Oxford University Karate Club

Japan Visits

The OUKC has built strong links with instructors, dojos and universities in Japan, and have sent representatives to train at the JKA headquarters with the help of Sensei Ohta.

This is the report by Dr. Francis Mussai, formely of Christ Church College, Oxford.

It was a cold April morning when I set off to Heathrow to board my 10 hour KLM flight to Narita Airport, Japan. This was my first trip to the Far East and despite being armed with my ‘Lonely Planet’ guidebook and my Japanese dictionary I had little idea of what to expect. I had packed my two karate gi’s, a large number of t-shirts and tracksuits and most importantly all the contact details of anyone I knew in Japan – just in case I got lost!

Following a decent flight I landed at Narita Airport, where after reassuring immigration that I didn’t have SARS, I met up with the OUKC chief instructor – Sensei Ohta. To travel to the other side of the planet and see a friendly face is a great relief and set this trip off to an excellent start. For the next few days I was fortunate enough to stay with Sensei Ohta’s family on the outskirts of central Tokyo where I was made to feel very much at home, shake off the jet-lag and introduced to everything from Japanese green tea to the Tokyo subway.

Upon the return of Sensei Ohta to England, a few days later, I moved to a temple in North Tokyo where I stayed with the enthusiastic and friendly Sempai K. Takechi. Although I did not partake in any of the daily routines of his temple – the fact that I was staying in such a traditional setting really began to immerse me in Japanese lifestyle. Frequently I was to see him set off in his traditional robes to attend to temple business or see his mother set up the intricacies of the Japanese Tea ceremony. At this point I should mention that once again Mr Takechi’s family made me very welcome and I as began burning off the calories with the training I was increasingly grateful for the great effort Mr Takechi’s mother would go to cook me an English breakfast every morning and fill me with sushi in the evening!

The JKA Headquarters is situated in a four storey building in Idabashi, central Tokyo. By the time I was to leave three weeks later this place was to feel like home!

I don’t think I will ever forget my first lesson at the JKA dojo. Still slightly unsure of what to expect I followed a helpful South African gentleman’s lead and got changed and headed off to the dojo. (It was only later that I was to realise that this gentleman was in fact the Chief Instructor of South Africa). Coincidence was definitely to mark my trip to Japan as upon entering the dojo I found that a British instructor from London who I recognised was taking the warm up. However, the joviality ended there. Over the next hour the imposing figure of Sheena Sensei was to drill our class through a series of kumite techniques and by the end of the class I had been unceremoniously swept and dumped on the ground by the senior student three times.

OUKC Japan Experience

Throughout the trip I was to train at the JKA Headquarters three times a day. Each session was an hour long and I have had the great privilege of being taught by some of the most famous and talented instructors in the world – Sensei’s Ueki, Tanaka, and Osaka to name but a few. Here is not the place to give a blow-by-blow account of each session but it is fair to say that training was highly technical and physically and mentally demanding. The classes would consist of a mix of grades and to my surprise a few foreigners mixed in amongst the Japanese. Classes always started and finished promptly and I suppose most noticeable was the focused attitude of everyone who trained. Kihon, Kata, and Kumite were taught without fail. From the instructors downwards, everyone made great efforts to ensure that I understood what was being taught and although everyone was there to train I think it is fair to say that a good camaraderie developed between us all.

However, training was not to finish there. From 7pm-9pm every night my instruction was to continue under Sensei Naka at this Goshinkai dojos, mainly in schools in the north of Tokyo. Although also a JKA instructor Sensei Naka’s style of teaching was markedly different and involved application of technical skill along with a heavy cardiovascular workout. These sessions were excellent and certainly made the beer and sake afterwards all the more enjoyable.

Tokyo is truly one of the great cities of the world. It is everything you have seen on television – high rise buildings, technology, hustle-and bustle, people in suits; but it is also place of history and culture. I had the pleasure of visiting the metropolitan areas of Shinjuku, Ginza and Ikebukuro – taking in the sites, shopping in the world’s two largest department stores and playing with the robot dogs in the Sony Building! Likewise many of my afternoons were filled by going to the Tokyo National Museum, the sumo stables at Royyogi or the impressive Imperial Palace.

OUKC Japan Experience

To try and describe all that I have seen and experienced would be impossible but I hope that this report has at least hinted of the very special time that I have had in Tokyo. I would sincerely like to thank Dr Bjarke Frellesvig, Madelaine Burnham, and the rest of OUKC for selecting me for this trip. I would also like to make extra mention of Sensei’s Ohta, Naka, and Tackechi, the instructors and students at JKA and Goshinkai and Mrs Mayumi Azuma of the Oxford University Development Office in Tokyo. Many friends have been made in this trip and I believe that this first Japan Experience trip has successfully allowed Oxford University Karate Club to establish long and firm links with instructors, dojos and universities in Japan. I hope that the opportunity of the Japan Experience remains an important part of what OUKC can offer to its students in future years.