Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Exit Interview- Louise, Intern 2009-2010

Louise & Erica at the Shiramizu 'Goodbye Louise & Erica, but Welcome Pete' Party!
(June 2010)
from Sensei's blog

Pete here!

While I was busy distracting Erica with her exit interview, Louise made good her escape back to New Zealand. But such is the power of the internet she could not escape my ever-impending questions (evil laugh)...

Pete Williams: So, after a year of Japan, how has your image of Japanese life changed? What are your positives and negatives?
Louise Fisk: Maybe now I understand the Japanese world view a bit better, how it is based on obligations to and respect of others, and how important the good opinion of others is to them.

In some ways this is very good, because it generally creates a society which is on the surface polite, respectful, law-abiding and safe, especially compared with many other countries. And I think it is comforting to live within set social boundaries.

But I also think that the weight of obligations is very heavy on the Japanese, always having to worry about if you're doing the right thing, and worrying about what people think of you.

PW: What has been your crowning achievement for the year? Is it the same as your most treasured memory?
LF: I actually think that my greatest achievement is something that's accumulated quietly throughout the whole year. That is, a step up in the level of my karate, especially my speed and kihon. Most of the lessons at Shiramizu were very much the same: kihon standing on the spot, stepping kihon, kata then kumite drills. We also had to keep up with the high school students we often trained with who,were very fast, so I feel the combination of these two factors as well as Arakawa Sensei's valuable teaching helped me to achieve better karate.

My most treasured memories (there are several of them) are of the Shiramizu people supporting each other, while working, training or having fun together. For example, during the Shiramizu club tournament, and at the parties we had together. I am honoured to have been included in the Shiramizu clan.

PW: Did you get to see much of the rest of Japan? Where is your favourite place?
LF: In the public holidays and weekends I tried to travel a bit, though mostly within Honshu. I went north to Akita Prefecture, to a few mountains around Tokyo and the Kanto area, and on my big New Year trip I went west to Nara and Hiroshima, among other places. In Golden Week I also visited the northern part of Kyushu and looked at volcanoes there.

My favourite place is a beach on the northern Kyushu coast, about an hour's drive from Fukuoka. It has the softest sand, very clear water and lots of cool granite rocks at the end to climb on.

PW: What was the low point of your year?
LF: Catching influenza was pretty low. I seemed to get sick easily in Japan, maybe because I have a different Southern Hemisphere immunity, and was not used to being in contact with so many kindergarten kids.

PW: Erica said she found the Shiramizu sensei like family and friends as well as respected teachers. Have you become close to them too? Who will you particularly miss?
LF: Yes, the Shiramizu dojo has become a lot like another family. They welcomed us with open arms and always looked after us extremely well. I think this is truly outstanding when you consider that they do this for a new foreigner or set of foreigners every year.

There are too many people who are special to me at Shiramizu to list all of their names, but we had the most contact with Arakawa sensei, and our two dojo mothers, Yoshihara sensei and Yamazaki sensei, so I will miss seeing them and our conversations together.

PW: So with all that contact with Arakawa Sensei has he challenged, or changed, or even reinforced your perception of karate? If so, how?
LF: Training with Arakawa Sensei has reinforced my perceptions that karate is a discipline that should develop a person mentally and emotionally as well, not just a sport that is only about physical development. Maybe it is because that is how the Japanese are generally, but Arakawa Sensei was big on respect to your teachers, seniors and classmates. This was shown through proper greetings as well as behaviour. I liked this aspect of Shiramizu, because I felt it created an environment where people were training their hardest in order to lift their classmates as well as themselves, through competing with each other but also supporting each other.

PW: With this in mind, what are your plans for your future? Does it involve a deeper relationship with karate, or teaching children?
LF: My year in Japan has certainly strengthened my plan to continue training karate or some form of martial arts for the rest of my life. There always is something more to learn, and my progress this year has encouraged me that I am still learning and am still able to learn. Teaching children is a big responsibility, but at the moment I don't want to settle down in one place and take up that responsibility as I have plans to continue exploring the world.

PW: Finally, how awesome is the current intern, and what advice can you give him to make his year go more smoothly?
LF: Ha, ha, oh certainly, your awesomeness is off the scale. In the short time we worked together, I noticed that you have the right attitude and openness of mind to learn all the new things and ways of thinking in Japan.

I'd advise you to learn as much spoken Japanese as you can, which will make communication with the staff at your jobs and at the dojo much smoother. This also makes it easier to make friends, which is my other bit of advice: make as many Japanese friends as you can. Then they can show you around, tell you things you'd maybe not find out otherwise, and you can become more of a part of the country you've adopted for a year.

PW: Yep, I'm following your great advice already!

Exit Interview- Erica, Intern 2009-2010

Pete here!

Before she left, I managed to distract Erica from her busy time of packing and wrapping presents to interview her about her time here and her leaving thoughts...

Pete Williams: So, how has your image of Japan changed?
Erica Ip: Good Question!
Living in the ‘countryside’ I’ve seen that it’s not all bustling streets and nightlife like in the movies. Also, people are more polite in general than I thought.

PW: Anything particularly positive?
EI: The streets are clean, everywhere! It’s also amazing that you can order food in a restaurant, eat it, then pay for it and leave without even talking to anyone.

PW: You mean vending restaurants?
EI: Yeah exactly! Everything is more convenient, like the shops, you can buy fried chicken for 1$ American!

PW: So what about the negatives?
EI: Long train rides to work in central Tokyo; training in the extreme heat in the summer- just sitting in it is enough! That’s about it though.

PW: Was there anything that vindicated your preconceptions about Japan?
EI: The level of Karate here was just as high as I expected it to be, especially the level of dedication too and particularly at Shiramizu. I first saw the Shiramizu Squad at the 2008 World Cup in Vancouver. I remember seeing them and wishing I could do karate like that, which is what inspired me to apply for the intern post.

PW: How dedicated have you been then?
EI: I went from training just once/twice a week in Vancouver to 5 times a week or more at Shiramizu – so quite dedicated! I’ve been told I’ve improved a lot and I hope this is true.

PW: What’s your most treasured memory of the year?
EI: The first tournament that I won gold at! Though, it wasn’t the moment I got the medal- it was when I had just finished my kata in the final round and was waiting for the judges’ decision.

PW: Then what happened?

EI: The whistle went and all 5 flags were for me! I was very shocked! It was surreal! I hope you get the same feeling in one of your tournaments. [in kata? Unlikely!- Pete]

PW: So what about your worst moment or low point?
EI: I think it was my first month here; the transition period. It was extremely hot when I started training 5 times a week, with no internet or cell phone! I also came to Japan with no knowledge of Japanese, so discussions were very difficult. I didn’t feel cut off at all, everyone was very kind and friendly, but it was like being on the outside of something looking in.

PW: That changed though?

EI: Yes! Although I didn’t study much I can still read Katakana and Hiragana, which is handy in supermarkets; since then I’ve been able to buy lots more food that I’ve enjoyed eating! Also, communication with everyone has gotten much easier and even during karate classes I’m understanding the nuances of what’s being said.

PW: What’s your relationship with Arakawa sensei and Shiramizu like now?
EI: It’s mainly as Sensei that I have a lot of respect for, but outside the class it’s like being with family and friends.

PW:Who did you get closest to in Shiramizu?

EI: It has to be Yamazaki Sensei and Yoshihara Sensei, because they are like our Japanese mums! We train together almost every class, and go to lunch every week.

PW: What about Arakawa Sensei?

EI: I think that the interns are really lucky because they get to spend more time with him than the other students; apparently the other students have this image of Sensei where he’s quite scary, but I see him as funny and silly most of the time and a person who deserves utmost respect.

PW: Has he changed your perception of Karate? If he has, how?

EI: I’ve always thought that Karate was a not a skill you learned to use on other people aggressively – or start trouble – but as a way of personal development and discipline. Arakawa Sensei really reinforced that belief in me, but also if it’s practiced correctly is can be very effective when or if needed.

PW: What about the English teaching aspect- did you enjoy that?
EI: It can be very rewarding when you get kids who are eager to learn, but I find some kids are forced into it by parents and don’t really want to be there so trying to be creative and get their interest is difficult. It’s also hard when my level of Japanese and their level of English makes it tricky to communicate for the rules of games, etc.

PW: So with all this in mind, what are your plans for the future? How much Karate does it involve?
EI: I honestly can’t say! I’ll probably do something with kids, because I love kids, but preferably not teaching them! Karate-wise, I would like to compete when I get back to Vancouver and encourage the kids in my dojo to train hard and compete as well.

PW:Finally, what do you think of the current intern and what advice do you have to give?
EI: Hmmmmmm…

PW: Remember I’m in the room.

EI: I think he’s well equipped to handle himself for this year and I hope he enjoys it as much as I have.

PW:Glowing reference then.

EI: You’ll be fine! And as a word of advice, be careful of drooling kids.

PW: Noted!

Wadokai Technical Seminar: 24-25 July

Peter Here:

Over 70 Wadokai dan grades and instructors attended the Wadokai Technical Seminar on the weekend of 24-25 July, held in the Chiba District of Tokyo. The purpose of the seminar was to maintain the high standard of Wado being taught by those present, and to introduce any changes to the kata or kihon kumite syllabus. The weekend was led by members of the Technical committee, chiefly Takagi Sensei and Hakoishi Sensei.

We were also lucky to have Aina Kobinata (JKFan Deputy Editor) on site as well to run a report on the day for the magazine, and of course talk to Fabian and myself in near-perfect English!

Saturday was a long day, with the course running from 9:00 to 16:00. Unfortunately due to ridiculous traffic Arakawa Sensei, Fabian Sensei and myself arrived at about 9:30, but thankfully the group had only just finished the warm up and were working on the kihon essentials of Juntsuki-no-tsukkomi / Gyakutsuki-no-tsukkomi. Because this was a technical seminar it was a much slower pace to the very driven style of Shirmamizu; the Sensei stop and discuss the movement, the principles behind the movement and show some (sometimes quite funny) examples.

Indeed, the attitude throughout the day was that of thorough analysis and explanation, with only a little emphasis on high performance. That said, as the day was a sweltering 36 degrees, any physical exertion that we did soon took it's toll!

After Kihon, several Kata were analysed: Pinan Godan, Chinto, Seishan, and Naihanchi (Kushanku, Rohai and Jitte were tackled on the Sunday), with bunkai given.

Fabian Sensei and I were noticed, and rather charmingly Hakoishi Sensei started to use English and German in his explanations (even to Arakawa Sensei, who had to remind him that he was Japanese, much to everyone's amusement!).

Regular liquid breaks were taken to help combat the searing heat, which kept everyone on a high morale level. What really impressed me however, is just how happy Hakoishi Sensei is at practising his karate. After so many years of training, he's still playing with it like a new toy. This enthusiasm is definitely infectious!

After the lunch break Kihon Kumite was addressed, running through 1-4 on Saturday and 5-10 on Sunday. The higher Dan grades were lined up as the lower Dan grades (everyone here was at least a shodan, quite possibly I was the youngest and lowest rank there) took turns to practice with them. Each Sensei had a different piece of advice to give and a different way of looking at and correcting my performances, so to get the most out of this session I trained with as many Sensei as possible!

Saturday's session finished at 4:00. There wasn't much time for speaking at the end as Arakawa Sensei had to get back for the evening session (he had thankfully given Fabian Sensei and I the evening off), and then head out for a meal. The reason? It was Arakawa Sensei's Birthday! All of that training on such a day just shows how dedicated he is to karate. Food, laughs and some beers were had (though not too much beer, we were training the next day after all).

Sunday was just as hot as Saturday, so we were thankful for training in just the morning (the afternoon was a dan grading). Kata was first, and unfortunately it was Kushanku first- unfortunately because it's very much my worst kata and it became victim to the scrutiny of the top Wado Practitioners of Japan. Oh my.

We ran through the other Kata, all of which were new to me. Thankfully all the other Sensei were aware of this and helped me through with both basic movements and the more essential details. I would've loved to have spent more time on the kata, but I appreciate it wasn't the time for learning.

Kihon Kumite 5-10 was also done a bit faster than I would have liked, but as we had to finish by 12pm the schedule was tight already. However this does not stop this weekend being an invaluable seminar that has helped improve my understanding of Kata and Kihon Kumite to no end, and maybe I have found a new favourite kata in Jitte!

After the Seminar: mini-post

As it was such a beautiful day, Arakawa Sensei thought it would be a shame to waste it- so he took Fabian Sensei and me to the Umihotaru on the Tokyo Aqua Line. Wikipedia can say much more about it than I can on this page, but the line itself is a very impressive structural achievement.

We all took this opportunity to put our feet up- of course, being karateka we took this a little literally...