Trip to Okinawa (November 2012)

This post contains extracts from Sensei Andre Leister’s Facebook updates, including pictures and videos. Keep on checking back for updates.

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My lift arrives to Okinawa!

Day 1: Sunday 4th November 2012:

Landed Osaka with a good flight across. Must say the food on KLM was one of the tastiest I have had for plane meals :)

However having been told in Heathrow my baggage would go all the way to Okinawa I thought I better check and surprise, surprise there was my case going round and round :o

4 hour wait now so decided to scrub up and repack the duty free etc before checking in. Again got told I was overweight so had to unpack all the duty free and carry that separately. They are really strict on weight this trip :( Got used to two 23kg cases on JAL.
Will try and get a little kip before boarding for Okinawa later. — at Kansai International Airport.

Apart from the suitcase weight problems at the airport we touched down in Okinawa at 16:26 on 2nd November 2012 and within 15 minutes I was picking my luggage off the carousel and hopping into a taxi. I spoilt myself this time as usually I take the monorail however I knew I was short for time to get to practice so taxi it was and glad to see the usual sights on the way to the apartment.

View of Naha City

Miyara San was waiting for me and after payment for the apartment it was up to floor six and apartment 602 another different one in all these years I have been coming. My stored bag was already in the apartment after photos it was time to unpack as time was pushing on. Unpacking done and all the little surprises of what I kept from last time made me smile as it was like an early Christmas for me. Even Miyara San kept things like oil and soya sauce to one side that I had left in July.

After a quick shower and even quicker note on Facebook to tell everyone I had landed safely it was downstairs to see if the bikes were still there. Only in Okinawa can you leave two bikes for three months and return to find them in the same place. A bit dirty but with a wipe down I was on my way to the dojo on fairly soft tyres and the gears slipping a bit.
Upon entering the dojo I was greeted by Emile and Thomas. Quick change and then it was a fairly light session getting all the cobwebs out of the system and practising for the Kobudo demonstration on Sunday. I left slightly earlier than the normal practice finish at 21:45 as still needed to eat and do some shopping.

Ebi Burger!

Back at the apartment I thought I just needed at quick something to eat so it was to McDonald’s and the famous Ebi (prawn) burger meal. Shopping followed and I didn’t get back to the apartment until 00:30 so was beginning to feel tired, so much so I had guided the eggs safely home on the bike only to drop two putting them away ! Once the shopping was away I fell into bed and sleep was quickly upon me.

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Day 2: Monday 5th November 2012
First full day in Okinawa I was awake at nine and fairly refreshed after the long journey here. After a shower it was straight down to Shureido to order yet more gi’s. To my surprise they were shut so I just thought I was too early so off to the bike shop for a quick service, but no they were shut as well !
Okay so back to the apartment for breakfast. Sods law I don’t get a work phone call all w
eek and today I get two so after a few e-mails and course bookings made I couldn’t believe Shureido was shut on a Saturday so off I go again to see. Yes they are shut and the photo proves it :(

Shureido is shut?!

With that I had to do something about the bike so off to the Esso garage near Higaonna Sensei’s dojo. On the way I met Yonekasu Uehara San and found out the Higaonna Sensei Dojo was also demonstrating tomorrow. At the garage as with all Okinawan’s they were very helpful and finally had both tyres full of air.
Back to the apartment for lunch and off for a quick practice. Akamine Sensei said that there was demonstration practice at six so after hydrating with afternoon tea I made my way to the dojo. As I was early Thomas was just getting ready so we started running through the kata’s. When Sensei turned up to our surprise nobody else had, so we had a fantastic evening of one on two personal training with Akamine Sensei. The time flew and before we knew it the clock had stuck 20:30. Sensei mentioned the bar so no contest but I had to cycle home like a demon, stick the gi in the wash as my plan for a new gi had fallen through because I found out from Sensei it was a national holiday in Okinawa today hence Shureido being shut and then a quick shower before hot footing it to the bar.
We had a great time with a few beers and also some great food from Yakitori Taishow. We even had a huge fish that had been caught by a local and brought in as Shushi. Finished just after eleven so I was back in the apartment hanging my gi out to dry and falling in bed behind closed eyes just before midnight.
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Day 3: Tuesday 6th November 2012
Day two woke me with a startle at seven. Mouth dry and wanting a steamy cuppa I rose and went for a shower. Whilst showering the two alarms I set began to go off so sorry to the neighbours ! We were to meet at 09:45 at the dojo so I had plenty of time, relax what could go wrong ? After breakfast and a quick post on Facebook on the way out, I was on my way.
Half way to the dojo the tyre gave out on me, a back wheel flat. I carried on gently to the next garage where again they were helpful but unfortunately the young guy pumping up the tyre blew the valve :( I had to run half the way to the dojo pushing the bike. Just about got there on time as Sensei was loading bo’s into the car.
We wasn’t late as the whole day was taken up by the demonstration. Many people were there and it was nice to meet up with Kuramoto Sensei, Uehara San, Hiro San and Jonas San. At 11:00 it was photo time for the whole group on stage which took about 30 minutes to arrange everybody. Thereafter it was practice, lunch and more practice.
The doors opened at 12:30 to the public and 13:30 all the demonstrations began with us being about 14th. On we went with the lights so bright and after finishing I went in the front to watch the rest of the demonstrations. Akamine Sensei came back on with his Shorin Ryu karate and the IOGKF doing there bit for Higaonna Sensei Dojo.

Video (not viewable on iPad / iPhone)

During the demonstration it started raining so lucky we were indoors and on stage. Once the closing ceremony had finished it was back to Akamine Sensei’s dojo for a party. Lots to eat and also much more to drink as Sensei was bringing out bottles from the office. It started with French red wine, beer, schnapps from Germany (which was over 20 years old & was 40° proof), Japanese Saki and Awamori. As the party went on there was huge thunder and lighting with the heavens opening up.

Video (not viewable on iPad / iPhone)

I needed to get my bike fixed but decided that will wait until tomorrow now and thank you to Akamine San for driving me home. Home in the apartment all dry I was just in time for a Facebook post of day one then I needed that cuppa and a chocolate fix before that welcome bed :)

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Day 4: Wednesday 7th November 2012

Day three already and the days are going quickly. It is Monday so hopefully my favourite shop will be open. After a shower and breakfast I was off. Today I will use Daphne’s bike to get around, oh so lucky we brought two at the time for under £50 each three years ago, the yen was weak to the pound back then as now they are over a £100 each. Decided first stop was the bike shop to pump up the bike tyres for the new weight on it :)

Next was trying to explain that I needed a new valve rubber as the garage would have blown the other one. He checked my bike and said it was okay. No, no another bike, strange looks, but then my arm signals must of made the penny drop and off he went. He rummaged around old parts and bless him found me an old valve. I took the rubber off, counted to Yon and to his delight he had a new pack of four on the wall. Job done as I knew if one rubber was disintegrating then the others would soon and with less than 50p spent I even brought a pump for the first time we have had the bikes.

Next stop Shureido to order Free Action gi’s. My usual lady Mistuko Maezato San was not around but all the ladies in the shop are very helpful. Sizes and names given over and a definite Friday or Saturday delivery !!! Shipping costs are so expensive so a quick check at the post office confirmed the same :(
Back to the apartment as another item of work needed to be done and then practice, practice and more practice. It was soon way past lunch so I knocked up a quick omelette to go with two variations of rice I had.
Cycled over to Akamine Sensei Dojo a lot earlier than usual and mended the bike within minutes, now I have two at the dojo :) Decided Bo practice on the roof top was now the order of the day as Sensei has a children’s class before the adults. Even though it is only just touching the twenties and no humidity I was soon sweating buckets. My hips bruised I went down to check the tyre on the bike and it was still holding out. As I walked back up the children were just finishing so I went into the dojo to practice the Sai and Kama. Akamine Sensei came back onto the dojo floor and immediately checked my bo kata. I was pleased I practised but still very nervous to make sure everything is correct. Sensei corrected some of the techniques for me to improve on.
Next it was Thomas to get the eye while I practised again. By this time the dojo was filling up so we started with bo warm up and then the Kihons as a group. Then Sensei took each one of us through different kata’s for corrections. I felt my Sai and Kama kata’s are stronger than my bo but still need a little correction here and there. I was also interested in watching the way Sensei corrected the other students as this will help me with my teaching and corrections back home.
Another two hours flew by and it was time to end the session. Thomas was presented with his San Dan certificate, his Instructors certificate and official dojo certificate in Germany so congratulations to Thomas.
Thomas is flying home tomorrow so another party was on the cards. Up to the local bar it was to say goodbye with good food, a few beers and Awamories. Cycled home on my own bike as quickly as possible because felt the rain starting to fall. I was amazed to see the time was gone one in the morning so with hardly a page read from my book I was once again in dream land.

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Day 5: Thursday 8th November, 2012

Day Five woke me with the neighbours chattering away on the balcony and looking at the clock it was just gone nine. Jumped straight out of bed and went training.

Back at the apartment it was time for a general clean up. All rubbish out including the empty drinking bottles building up, hovering and washing all towels. Chores all done it was time to catch up on e-mails and try to get some new clients. My tummy started telling me it was time for food and yes dinner time.

Today I had treated myself to a steak during the midnight shop so it was steak, chips, vegetables, rice, bread & butter all washed down with a cup of tea, orange juice and lemonade and a strawberry yogurt for dessert. Yum yummy in my tummy. Washing up done I was obviously feeling full so it was time to take to the streets and a good walk around. Up Kokasai Dori into Heiwa Dori around the Makishi public market where there were all sorts for sale as my photos show.

Charlie must see something he likes, well apart from the Porsche :)

18,000 yen?!?

Tried to find my Yagi Okinawa shirt shop on Okiei Dori but looks like that is now a Burger King :( Back at the apartment it was time to check e-mails and yes my first purchase order has arrived for my new company, a week of courses in December, jump with joy :) Akamine Sensei was not instructing tonight so having trained practising his corrections I decided to train with Kuramoto Sensei during the evening.

It was a good decision because after the warm up, chi-ishi and half way through nigiri game Higaonna Sensei walks in. He knows I am mainly here for Kobudo this visit and tells a story of An´ichi Miyagi Sensei getting him to cut the grass with the kama in shiko dachi for one and a half hours one way and then another one and a half hours back the other way.

It was a great session as Sensei took us through kata with lots of corrections to think about. Once again time with these masters just seems to fly by and I said goodbye to Sensei and Dojo at just gone 23:15. Back at the apartment I tried to settle but my mind was racing and I was wide awake, sleep was just not around the corner and my tummy was saying I needed a midnight snack, so snack I did. It was the first time I tried to watch TV, then read my book and eventually around 3 this morning I fell into the land of nod!

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Day 6: Friday 9th November 2012

Day Six and I obviously woke up a bit later than usual but the chattering neighbours made sure it was not too late. Being a light sleeper the beeping and noises in Okinawa are constant so anything can disturb my sleep.
Today was gi day so off the Shureido to pick up the free action gi’s, one Kobudo one for me to leave out here and the other student orders. They are well worth the extra money and just pity that the pound is so weak against the yen at the moment.

Roof top training

Practice felt hard today so made an early lunch, showered and tried to catch up on some sleep. Sort of dozed in and out but not exactly a good sleep so got up and wandered around town. Wanted to visit the Awamori Distillery but to be honest I just wasn’t in the mood and felt heavy all day. Daphne arrived in Australia a couple of days ago and the weather there seems much the same as Okinawa. Thought I got myself ready for training tonight so off I went.

On the way I popped into Max Valu (just noticed they spell it without the e !) to stock up on drinks for the dojo. Got to the dojo early again so roof top night training it was. Had fun with the delay timer as it seem to have a mind of its own and a few times got me walking back to the camera. Heard the kids class leaving Sensei so wandered back downstairs to be met by Kirii San and Dai San over from Tokyo.
Damn just dawned on me that I had forgotten my sai back in the apartment and Yoshiyuki San noticed I had my Goju karate belt on so don’t think I was ready at all for training tonight. It was a full dojo and Sensei found time to go over all the individual kata with everybody. He did say “Andre you seem tired today” and I explained about sleeping and he said ah I see !!! So not a good day at the office today :( After training it was nice to catch up with the folks from mainland Japan at a new bar called Mori Mori. The food was good and there was even a dessert which made my day :)
Hopefully the few beers might help me relax tonight otherwise there are always the photos to look back on!
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Day 7, Saturday 10th November 2012
Day Seven was a little better in the sleep department and may have been helped by the few beers the evening before with the mainland Japanese folks who are great. Woke up bang on nine, showered and caught up with administration items.
Today I packed early for the afternoon training with Akamine Sensei. Correct belt yes, sai yes, new gi yes (made the mistake last time of wearing a new gi for a competition for the first time and it nearly ripped the sai out of my hand, well it did but I caught it before it hit the floor and disqualification) so this time a practice in it first, I think I am ready. Had a light lunch and relaxed doing household chores.
With a relaxing cycle up to the dojo I was in good time for the extra practice. Tried the new gi out and god it is warm or it could be the afternoon heat of 27 degrees. Another two hours flew by with Akamine Sensei going through a mock grading and still lifting the standard of technique with each individual kata being scrutinised. Although more awake than yesterday I was heaving today and the heart rate going ten to the dozen. I am sure the kata are getting more and more difficult each time I do them with more practice required before D day tomorrow.
After all that the kama I have been practising with Sensei replaced them with some special demonstration ones he pulled out of the office! So Sensei does it again, just before grading the pressure is on with different equipment. It is either that or he thinks I might cut myself with the adrenaline pumping tomorrow?
After the training it was not worth going home so I showered in the dojo and washed my new gi in the dojo washing machine then was just about ready for the Mori Mori and another few beers.
The food was good again and the beers went down quickly. Japanese speak was the order of the day and I half understood what was being said. Grateful for an early training session and early dinner so that tonight is an early to sleep night :)
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Day 8 (grading day!): Sunday 11th November 2012
Day eight saw me up early with the rain pounding outside but this was a special 11th day of the 11th month and remember we shall. It was also grading day and waking up I felt confident with the last couple of days being very hard work I knew I had learnt a lot.
Akamine Sensei was patience with me but he still pushed that technique to the limit. I can still hear his voice now “why Andre why ?” We would fix something and I would concentrate so hard on fixing that something else would need tweaking.
This was it though –  D Day and everything had to come together to get the right result.
Strange though what life throws at you, as confident as I was waking up, little thing happens during the day and suddenly you are fighting demons thinking how do I get over this now to concentrate on the task in hand, oh the roller coaster of grading day.
11am saw me contemplating and remembering the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and that really put things into perspective because I am here doing the things that I love because so many gave up so much before me.
With that, the laptop was shut down and my preparations began. I skipped my usual Aspro Clear asprin to help with DBT on long haul flights as felt that may affect my chest and breathing.
I started to cook my early midday lunch which turned out to be huge, rice for two, chicken curry for two and two desserts but thought with the nervous tension creeping back in I would need all the calories to burn off so every last mouthful was eaten.
Washing up done next was the check list and laying out everything on the floor. Gi check, correct Belt check, Kama check, Sai check (forgot these one training session), Party clothes check, Sweat towels check, Money check, Camera, phone & video check, cycle pump check, plastic bags for rain check and lucky charms from Miyara San check.
These were all carefully ‘stuffed’ into my ruck sack and as the rain was easing off I thought somebody was looking after me. Drinks you say but these were already pre planned and left at the dojo the day before :)
I had a nice long hot shower to relax and wash away the stresses of life for the time being as this was my time now.
Time to go and I left just before 3 pm with a gentle cycle to the dojo warming me up and the rain did hold off. Arrived at the dojo around twenty past the hour, greeted fellow grading candidates and then went to change. I took my time and ran through the kata in my mind.
When ready I went out to the dojo, bowed in and started warming up. I felt good and went through all the kata and looking around all the other grading candidates were doing the same thing. I was glad I gave myself a good hour and a half to warm up because 5 pm came quickly.
Desks were set up, judges arrived, paperwork done and then when Akamine Sensei walks in my heart starts pounding.
“This is it Leister, you are on your own at an official grading in Okinawa!”
Nerves heightened I check all the weapons and make the decision I am going to use the long sharp kama, they are lighter and better balanced for that whip. Judges disappear with Sensei and Kimico San is getting ready all the paperwork and paper for writing the scores of all the individual katas. Then suddenly we are all lined up and we are off.
The instructions are all in Japanese and I am grateful to Emile who comes up and quickly translate do your best and if you make a mistake don’t worry start again but you only get one mistake then you are out :o
There are five of us grading, one Shodan, one Nidan, two Sandan and me going last for each weapon at Yondan.
At precisely 5.30 pm my name is called out, I bow and state the kata Kanegawa No Nicho Game and then I start.
I actually feel good and think the kama are flowing, I try to slow down, use my hips where necessary, concentrate on each move with everything Sensei has taught me and whipping the strikes in. A minute later I am bowing out and secretly shout yes inside Leister that felt good.
Next up Bo and these kata are longer so I have a little longer to wait for my turn. It is almost 5.40 pm when my name is called again. I bow in and state Yuniga (Yonegawa) no Kon (this is a left handed Bo kata) and I start. I am very deliberately slow trying for technique as watching the others they seem to speed through their kata with the adrenaline pumping. I think half way through this kata is difficult and I am not happy, so I try to up my game for a good finish. All too soon I am bowing out and think that may have just been good enough but need a strong Sai kata to be sure.
The others start their Sai katas and these I know are even longer kata so I know there is a longer wait. I want to watch but the Sai kata are so similar I do not want to confuse myself by watching the others so as hard as it is I deliberately look out the window and mentally go through my kata.
With that my name is called and I don’t even notice the time.
I bow in and state Kojó no Sai the shorter and easier version of the kata name. Then I am off for the last time and trying to whack my hips into every move. Concentrate jodan here, Kokutsu Dachi for this stance, where was that other Kiai Sensei put in, oh damn there it was Kiai a bit late :( need a strong finish, stronger, a relaxed stronger, last moves, short step round make it quicker, bang, bang and finished.
I breathe out and no obvious mistakes…yes, yes, yes that felt pretty good and just hope I have not let Sensei down.
With that the judges are up and wander out to the office with Sensei.
The few minutes they were gone seemed like ages but we were then lined up at just gone 6pm with the announcements.
“Shodan pass, Nidan pass, Sandan pass, Sandan pass,”
…my heart is in my mouth
“Yondan PASS”
Oh joy and relief and congratulations all round. Photos taken and then change for party yip pee!
I take some time changing as I come down from the buzz and then off to the bar for food as I am hungry, beer because I am thirsty and awamori because I want to celebrate :)
Everything is still official with an opening ceremony, speeches from everyone half way through and then a closing ceremony. A few hours go by with chat, photos and then all too soon I am on the bike riding home.
It does seem very coincidental that I return to contemplated the day at the 11th hour in the evening but in the apartment I am over the moon because I have just graded in a most wonderful place in the world and with a cuppa in hand that time has started with that last day pull and the question to be answer: should I extend or should I go home ?
A day in the life of grading :)
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Day 9, Monday 12th November 2012
Day Nine and awake at five in the morning :o what was all that about?
No, to be honest it is such a wrench to leave this beautiful island that I start to get worked up and sleep goes out the window.
Been a full day nonetheless as have to clean the apartment and pack twice, once for all the storage stuff I leave behind and then my going home stuff. Got my diary and photos out the way early and then started the clean-up. Have to wash all the towels and get them dry before putting them into storage along with the gi’s, cutlery, homeware and a multitude of other items not used up.
So again had an earlier lunch so that all the cooking items could be packed. Felt like a full day already and went for another shower to cool down. Tried to check-in on-line but was too early so went shopping instead. On returning I weighed the case and obviously over weight so decided to try my luck checking in again.
Got allocated an extra wide exit seat which is nice as usually they sell them and to my surprise all other seats have been booked so looks like a full plane home. Checked the weight and paid an over charge for another piece luggage as that was still cheaper than sending the student gi’s post and there is always the chance customs will add VAT to the incoming parcel.
Boarding pass printed and off I went again to buy a cheap holdall and looks like job done everything packed nicely. Miyara San is brilliant and worked out my charges this evening giving me money back on my deposit so nice result having said that I have used no air conditioning this trip whatsoever.
She then ordered a taxi for me at 06:10 tomorrow morning. Seems everything is sorted for my way back tomorrow but just a little nervous about the transfer times of just an hour between the three plane flights, especially when they state on one ticket the gate closes 60 minutes before take off!
Oh well we will see what happens. Just off for one last night of training, hopefully then a quick beer before shooting back to the apartment, mini last minute pack and then shut eye for at least four hours and starting my very long day travelling tomorrow ;)
That’s it last training session with Akamine Sensei tonight and three new kata’s to learn and boy oh boy do they get longer and harder!
Finished with the presentation of my certificate and what a proud moment. Now need to do final packing and suppose get a couple of hours shut eye for the long journey back home tomorrow. Plan is straight home via Osaka to Amsterdam then onto London Heathrow early evening. Only just over an hour in each airport so first time I should be back on the same day I flew out if I make the connections :)