Local Japan – The Manic Philosopher of Martial Arts
If you see me randomly walking down the street or if you are an acquaintance of mine then I would seem very unassuming to you, well at least that’s the image that I have of myself. But once you get to know me, you would learn from our first real conversation that I am a martial artist and that I have been practicing the martial arts for 15 years. I am a maniac! Like, if you looked in my closet, you would find more sportswear and martial arts gear than casual clothing.
I have always been enthralled with the martial arts, even at a young age. From watching martial arts movies and period pieces like the five deadly venoms, the 36th chamber of Shaolin, Yojimbo, and The Seven Samurai with family. Also watching anime like dragon ball, Hokuto no Ken, Grappler Baki, and Capcoms street fighter 2 the animated movie. I was amazed at how the human body could move with so much beauty and power. I remember one day, I was in the car with my mother and we were returning home from somewhere I can’t remember where exactly, but I do remember looking out the window and seeing a black dragon kung fu school. Reading the name of the school reminded me of the kung fu movies that I watched, and I wanted to move like they did. I asked my mother and unfortunately, because of our financial situation, I was not able to go to that school. I understood and never asked about martial arts again, but that didn’t mean that I gave up on it.
Let’s fast forward through elementary school, and my first year of high school, because nothing eventful really occurred during that time. In my high school, there were a lot of teenagers from different countries all over the world. It was a mixing pot of people, but there were also a lot of tensions between the communities within my high school, so fights were a normal occurrence. I didn’t get into any fights, I am just painting a picture for you. One day a friend that I had made in my social studies class (and might I add, is still my really good friend to this day, longest relationship I have ever had.) told me about a karate class that was taught by one of the math teachers after school, he told me that he would be attending the class as well. He didn’t know anything about my desire to learn martial arts, but it was almost like a sign from heaven that this was my chance. It was also free, so I jumped at the opportunity. I went to the second class with him and that is where I finally started my journey into the world of martial arts.
Once I started I couldn’t help but try to absorb as much information that I could find about the martial arts. I surfed the web, went to a library that was very close to my high school, my friend and I also went to the neighboring martial arts schools around the area and attended any free classes that they would have, just so we could take whatever techniques they had that we thought would be useful and assimilate them into our karate practice. I was exposed to Judo, Seido karate, Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Isshin Ryu karate, etc. It was the same even after high school and well into university.
In university, I decided that I wanted to learn a second language. I chose Japanese because I had spent so much time reading martial arts philosophy books, and one day I believed that I would go to Japan. For most students in University, the opportunity to travel becomes available in one form or another. I wanted to study Japanese in Japan. My friends and I also believed that we would all go to Japan for one year and study, have fun and experience life in Japan. Once we all decided that we would go, I went to the website for the study abroad program offered through my school to see what the requirements were for the program. As I read through the list, I became more and more excited about the possibilities. That’s until I got to the GPA requirement, it felt like I got kicked in the stomach. I wasn’t a bad student, but I wasn’t a 3.0 student at that time. Because of that, I didn’t qualify for the program. I gave up on studying abroad in Japan, but I continued to study Japanese.
Years had passed, and after some unforeseen circumstances, I finally graduated from University. Prior to this, my college friend and training partner had already moved to Japan via the JET program and had been there for almost a year. I hit me, this is how I can get to Japan. So, I applied to work for a dispatch company in Japan (you know, like Berlitz, Minerva, Gabba, Interac. You get the idea). It was around this time that I was also working at an MMA gym to add to my understanding of the martial arts and to learn how a successful gym is run. I made it through the interview process for the dispatch company and was hired as an employee of the company, I was finally on my way to Japan. Alright, I thought, what do I do next. I must solidify a place to train because it is a martial artists dream to train in Japan. But there are so many options, it was very hard to decide. More about this later.
I arrived in Japan August of 2015, so this month marks my third year in Japan. I am still following my passion here in Japan. Since arriving in Japan, I joined the Kudo International Federation. For those of you who don’t know what kudo is, I’ll tell you. Kudo is a relatively new martial art, with aspects of both budo traditions and combat sports like MMA. I have been training in it with the goal of someday opening a gym/combat sports club. I have also had the opportunity to practice sambo, the Russian jacket wrestling style that resembles judo and wrestling, not samba the dance. (But I think learning samba would also be rather fun lol.) This year, I started attending Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes. It would be really nice to have at least a blue belt, but a purple belt would be great. I heard from my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor that his ears started to change after he got his purple belt. (You know, the slightly disfigured ears that wrestlers, judo and MMA athletes have. Maybe not, I have no idea who my audience is right now hahaha) I like my ears the way they are now.
In the three years that I have been in Japan, I have participated in four kudo tournaments, a combat wrestling championship, and a sambo in-house tournament. I have placed second in several of the competitions that I participated in, I think I did pretty good considering that I haven’t competed in a while. I have also gotten much closer to my goal of one day owning a combat sports/martial arts gym, but I still have a long way to go. I had the chance to meet the women’s Shootboxing queen Rena and I took a picture with her, I am a big fan of hers! Unrelated to the martial arts, I was given the opportunity to assist my co-worker with a workshop that was held in Tokyo, we gave a presentation to like-minded English teachers who wanted to improve the speaking ability of their students. To tell the truth, it was a bit of a surprise for me. To have a room full of distinguished instructors and university professors participating in a workshop where one of the presenters is only an ALT and finding the value in what I was sharing.
Unfortunately, my time in Japan hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Japan is a homogenous island country, where exposure to people from other countries has been relatively low. You would think that wasn’t the case because so many people travel to Japan every year, but you would be wrong. I have received very disgusted looks from people when walking around with my girlfriend, for whatever reason, it is still not completely acceptable to see a Japanese person dating or married to a foreigner. I have also had a number of experiences while riding the train here in Japan. One experience that I had in particular, was surprising to say the least. I was on the morning train to work, it was a crowded train. Standing in front of me was a salaryman. The train shook a little causing everyone to bump into each other, I bumped into the salaryman in front of me. After everyone regained their balance, the salaryman looked back to see…me, he seemed a little taken aback. He turned back to face the door, after which he reached back and grasped his back pocket and its contents tightly. When we reached the next stop, he sprinted off the train. I’m still not sure what happened, the jury is still out on that one.
Anyway, the good definitely outweighs the bad. I can honestly say that I am enjoying my time here. If you are one of the many people who dreamed of one day coming to Japan, well, you made it. No matter what it is you want to pursue here, you can. You are in complete control of your life and how you experience it. I just have one tip, make sure you spend a considerable amount of time improving your Japanese, not just studying, but going out and using it. Japanese people are a little shy, especially if they think that have to use English to communicate with you. But, if you can initiate conversation in Japanese, it will help them feel more comfortable and who knows, you might just make a new friend!