As the birthplace of Goju Ryu karate, Rowan says Okinawa is a place that all Goju Ryu karate practitioners should visit
Our small group of four went to Okinawa as a delegation of Goju Ryu Karate Do New Zealand under our chief instructor Terry Hill to establish relationships for our 13 New Zealand dojo and to attend a number of martial arts events being held in Japan.
Imagine our delight when we discovered that our rented apartment was situated right opposite the dojo of Japanese martial arts icon Morio Higaonna, Terry’s old instructor!
The reunion was emotional for all of us and we were treated to a personal tour of Higaonna Sensei’s dojo and experienced sweltering 36-degree training at night with members from around the world.
Because Okinawa is a traditional martial arts mecca, all the friendly Okinawan taxi drivers know where the traditional and modern public training centres are.
A trip to the modern and recently established Karate Kaikan [training establishment] resulted in us using a private training room, attending the Chojun Miyagi [a famous martial artist] exhibition, eating Budo noodles at the local café and buying karate wafers as souvenirs.
Observation of an international Uechi Ryu [a style of Okinawan karate] seminar in the largest hall gave us all great ideas about our own training activities in New Zealand.
Even more amazing for us was to watch young men from high schools in Okinawa competing in the traditional Budokan sumo tournament. Imagine a hall full of 1000 odd teenage sumo wrestlers in their traditional garb stomping around the place! It was a humbling experience, as some of those young men would easily flatten most rugby scrums in New Zealand.
Rowan Bickell: "It was a humbling experience, as some of those young men would easily flatten most rugby scrums in New Zealand."
We were also delighted to train and dine with renowned Beijing Wushu master Miyahira Song Li Sensei. Three rather large, stiff western men in white pyjama pants among petite and flexible Japanese Tai Chi exponents was a memory we will all recall with mirth.
We dined and lived locally and loved the experience of meeting local shop owners and people who became really used to us popping in to stock up on essential supplies or eating out.
One of our favourite places was a side street off Kokusai Dori (the main street) that was packed with locals and sold delicious market-style food in tiny restaurants and open courtyards with jars of Habu [snake] sake on display.
A visit to Shuri Castle with its cultivated gardens of beauty and precision presented unique architecture and history that we also enjoyed. By contrast, Tokyo with its complexity of train lines and population of New Zealand coming in and out of the subways among glittering neon and unique shops, literally stopped us in our tracks!
The famous Shibuya billboard intersection feels like you are in a future world hologram and the shopping is incredible.
We have established some strong relationships with people in Japan and are really keen to encourage all of our dojo to fundraise and have a trip of a lifetime.
We are already planning our national strategy to ensure our members have opportunities to visit the birthplace of their own style of karate, Goju Ryu, and experience the people, language and culture of Japan.