On Tuesday I arrived in Kagoshima to train with Miyagi sensei. It had been almost three years since I’d last seen him. After checking in at my hotel I contacted Miyagi sensei to tell him I’d arrived (1). Although Tuesday is not a regular practice day at the dojo, Miyagi sensei still took the time to meet and teach me. He’s always been generous with his time.
We were to start practice at 6:30 pm so just after 6:00 grabbed my dogi, hopped into a taxi and headed to the dojo. The dojo is in an older part of Kagoshima and is difficult to find, especially at night when it’s dark. So taking a taxi is the best option. This time, however, I wasn’t so lucky. The driver couldn’t find the dojo! And instead of phoning dispatch (which I suggested a few times and he ignored) to get better directions, he drove around and around the neighbourhood in the hopes of finding it. By now it was almost 7:00 pm and I’d had enough. “Let me out please” I said. “I’ll find it myself.” By the time I made it to the dojo it was 7:15 pm!
I took off my shoes, opened the door to the dojo and there was Miyagi sensei standing there. “I’m so sorry to be late” I said. “It’s ok” he replied. “You must have had trouble finding the place” he said with a smile.
I changed into my dogi and stepped onto the dojo floor. “Why are you wearing a white belt?” Miyagi sensei asked starring at my waist. “Because I don’t know anything sensei” I replied. Miyagi sensei just laughed. As I lightly stretched Miyagi sensei commented, “you’ve lost some weight?” “Yes sensei”, I answered. “I was pretty sick this year and I’m feeling a lot better, but my I’m still trying to get my weight back to normal. I need to gain about 3 more kilos, but it’s been fun eating so much delicious food in the process; especially here in Japan.”
After bowing to the shomen and to sensei we began practice. The first thing on the list was yobi undo (予備運動) which are the preparatory exercises used in Goju-ryu. Miyagi sensei explained a little of the history of the creation of these exercises and how they were created by Miyagi Chojun in consultation with his student Kamiya Jinsei who was also his student.
He went through all of the exercises in great detail with particular emphasis on using the lower body to strengthen a student’s Karate-do technique; especially in the sequence of exercises using shiko-dachi. These exercises are to form the basis of your Karate-do so it is essential to do them correctly which I wasn’t. LOL.
After yobi undo it I practiced stepping in Sanchin dachi with and without nigiri gamae. Miyagi sensei noticed right away that I was losing my footing on my rear leg because I hadn’t locked in my stance with my hips, back and leg – the same muscles that are trained and activated in yobi undo.
The next thing I worked on was basic striking. Miyagi sensei thinks most Karateka are too shoulder-locked and unable to use their hips properly and because of that have weak strikes. Well I can tell you that one of Miyagi sensei’s favourite expressions is ‘seeing is believing’. So please believe when I say that his punches will go right through you; they’re so heavy yet fast. At any rate with Miyagi sensei’s help I worked on better connecting my upper and lower body to my punches.
We next worked on Sanchin kata and Miyagi sensei commented that Sanchin kata can be difficult for some students with respect to maintaining proper body alignment, core activation, posture, etc. So Miyagi sensei uses an exercise that was developed by his teacher Sakai Ryugo sensei to help with this transition. It emphasizes opening and closing the front and back of the body while connecting the upper and lower body as well. If you’re friends with Miyagi sensei on facebook the you’ve probably seen him demonstrate it. It looks simple enough: hands held in front of the body, palms open, extend the arms, bring them back, step and repeat. But there is so much subtle body mechanics going on that the video doesn’t show. You honestly need to have someone coach you to get an understanding of it. But once you do, you realize what a great addition it is to your training.
By now it was 9:45 pm and Miyagi sensei suggested it was time to call it a night. We finished practice and headed out for a bite to eat. Miyagi sensei knows I love Japanese food especially food from Kyushu so he suggested we go to a friend’s pub. We ordered some food and shochu and chatted about all things Karate and not well into the morning.
Thank you Miyagi sensei for your instruction. I’m looking forward to Friday’s practice.
(1) When I’m in Kyushu I usually stay at the Hokke Club hotel chain. It’s very reasonably priced, clean, comfortable and convenient.