stan Schmidt to teach a seminar or session at the JKA Dojo! Similarly, Terry O’Neill trained at Yoyogi Dojo when he visited Japan, as he had tremendous respect for Sensei – some of you will remember him from the 2016 Budosai in Okinawa as Higaonna Sensei’s guest. Yoyogi Dojo was frequented by persons from other styles, some on a regular basis, Shotokan, Wado Ryu, Shito ryu Goju Kai, etc., as I mentioned in the incident with the Shito Ryu Champion previously.
As I recall, I think there were basically seven major styles of Karate in South Africa at that time in four major style blocks and it’s interesting to note five decades later, how these major styles splintered up through the years! Goju Ryu alone now has about 30 different organisations in South Africa at present! This is also an international phenomena.
There are many reasons for this, but I guess commercialism must head the list, apart from personality clashes, ego and politics and don’t forget plain stupidity! The Martial Arts unfortunately has the ability to attract – apart from top quality, real sincere persons – really weird individuals as well! One also has to guard yourself constantly that you yourself do not become bigger than the Art! In a later episode, I will elaborate more on this statement.
Back to the upcoming tournament in Tokyo! South Africa had a team of five persons there in total, and Sensei Stan Schmidt asked me to be their reserve in the team event, in case someone had to drop out because of a serious injury. Nobody got injured, but it was a good experience and again showed the goodwill between major styles!
I have seen and met one or two of the top Japanese in Paris the year before at the 1972 WUKO World Championships, where the JKA style team represented Japan according to their national selection system. They were a bit notorious afterwards as they caused quite a stir by walking out of the tournament after being beaten by England in the preliminaries of the team competition.
So it would be interesting to watch them participate on their home soil – well-known names like Tanaka Masahiko, Oishi Takeshi, Abe Keigo, Yahara Mikio – a good friend of Terauchi Sensei!. Another exciting event would be demonstration fighting bouts by some of the senior Senseis such as my previous JKA teacher, Shirai Hiroshi and Karate icons Kanazawa Hirokazu, Enoeda Keinozuke and although demonstrations, their quality was obvious!
After the tournament, being the reserve, I went to the Sayonara Party, enjoyed the company of old friends and just stuffed myself with so much free food and beer!!
It was a bit sad to be alone when the South Africans and Terry had departed – just Pat Telsrov and Denis Martin speaking English at the Dojo! Training was great, intensive and the summer was now really kicking in – the heat went up even more!
In the Dojo there were also some other interesting characters – one, the Uchi Deshi – literally translated ‘living in’ or apprentice instructor assisting the Sensei, none-other than Kokubo Jiuici Sensei currently from Peru! He was a Nidan I guess and he was responsible for the neatness and discipline in the Dojo and to take some classes for Higaonna Sensei to help out. There was also an obnoxious, well-built and strong for his size Brown belt – Terauchi Kazuo Sensei! He did not like Gaijin, but we got to understand each other in due course and are friends to this day!
Let me describe the cloakroom – it was no room, it was a walkthrough between two buildings about three meters wide with some kind of a roof on the Dojo side. You only changed in and out of your Gi there and it was customary to hang your Gi there after training to dry out before the next day. The few senior black belts – Sandan and Ito had a separate tiny room inside the Dojo, but I was not invited to use it in 1973 – that came later on a return visit – again more about this in a future episode!
Interesting to note was the fact that after a week or two in Japan, your sweat was pure water and did not smell much, so you could leave the Gi hanging in the cloakroom until the next day – at your own risk! The risk being Kokubo san walking through the cloakroom and throwing out all the smelly and obvious dirty looking Gi’s as well as those of people who have not trained for a long time, into the small passage in front of the Dojo to the side!
A very strange and unpretentious guy and still a great friend of mine to this day! He was a fitness fanatic and loved running
Occasionally on Friday and Saturday evenings, he would take the last class running as part of the class or after class to nearby Harajuku or Yoyogi Koen or Park, where the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held.
It was not so far to run, but a couple of things complicated matters:
One – We ran in a bundle, almost military style; Two, we ran with our Karate Gi’s on and Three, we ran bare feet through the streets, which were quite busy on a Friday or Saturday evening!
During the first run, Denis and I were really tired afterwards, as we ran quite far before turning around at an awkward slow pace and constantly taking care not to step onto someone’s foot, etc. We had blisters on the feet afterwards – so more uncomfortable training the following week! Pat had been there longer than us, was as tall as the locals, an ex-marine so he just did what he was told to do – sir, yes sir!
So Denis and myself strategized – the next time, we made sure that we were in the front and were the pace setters! We used our long legs to stretch the strides and went a lot faster in the process than what the Japanese were used to! A lot of complaints came from the pack behind us, but we played deaf! So the command to turn around came a lot sooner than previously! This would be our tactic in future to ensure coming back at a reasonable time and not forty minutes after the class was supposed to end!
Living and training in Japan in those days was a lot different than today, when everyone goes to Okinawa and stays in air conditioned luxury hotel rooms with breakfast and all amenities – internet, emails, etc and the hardest part is the training itself! Back in the 70’s, the training was just another and often, the easier to cope with, hard part of being there!
After explaining the harmony between the different organisations and styles, and the top quality Karate Ka in all of these, I want to conclude with the statement that a style and organisation is not as relevant as your actual Teacher!
It’s Not the Style, it’s the Teacher!
I’ve recently launched the Global Virtual Dojo, have a look at https://traditionalschoolofkarate.com