Every summer karate people from around the world gather together for the annual Seiwakai International Training Camp and the JKF Goju Kai Seminar and Championships in Japan. The Seiwakai training camp lasts for 7 days, is held in Omagari, Daisen City (Northern Japan, Akita Prefecture) and is taught by Seiichi Fujiwara Hanshi, 8th Dan and President/Chief Instructor of the association. The JKF Goju Kai seminar and subsequent championships is 4 days long and is held in a different location in Japan each year. This year’s events were held in Wakayama (Mid-Southern Japan, Kansai region, about 4 hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo).
I have been traveling to Japan every year since 2011 and it is one of the highlights of my karate calendar and I’m always excited to go back every single time. If you want to know why, check out the video on the Seitou Ryu Karate Facebook page or YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXDR7nSVruk, crank the volume up to 11 and enjoy.
Welcome to Japan
I landed a couple of days before training was due to start so that I had some time to acclimatise and get by body clock on track, but despite taking a direct flight to make my traveling a little easier, I found that the hustle and bustle of being in a big city still bothers me. There’s so much to see and do in Tokyo and so many people that it can be a little overwhelming on the senses, so I just plug in my earphones and put on some tunes to drown out the noise. Within a day though my mind is calming down and used to the pace of life around here and I’m ready to start training soon.
The weather in the north of Japan had taken a turn for the worse with many people struggling to get to Omagari from any direction. Floods on multiple routes meant that even those who flew to Akita (the nearest airport) were unable to get there when they had originally planned. Thankfully by the afternoon, the trains were running again and I managed to catch the Shinkansen, arriving safely in Omagari the evening before training was due to begin.
Day 1 of the Seiwakai Training Camp
In the morning session stances were a main focus point, Fujiwara Hanshi made sure that we were using them correctly in both stationary positions for stability and grounding as well as for movement. A little kata followed; Sanchin, Tensho, Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni and Saifa. Good training as always and a pleasure to train alongside my Seiwakai brethren from around the world. I think there were over 100 people there and it’s always nice to get to know the new ones and catching up with old friends over the week-long training.
By the end of day one I was already feeling sore. Although the training was fairly basic and nothing overly complicated, it was pretty much non-stop which I thoroughly enjoyed. The afternoon session covered Sanseru, Kururunfa and Seisan with just enough detail to rack your brains around. Fujiwara Hanshi gave us some very good technical points and some conceptual ideas for bunkai study too.
My body hadn’t quite been able to catch up to Japan time yet so I was feeling exhausted before we even started. I discovered some quirky little drinks called D8 and D11 which helped a lot, especially the latter in the afternoon session.
Fujiwara Sensei went into more detail on a variety of kata, including a number of subtle nuances that could easily be missed but were very important to know. Working on Sanchin in groups with 4 of the seniors leading the way so that we could watch, learn and do our best to mimic was really good. Thank you to Shihans Des Tuck (USA), Rastislav Mráz (Slovakia), Jamie Duggan (Australia) and Rod Martin (Australia) for showing their expertise today.
Tensho, Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni, Saifa in the morning followed by Shisochin, Seisan and Kururunfa in the afternoon. Connecting many of the techniques and principles with a mixture of pair work drills including kakie which I thoroughly enjoyed. The kata bunkai study was interesting and nice to see that many of the applications we practiced today were ones that I have already been doing which reinforced that I’m on the correct path. A real pleasure to see some of the Japanese juniors training today, as they demonstrated their kata it made me feel inspired at how hard they work and seeing such high standards. Definitely, ones for my own students to see and work towards.
Finally got my body clock on track so it was all in for today’s training. Started with a light hammering on our basics, legs felt really heavy by the end after kicking for what felt like an eternity. Really enjoyed the Sanchin and Tensho training, connecting the basics within them and reinforcing them with additional movement drills. Briefly touched on Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni, Saifa and then finally Seiyunchin which my legs did not enjoy very much. I was surprised at how quickly the morning session passed. Probably because I was enjoying it more due to having more energy.
The afternoon session consisted of kata training (Seipai, Seisan, and Kururunfa) with lots of partner work to help everyone understand the principles of movement and applications. I had the pleasure of working with one of the Slovakians who did really well and we quite enjoyed giving each other a few digs throughout.
After an enjoyable rest day followed by the Seiwakai Sayonara Party in the evening which left a few people worse for wear in the morning you could see plenty of tired faces struggling through the training at the start and as the day went on. Weirdly enough I had quite the burst of energy which lasted throughout most of the day. It felt good to be training in the Budokan for one of the days as the previous 3 days of training in the solid floor of the gymnasium had been battering my knees and ankles.
Training was hot and sweaty throughout. I think Fujiwara Hanshi said that in Omagari today was the hottest day so far, we certainly felt the heat! A little kihon practice to keep everybody sharp and also to sweat out some of last night’s indulgences. More work on Sanchin, Tensho, Seiyunchin, Sanseru, Kururunfa, and Seisan with a fair amount of bunkai and partner work throughout.
A number of Fujiwara Hanshi’s students were training with us today and we were also visited by the Mayor of Daisen City who was very happy to see us all. The juniors here are impressive to watch and quite inspiring to see how hard they work and the level of focus they have. When it’s time to train they’re 100% in, then switch to being a child and having a wail of a time, laughing, joking with their friends during the breaks and after training. The body was wearing pretty thin towards the end of the day so I’m glad I had my foam roller to help work out the knots and tight spots so that I’m fresh(ish) for the next day.
The aches, pains, and fatigue from 5 hours a day of training finally kicked in for many people. Energy levels were pretty low so Fujiwara Hanshi surprisingly went fairly easy on us throughout. A hot a humid day (31°C and 74% humidity) so we were all dripping early on and had to regularly mop the floor. After working on Sanchin and Tensho again in the morning everybody was split into grade relevant groups to work on their kata. After having done only a little Seipai practice up to this point it was good to get stuck in. One thing that was quite noticeable was how much uniformity we all had within our group. For such a large international group that is spread far and wide everyone was pretty similar aside from a few technical and timing points. Got a gold nugget of info from Scott Read (Australia) which helped a lot so I returned the favour with one of my own which did the same.
The last training day in Omagari and exhaustion finally caught up to me and took over so I ended up missing part of the morning training which consisted of Sanchin and Tensho practice, with a fortunate few getting shime tested too. More group kata practice followed for the rest of the morning. We had a pretty well-focused group working on Seipai and I particularly enjoyed working with fellow Brit Joanna Britton and Australians Scott Read and Chris McKenna the last few days.
The afternoon session was brief, with each grade group going up to perform their kata in front of Fujiwara Hanshi as a pre-testing training before the main grading that followed.
Gradings here are closed so no spectators meaning that those who weren’t testing could relax a little earlier whilst those who were would expectedly be feeling a little more of the nerves and pressure. By the evening everyone had heard the results for all but the highest Dan grades who would find out if they passed or not in a few days.
Day 7 (we’re now in Wakayama)
It was a scorching day at the JKF Goju Kai Seminar. 27°C at 7am and training didn’t even start until 10am. It hit 34°C by lunchtime and I was glad the dojo was a bit cooler. On arriving I was bit shocked to find I was weighing in at over 1.5kg for my kumite category (-75kg) so had to make sure I trained extra hard to burn things off as I was told that I would be disqualified if I was not within the limit at the official weight check in 2 days time.
Training went well. A few classical Goju warm up and supplementary exercises from Takegawa Sensei to start us off, followed by a brief-ish run through of Gekisai Dai Ichi, Gekisai Dai Ni and Saifa. Sanchin training which strangely felt shorter than usual but I did have a good time working with fellow Brit Jerry Kelly as we checked each other with a little shime. Picked up lots of information on Seiyunchin from Muramatsu Sensei and Sato Sensei. Probably a kata I have neglected practicing as much recently so it felt good to knuckle down on it and polish off the rusty bits. Wrote down a bucket load of notes to take back to my students.
After lunch we split into groups for specific kata practice. I was really happy to get to study under Sato Sensei, he’s one of my favourite JKF Goju Kai instructors. I’ve been wanting to get some major study and focus on Seipai and I got it in droves with him today. My head was hurting a little bit from all of the information and also separating the variations too.
The last training session of the JKF Goju Kai Seminar was a short one, only 2 hours. But Takegawa Sensei still managed to pack loads into the session. Sanchin and Tensho to start with, followed by split groups for kata practice. I thought I had more than enough information from the previous day’s session with Sato Sensei but I still picked up quite a few big nuggets to help me refine my kata. I really enjoy the multiple ideas and viewpoints that each instructor brings, it’s just a shame that the training is only for 2 days.
By the end of the day the hard training had paid off and I finished up nearly half a kilo under the weight limit I had to be careful for the next 12 hours or so. In a last-ditch effort to keep the weight under the limit for the tournament, I took a nice run to Wakayama Castle and back with a little stopover to say goodbye to an old friend.
The JKF Goju Kai All Japan Karatedo Championships is a pretty big tournament with well over 1,000 competitors across 12 tatami. The last time I competed here was in 2012 but I was only doing kata, this time I was entering both kata and kumite.
After a successful weigh in the morning and the opening ceremony it was time to rehydrate and refuel in preparation for my events but unfortunately, it was too little too late. Shitei round for everyone meant that the 22 competitors in our division had to perform Seiyunchin. I felt that I started off pretty strong but then the dehydration earlier caused both calves to cramp up one after the other, causing a stumble which cost me a few points and resulting in a low score, not the worst but still pretty low. A good experience though and learned a few lessons for next time.
In the kumite event I had a close match in the opening round, finishing up 3-2 to my opponent and both of us getting some good shots in on each other. Although I didn’t win my fight I did have an absolute blast as I got to fight my friend Yuki whom I last competed against in 2012. For my first time competing in kumite in Japan I feel pretty good about it all. The judging and refereeing were fair and consistent and the quality of the fighters was definitely what I feel I could go up against to give me a good strong challenge and help me improve my game so I’ll definitely be heading back next year fitter, better and stronger.
Overall it was an enjoyable and educational day of competing with Team GB and our worldwide Seiwakai brethren. Although I didn’t place I’m not disappointed as I learned plenty and had a very positive experience. The biggest lesson for me that I’ll avoid next time is not trying to cut weight so quickly, I’ve not done it before and I don’t think I’ll do it again.
As with every trip, this year’s Japan journey was full of friendship, excitement, laughter, tears, a few bumps and bruises and an abundance of lessons learned. There’s something to be said about the immersion when you’re out here, there are very few if any distractions to get in the way of focusing on training and learning and it helps you to be able to take on board so much more. Bringing the information back to share with my students and also to help me along my own journey makes this an absolute must. So many great memories and I’m already looking forward to next year for the training camp in Omagari then not having to travel so far for the seminar and championships in Akita.