As I return to the the Jundokan Honbu Dojo in Okinawa for the fourth time now, I am once again reminded of the humbleness and kindness of those masters from whom we seek to learn the art of Goju Ryu. That said, however, this trip has been the first time I’ve realised that, perhaps it hasn't always been this way, and that the karate training of the past was indeed very different to that which are accustomed to now.
After inviting me out for lunch one afternoon, Gima-sensei, 9th dan and chief director at the Jundokan, told me a story of his early days training under Ei’ichi Miyazato Sensei. He said that very few of his senpai, or senior students, really understood the ‘soft’ side of Goju. Training was extremely tough, and out of the 100 students who joined around the same time as him, only two were left training in the end. Gima-sensei recited tales of the brutality his senpais would inflict upon him, both inside the dojo and out. He reminisced about receiving split lips from punches to the face and then being forced to drink carbonated drinks as his eyes welled up in pain. He recalled an incident in which both his forearms had been split open with blood pouring out after a particularly strenuous conditioning session, to which his senpai said “never mind your arms, what are you going to do about the blood on the floor?!”. He laughed about it as he told me, but made sure I understood that the reality of training in those days was a harsh and unsparing affair.
This made me realise all the more how special the current generation of Jundokan masters really are. Undoubtedly, such brutal means of training continue to exist in other Goju Ryu dojos, and indeed in other styles of karate and martial arts spread throughout the world; but the Jundokan has become perhaps one of the most respectable and virtuous places to train, very unlike the scenes which Gima-sensei so openly discussed. To take one, very simple example from my most recent trip: after training in kakie one night with Shimamura-sensei, when my arms could barely move he decided it was time for some arm conditioning. He said that I was to say stop when I needed to, and although I did my best to keep it up for as long as possible, I was, of course, eventually forced to concede and say stop. But when I did, instead of continuing further, or trying to push me to breaking point (as was the case in the olden days), Shimamura-sensei rubbed my arms to make sure they were okay, and said “right, now you know your limits — your goal is to exceed that next time”. This simple lesson was enough for me to understand his message and know what I need to do, and I realised that this is the way of modern-day Jundokan.
All of the masters who train within the Jundokan’s walls are true inspirations to us as budding practitioners of Goju Ryu karate, not only in their style and practice of the art, but in their demeanour and personal conduct too. If I myself am able to become even half as admirable as they are, I would consider my pursuit of Goju Ryu (despite having only scratched the surface) all the more worth while. Every trip back to the Jundokan re-sparks a fire within me not only to better my own karate, but to better myself and my way of thinking as well. This is the inspiration of the Jundokan, and this is what I believe we must strive to achieve.
Note: Blake recently returned from training in Okinawa where he was invited to assist with translation at the memorial seminar in November. He is currently completing PhD studies in Kyoto.