Another old English assignment, from early October 2010:
A glass fronted building, one of many sections in a strip mall. “Okinawan Karate School” reads the sign in red letters over a dirty white background. Logos, schedules, and event notices are pasted and taped onto the large windows. In the leftmost window various wares of martial arts equipment and supplies are prominently displayed. Go through the door of metal and glass. The lounge floor is covered in wall-to-wall carpet. A large vending machine stands against the right wall, filled with energy drinks. One table is surrounded by chairs, while the other has sofas. In the far right corner is a white board displaying important dates and reminders. On the rear wall, a window looks out into the training area.
Many people from many dojos are crowded about, having entered the training area through the small doorway straight ahead. Hardwood floor greets bare feet as they mill about the room, the mirrors lining the right wall reflecting the sea of white gis. Today a special seminar is about to take place. Two karate masters from Okinawa are visiting the dojo, and are holding a training session in Uechi-ryu karate, which is the style taught by this dojo. Today, all are students, both instructors, or Senseis, and the lower ranks. A quick opening introduction is given, and the exercises begin.
Gracefully, Masters Higa and Takamiyagi lead the practitioners through hojo-undo, a series of technique drills. Hands and feet kick, punch, and block in dizzying displays of martial prowess, dodging and countering the attacks of invisible enemies, all timed to the count given by Senseis Takamiyaagi and Higa. Then the students are led through spectacular, pre-arranged sets of techniques and movements called kata. The scene is a thrilling mixture of sweat, shouts, and speed.
When this activity is finished, the students wait for their turn to be Sanchin tested by the masters and some of the senior ranking instructors. Sanchin is the first kata learned by students of Uechi-ryu, and is the central core to the style. In Sanchin testing, students have their stance tested through pounding and light punches. The masters and instructors are careful to make sure the pounding is appropriate for the rank of the individual being tested. Then, each student waits to present to the masters another kata of their choice, and the masters give corrections to the presentation. More training ensues.
Before long, the seminar draws to a close, and everyone readies for the closing bow. The masters and senior instructors kneel with backs to white rear wall. Hanging above them is the dojo centerpiece, a banner with intricate Japanese characters, surrounded by four pictures of Masters Higa and Takamiyagi. The students kneel, facing the centerpiece, and a short meditation is performed, and a kneeling bow. Everyone relaxes. The masters say a few words, and Sensei Takamiyagi gives a short speech on dedication to the martial arts. “Perspiration, not conversation”, he says.
It is a special occasion when the school is honored by the presence of Okinawan masters, but training happens here every day of the week. Set in the middle of a rundown & mostly empty plaza, you might never guess that hundreds of students fill the rosters. Every day, shouts are heard as students and instructors hone their warrior skills, their marvelous performances reflected back by the mirrors.
In the right-hand corner of the far wall, a doorway opens to the restrooms and women’s locker room. In the left-hand corner is the entrance to the men’s locker room.
Punching bags and exercise balls hang from racks on the left wall, and stacked against it are targets, pedestal bags, hard conditioning targets, training jars, wooden stick weapons, and other assorted training gear and equipment. In the near left corner stands a wooden cabinet full of sparring gear and focus mitts, and racks of staffs and conditioning tools.
The many assorted implements represent the diversity in classes here at the dojo. Training is for all ages, and each class is tailored to its age group. And it is not just karate that is taught here. Numerous jiu-jitsu students roll and grapple daily on flat blue mats, and MMA classes are held every week, making for varied and well-rounded martial arts instruction.
Also representing the diverse nature of the dojo, pictures of masters, legendary fighters, and various snapshots of martial arts history related to the dojo line the left and near wall. Hanging on the left wall are plaques inscribed with the names of karate students and instructors, organized by rank. And looking down at all of this from the left wall is a painting of Bodhidharma, an ancient monk from India who early in 5th century AD brought Zen Buddhism into China. According to legend, Bodhidharma was the creator of Sanchin kata.
Outside the dojo, heavy construction is underway at the plaza entrance. Huge vehicles whir and whine, dirt is thrown up into the air, and orange cones show the way into the plaza. The plan is to eventually gut not only the whole parking lot but the mall as well, so the dojo is preparing to move and change its name.
But this move and name change will in no way affect the core essence of the school, for the spirit of the dojo lives in the hearts of its students. Whether it is in China, Japan, Brazil, or the United States, this spirit always lives on, for it is the spirit of martial arts itself. And the spirit of martial arts, though always changing, always morphing, always growing, is always the same deep down at its core, a lifetime commitment dedicated to improving the heart, mind, and body of not only oneself, but the hearts, minds, and bodies of others.