Wednesday, May 4, 2011

International Community

The most amazing thing about training in Japan is the extensive international community that exists here. AS I mentioned in a previous post: the martial arts in Japan are not inherently better than in other countries. Sensei are not better by virtue of being Japanese and, often times, the traditional teaching style is difficult for foreign students. Japan, however, is the world epicenter for the martial arts; it’s a gathering point where people come to share their knowledge and energy.

In the two years I’ve lived in Japan, I have had the opportunity to meet and train with an interesting variety of Budoka from around the world. In Kitakyushu, my mentor, Lyn Jehu, was a Welshman—NOT ENGLISH—who currently holds a ni-dan in Shotokan Karate, a san-dan in Shito-Ryu Karate and a san-dan in Goju-Ryu Karate. WE often practiced boxing and various striking and kicking drills in the park… much to the amusement of my middle school students who lived nearby.
Through Lyn, I was later introduced to the finest swordsman in all of France—or so I’ve heard—who also happened to be one of the finest Aikidoka I have ever met. Unfortunately, we did not meet until the end of my stay in Kitakyushu, but the two hour training session we shared before I left was better than six months of any normal training.

During the three months I spent at the
I was privileged enough to meet the Venezuelan Paraolympic team. This was my first chance to train with other blind judoka and I am not at all ashamed to say they kicked my ass squarely and soundly. I am proud to say the person who has most thoroughly tossed me around a judo mat was a blind man called Junior. I took the opportunity to arrive early one day and chatted with the team for a couple hours before training. Junior practices Judo full time; in Venezuela, he trains twice a day six days a week. Thanks to the governments strong support of the Paralympics, He has traveled around the world and, for the second time, taken three weeks to train in Tokyo.

Besides training with German, Russian, French and Egyptian national champions, I had wonderful opportunities to spar with sensei from Israel and Barbados. Every day brought new players from new places. One Italian Pilot chose to work flights to Narita so he could train at the Kodokan in his rest period.

Of course my discussion on the international community could not be complete without mentioning the budoka at the International Budo University. The judoka include three Americans from very different backgrounds, one Chinese man and one Peruvian. France, Holland, Turkey, Finland, Mexico, Korea and Chile are all represented by the Kendo members training In Katsuura. We are as mixed as the countries we represent, but we all share our passion for the martial arts.

Perhaps it is because we all share the common trait of being outsiders in this country… or perhaps it is simply our desire to improve ourselves and those around us, but the international community in Japan is one of the most supportive networks I have ever seen. I do not wish to undercut the amazing Japanese budoka I have also met and I hope to be posting frequently about the fantastic sensei at the Budo Daigaku when classes begin. I just wanted to take a moment during Golden Week while nothing is happening to remember the many foreigners I have met here in Japan.

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