in the early hours of Friday 16th March 2012, a group of AMA members set off on a journey that was to become a 'trip of a lifetime' to Okinawa, the birthplace of karate, in order to train in the private dojo of some of the most distinguished masters on the island.
AMA instructor and Northern coaching assessor Chris Denwood (Founder and Chief Instructor, Eikoku Satori Karate-Do Kyokai) organised the event after his experiences back in 2010 when he represented the United Kingdom alongside one of his students at the international karate seminars hosted by the Okinawa Karate-Do Rengokai, held at the stunning prefectural Budokan in Naha, the capital of the island. Chris said, "I wanted my students to experience firsthand, the real beauty of traditional karate at the very place where it was first created and developed.
After a twenty seven hour journey, they finally landed at Naha airport late on Saturday evening and were surprised to be met in by a small contingent of 10th Dan senior karate masters who came along to personally welcome the group to Okinawa. After a day of much needed rest and orientation around the city, the group began training on the Monday morning and so began a daily regime of around four hours hard practice followed by some time to relax and soak up some of the beautiful sights.
The private dojo they had the pleasure of visiting we're some of the oldest and most beautiful on the island. The training was intensive and physically demanding, but very rewarding. Chris added, "Of course, the training is second to none, but it is also the combination of culture, history and people that integrate to provide an unbelievable experience. The people of Okinawa are amazing. It was both refreshing and inspiring to see such humbleness and sincerity from so many proficient masters, which is in sharp contrast to the unfortunate 'ego-based' hierarchy that many UK martial arts practitioners are forced to consistently endure. The Okinawan's are quite simply the nicest and most respectful people you could ever hope to meet and this is something I think we could (and should) all learn from."
After training was over, the group took part in two day-long excursions to the North and South of the island to visit some of the main attractions and more importantly, to see some of the islands remaining karate-related history. This included the graves, memorials and monuments of past masters (such as Anko Itosu, Gichin Funakoshi, Bushi Matsumura, Chojun Miyagi, Chotoku Kyan and Chomo Hanashiro), Fukushuen Gardens (celebrating the link between southern China and Okinawa), Matsuyama Park (where karate was first developed) and of course the great Shuri Castle, which is now a complete replica due to the devastation caused by the bombing during the battle of Okinawa in World War Two.
After a fantastic fortnight, the group finally headed back to the UK with some souvenirs, thousands of photos, and a few hours of video footage. But most importantly, they also now carry with them a much better understanding of dento (traditional) karate, countless stories to make them smile and lifelong memories from what was an amazing experience never to be forgotten. A couple of weeks later, Chris received through the post a set of stunning certificates from Okinawa to officially recognise the group's completion of training, personally signed by each master who taught them - a very kind gesture and a final memento to treasure!
AMA group participants:
- Chris Denwood
- Peter Sempie
- Stuart Graham
- Tommy Taylor
- Peter Hinde
- Heather McGowan
- Martin Johnson
- Matthew Easdon
- Kate Harrison
- Tom Duggan
- James Clark
- John Smallman
- Isamu Arakaki - 10th Dan (Shorin Ryu)
- Minoru Higa - 10th Dan (Shorin Ryu)
- Zenpo Shimabukuro - 10th Dan (Shorin Ryu)
- Sokuichi Gibu – 10 Dan (Shorin Ryu)
- Morio Higaonna - 10th Dan (Goju Ryu)
- Tsuyoshi Uechi - 9th Dan (Isshin Ryu)
- eisho Itokazu – 9 Dan (Uechi Ryu)
Chris paying his respects at the Anko Itosu Memorial
Peter and Chris outside of the Gichin Funakoshi Memorial in Naha.
Group picture at the Goju Ryu Higaonna Dojo with Morio Higaonna 10th Dan Hanshi.
Group picture at the Shorin Ryu Kyudokan Dojo with Minoru Higa 10th Dan Hanshi (first opened in 1947).
Peter and Chris practicing Naihanchi Kata at the historic Kyudokan Dojo.
Heather, Chris, James, Tommy and Stuart outside the Shuri Mon (Castle Gate)