From the 15th – 23rd of April the IKO hosted a thrilling series of events which included the 2016 International Friendship Tournament, the 2016 Women’s Weight Category Championships, an IKO Officials Seminar, Mitsumine Camp, a dan grading, the Intensive Training Course, and a 100-man kumite challenge by Zahari Damyanov. Over a week of Karate excitement, challenge and change ahead for Shihan Stuart, Sensei Tats, and myself!
On Friday morning, after an on-and-off-again sleep the night before, Shihan Stuart and I headed to the officiating clinic, the first event of the week. It is traditional for a clinic to be held the day before the tournament, but this one turned out to be more than just your average clinic.
The IKO has just finalized some major changes for tournament attire and rules and all these changes were explained at the seminar. The rule change section of the seminar covered which techniques now score full and half points (there are some new techniques allowed), what is now considered a foul, and finally new methods for counting fouls. A video explaining these changes is available on the Kyokushin YouTube channel. Changes for international officiating attire were also explained and implemented. On the IKOK-C Facebook page, you will see Shihan Stuart wearing the new uniform. All these changes will be explained at a later date by Shihan Stuart to members of the IKOK-C. Once implemented, these changes will surely add a unique and exciting version of kumite to our tournaments that will no doubt advance our fighting style.
For the next two days Shihan Stuart, Sensei Tats and I officiated at the tournament: 10 rings, 1500 competitors, 2 days. Some children’s divisions had 100 entries! Long days with many great matches and kata performed. Indeed, the quality of Kyokushin practitioners is continually rising in the IKO at all ages.
Next, we were onto Mitsumine Camp. This year the camp took on a new feeling for me, as Sensei Tats and I were not only training but also doing our Dan Gradings at the camp.
Mitsumine National park is one of the most beautiful and spiritual places I have ever encountered, so I was excited to have the opportunity to grade in the traditional atmosphere that is provided by this majestic place. The grading began with the general class and continued once the general class was over and lasted just under 4hrs. Sensei Tats and I were among 15 individuals grading.
I deeply believe that in both training and grading, the true measure of success is not by whether you pass or don’t pass, but by the growth and awareness achieved throughout the entire process: how you handle stress, surprise, change, challenge and responsibility. What do you actually know as compared to what do you think you know? What else will you discover? Shihan Filho touched on this in one of his classes later in the week, stating that the important thing is to always keep getting better every class and learn, and work as hard as you can so you can be at peace with yourself, knowing you have done your best.
Before our exam, Sensei Tats and I spoke about how we were experiencing the same feelings as we did before we competed in the world championships: nervous but excited and actually calm all at the same time. We reflected on how lucky and fortunate we were to be a part of the IKO and IKOK-C, as the organizations had allowed us the opportunity to train in front of the dan grading panel before at various events, to grade in front of the dan grading panel previously in Banff (Sensei Tats and I both graded for sandan and yondan together in Banff), and to fight in front of the dan grading panel at previous World tournaments. In essence the IKOK-C had prepared us over the years, and gave us the best opportunity going into this grading. Now it was our turn and we just needed to do what we need to do.
After the two-day camp we headed back to Tokyo to prepare for the 3-day Intensive Training Course. The course is used to standardize techniques and teaching methods for international members and is run by the senior instructors of IKO. The classes are quite small in size so there is lots of one-on-one attention. The instructional team this time was the same team that will be teaching at the 10th Black Belt conference in Banff in October – you do not want to miss it! Shihan Gorai ran the majority of the classes and concentrated on kihon, ido geiko, kata, footwork, kumite training and new rule changes. Shihan Filho took an entire class and explored the world of ido geiko with everyone. Shihan Corrigal introduced the 8 movements of self-defence and Shihan Uytenbogaardt kept us continually thinking of the importance and use of our tanden. It was a demanding three days but as always, I walked away with much to think about.
The next day Shihan Corrigal attended the 100 man kumite for Zahari Damyanov. Unfortunately I needed to head back to Canada for work and Sensei Tats was off to visit his family so we missed it. The World Champion made an impressive effort but sadly was stopped by the doctor at 70 fights.
As I reflect back on this 10-day experience and my time training, I also reflect forward. “Learn from the past to drive to a successful future” and “an open mind will always lead to one of the greatest gifts – knowledge and understanding”: mottoes I have learned from my experience with this art and have lived by since I began training. Thank you to the IKO, IKOK-C and everyone who has and continues to support our endeavors. To you all I only say one thing:
On April 14, I found myself onboard a 10-hour flight to Tokyo, wondering how this trip would turn out. Let me tell you. It turned out to be one of a kind.
The 12-day journey began with officiating in the International Friendship Tournament. This two day event involved more than 1500 competitors from all over the world. I was assigned to two different judging teams, and was overwhelmed by both the quantity and quality of the competitors. In one of the kata divisions where I sat as a corner judge, there were 40 competitors, while the junior kumite category had 100 fighters in one division, and they were all good.
During this tournament, I was fortunate to catch up with many Japanese officials with whom I used to train and fight in my tournament days. I realized that although a quarter century has past since I left the country for Canada, I can still keep ties with them thanks to the power of Kyokushin Karate.
Following the tournament, the training camp took place in Mt. Mitsumine, the sacred mountain to all Kyokushin members. There, I was tested for Go Dan, along with my team mate, Sensei Brad Gillespie. We continue to share mutual respect and experiences, as we have tested together for San Dan and Yon Dan in the past. This Dan grading gave us another unforgettable experience, as we once again took it together and gave it our best.
During the camp, we had classes run by Kancho Shokei Matsui and Shihan Francisco Filho as leading instructors. Kancho’s class was very informative and profound as always, while Shihan Filho gave us a few motivational speeches about training that stuck in my mind.
For me, the highlight of the camp came as we climbed down the mountain. There is a waterfall where Sosai used to meditate and train before he founded Kyokushin Karate. Throwing Seiken Chudan Zuki under this waterfall is one of the dreams that many Kyokushin karatekas have. I was excited to do this myself, and was lucky to share the experience together with Sensei Joji Hibino from Honbu and Sempai Kazushige Nagashima, a very well-known actor/commentator of Japan’s entertainment world. The water was cold and stinging. The kiai that we shouted together echoed through the valley. I was speechless, not due to the cold, but because of gusts of emotion that could not be expressed with words. Oddly, Sempai Nagashima felt the same way. To the best of my English skill, I felt a mix of excitement, achievement and appreciation. Simply put “Just Great!”
Following camp, the intensive training course began on Wednesday. Shihan Katsuhito Gorai instructed four classes and Shihan Filho taught one class during this three day session. Shihan Stuart Corrigal also introduced Happo no Kuzushi in one class. At this point, my body was already aching all over from the camp. But the pain was gone as soon as I put on my dogi. It’s a Kyokushin magic. The course was attended by a little more than ten students; a small class but filled with energy. I was again very fortunate to meet black belts from Russia, India, Romania and France. By the last session on Friday, we had become very close as we completed the strenuous classes together.
Aside from the training, what made me feel blessed during my stay in Tokyo was to tag along and dine out with Shihan Kenny Uytenbogaardt of South Africa, and of course Shihan Stuart. I was able to listen to these world-recognized individuals recounting to their insightful stories about the history of Kyokushin. I could not help thinking that those stories had to be properly passed onto next generations to come. At one point, we decided to visit Budoshop in Ikebukuro, an old karate equipment supplier that Sosai used to do business with. When we arrived there, we saw Shihan Peter Chong from Singapore sitting with a store owner, Kakuta-san. Now Shihan Kenny and Shihan Stuart joined them. A table of the Kyokushin Wikipedia was formed right before my eyes. I could do nothing but listen and acknowledge to their stories.
The memorable days in Tokyo came to an end, and I flew to Osaka to visit my family, and Shihan Makoto Nakamura. A visit to my original instructor at his office in Kobe usually finishes after a few hours of chatting to catch up with each other. But this time was different. He told me to come back next day wearing dogi. After quickly receiving approval from Shihan Stuart, I went back to his main dojo on the following day. At 12:00pm, I found myself training with the two-time world champion, one-on-one. The unscheduled and spontaneous training lasted a gruelling three hours, covering everything from Kihon, Ido, all Kata and bag work routines, non-stop. When it was finally over, I had a hard time standing but felt truly empowered. His kiai and way of counting brought me back to the time I began Kyokushin 33 years ago. It also made me realize how lucky I was to have a mentor like him who yelled and spurred me to push harder. I felt like I was in my 20s. The training brought me invaluable experience and supreme moments. It was a perfect way to conclude this 12-day karate quest.
On a final note, this Japan trip gave me a lot of educational information from the events I attended. Aside from the education aspects of the trip, what was most significant to me was to be able to meet so many individuals who love Kyokushin Karate. And these people are connected based on trust that takes years to shape. It is this trust that keeps us together in this organization, allows us to hold events and to meet one another across borders. It is also this trust that enabled me to travel, while my senior belts taught a total of 44 classes and looked after our students in Vancouver during my absence.
My appreciation goes to each and every person whom I was fortunate enough to come across during the two weeks in Tokyo, Osaka and Vancouver. Thank you all. Osu.