The next day started out with two hours of training with Sensei Yamashiro. Yamashiro was one of the top students of Sensei Shigeru Takamiyagi, our head instructor until his passing in 2012. The day ended with two more hours of training with Master Tsutomo Nakahodo. He is considered the highest authority in the world still actively teaching Uechi-Ryu, and is known as the ‘Encyclopedia’ of the art.
In between the trainings we scrambled to run errands and swung back to the airport to grab three of our students. This was the first pilgrimage to Okinawa for Matt Moreau, Beth Yanuskiewicz, and Michelle Moreau. We brought them to their hotel (also in Okinawa city) for their customary ‘recovery day’ since they had just made the trip from New York. With 20+ hours of travel and a 14 hour time difference, some time for rest and adjustment is usually needed.
The next ten days were filled with a combination of intense workouts and amazing adventures. The training was typically four hours each day with many of the leading Masters in the world including: Senseis Yamashiro, Nakahodo, Toshio Higa, Takashi Arakaki, Keicho Tobaru, Shinmatsu Okuhama, and Masanori Yonamine. The bulk of our training took place at the Yamashiro Dojo, but we also visited dojos in the towns of Koza (Yonamine), Awase (Tobaru), Yomitan (Uechi), Okinawa City (Kenshukai) and, of course Chatan (Higa.) The latter was headed by Sensei Takamiyagi for many years and still considered our home dojo in Okinawa.
The primary reason for this trip was to enable Sensei Connie to ‘level up.’ She was overdue for promotion to 7th degree black belt or Nanadan, which can only be done officially in Okinawa. The Okinawa Karatedo Association requires candidates for 6th degree or higher to do at least 30 hours of training and tune-up, over a minimum of two weeks to qualify for advancement. This is to insure that the candidate’s skills and understanding are at the level required, and also gives them a chance to immerse themselves into Okinawan history and culture. Not everyone who undergoes this process is successful, as was witnessed first hand during this trip.
Sensei Connie actually trained for a total of 36 hours and DID pass her test with flying colors. She worked very hard and received praise from the instructors we worked with, many of whom were on the panel of judges at her test. Huge congratulations to Sensei Connie for rising to the occasion and rocking her test!
In addition to the training, testing, and time with amazing friends our group did a fair amount of sightseeing, shopping and activities. This included visiting the Churaumi Aquarium, the Shuri Jo Castle, the Futenma Shrine, Hanbi Town, and the Okinawa Prefectural Museum. We also visited many restaurants and did way too much Karaoke in a place simply known as “Mama’s.” As usual, people who thought that they would struggle with that just went for it when the time came and completely enjoyed the experience. In fact, everyone from ZenQuest was unofficially promoted in this ancient art.
Another goal during this visit was to train and spend time with our primary teacher, Sensei Toshio Higa. He is now the ranking instructor at the Chatan Dojo. We’ve developed a special bond with Sensei Higa over the last 20+ years, and he calls himself our “Okinawan Father.” In addition to being one of the top proteges of Grandmaster Kanei Uechi and an accomplished Master himself, he is a funny and fantastic person that is just a pleasure to be around.
One big take-away from this trip is the importance of ‘getting it.’ When we have opportunities to learn from highly qualified instructors it’s important to make the best of it. I’ve seen so many people squander opportunities to make progress in their art by ignoring the people that are trying to help them. They go through the motions of attending the training and doing the exercises, but don’t really want anyone to highlight that they might not be doing things perfectly. Instead of learning, they’re want to be told that everything they’re doing is good or, at least acceptable. Then, they can return to their home Dojo a hero who was validated by notorious instructors. I’ve literally heard people say things like “Well, I’ve been doing this for X number of years and I’m not going to change it now!” But, once we adopt this kind of thinking, we stop learning. When we listen and work WITH the people that can help us improve, we progress and gain a broader understanding of our art. What’s more is, when those people see that we are really interested and working to ‘get it’ they will often spend more time with us and share much MORE of their knowledge. Ultimately, we all benefit when we keep an open mind and allow important information to be passed from one generation to the next. This way, we can make the most of our art together.
Once again we would like to thank everyone for helping out in keeping ZenQuest moving forward while we were away. That includes all of the instructors covering classes, Dee Bradly for running the front desk, and Kyle Pezzano for making sure the place stayed clean. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU everyone!!! We’d also like to thank all of our friends and instructors in Okinawa for providing another incredible experience, especially Senseis Higa, Nakahodo, Tobaru, Yamashiro, Arakaki, and Uechi. Special thanks to our students...Senseis Michelle, Beth and Matt for joining us on this trip and sharing in some amazing memories!