The 21st International Seminar of Budo Culture
Between the dates of March 6th and 9th 2009, the 21st International Seminar of Budo Culture was held at the Budokan Kenshu centre and the International Budo University in Katsuura City, Chiba prefecture, Japan.
This is an annual event organised by the Japanese Ministry for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The aim of this event was to provide non Japanese budoka an opportunity to deepen their technical and theoretical knowledge of budo, whilst also contributing to international goodwill and friendship.
This year was a truly international event with 89 participants attending from over 15 countries. Most of the attendees were resident in Japan. However a few people travelled from overseas, including one gentleman who came all the way from Belgium. This should give some kind of indication of the quality of this event. As I live in Kitakyushu on the island of Kyushu in the south of Japan, getting to the seminar required some careful logistical planning and an expensive flight to Tokyo, however it was most definitely worth it.
Being a karateka the highlight of this event for me was to once again have the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful instruction offered by Maeda sensei (Wado Ryu) and Kagawa sensei (Shotokan). Maeda sensei is currently ranked 7th dan and in addition to his many teaching responsibilities is currently the director of the Japan Karatedo Federation. Kagawa sensei is also 7th dan, the coach of the famous Teikyo university karate club and the current Japan Karatedo Federation vice chairman of the coaching committee. Both of the sensei are well known in the karate world and obviously offer a wealth of top quality experience and instruction. They are quite simply superb karateka and excellent teachers.
The format of the seminar is roughly as follows:
The nine main gendai or modern budo are represented. These being:
karate, kendo, naginata, aikido, judo, kyudo, sumo, Shorinji kempo and jukendo
In addition to the two technical sessions in the participants’ chosen art which were offered, there was also the chance to experience a new budo in three other sessions. A number of interesting lectures and discussions were also provided and these were considered an important part of the event. This year the main point of discussion regarded the introduction of budo as a compulsory subject at all Japanese junior high schools starting form 2011. There was also a great social element. There was a palpable sense of camaraderie present and the final night in particular gave everyone a chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
The first karate session was conduction by Maeda sensei and after a thorough warm-up we began to practice in earnest. The main theme of the lesson was the correct use of the reaction arm or hikite whilst punching. We practiced pulling both arms back to koshi kamae from an extended position. At first we practiced slowly, placing great emphasis on correct timing and not letting the elbow flare out. Once Sensei was satisfied with this practice, we moved on to full speed. Throughout the session Maeda sensei stressed the need to remain relaxed and only use kime at the very end of the technique and also the need to ensure that we used correct body mechanics and timing.
We then progressed to practising in pairs. Facing each other in shizentai dachi we took turns grasping each other’s sleeves as we tried to unbalance each other with strong hikite.
The next step was practising in a similar manner using oi tsuki, however we stepped backward as our partner stepped forward in zenkutsu dachi. Once again, correct timing, use of the hips and correct application of power or chikara no kyojaku was stressed. We then reversed the process. Stepping forward and punching whilst our partners stepped back grasping our reaction arms. A further variation on this practice was offered with the addition of gyaku tsuki .
Throughout these practices, Maeda sensei constantly emphasised the need for smooth, coordinated movements, the correct application of power and keeping the stance at the same height as we stepped , avoiding the tendency to bob up and down. Maeda sensei gave a number of excellent demonstrations and his strong use of hip power was very apparent.
To conclude the session we moved onto to applying the points we had studied and hopefully refined, into prearranged gohon kumite. After a quick recap of the correct mechanics of the three basic blocks we were to practice, that is; jodan age uke, chudan soto or uchi uke depending on style (this problem with nomenclature produced a humorous aside) and gedan barai. We then practiced jodan, chudan and mae geri attacks and their corresponding defences back and forth a number of times with a variety of different partners and then sadly and all too quickly this enjoyable and informative lesson was over. The technical training classes at this event are only one hour long. We were all most definitely left wanting more. Maeda sensei is an excellent teacher. In addition to his first rate karate ability, he was able to clearly explain and elucidate important points through excellent practical demonstrations. He has a really nice teaching manner and this made for a great atmosphere in the dojo.
After a great dinner the rest of the evening was spent enjoying some free training together. Tomorrow would be our chance to study under one of the true greats of modern Shotokan karate; Kagawa sensei.
Day two and most of us arrived at the dojo early, in order to warm up and shake off the soreness acquired in the previous day’s sessions. Everyone seemed excited at the prospect of training under Kagawa sensei.
Sensei arrived promptly and the class was soon underway. Kagawa sensei speaks a little English and we also had an excellent and very helpful translator on hand. However, with a teacher of this quality a picture surely does paint a thousand words. Being able to watch Kagawa sensei demonstrate at close hand is better than any verbal explanation could ever hope to be. He has extraordinary technique and is able to get his teaching points across quickly and clearly through his superb demonstrations. Sensei also asked the group questions. A great teaching approach and thought provoking stuff.
The aim of this session was a direct progression from the previous class with Maeda sensei. We practiced moving forward, backward and to the side using various tai sabaki movements. Today we worked from a more natural free style stance and the emphasis was on stepping and movement in jiyu kumite.
Throughout this session Kagawa sensei continually stressed the need for smooth footwork and the correct use of power. A few of us, including myself were corrected for stepping too “heavily”. Kagawa sensei is able to move like lightweight boxer and then at the completion of the technique hit like a heavyweight... This was a great demonstration of text book technique.
Sensei soon progressed the session on towards partner work and we were able to practice the various footwork drills we had covered in a more practical format. All the elements that we had practiced individually were now put to the test against an opponent in a semi freestyle format. Sensei wished us to move as smoothly and fluidly as possible. Easier said than done!
This excellent session was finished off with some jiyu kumite. We were lucky enough to have some very talented students from the International Budo University present at the session along with the various international karateka, and it was certainly a great test of our abilities, to engage in even restrained kumite with these fellas. They are basically full time karateka, living at the university and training a number of times every day. They all possessed excellent technique, timing, speed and distance appreciation. In addition to all these attributes they are as one of my friends pointed out all 20 years younger than most of us! This was a very enjoyable conclusion to a great lesson and it was a pleasure to engage in kumite with such fine young karateka.
They are a real credit to the programme at the university and conducted themselves flawlessly not just in the practical sessions but at the various social functions too.
I addition to the karate classes I was able try my hand at kendo, naginata and the little know art of jukendo or bayonet practice. All of these sessions were extremely enjoyable and challenging. Although of course in the short time that we had they were merely basic introductions to these arts, it was nonetheless fascinating to note the common ground present in all budo… It was also an incredible privilege to be instructed by so many top level sensei in such a diverse range of budo. In my opinion this was an extremely worthwhile and enjoyable seminar. In addition to the high level of instruction offered it was also a rare chance for foreign budoka in Japan to get together and socialise.
Roll on next year!
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Please note that the photograph of Sensei Kagawa was not taken at the 21st International Seminar of Budo Culture but in fact here in the UK)