Vassie Naidoo Shihan (LA) Alexandra Alan (MP) Takahashi Satoru, Johnpaul Williams, Shiho Azuma Williams and Sanjit Mandal. USA representatives with Takahashi Shihan in Japan

Return to Japan 2023 Week ONE

Return to Japan 2023 Week ONE

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By Johnpaul Williams – August 07, 2023

August 7th, 2023 – Monday: En Route to Narita Airport. As I begin this first entry, I find myself mid-flight on Japan Airlines, en route to Narita Airport. Despite some minor turbulence causing the plane to sway gently, I’m pleasantly surprised by the unwavering performance of the satellite internet connection on board.

Speaking of turbulence, I’ve adopted a quirky habit to lighten the mood during bumpy airline stretches of my journeys. Whenever I encounter a patch of turbulence, I can’t help but throw one hand up in the air and enthusiastically exclaim, “Yeeehawww!” It’s a playful gesture that not only seems to break the tension among my fellow passengers but also brings a smile to my own face.

Stay tuned for more updates as we touch down at Narita Airport and embark on this next adventure, which involves catching an always enjoyable and hyper-fast Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo Station.

2023 Seiwakai International training camp in Daisen Japan 剛柔流空手道誠和会:

2023 Seiwakai International camp in Daisen Japan 剛柔流空手道誠和会

August 8th, 2023 – Tuesday Evening Journey Aboard the Shinkansen to Ōmagari 大曲. As I compose this entry on a Tuesday evening, we find ourselves aboard the renowned Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, en route to Ōmagari station. While we regretfully missed the captivating events of Karate Week at the Japan Budōkan in Tokyo, our schedule for the week is distinctly set in the Akita region, or more precisely Ōmagari 大曲村 / Daisen 大仙市.

Our journey to northern Japan begins at Tokyo station, and from there, we head northbound having a few hours of relaxation onboard before our expected arrival at Ōmagari Station, just past 11:00 pm. Our place of rest for the night is the ever-familiar Route Inn, conveniently situated across the street from the train station. The Route Inn is part of Japan’s mid-level hotel chain, offering simplicity without the frills commonly found in American hotels. Nonetheless, it boasts reliable air-conditioning and the luxury of full-size beds in select rooms—a blessing for someone like me, standing at a towering 6 feet 2.5 inches!

Rod Martin Shihan and his charming wife, Malwina Sensei, have already made their way to Ōmagari 大曲村 / Daisen 大仙市. Sensei Sanjit Mandal from Tri-Valley Karate is due to join us on Thursday, as is my dear friend Nakaizumi from Tsukubamirai City in Ibaraki Prefecture. Regrettably, Paul Coleman Shihan remains in the UK, battling health issues. Additionally, Indi and Marie Tanalaban, along with Richard Hang Hong Sensei, will not be able to join us this year.

Tickets for this event may have been a bit pricey, but it’s heartwarming to know that over 125 members will be participating. An interesting twist is that I’ve been summoned to the Ōmagari Budōkan ahead of the rest of the group. The only concern is whether I’ll be able to rouse myself from slumber in the morning. Having been awake for well over 24 hours now, and having managed only about 5 hours of sleep the night before, it’s been quite an endurance test.

Sharing this journey with me is Shiho, who is peacefully asleep by my side here on the bullet train. Her little legs have certainly covered a substantial distance today.

As we settle into our room, I glance at the time on my computer, which tells me it’s 8:00 am back in California. Meanwhile, here in Japan, it’s midnight. This means I’ve now been awake for a grueling 27 hours, with a wake-up call scheduled for 6:00 am Japan time tomorrow. The adventure continues! (or begins as I’m prone to time-confusion)

Our Ōmagari / Daisen schedule reads as follows:

  • Aug 9th:
    • 9 am ~12:00 Review finer details of Sanchin, Gekisai, Saifa and Seiyunchin.
    • 2:00 pm ~ 5:00 pm Review of Tensho, Sanseru and Shishochin.
  • Aug 10th:
    • 9 am ~12:00 Review finer details of Sanchin and Sepai
    • 2:00 pm ~ 5:00 pm Review of Tensho and Seisan.
  • Aug 11th:
    • 9 am ~12:00 Nishiyama Kakeru 西山走 and Ms. Ohno (Ono) Hikaru 大野 ひかる Champions Seminar.
    • 2:00 pm ~ 5:00 pm Continue with seminar reviewing Gekisai, Saifa, Seiyunchin, Sepai and Kururunfa.
  • Aug 12th:
    • 8:45 am ~10:50 Review  for athletes and competitors only in the Ōmagari Budōkan of ‘Superinpei,’ with Nishiyama Kakeru 西山走 and Ms. Ohno (Ono) Hikaru 大野 ひかる.
  • Aug 13th:
    • 10:00 am~ 12:00 Review of Sanchin, Tensho and Superinpei
    • 2:00 pm ~ 5:00 pm Kaikan review.
  • Aug 14th:
    • 10:00 am ~ 12:00 Review of Sanchin, Tensho and Kaishu Kata.
    • 2:00 pm ~ 5:00 pm Review of Kaishu Kata.
  • Aug 15th
    • 10:00 pm ~ 12:00 Training by class (grade)
    • 2:00 pm ~ 5:00 pm Seiwakai Dan  promotion examination for overseas members
    • 6:00 pm International Exchange and Sayonara Party at the “Grand Palace Kawabata”

      135 Seiwakai training at the Budokan on Day 1 of the 2023 Seiwakai gasshuku in akita Japan.

      135 Seiwakai training at the Budōkan on Day 1 of the 2023 Seiwakai gasshuku in akita Japan.

August 9th, 2023 – Wednesday: Week 1 Begins with Training and Camaraderie marking the commencement of our training journey on this Wednesday morning. We gathered at 9:00 am, eager to dive back into the fundamentals, perfect our hip movements, and relish the warmth of camaraderie as we reconnected with old friends.

Our morning session revolved around meticulous refinement of Gekisai dai ichi and Gekisai dai ni, along with the intricate Kata Saifa. These kata standards were revisited, ensuring precision in timing and, for some, introducing crucial corrections. As we began our training, our ranks numbered 135 members, with more on their way, not to mention local participants who, though unable to join us on weekdays due to work commitments, share our passion. Among them are Takahashi Hanshi, Saito Kazuhisa, Takahashi Shihan, Watanabe Sensei, and several others. We eagerly anticipate the arrival of more old friends in the days to come.

In a testament to the intensity of our training, a few of our dedicated members began to feel unwell during the morning session. Swiftly, they were transported to a nearby clinic for treatment due to heat stroke. Safety remains our top priority, and we wish them a speedy recovery.

Each year, beginning with the Seiwakai Gasshuku and later at the JKF Gōjūai seminar, we encounter new, revised, or modified kata details. While these adjustments can be challenging, particularly for newcomers and less-experienced participants, they serve a crucial purpose in enhancing our collective knowledge. I, too, welcome these annual changes and diligently document them in my Kata Logbook to ensure we continue to evolve in our practice.

At noon, we paused for a well-deserved 2-hour break. During this time, many of us ventured to the nearby post office to withdraw yen from the ATM and then to the local 7-11 for lunch. It’s important to note that 7-11 in Japan bears little resemblance to its American and Canadian counterparts. Here, it serves as a hub where many people enjoy all three meals of the day, and the store maintains impeccable cleanliness both inside and out, adding to the overall convenience of our training experience.


International Seiwakai Gojuryu Karate members training in the Omagari Budokan

International Seiwakai Gōjū-Ryū Karate members training in the Ōmagari Budokan

During lunch, my colleague from Northern California, Sanjit Mandal Sensei, joined us at the Route Inn hotel. Shortly after his arrival, we received an alarming excessive heat warning. The number of participants dwindled to 111 as the temperature displayed on my phone soared to a scorching 96 degrees Fahrenheit, with a “feels like” temperature of 104 degrees. Consequently, the second half of our training day shifted its focus toward a lecture format rather than intensive drills.

For the lecture portion, we delved into Sanchin, Tensho, Seiunchin, Sanseiru, and Shisochin katas. The group collectively performed no more than two katas continuously before proceeding to individual demonstrations and insightful lectures delivered by Takahashi Shihan, the Vice President of All Japan Seiwakai. Surprisingly, even during this more sedentary college lecture-style training, I managed to shed approximately 5 pounds. All of our dogi, drenched with sweat, were so saturated that they could be wrung out as if they’d been left in a shower. Naturally, there was quite a line forming for the laundry facilities.

As I write this, I’m savoring a delightful charcuterie platter and an espresso while taking in the panoramic view of the small town of Ōmagari. Although Omagari is now part of the city of Daisen, it proudly retains its historic name. Likewise, the Shinkansen station still bears the iconic name “Ōmagari station.”

In the midst of the day’s scorching heat, at least four participants sought medical attention at the clinic due to symptoms of heat stroke. Tomorrow, I’ll be vigilant not only for our group but for others as well. Personally, I haven’t experienced any symptoms of heat stroke. However, one of the challenges with this condition is that individuals may be unaware of the symptoms, underscoring the importance of Sensei and coaches being well-versed in recognizing and addressing these signs promptly.

August 10th, 2023 – Thursday: Day 2 and the Heat Continues. Stepping into the breakfast lobby of the Route Inn hotel, it’s evident that the facility has been completely taken over by foreigners in town for karate events. The local Japanese patrons are significantly outnumbered. Many of us sport swollen eyes this morning, a lingering reminder of the intense sweat during yesterday afternoon’s training session. In hushed tones, we, the seasoned attendees of this annual summit, engage in discussions about whether the heat has ever been this oppressive in years gone by. Later I was reminded by Glenn Stevenson Shihan, from Austrailia, that 2004 was possibly more extreme. I ventured the opinion that perhaps it had, but we were younger back then, and it didn’t affect us quite as profoundly.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but notice a handful of younger members who seemed remarkably chipper and brimming with energy. It’s a stark reminder that living in the mild, temperate climate of Silicon Valley, California, can make us unaccustomed to the harsher weather conditions we encounter during our travels. It serves as a call to action, urging us to train even harder when we’re at home in preparation for such challenging environments abroad in the future.

Unfortunately, the relentless heat continued to take its toll. Two additional participating members succumbed to the sweltering summer conditions and had to be taken to the clinic for treatment due to heat exhaustion. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of staying vigilant and well-prepared, particularly when participating in physically demanding activities in extreme weather.

August 11th, 2023 – Friday: Day 3 – Welcoming Karate Champions. Our training today commenced with the basics before the arrival of our esteemed special guests, National Japan and WKF Champions, Nishiyama Kakeru 西山走 and his wife Ms. Ohno (Ono) Hikaru 大野 ひかる, who will be coaching us during the 2023 Seiwakai Gasshuku. Their technique and precision left us in awe throughout the day. We collectively agreed that if we could have just five of each of them for our clubs, life would be complete, and our karate journey would be significantly enriched. Others considered giving up after 40 plus years of training because obviously, we’re outdone!

August 12th, 2023 – Saturday: Day 4 – Learning from Champions. Our training continued today under the guidance of Japan national and WKF Champions, Nishiyama Kakeru 西山走 and Ms. Ohno (Ono) Hikaru 大野 ひかる. In addition to fine-tuning our katas, we received invaluable training tips that will undoubtedly bolster the strength of our clubs when we return to our respective countries. Some of us diligently took notes, while others preferred to commit the lessons to memory through physical repetition. Regardless of our approach, we eagerly shared these newfound insights with one another during our evening gathering over a traditional meal at Gran-mart, the local grocery store.

August 13th, 2023 – Sunday: Day 5 – Battling the Heat. As the days blur together, it’s important to note that on the first day of training, several members sought treatment at the clinic for heat stroke. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a pattern emerge with two members falling ill due to the relentless heat every day since. With temperatures soaring to 35 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit), combined with high humidity and strenuous exercise, the conditions have created a recipe for illness.

August 14th, 2023 – Monday: Day 6 – Exhaustion Sets In. Vassie Naidoo Shihan and I both had a knee procedure performed on the same day, June 2nd 2023. The knee procedure involved draining a large amount of fluid created by swelling and injecting the knee with a hyaluronic gel which has a 6 month life span acting as a cusion between the knee. My mind is weary, and my knee is swollen, not to mention the pressing need to launder both my do-gis before they become overly pungent. Tonight, I’m taking a break from blogging as fatigue sets in, and it’s time to tend to some personal matters.

August 15th, 2023 – Tuesday: Day 7 – The Crucial Test and Farewell. Today’s training regimen centered on thorough warm-ups and Seiwakai Kihon Ido led by Scott Read Sensei from Australia, before dividing participants into their respective classes. As everyone gathered in the gymnasium, it was palpable that the legendary pre-testing nervousness was weighing heavily on our minds. Coupled with an unrelenting heat wave, it seemed like the slightest spark could either ignite or break down any of those undergoing testing.

However, as we’ve emphasized repeatedly in our classes, this is just a grading—a checkpoint along the path we’ve traversed before and will continue to do so in the future. It’s essential to remind ourselves that this test merely marks a moment in our journey. We must relax, regroup, reevaluate, and reward ourselves for our dedication and hard work.

Following this, participants regrouped by class for self-training, a pivotal lesson in Karate-Dō. Self-training fosters self-awareness and empowers us to make necessary changes and corrections independently.

In the evening, we bid farewell with a poignant Sayonara party, which also served as a touching memorial for Ms. Christina Madrid. We honored her life, her dedication to karate, and her enduring sports legacy. Fujiwara Seiichi Shuseki Shihan initiated the dedication with a heartfelt speech, followed by Dr. Janine Boothroyd from Australia, who spoke on behalf of our women’s division, Seiwakai International Women’s Advisory Board (SIWAB).

Vassie Naidoo with Fujiwara Shuseki Shihan, holding his Hanshi Menkyo (Top Shihan License)

Vassie Naidoo Hanshi Menkyo with Fujiwara Seiichi.

The event continued with dinner and drinks broadening the friendship and bond of attending members while being entertained by an old classmate of Fujiwara Shihan who has become one of the premier Saxaphone players in Japan.

After the dinnerware was cleared from the tables, a few announcements were made which included the distribution of Shihan licenses to:

  • Pager Pal Attila – Renshi
  • Michael Beardwood – Kyoshi

    Johnpaul Williams receives his Seiwakai Kyoshi Menkyo from Fujiwara Seiichi

    Johnpaul Williams receives his Seiwakai Kyoshi Menkyo from Fujiwara Seiichi.

  • Johnpaul Williams Kyoshi
  • Roderick Martin – Kyoshi
  • Michael Patrick – Kyoshi
  • Vassie Naidoo – Hanshi

While some will continue to celebrate into the late hours of the night, I’ve chosen to retire early to bed. I’m well aware that the travel day ahead is always a demanding one, no matter how experienced I am at making the journey from Ōmagari station in Daisen Akita to Ōsaka Nanba 大阪難波.

In past years, when Ōsaka Gōjū-Kai hosted the JKF Gōjū-Kai taikai, the event took place at a venue known as the “Big Whale” arena. However, this year is a departure from the norm, as we’ll be gathering at the Edion Arena Ōsaka Nanba 大阪難波, a venue that I’m not yet familiar with. Nonetheless, I’m eagerly anticipating the chance to reacquaint myself with the vibrant Namba district, where the arena is situated.

Johnpaul Williams