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2) Karate Training with Akamine Sensei - Okinawa 2019

September 11, 2019 / Wednesday
I arrived a little early and Akamine Sensei showed me some of his photos. Some were of his students that visited, some of himself and Soken Sensei, including a photo of Sensei when he came to Akamine's wedding; clearly the men shared a deep bond and Akamine Sensei has a great affection for his teacher he carries long after his master passed away back in 1982, at the age of 93. I realized that much like how my friend Hiro means his wife when he uses "she" or "her" out of context, Akamine Sensei always means Soken Sensei when he says "Sensei." The other day I got confused because he had been talking about the Senseis getting together to establish the kihon (basic drills) that start every class, and I thought it was a more recent development with the remaining Matsumura Seito teachers; he meant himself and Soken Sensei, back in the 70’s most likely. Light bulbs flashing as I slowly connect the dots.

ちょっと早めに道場に行って、先生が写真のアルバムを見せてくれた。日本人と外国から来た弟子達の写真がたくさん載ってた。祖堅先生との写真もいっぱいで、赤嶺先生の結婚披露宴での祖堅先生の写真もあった。確かに、先生と弟子の関係より深い友情があった。祖堅先生が1982年に亡くなったのに、話をきくだけでまだ生きているように思われる。赤嶺先生が「先生」と言うと、必ず「祖堅先生」のことを表すのに気づいた。ヨーヨーの友達の三居広典が英語で「She」とか「Her」を言うと妻の話になることと一緒だと思った。

Okinawan Faces Article

Karate Grandfather, Soken Hohan
Article in the Okinawa Times

Many students in the west

More than 70 years of practice in Karate has left him standing tall and looking far younger than his 89 years.

“Karate is for the preservation of health, and to develop the spirit. But many have turned it into a weapon against others, or just for show. As Karate has been changed for the purpose of being ‘cooler,’ the kata of old have suffered and are being lost.” He’d call it “the transformation of kata” into mere gestures.

Soken-san started karate when he was three years old. He was a nephew of Nabi Matsumura, grandson of Sokon (Bushi) Matsumura, often credited as being the progenitor of Karate. Favored by his uncle, Soken Sensei inherited the essence of Karate. He also trained in weapons such as Sai, Kama, and Nunchaku (Okinawan kobudo). Now, a tenth degree black belt, and the head/Hanshi of the Shorin-ryu Matsumura Seito Karatedo Honbu, Soken sensei is continuing the Karate he was taught, which others would consider an “old style” by comparison. But Soken sensei has many followers in America, Canada, and a wealth of others.

“Karate is a fun thing, and the secret to a long life.” Until three years ago he would travel to Naha or Chubu to teach. “Now my body isn’t listening to me like it used to, which is sad. But four or five times a month my Shihan class gets together and my students come to train with me, and it’s my greatest joy now.” His eyes shine as he talks about it.

When he was 83, he traveled to the US for a month and was invited to over 40 dojos to come visit. His trip formed a deep relationship of international diplomacy.


One of the photos was of a young Akamine (or at least I thought it was him) with an infant tucked into his gi coat, with his little feet peeking out from underneath the obi and bottom of the jacket. At first I thought it was adorable and maybe meant to be funny, but he explained that the dougi is similar to yukata that people wore in the past, and people used to carry their children in this way. Okinawa has been through some hard times, and people may have needed to defend themselves in all kinds of situations, including when they had their children with them. There's meaning in everything, and I realized that's one reason why so much of Soken Sensei's karate is designed to protect the center . Of course it's important to protect those soft targets regardless, but doubly so when your child's life is at stake. That meaning may have been lost with time as fashion and child-rearing have changed, but it's important to understand the real meaning behind things.

写真の一枚には若い空手家の道着から赤ちゃんの顔が出ていた。最初は可愛いと思ったけど、先生が「空手の上着が昔の浴衣に似ていて、昔はこのように赤ちゃんを運んでたよ。沖縄は貧しい時代もあったから、子供をふところに抱いてても攻撃される時もあるから、自分を防衛することだけじゃなく、自分の家族も守る必要だ。」だから受けの基本がほとんど全部みぞおちを守る、と分かった。確かにここが守るべきなところだけど、あのように子供を抱いていると、より大事な位置になるのだ。洋服と子供の育ち方が変わっていくので、この意味が忘れられたけど、歴史には意味があると感じた。

Sensei explained to me that usually Okinawans will have a few names they go by throughout their lives. His own started with ヨーシ "Yōshi," then as he grew into a young adult he was called マツー "Matsū," both because it's part of his name and in honor of the Matsumura clan. As an adult and a teacher, he became アカミー "Akamī," which his Sensei called him out of affection and respect. Sensei had a copy of a Dojo Meguri (道場巡り) article highlighting his dojo, and in the beginning it had a quote from Soken sensei directly told to him:

沖縄の人の人生で色んなニックネームで呼ばれる。子供の時、先生が「よーし」で呼ばれ、成長したら空手の松村家に尊敬を表すように「まつー」に変わって、大人や先生になってから、「あかみー」と祖堅先生に呼ばれることになった。壁には「道場巡り」の記事が載っていて、祖堅先生の格言で、最初の言葉が「あかみー」だった。


Dojo Meguri (Dojo roundup): Traditional Technique, preserving the complete teachings
Words by Masami Tamaki
Shorinryu Matsumura Seito Karate-do Hozonkai Honbu
Hougen: あかみー、型の中んかい答えはあるよ。しみてぃみーね、なんくるわかいさ。

These words from his master Hohan Soken echo in the heart of Sensei Yoshimatsu Akamine, and he carries them as he would any treasure. For 22 years from the time he was 16, he learned karate and kobudo man-to-man from Soken Sensei. Karate was attractive as something that he could practice on his own, and he would meet each day with training, even when it wasn’t scheduled. It’s been over 40 years since he opened his own Dojo and started teaching, and nowadays has students as young as elementary school ages with whom the sweat flows on the dojo floor. “Without step one you cannot hope to take step two,” you could say about Pinan shodan, the foundational kata he teaches first.

As you get older your body doesn’t follow your commands the same, so it’s important to follow your teacher’s instructions carefully, Akamine says, still using his time with Soken sensei as the foundation for his own strong practice and instruction. “Also, as you grow older you start to appreciate just how amazing your master was, and how important it is to preserve his “natural stances” and the treasure of his words, for future generations. No need to change your master’s art to make it your own, just share it with others and keep the old teachings alive.

Passion Focus: Master all the kata!
Yukiya Yamashita (12 yeard old) ← One of the kids I trained with
Invited to join by his friend, Yukiya entered the Akamine dojo and began training around his second year of elementary school. When he first started, he lacked confidence that he would ever achieve the form of his fellow students, but kept going back to train twice a week and refused to give up. By sticking with it, Yukiya conquered his fears and gained confidence as he learned each kata, and he noticed his progress after performing kata on stage for the local Jugoya-sai festival held at the kouminkan (community center) near the dojo. By performing the Passai sho kata, he realized how far he had come. “I want to perfect the things my teacher shared with me,” he shares, setting his goal to master all the kata of his system.


Once the kids arrived we lined up and did the five basic kihon, moving up and down the room in straight lines. Advancing for each drill is either one or two punches to center mass, followed by a kick off the rear leg. The kicks are all snap front kicks, pausing after snapping back to a chambered knee before taking the step forward, to establish your balance (full description contained elsewhere). Moving back, still in a straight line with hips and shoulders squared forward, we cycle through outside, inside, up, down and shuto blocks. Then he asked me to do Pinan shodan and nidan with the kids, which are thankfully similar to those I've practiced, so at least I can follow along without interrupting.

子供達が到着して授業が始まった。最初は礼をしてから基本をする。一本真っ直ぐ前身して打って蹴って、そして受けながら後退して元に戻る。攻撃でも受けでも、大体自分のみぞおちは目的だ。蹴りは全部同じく前蹴りで、前進する前膝が曲がったまま三秒ぐらいとめて自分のバラナスを確認する (より詳しくは別な説明文にある)。腰も肩も前に向かって、中段の外受け、中段のうち受け、上段受け、下段払い、そして手刀受けの基本を一個ずつ練習する。基本が終わったらちょっと休憩させて、平安初段と二段を練習した。

Same time tomorrow? Sensei tells more than asks after class. I wasn't expecting this, I can’t believe my luck. He is stoked to teach, so I'm eager to learn.

「また明日、同じ時間?」と誘ってくれた。普段は週に二回だけだと思ったからびっくりしたけど、「はい!」と興奮を隠すように失敗した。

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That's way cool. I always wondered what happened to my sensei in Okinawa. I used to look at the karate magazines about 25 years ago and saw both senseis. If one is still alive, he must be in his 90 's now.
 
Notice (can't seem to edit the entry): This article was originally posted to The Matsumura Seito Karate-do Hozonkai Homepage.

thanks, @musicisgood, you should try to look them up! I've always treasured the connections I've made with people over martial arts. Many sensei slow down or stop teaching around 80, but many live into their 90's and beyond, and claim they owe it to their training. Akamine Sensei has said that he has no intention to stop teaching until he is truly incapable of it. I think that intention will help keep him active and healthy longer than retirement.

I really recommend checking out this documentary, about the remarkable longevity of Okinawan natives, and the second half spends some time interviewing karate masters. I found it as "The Okinaway of Life," on Amazon Prime and under a different name on Youtube:

 

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nice gaijin
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