With a Will Smith remake of Karate Kid in the pipeline, Philippa Jacks takes a karate lesson in Okinawa, Japan, and, overleaf, looks at other martial arts options
Wax on, wax off, paint the house, paint the fence," I recited to myself as I walked up the path to the dojo. Surely I'd picked up enough from Mr Miyagi and Daniel-San in The Karate Kid movies to get me through an hour-long introductory lesson?
I was a bit disappointed to find that the French sensei (instructor) taking our class did not look more like Mr Miyagi but I tried not to hold this against him as we started moving through the basic "kata" movements.
I managed quite well with the punching and blocking drills, despite accidentally punching a Dutch lady in the ribs because I was standing too close. I fared less well with the kicking, mainly because I was wearing trousers so tight I could barely sit down, let alone kick someone at shoulder height.
My stance wasn't very good either. "The distance between your feet should be the same as your hips," sensei said. "Further+ further+further". Charming.
As places to make a karate debut go, Okinawa Prefecture takes some beating. The remote archipelago of 160 islands, a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Tokyo, is the birthplace of this world-famous martial art.
Okinawa is almost as close to China and Hong Kong as it is to mainland Japan, and there was some influence from China as karate developed in the 15th century.
The Ryukyu Kingdom (as the archipelago of islands was once known) became part of Japan only in 1868, and it has a different feel to the rest of the country. It certainly has a different climate, and you'll see plenty of the Hawaiian-style summery shirts that Mr Miyago used to wear for special occasions.
Sensei explained to us the difference between sports karate, used in competitions, and martial arts karate, used in defence, and only when absolutely necessary. A sports karateka peaks at 25 to 30 years old, as strength and fitness is key. A martial arts karateka, however, peaks at 50 or 60 years old, as it is experience and awareness which will win the fight. Which is why Mr Miyagi could still kick ass even as an older man.
At the end of the class, sensei told us about the weapons hanging on the dojo wall. Conventional weaponry was banned so karatekas learned to use everyday tools. The nunchaku (two sticks linked with a chain), is derived from a horse's bridle, while the tonfa (a side-handled baton like that the police now use), was the handle off a grinder.
There are more than 300 dojos in Okinawa, though you should consult a specialist operator to help find one where clients can have a lesson in English. This particular dojo is located at Murasaki Mura, a cultural village on Okinawa Island, where you can also try traditional crafts. Some karate fans stay for months to really master the art. I learned a lot in an hour but I think I'd need a few more lessons before I'd be ready to try "the Crane".
Copyright: UBM Information Ltd.
Jacks, Philippa. "ASIA: A holiday that packs a punch." Travel Trade Gazette UK & Ireland (2009): 40. InfoTrac Small Business eCollection. Web. 1 Dec. 2009.
Gale Document Number:A203523471
United States Judo Association - USJA
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